Review: ‘The Cleaner’ (2021), starring King Orba, Shelley Long, Eden Brolin, Shiloh Fernandez, Luke Wilson and Lynda Carter

December 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

King Orba in “The Cleaner” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Films)

“The Cleaner” (2021)

Directed by Erin Elders

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “The Cleaner” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A down-on-his luck house cleaner gets mixed up in dangerous activities when he’s hired to find a woman’s missing and wayward adult son.

Culture Audience: “The Cleaner” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a poorly constructed crime movie with subpar acting.

Lynda Carter in “The Cleaner” (Photo courtesy of 1091 Films)

There’s something dirty and rotten about “The Cleaner.” And it’s not just the scumbag characters in this movie. It’s a crime drama that tries to go for gritty realism, but it’s just a ridiculous mess of a story with terrible dialogue, lousy acting and uneven pacing. The ending is so cliché, it’s cringeworthy.

“The Cleaner” is the feature-film directorial debut of Erin Elders, who co-wrote the movie with King Orba. Unfortunately, Elders seems to have let his screenwriter collaboration with Orba cloud his judgment on who to cast as the movie’s protagonist/title character. Orba is the lead character in this movie, and his wooden acting is by far the worst in this cast, which has a random mix of longtime actors whose careers peaked years ago.

It’s also one of those movies that takes too long (the first third of the movie) to get to the point of the story. In “The Cleaner,” Orba portrays Buck Enderly, a down-on-his-luck house cleaner who lives alone in a trailer in an unnamed U.S. city. Before he was a house cleaner, he sold RVs, but he got fired from his job for being an underperforming salesperson. Buck is so broke that he has to get around by bicycle because his car blew its transmission, and he can’t afford to get the car fixed or buy a new car.

Enderly Cleaning is a company that Buck’s cranky mother Sharon Enderly (played by Shelley Long) founded years ago. She’s now retired but concerned that Buck won’t be able to keep the business going. And she has cause for concern: Business has been very slow lately. Because of a recession, people are making cutbacks on their household budgets, including housecleaning services.

“The Cleaner” is a slow-paced film with a rushed ending. Much of the slow pace is because the movie wastes a lot of time showing Buck’s somewhat tense relationship with his mother Sharon, and how he gets to know two new neighbors who move in next door to Sharon. These neighbors are live-in lovers Trent (played by Hopper Penn) and Becky (played by Eden Brolin), who have a volatile relationship because Trent physically and emotionally abuses Becky.

Becky invites Sharon to a housewarming party, where Sharon gets drunk and then sprains her ankle. And so, there’s some drama with Buck having to take Sharon to a hospital, but he doesn’t have a car, so he has to ask Trent and Becky for a ride. It’s all just a contrivance because it leads to a subplot where Sharon is prescribed medication that her insurance doesn’t fully cover.

That leads to Buck stealing batteries (don’t ask) when he goes to the pharmacy to get her prescription medication and finds out he doesn’t have the money to cover the cost. Buck gets arrested for shoplifting after a silly chase scene where he tries to get away. But what do you know: The cop who arrests Buck just happens to be his estranged younger brother Craig Enderly (played by Faust Checho), who hasn’t spoken to Buck in months because he thinks Buck is a loser.

Luckily for Buck, the pharmacy manager decides not to press charges, so Buck doesn’t spend any time in jail for the shoplifting. And did we mention that Craig has a girlfriend named Vanessa (played by Milena Govich), whom Sharon can’t stand, even though Craig plans to marry Vanessa? Craig and Sharon have a rocky relationship because Craig blames Sharon for her husband (the father of Craig and Buck) leaving the family when Craig and Buck were children.

All of this family drama with Sharon and her children has nothing to do with what this movie is really about, but the filmmakers clogged up “The Cleaner” with this storyline, in order to pad out a very thin plot. There are also several time-wasting scenes with Buck hanging out with his marijuana dealer James (played by James Paxton), who’s young enough to be Buck’s son. Even though Buck whines to a lot of people about how broke he is, he still has enough money to buy marijuana. Priorities.

What “The Cleaner” is really about is an unexpected job that Buck is hired to do: He agrees to be an unofficial private investigator (even though he has no experience in this area) to find a missing person. The job comes about when one of Buck’s housecleaning clients named Jim Russell (played by Luke Wilson) lays him off due to budget cuts. Jim feels bad about letting Buck go, so Jim refers Buck to a neighbor who might need housecleaning services.

This neighbor is a has-been/retired singer named Carlene Briggs (played by Lynda Carter), who lives alone and isn’t interested in hiring Buck for housecleaning services. When Buck goes over to Carlene’s house for the first time, she openly flirts with him and makes him listen to her croon in her living room, as if it’s some kind of cabaret lounge. She wears a frilly négligée and even has a microphone for this living-room performance. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

Buck resists Carlene’s flirtatious advances, so she then asks him if he can provide some investigative services for her. Apparently, even though Buck has no experience in private detective work, Carlene thinks that Buck looks like the type who knows his way around the seedy underbelly of this community. And so, she asks Buck to find her missing adult son Andrew Briggs (played by Shiloh Fernandez), whom she describes as a drug addict and a thief.

Carlene is only paying $1,000 to Buck if he finds Andrew, which is an appallingly low amount of money for this type of private investigator work. Buck, like an idiot, doesn’t ask for more money. He’s so desperate for money, he says yes to the job. Carlene doesn’t seem concerned that she’s hiring someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing. It’s one of many eye-rolling aspects of this moronic movie.

“The Cleaner” then goes down a rabbit hole of stupidity as viewers are expected to believe some of the things that happen when a woefully incompetent Buck does some “detective work” that involves some “only in a movie” type of dumb luck. The only realistic thing about Buck’s “detective work” is that he has to ask his cop brother Craig for help in accessing information records that only law enforcement or real private detectives would be able to access.

The movie also has somewhat strange and random casting of actors that’s an awkward mix. Soleil Moon Frye, best known for starring in the 1980s sitcom “Punky Brewster,” has a cameo as a trashy-looking barfly named Kristi. She’s not believable in this role. And it seems like the only reason why Carter took the role in this film is to showcase her singing, which does not fit this supposedly gritty story well at all. The ending of “The Cleaner” ties in to the movie’s opening scene, where a shooting takes place at a diner. But it’s not enough to cover up all the loose ends and unnecessary scenes that make the movie an insufferable, tangled mess.

1091 Pictures released “The Cleaner” on digital and VOD on October 12, 2021.

Review: ‘All the Bright Places,’ starring Elle Fanning and Justice Smith

July 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in “All the Bright Places” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Netflix)

“All the Bright Places”

Directed by Brett Haley

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Indiana city, the dramatic film “All the Bright Places” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two troubled teenagers—one who’s grieving over the accidental death of her older sister, and the other who’s dealing with mental health issues—try to avoid their emotional problems by finding comfort with each other. 

Culture Audience: “All the Bright Places” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching teen dramas that tackle heavy issues.

Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in “All the Bright Places” (Photo by Walter Thomson/Netflix)

If you’re not in the mood to watch a movie about people suffering from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, then you might want to skip “All the Bright Places.” The movie might seem like it’s about a cutesy teen romance, but it’s not. It’s about very real and very dark issues of mental health and coping with grief. There are moments of levity, but the film’s main characters always have an underlying internal threat to being truly happy.

Directed by Brett Haley, “All the Bright Places” is based on Jennifer Niven’s 2015 “All the Bright Places” novel, which was inspired by real events that she experienced as a teenager. Niven and Liz Hannah co-wrote the “All the Bright Places” screenplay, which makes some changes from the novel but is compassionately enlivened by memorable performances by Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. Although “All the Bright Places” won’t be an easy film to watch for people who are triggered by the same issues that the movie’s teen characters are coping with, the movie’s intention is to help bring awareness to these issues so that people can get and give help in real life.

One of the biggest changes from the book is the movie’s opening scene. In the book, teenagers Violet Markey and Theodore Finch meet when they both end up on the ledge of their high school’s bell tower, as they both contemplate suicide. In the movie, Violet (played by Fanning) and Theodore (played Smith), who prefers to be called Finch, meet when Finch sees Violet standing on the wall of a bridge, as if she’s thinking about jumping at any moment.

Violet and Finch are both in their last year of the same high school in an unnamed city in Indiana. They know about each other, since they’re in the same graduating class and have classes together, but this is the first time they’ve actually met. Finch jumps on the bridge wall to join Violet and reaches out his hand to help bring her off of the wall. Violet seems a little embarrassed and downplays her apparent contemplation of suicide. Finch seems to understand, and they make some small talk before going their separate ways.

On the surface, Violet and Finch couldn’t be more different. Violet is a classic “good girl” who does well in school, is obedient and well-liked by her peers. Finch is a classic “bad boy” who’s disruptive at school, is rebellious and a social outcast. Slowly but surely, it’s revealed how Violet and Finch have more in common that it first appears. It’s why they eventually become close and fall in love.

Violet is overwhelmed with grief over the death of her beloved older sister Eleanor, who was killed in a car accident where Eleanor was hit by a drunk driver. Violet was in the car with Eleanor and feels survivor’s guilt. And the reason why Violet was thinking about jumping off of the bridge that day was because that day would have been Eleanor’s 19th birthday, and that bridge was the site of the car accident.

Violet’s depression has caused her to become withdrawn to the point where she’s lost interest in a lot of social activities that she used to do, and she spends most of her free time by herself. Violet’s parents Sheryl (played by Kelli O’Hara) and James (played by Luke Wilson) gently suggest to Violet that she get back into more social activities, but she ignores their suggestions. Her parents are going through their own grieving process, so they don’t pressue Violet into doing anything that she doesn’t want to do.

In an early scene in the movie, Violet’s close friend Amanda (played by Virginia Gardner) asks Violet if she wants to hang out with her, but Violet says no. There’s an arrogant pretty boy at school named Roamer (played by Felix Mallard), who has a romantic interest in Violet, but she brushes off his attempts to impress her. When she finally decides to go to a party, she mopes and feels very insulted when Roamer tries to tell her, without saying the words, that she needs to get over Eleanor’s death and go back to the way she used to be.

There are hints that because Violet isn’t as sociable as she used to be, her popularity in school has declined. For example, she eats lunch in the school cafeteria by herself. When she walks into a classroom and accidentally drops her books, most of the other students laugh. Violet’s body language and facial expression show that she feels humilated and doesn’t want to call attention to herself. As a show of solidarity, Finch overturns his desk as a distraction so that people can laugh at him. It’s later revealed in the movie that many of the school’s students call Finch a “freak” behind his back.

Why does he have this reputation? It’s because in the previous year, Finch had a violent outburst where he physically attacked a teacher. Due to this incident and a few other unnamed disruptions that Finch has caused, Finch is now on probation and is in danger of not graduating. When he meets with a concerned teacher named Embry (played by Keegan-Michael Key), Finch is sarcastic and dismissive when Embry tries to talk to Finch about Finch’s problems.

Although Finch is treated like a pariah by most of the school’s students, two fellow students are his close friends and have stuck by him through good times and bad times. Charlie (played by Lamar Johnson) has been Finch’s friend longer than anyone else. Charlie, who is easygoing and very loyal, knows that Finch can be unpredictable and can have extreme mood swings. Finch’s other close friend at school is Brenda (played by Sofia Hasmik), who’s smart with an acerbic wit. Finch, Charlie and Brenda have lunch together at school and spend some time together outside of school.

Finch’s home life is very fractured. His backstory is revealed in bits and pieces. Finch’s father, who left the family when Finch was very young, was mentally and physically abusive. Finch’s mother, who isn’t seen in the movie until toward the end, has a job that requires her to travel a lot. Finch is essentially being raised by his understanding older sister Kate (played by Alexandra Shipp), who works as a bartender.

Based on conversations that Finch has with people, he has an undiagnosed mental illness that sounds like bipolar disorder. It’s hinted that Finch’s father, who’s never seen in the movie, might have had the same mental illness, because Finch expresses a fear that he will turn out like his father. Finch’s teacher Embry encourages Finch to join a support group for people coping with various mental and emotional issues. The movie shows if Finch ends up taking this advice.

The walls and ceiling of Finch’s bedroom are covered with color-coordinated Post-It notes of random sayings and thoughts that he writes to himself. Some of the words on the Post-It notes are “Breathe Deeply” and “Because She Smiled at Me.” During the course of the movie, Finch mentions that he often has trouble keeping up with his racing thoughts. He also has a habit of randomly cutting off contact from people and sometimes disappearing for unpredictable periods of time.

Meanwhile, Finch seems infatuated with Violet, ever since their first conversation. He tries to talk to her at school, but she’s withdrawn and aloof, as she has been with almost everyone around her. On social media, he tags her with a video of himself playing acoustic guitar and singing a song that he wrote about her. She’s creeped out and asks him to remove the video immediately, and he grants her request.

But one day, Violet and Finch’s sociology teacher Hudson (played by Chris Grace) gives the class an assignment called the Wandering Project. The assignment, which must be done in duos, requires the students to write about two or more wonders in Indiana that they have seen in person while traveling. Finch immediately knows that he wants Violet to be his partner, but she declines his request because she doesn’t feel ready to do this type of social assignment.

Violet’s mother doesn’t think it’s a good idea to back out of the assignment, but she’s willing to write a note so that Violet can avoid doing the Wandering Project. However, Hudson the teacher won’t allow Violet to back out. And so, Violet reluctantly agrees to be Finch’s partner on the assignment. She has one major condition if they travel together: “No cars. I’m not getting into a car.” (She’ll eventually change her mind about that too.)

There’s many scenes in All the Bright Places” that have all the characteristics of a sappy teen romance. Violet and Finch read Virginia Woolf quotes and other literary quotes to each other over the phone. Finch gives Violet a quote from “The Waves” that reads, “I feel a thousand capacities in you, even if you don’t think so.” Finch adds, “You’ve got at least a thousand capacities in you, even if you don’t think so.”

Violet and Finch see an outdoor art wall with chalk writings that say “Before I Die, I Want to….” and people can fill in the blanks. Finch completes the sentence by writing, “Stay Awake,” Violet answers, “Be Brave.” As they get closer, they eventually open up to each other about their hopes, fears and traumas that haunt them. They find a secluded wooded area near a lake that becomes a special place for them.

“All the Bright Places” sows the tender blossoming of Violet and Finch’s romance. However, there are parts of the movie that might irritate some people who will think that Finch is yet another “angry young black man” stereotype that’s seen in many other movies about troubled young people. Finch could have been played by an actor of any race. This movie obviously wants to be “color blind.”

However, it’s an artistic choice that brings some flaws when race is never even mentioned at all in the movie. And that’s very unrealistic for interracial couples, especially a couple still in high school and not old enough to have their own homes. Amanda warns Violet to stay away from Finch because he has a reputation for being “dangerous.” But Violet ignores this warning

Violet’s protective and loving parents seem very unaware of Finch’s troubled past. The parents’ ignorance or unwillingness to find out more about the teenage guy who’s been spending time with their daughter could be explained by speculating that Sheryl and James are so relieved tha Violet has found a new friend who’s bringing Violet out of her grief-stricken shell, they don’t want to find out anything bad about Finch.

And, for a while, things do go well for Violet and Finch, as they become each other’s close confidants. But the cracks in the relationship begin when Finch pulls a disappearing act. Violet is not prepared for dealing with Finch’s unpredictability, and she takes it very personally when he doesn’t respond to her messages for days. Violet has an insightful conversation with Charlie about how Finch has always been this erratic, but somehow Violet thinks that her love and friendship will be strong enough to help Finch improve.

What this movie shows, in very layered ways, is that signs of mental illness can be right in front of a loved one to see, but people often ignore these signs, or they think that with enough love, they can “fix” the person with the mental illness. It’s a common trap for people who end up being co-dependent in unhealthy ways. What Violet doesn’t understand is that she’s also vulnerable and hasn’t healed from her own emotional trauma (her grief has obviously made her depressed), so she’s not fully equipped to deal with Finch’s mental illness. It’s no one’s fault. That’s just the way it is.

Fanning (who is one of the producers of “All the Bright Places”) is extremely talented at conveying emotions that look so authentic that they don’t look like acting. Smith is also convincing in his role, but the movie has a tendency to give more weight to Violet’s perspective than Finch’s perspective. The technical aspects of “All the Bright Places” work best in Rob Givens’ cinematography, which gorgeously captures the landscapes of a Midwestern autumn. (The movie takes place in Indiana but was actually filmed in Ohio.)

But this movie wouldn’t work as well without Fanning’s and Smith’s admirable performances. Is there some typical teen melodrama in the movie? Absolutely. But in other ways, “All the Bright Places” is not a typical teen movie. It will make people feel a range of emotions that might cause discomfort but also a renewed appreciation for the fragility of life.

Netflix premiered “All the Bright Places” on February 28, 2020.

Review: ’12 Mighty Orphans,’ starring Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen

June 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

“12 Mighty Orphans” Pictured in back row, from left to right: Preston Porter, Woodrow Luttrell, Sampley Barinaga and Jacob Lofland. Pictured in middle row, from left to right: Levi Dylan, Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Manuel Tapia, Austin Shook and Michael Gohlke. Pictured in front tow, from left to right: Slade Monroe, Jake Austin Walker, Bailey Roberts and Tyler Silva. (Photo by Laura Wilson/Sony Pictures Classics)

“12 Mighty Orphans”

Directed by Ty Roberts

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1938, mainly in Fort Worth, Texas, the dramatic film “12 Mighty Orphans” (based on a true story) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A high school football coach begins working at an orphanage, where he assembles a ragtag team of teenage football players, who must fight for respect and overcome several obstacles in football and in life.

Culture Audience: “12 Mighty Orphans” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in traditionally made “against all odds” sports movies.

Luke Wilson and Jake Austin Walker in “12 Mighty Orphans” (Photo by David McFarland/Sony Pictures Classics)

Unapologetically sentimental and earnest, the dramatic film “12 Mighty Orphans” is the type of movie that embraces its hokey tropes and ends up being a charming story. Most of the movie is utterly predictable, because there are so many underdog sports movies that have covered the same territory in a similar way. Somehow, it all works well for “12 Mighty Orphans,” which tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, a Texas orphanage football team that defied low expectations to go all the way to the Texas state championships.

People who already know this story probably won’t learn anything new, but this dramatic depiction is still compelling, thanks to commendable performances from the cast members. Directed by Ty Roberts (who co-wrote the “12 Mighty Orphans” screenplay with Lane Garrison and Kevin Meyer), “12 Mighty Orphans” is based on Jim Dent’s 2008 non-fiction book “Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football.” The movie (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City) hits a lot of the same beats as other inspirational sports movies about underdogs.

There’s the coach who ignores the naysayers, motivates his team, and turns them into winners. There’s the talented but hotheaded team member who lets his temper get in the way of his sportsmanship. There’s the sneering coach from another team who can’t believe these ragamuffins could possibly be better than his team.

The movie, which takes place in 1938 during the Great Depression, begins with the introduction of Harvey Nual “Rusty” Russell (played by Luke Wilson), who has left a comfortable teaching position at a high school to take a teaching/coaching job at the Masonic Home, an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas, that has about 150 children in residence. Rusty has moved with his loyal wife Juanita Russell (played by Vinessa Shaw) and their two children: Betty Russell (played by Josie Fink and Lillie Fink), who’s about 4 or 5 years old, and another unnamed daughter, who’s about 6 or 7 years old.

Juanita, who will be teaching English at the orphanage, isn’t happy about this move because Rusty took this job without even discussing it with her. Rusty will be teaching math at the orphanage, but his true passion is coaching football. The orphanage’s doctor A.P. “Doc” Hall (played by Martin Sheen) recommended Rusty for the job, but Doc and Rusty don’t meet in person until Rusty and his family arrive on the premises. Doc is also a football enthusiast, and he becomes Rusty’s biggest ally at the orphanage. Doc also serves as the movie’s voiceover narrator.

To his shock and dismay, Rusty finds out that not only does the orphanage not have a formal football team but the orphanage also don’t have football uniforms. Doc also says that when the orphans do play footbal, they play during two seasons: One season where they can wear shoes, and they other where they don’t wear shoes. The orphanage is so financially strapped that there aren’t enough athletic shoes to last an entire year. Despite these obstacles, Rusty is determined to put a football team together and have the team compete with high school football teams in the league.

Rusty gets resistence from the orphanage’s corrupt chief administrator Frank Wynn (played by Wayne Knight), who physically and verbally abuses the male orphans. (Frank has a large paddle named Bertha, and he doesn’t hesitate to use it.) Frank also forces the male teenagers to work in an orphanage sweatshop to make garments and shoes that he sells for his own personal profit. Needless to say, the sweatshop work violates all types of child labor laws.

Frank thinks that the male teens in the orphanage shouldn’t be playing competitive football because he thinks the time spent on practice and games should be used for his grueling sweatshop work. However, Frank is overruled by his boss, who tells Rusty that Rusty can put together a football team, under one condition: “It’s very important that it does not interfere with the day-to-day [activities] of the home.”

Through a process of elimination (some of the boys don’t qualify for the team because of low grades), 12 teens (whose average age is 16 to 17) join the football team. They call themselves the Mighty Mites. The 12 members of the team are:

  • Hardy Brown (played by Jake Austin Walker), an angry young man who becomes the team’s star linebacker
  • Wheatie “C.D.” Sealey (played by Slade Monroe), who comes out of his bashful shell to become the team quarterback
  • Douglass “Fairbank” Lord (played by Levi Dylan), the pretty boy of the team
  • Leonard “Snoggs” Roach (played by Jacob Lofland), a foul-mouthed jokester
  • Leon Pickett (played by Woodrow Luttrell), an introvert
  • Miller Moseley (played by Bailey Roberts), the smallest player on the team
  • Cecil “Crazy” Moseley (played by Michael Gohlke), Miller’s brother who happens to be mute
  • Amarante Pete “A.P.” Torres (played by Tler Silva), who doesn’t say much in the movie
  • Gonzolo “Carlos” Torres (played by Manuel Tapia), who is A.P.’s brother
  • DeWitt “Tex” Coulter (played by Preston Porter), the tallest person on the team
  • Ray Coulter (played by Austin Shook), Tex’s brother
  • Clyde “Chicken” Roberts (played by Sampley Barinaga), a redhead who overcomes his fears to become a solid team player

Abusive orphanage administrator Wayne is the story’s biggest villain, but the movie also has other antagonists. Luther (played by Lane Garrison) is a cigar-chewing, arrogant businessman who has invested in a rival football team. He’s dead-set against letting the Mighty Mites play in the high school football league because he thinks the orphanage isn’t a legitimate school. “Orphan football,” Luther sasy to himself disgust. “That’s as dumb as letting women vote.”

During a football league hearing to decide whether or not the Mighty Mites can compete against other high school football teams, Luther objects because of the rule that a competing school must have at least 500 students. However, Rusty has found a clause in the rulebook that can make an exception for a team if the coaches of the other high schools give a majority vote to allow the team. Rodney Kidd (played by Scott Haze), who happens to be Luther’s brother-in-law, is presiding over the hearing.

Luther thinks that his family connection will give him an easy advantage in this battle. But to Luther’s anger and disappointment, the coaches of the other high schools vote by a majority to let the Mighty Mites compete in the league. It can be presumed that these other coaches probably thought that these orphans would be easy to defeat in football games, so that’s why they readily allowed the Mighty Mites into the league.

But as what happens in underdog stories like this one, the Mighty Mites were severely underestimated. They start winning games and become folk heroes. The team attracts the attention of businessman Mason Hawk (played by Robert Duvall, in a small role), who invests in the Mighty Mites. (“Apocalypse Now” co-stars Sheen and Duvall have a scene together in “12 Mighty Orphans.”) Later in the story, President Franklin Roosevelt (played by Larry Pine) becomes a Mighty Mites fan. Treat Williams has a small role as Amon Carter, founder/publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

And every underdog story seems to have emotional baggage and trauma. Hardy is a very talented football player, but he has an explosive temper that can get him into trouble. Why is he so angry? Before he came to the orphanage, he was found lying next to his dead father (who was murdered), and Hardy’s mother didn’t want to take care of Hardy, so she sent him to live in the orphanage.

C.D. also has a mother who abandoned him at the orphanage, when he was 7 years old, after C.D.’s father left the family. C.D. hasn’t seen his mother in the 10 years since then. When C.D. mother’s Wanda (played by Lucy Faust) unexpectedly shows up at the orphanage with her current husband, it leads to an emotionally raw confrontation that’s very melodramatic, but it fits well in this often-melodramatic movie.

Doc, who is a widower, has his own personal demons: He’s an alcoholic. And he confides in Rusty that his wife died during childbirth. Based on his tone of voice, Doc is still haunted by his wife’s tragic death. As for Rusty, he tells his football team during an emotional moment that he can relate to them because he’s an orphan too.

“12 Mighty Orphans” is the type of movie where Doc says in a voiceover about Rusty: “He knew that football would inevitably bring self-respect to the boys.” And there are plenty of “pep talk” scenes that are exactly what you would expect. As formulaic as this movie is, there’s still a level of suspense in the movie’s best game scene: the Texas state championship. Viewers who already know the game’s outcome can still be drawn in by the thrilling way that this game is filmed for the movie.

Rusty is portrayed by Wilson as an almost saintly mentor who never loses his temper, even when some of the boys on his team rudely insult him and each other. By contrast, Knight’s depiction of the loathsome Frank is almost a caricature of a villain. Out of all Mighty Mites, Walker (as Hardy), Monroe (as C.D.) and Lofland (as Snoggs) get the most screen time to showcase the characters’ personalities. All of the acting is believable, but sometimes hampered by corny dialogue.

“12 Mighty Orphans” was filmed on location in Texas, in the cities of Fort Worth, Weatherford and Cleburne. That authenticity goes a long way in this movie’s appeal, since so much of the film comes across as a made-for-TV movie. Is this movie going to be nominated for any awards? No, but it’s not a bad way to be entertained. And people don’t even have to be fans of American football to enjoy “12 Mighty Orphans.”

Sony Pictures Classics released “12 Mighty Orphans” in select U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021, with an expansion to more cinemas on June 18, 2021.

Review: ‘Guest of Honour,’ starring David Thewlis, Laysla De Oliveira, Rossif Sutherland, Arsinée Khanjian and Luke Wilson

July 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Thewlis in “Guest of Honour” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

“Guest of Honour”

Directed by Atom Egoyan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada, the dramatic film “Guest of Honour” has an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman who spent time in prison for a crime she didn’t commit attempts to reconcile with her past and her family secrets when she meets with a priest about her father’s funeral.

Culture Audience: “Guest of Honour” will appeal primarily to people who like arthouse psychological dramas that are slow-moving and where people act illogically.

Luke Wilson and Laysla De Oliveira in “Guest of Honour” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

The movie “Guest of Honour” (written and directed by Atom Egoyan) presents itself as a psychologically driven drama that’s supposed to unravel a family mystery, but the only mystery that viewers will be faced with is whether or not it’s worth their time to slog through this convoluted and often-dull film. Although the movie is anchored by an interesting and somewhat complex performance by David Thewlis, ultimately it falls short in how the characters are developed and how sluggish and illogical the story ends up being in many ways.

“Guest of Honour” begins with a woman in her late 20s who is meeting with a priest at a church, in order to make arrangements for her widower father’s funeral. She has never met this priest before, but she’s there because it was her father’s dying wish to have his funeral service conducted by the priest at this church. The woman’s name is Veronica Davis (played by Laysla De Oliveria), and the priest’s name is Father Greg (played by Luke Wilson). Veronica starts to tell Father Greg not only her life story but also what her father Jim Davis (played by Thewlis) was like when Veronica knew him.

And apparently, Father Greg has enough time on his hands to listen, because as the story unfolds to viewers in this 103-minute movie, it’s a rather long-winded, non-linear, rambling tale that will test the patience of people having to hear it. The movie flashes back and forth between showing Veronica’s life as a child, Veronica’s life as an adult, David’s life before his wife died of cancer, and David’s life as a widower.

There’s a lot to unpack about David’s and Veronica’s lives, but one thing is clear: Veronica has had a lot of people close to her die while she’s still in her 20s. She also spent time in prison for a crime she didn’t commit, but she confessed to the crime and asked for the maximum sentence. Why? Because she feels guilty about something she did in her past.

Most of the movie has spoiler information, so the only spoiler-free details that can really be revealed are from some of the flashback scenes. Viewers find out that David’s wife/Veronica’s mother Roseangela (played by Tennille Read) was a Brazilian immigrant in Canada. Veronica is David and Roseangela’s only child.

This family of three had a happy life until Roseangela got cancer when Veronica was about 9 years old. David, who never remarried, used to own a restaurant. But at some point in his life, he switched careers to become a health inspector of restaurants.

Flashbacks show that David was a very stern inspector who took his job very seriously. He liked to randomly show up and surprise people with his inspections. And he wouldn’t hesitate to shut down a restaurant for health-code violations.

There’s a scene where he finds a strand of hair in his food while dining at a food court, and he gives a scathing lecture to the young woman behind the counter for not wearing a hair net while working. There are no scenes of David as a restaurateur, but there are scenes of him visiting Veronica in prison and being frustrated when she refuses his offer to help her get released early.

When Veronica was a child (played by Isabella Franca), she took piano lessons from a family friend named Alicia (played by Sochi Fried), who had a son named Walter (played by Alexander Marsh), who was approximately the same age as Veronica. Walter and Veronica became close friends, and that relationship had developed into a romance by the time that they became young-adult teenagers. (Gage Munroe plays the adult Walter.)

As for the crime that landed Veronica in prison, even though she didn’t commit the crime, it was for sexual misconduct with an underage student. A flashback shows that Veronica used to be a music teacher at a high school, where she was the conductor of the school’s orchestra. Being a young, attractive and popular teacher got her a lot of attention from the male students, as well as other people who were in her orbit.

While on a tour with the school orchestra, one of the students named Clive (played by Alexandre Bourgeois) has an obvious crush on Veronica, so he boldly asks her out to dinner after one of the orchestra’s performances. Veronica politely declines and says that she has a dinner date with the tour bus driver, whose name is Mike (played by Rossif Sutherland). Mike is a scruffy creep who’s about 10 to 15 years older than Veronica. She’s not interested in Mike, but Veronica is temporarily using Mike as a “shield” to ward off Clive’s advances.

When Veronica has dinner with Mike, it’s obvious that Mike is attracted to her too. He’s been noticing that Veronica and Clive have a little bit of a mutual flirtation, but as far as anyone can see, there’s nothing inappropriate going on between the student and the teacher. When Veronica tells Mike that she’s only having dinner with him so that Clive will lose interest in her, Mike is offended. However, Veronica tells Mike that he shouldn’t be insulted because she’s being honest with him in telling him that she’s not interested in dating Mike either.

The movie reveals exactly how Veronica got into trouble and why she was accused of sexual misconduct. There’s also quite a bit of screen time showing David on the job as an inspector. Although he can be a tough evaluator, he also shows moments of compassion. One of the restaurants that David inspects is a place called the Vienna Tavern, where he has a fateful meeting with a restaurant manager named Anna (Arsinée Khanjian).

And a white rabbit named Benjamin, which David gave to Veronica as a gift when she was 9 years old, is a quasi-metaphor in the movie for David’s relationship with Veronica. The rabbit lives a lot longer than most rabbits, and that longevity is mentioned in the movie, to make it obvious to viewers that this is supposed to be a special rabbit.

David takes care of Benjamin when Veronica is in prison. He clings to the rabbit in moments when it’s obvious that he’s thinking of Veronica. David and Veronica also think a rabbit’s foot is a good-luck charm, which leads to a gruesome request that David makes toward the end of the film.

One of the striking things about this family drama is how isolated David and Veronica seem to be in their lives after Roseangela died. If Veronica and David have any other relatives or any other friends besides Walter and Alicia, they are not seen or mentioned at all in this movie, which is why this story feels like a lot is missing. There’s also a cringeworthy part of the movie where Father Greg commits a major breach of ethics by revealing to Veronica something confidential that David told Father Greg.

The weakest part of “Guest of Honour” is when David tries to play private detective, in order to find out exactly how and why Veronica got in trouble and imprisoned for a crime that he knows that she didn’t commit. It leads to some hokey moments, such as when David does some melodramatic shouting in a restaurant about Veronica’s reputation and how she’s not the type of person to commit the crime.

This investigation takes an emotional toll on David, but the scenes just aren’t very well-written. David goes from being a nebbish health inspector to having an almost vigilante-like obsession to get justice for his daughter. He’s not acting like Liam Neeson in a “Taken” movie, but David starts making threats as if he’s some kind of mob boss for the health department.

As a mystery, “Guest of Honour” (whose title is explained in the film) loses steam by the last third of the film because Veronica’s secret has already been revealed at this point. It’s not a surprise that David has a secret too, which is revealed toward the end of film, but his secret is very anti-climactic.

Although the acting and most of the production elements (such as cinematography and production design) in “Guest of Honour” are good (but not great), ultimately the movie could have benefited from a better screenplay and tighter editing. The father and daughter at the center of this story are written as a series of unfortunate events instead of people with emotionally rich and full lives.

Kino Lorber released “Guest of Honour” in select U.S. and Canadian virtual cinemas on July 10, 2020. The movie’s DVD and Blu-ray release date is August 18, 2020.

Review: ‘The Swing of Things,’ starring Chord Overstreet, Olivia Culpo, Adelaide Kane and Luke Wilson

July 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Olivia Culpo and Chord Overstreet in “The Swing of Things” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Swing of Things”

Directed by Matt Shapira

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and Jamaica, the sex comedy “The Swing of Things” has a predominantly white cast (with some black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A straight-laced American bride and groom’s wedding plans are drastically altered when a plane detour causes them to have their wedding at a swingers’ resort in Jamaica.

Culture Audience: “The Swing of Things” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching badly made comedies that are a waste of time.

Luke Wilson in “The Swing of Things” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

It seems like the main motivation for “The Swing of Things” cast to make this movie was to get an expenses-paid trip to Jamaica. It certainly couldn’t have been the mind-numbing, awful screenplay of this so-called comedy. “The Swing of Things” (sloppily directed by Matt Shapira) is not only humorless but it’s also incredibly dull for a movie that tries to pretend that it’s wild and edgy because most of the story takes place at a swingers’ resort.

The most pathetic aspect of how this moronic movie got made is that five people are credited with writing “The Swing of Things” screenplay: Patrick McErlean, Christopher Hewitson, Clayton Hewitson, Justin Jonas and Scotty Mullen. It’s proof of that old cliché: “Too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth.” In this case, the “broth” is the type of rotten garbage that is an apt description for this stinker of a movie, where most of the acting is so bad that you might experience some brain rot if you keep watching.

It takes a while (the first third of the movie) for “The Swing of Things” to actually get to the destination wedding trip that is supposed to be at the center of the story. The movie first introduces viewers to the future bride and groom, and then shows how they met. By the way, these two “lovebirds”—Tommy (played by Chord Overstreet) and Laura Jane McGursky (played by Olivia Culpo)—have no believable chemistry together. But even if they did, it still wouldn’t help this ridiculously horrible movie.

Tommy works for an advertising agency that’s run by an egotistical, crude sexist named Ricky (played by Aleksander Vayshelboym), who treats women as nothing more than body parts he can play with sexually. At the ad agency’s headquarters in Los Angeles, the company’s past print ad campaigns are proudly on display as posters on the walls of the conference room. One of these poster displays is of a beer ad that shows a beer bottle’s contents being poured down a nearly naked bikini bottom of a woman, to simulate a “golden shower” while another woman is posed underneath with her mouth open, as if she’s ready to swallow. That’s what passes for “humor” in this movie.

Tommy and Ricky are stressed-out because they have an important meeting with a rich client named Jon Johnson (played by Jon Lovitz, doing his usual smarmy schtick) to pitch an ad campaign for the client’s jet packs, which Jon wants to sell to the public as high-priced adventure toys. Tommy’s ad slogan for the jet packs is “Making the future fun again.” Jon (who’s surrounded by two trophy girlfriends and a small group of bodyguards) isn’t completely sold until Tommy comes up with an idea to describe the jet-pack experience that gets Jon’s enthusiastic approval: “It’s like a vibrator for your mind.”

Meanwhile, also in Los Angeles, Laura is an aspiring fashion designer who wants to make clothes for dogs. Her career isn’t going so well and she’s struggling to make money. Laura has two roommates: a down-to-earth Australian named Georgia (played by Adelaide Kane) and a self-admitted alcoholic and nymphomaniac named Molly (named Leslie Stratton), who utters lines like, “Get ready, because his dick will be like a McDonald’s milkshake machine.”

The only reason why the character of Molly seems to have been written for this movie is so she could have a threesome with two men. That’s what happens when Laura, with Georgia’s help, puts on a small doggie fashion show in their apartment for some potential customers, but the fashion show is ruined by the sounds of the threesome going at it in a nearby bedroom. After this scene, Molly isn’t seen or heard from again.

Tommy and Laura have a not-very-interesting “meet cute” scene at a food truck. The movie then fast forwards to Tommy and Laura getting engaged. The engagement party dinner includes Laura’s roommate/best friend Georgia; Laura’s free-spirited parents Mama McGursky (played by Carol Hennesy) and Papa McGursky (played by E.E. Bell); Tommy’s more traditional parents Sherry (played by Linda Purl) and Manfred (played by Matt McCoy), who’s a workaholic businessman; and Laura’s older adopted brother Lance (played by Luke Wilson), who drunkenly confesses that he’s always been jealous of Laura because she’s the biological child of their parents.

And the next thing you know, they and Tommy’s boss Ricky are all on a plane to the Bahamas, where Tommy and Laura’s wedding is supposed to take place. Of course, in a predictable sex comedy like this one, there has to be a “Mile High Club” encounter on the plane. But even that tryst (with Ricky and a woman who looks old enough to be his mother) is poorly written and brings no laughs.

By the way, Ricky likes to put on a Japanese headband before he has sex. It’s like he’s doing some kind of creepy, dumb tribute to “The Karate Kid.” Ralph Macchio would not be proud.

And wouldn’t you know, things go wrong with the trip when an announcement comes over the plane that, due to weather problems in the Bahamas, the plane has to be rerouted to Jamaica instead. When the wedding party gets to Jamaica, they all find out the wedding, which is in four days, can’t be held in the Bahamas because no one would be able to get there on time. Therefore, they decide to have the wedding in Jamaica. And the only place available is a Hedonism II resort, which is a known vacation spot for swingers.

One of the things that is immediately noticeable about the casting for “The Swing of Things” is that while there’s diversity in how the young men look, all the young women are way above-average in their looks. There isn’t one young woman in this cast who doesn’t look like some kind of model, which is very unrealistic. If “The Swing of Things” director Shapira had a casting call sheet for the young actresses he wanted to cast in the movie, he might as well have just put, “Only thin, pretty women will be get the job.” In the real world, a resort like Hedonism II has young women of various body types and looks, but don’t tell that to a director who clearly wanted mostly “hot chicks” in his movie.

The movie has the predictable close-up shots of naked breasts and showing the backsides of women in thong bikinis. But director Shapira also has a weird fixation on doing close-ups of the penises of black men in tight Speedos—and only the black men. Perhaps the director has some racist stereotypes and insecurities to work out about the sizes of black men’s genitals, compared to white men’s, but it’s pretty obvious he didn’t want any close-ups of white men’s privates parts in the way he almost fetishizes the black men’s genitals in this movie.

There’s a problematic scene where an all-black group of men who work at the resort offer to give massages to the women in the wedding party. But since this is a swingers’ resort, these “masseurs” assume that the women want more than massages, so these white women are sexually harassed and sexually fondled/assaulted by black men in the massage rooms. The women are able to fight them off and get away. It’s all played for laughs in the movie, but there’s a racist and sexist tone to this scene that’s reprehensible and not funny at all.

There’s also a character named Ira Goldstein (played by Oliver Cooper), who works as the resort’s promoter, but what he really wants to do is open a dry-cleaning business with his Jamaican wife. Ira first meets the members of the wedding party when they arrive at the airport, and he’s the one who recommends that they stay at Hedonism II. The running gag with Ira is that he’s from New York’s Long Island, but he talks in a fake Jamaican accent so that he can appear to be an “authentic” Jamaican. Can you say cultural appropriation?

And it gets even more insufferable with Ira, since he’s constantly hitting up the resort guests (including Tommy’s father Manfred) for money to invest in his non-existent business. Needless to say, the Ira character is a major pest. However, Cooper gives one of the better performances in this movie that’s filled with bad acting. Kane also shows glimmers of talent, but the movie’s screenplay and direction (including amateurish, choppy editing) are so terrible, that any talent that she might have just gets lost in the stink of it all.

Dot-Marie Jones has an awkwardly written cameo as a sex therapist named Finlay Roosevelt, who gets Tommy’s parents and Laura’s parents to “loosen up.” It’s as cringeworthy as it sounds. As for Wilson, who wears a Panama hat throughout the movie as if he’s some of kind of goofball Indiana Jones, this was clearly “just a paycheck” movie for him, since his terrible performance as Laura’s annoying and irresponsible older brother Lance is downright embarrassing.

As for the wedding couple, it should come as no surprise that having their wedding at a swingers’ resort will result in temptations and insecurities/accusations about who might be cheating. And as if this stupid movie couldn’t get any more unimaginative, there’s a cliché “race against time to the airport before it’s too late to tell this person how I feel” scene that’s a tired ripoff of many other romantic comedies that have done the same thing.

Because most of this film is set on location in a resort in Jamaica, the cast and crew of “The Swing of Things” probably had some fun making this movie. Too bad anyone unlucky enough to watch this putrid trash won’t be having any fun at all.

Lionsgate released “The Swing of Things” on Blu-ray, DVD, digital and VOD on July 14, 2020.

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