Review: ‘Alone Together’ (2022), starring Katie Holmes, Jim Sturgess and Derek Luke

January 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jim Sturgess and Katie Holmes in “Alone Together” (Photo by Jesse Korman/Vertical Entertainment)

“Alone Together” (2022)

Directed by Katie Holmes

Culture Representation: Taking place in Connecticut and New York City, from March to April 2020, the comedy/drama film “Alone Together” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, a food critic/journalist with an attorney boyfriend finds herself quarantining unexpectedly with a bachelor repairman when they are both double-booked at the same Airbnb rental house, and the awkwardness between these temporary housemates turns into a romantic attraction.

Culture Audience: “Alone Together” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star/writer/director Katie Holmes and don’t mind watching a clumsily made and extremely predictable romantic dramedy.

Katie Holmes and Derek Luke in “Alone Together” (Photo by Jesse Korman/Vertical Entertainment)

“Alone Together” is a trite and misguided dramedy about a would-be couple stuck quarantining in the same house during the COVID-19 pandemic. The only social distancing needed is for viewers to avoid this boring flop that fails to have any romantic sizzle. Katie Holmes is the writer, director and star of this formulaic dud, so she bears the responsibility for not being able to write and direct a great role for herself. The cast members’ performances aren’t terrible, but the movie’s storytelling is so unimaginative and substandard, it’s disappointing that the potential to make a witty and memorable film is completely wasted.

“Alone Together” takes place during a one-month period (March to April 2020), during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Keep that in mind when the “Alone Together” characters make big decisions about their lives in such a short period of time. The problem is that some of these life decisions don’t look completely believable and look too rushed, considering the personalities of some of the characters involved.

“Alone Together” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival. Holmes’ feature-film directorial debut “All We Had” (written by Josh Boone and Jill Killington) had its world premiere at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. In both movies, Holmes as a director shows a knack for choosing talented cast members, but she needs a lot of improvement in how a director shapes the narrative of a film.

“Alone Together” is not as muddled as “All We Had” (a drama about a single mother who becomes homeless), but “Alone Together” has almost the opposite problem: It presents complicated life decisions in such an overly simplistic way, the end result is that “Alone Together” looks like an unrelatable, half-baked fairy tale. “Alone Together” earnestly wants to be a meaningful love story set during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the lack of believable chemistry between the two lead characters automatically makes this romantic dramedy a non-starter.

“Alone Together” begins on March 15, 2020, in New York City, at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns. A food critic/journalist named June (played by Holmes) is going on a getaway trip to an Airbnb rental house in Connecticut. Her boyfriend John (played by Derek Luke), who is a corporate attorney, booked this rental the week before, as a romantic vacation. But now, with the world under quarantine from a deadly disease, this trip has taken on a new meaning.

From the beginning, “Alone Together” has a series of contrivances to make June get in a bad mood at the start of the trip. When she goes to the subway station, a homeless panhandler (played by Mike Iveson) verbally abuses her when she ignores his begging for money: “The world is ending, bitch,” the panhandler snarls. “I shouldn’t have to ask you twice.”

The subways are delayed, so June decides to take an above-ground train. But when she gets to the train station, she finds out that the train she needs to take has cancelled all service for the day. June ends up using a Lyft car service to get to her destination, so traveling to the rental home costs a lot more than June expected.

While June uses hand sanitizer in the car (and she continues to use hand sanitizer throughout the movie, to show she’s conscientious about germs), the nosy Lyft driver (played by Neal Benari) inappropriately asks June if she’s married. June says no, but she says she eventually wants to get married and start a family. It’s later mentioned in the movie that June and John have been dating each other for a year.

When she’s in the car on the way to the Airbnb rental, June gets a text from John telling her that he won’t be able to join her at the Airbnb rental, because he’s staying in the city to look after his elderly parents during the COVID-19 lockdowns. The rental house has already been paid for, and June is almost there, so she doesn’t see the point of going all the way back to New York City.

The irritations for June continue: When she arrives at the house, she can’t find the key to the front door. And then, her phone battery dies. She also finds out the house is already occupied by someone who says he booked the same house the day before. You know where this is going, of course.

The house’s other rental occupant is Charlie (played by Jim Sturgess), a bachelor who has his own business repairing vintage items. His especially loves to fix up old motorcycles. And what a coincidence: Charlie lives in New York City too, and he’s rented the house to be by himself during the pandemic lockdowns during the same period time that June and John had the booked the place. June and Charlie predictably have a mild squabble over who has the right to be at the house, until they both agree to share the house for the duration that they have it booked.

“Alone Together” then goes through the tedious and snoozeworthy motions of June and Charlie bickering and being uncomfortable with each other, until they discover they actually like each other and have some romantic attraction to each other. Meanwhile, June is already annoyed with John for wanting to spend time with his parents instead of with her. And then, June gets jealous when she sees a social media photo of John looking cozy with one of John’s female co-workers named Carol.

June tells Charlie about John but almost makes John sound like an inattentive boyfriend instead of a loving and caring son. Charlie has some issues about falling in love because his most recent ex-girlfriend cheated on him and dumped him to be with another man. Even after Charlie tells June this information, she seems to have very little qualms about cheating on unsuspecting John with Charlie. Charlie also doesn’t seem to want to think too much about the consequences if Charlie and June hook up: Charlie is going to be involved with another woman who’s a cheater, and he’s going to be involved in emotionally hurting John.

In other words: “Alone Together” doesn’t give any good reasons for viewers to root for June and Charlie to be a couple. To make things worse, the dialogue in “Alone Together” is so bland and forgettable, it’s hard to believe that June and Charlie are connecting on a level other than physical attraction. It’s supposed to be an “opposites attract” situation where uptight, white-collar June and laid-back, blue-collar Charlie are supposed to find love with each other, despite their different lifestyles. It all looks so phony.

“Alone Together” also has some weird inconsistencies that are examples of the movie’s substandard writing and directing. When June first meets Charlie, she asks him, “Are you from Wisconsin?,” even though he has an obvious East Coast accent. Charlie later tells June that he grew up New York City’s Lower East Side, even though Sturgess (who is British in real life) has an American accent that sounds more like Charlie grew up in New Jersey.

The two-story house where June and Charlie are staying is big enough to have more than one bathroom, but there are multiple, fake-looking scenes where Charlie and June have discomfort from using the same bathroom. June is supposed to be such a germaphobe during the pandemic (before a COVID vaccine is available), she’s paranoid about using towels in someone else’s house. But then, there are multiple scenes of her not social distancing or not using any face protections when she’s around a stranger like Charlie during the pandemic. Charlie eventually makes face masks for himself and June, because it’s supposed to be a cutesy romantic gesture.

Charlie and June eventually open up to each other about their family lives. June’s only living relative is her widowed, unnamed grandfather (played by Ed Dixon), who is the father of June’s mother. There’s a scene where June sings “Blue Moon” to her grandfather when they chat on the phone during the quarantine. (During the movie’s opening credits, Holmes’ real-life daughter Suri Cruise sings a pitch-perfect and delightful version of “Blue Moon,” in one of the few highlights of this dud of a movie.) Charlie is close to his widowed mother Deborah (played by Melissa Leo), and she calls him during the quarantine too.

June’s best friend is named Margaret (played by Zosia Mamet), who tries to assure a worried and insecure June that John wouldn’t cheat on June with his co-worker Carol, because John is a good guy. Meanwhile, hypocritical June gets closer and closer to cheating on John with Charlie. June fails to see this double standard. The characters of June’s grandfather, Charlie’s mother Deborah and June’s friend Margaret are just sounding boards and are ultimately of no consequence to the story.

Even if the trailer for “Alone Together” didn’t already reveal that John (who is a very generic character) would show up unexpectedly at the house, it’s too easy to predict that this is how John will find out about Charlie. The movie then hems and haws with pseudo-suspense, as June has to decide if she will choose John or Charlie in this monotonous love triangle. And remember: June is making this decision after knowing Charlie for less than a month. “Alone Together” is trying desperately to be a smart independent film, but there’s no intelligence to be found from copying the same old tired clichés that can be found in a Hallmark Channel movie or a cheap romance novel.

Vertical Entertainment released “Alone Together” in select U.S. cinemas on July 22, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on July 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Jane’ (2022), starring Madelaine Petsch, Chloe Bailey and Melissa Leo

September 2, 2022

by Carla Hay

Chloe Bailey and Madelaine Petsch in “Jane” (Photo courtesy of Creator+)

“Jane” (2022)

Directed by Sabrina Jaglom

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “Jane” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After her best friend commits suicide, a teenager in her last year of high school sees visions of her dead friend, who seems to inspire her to commit various crimes.

Culture Audience: “Jane” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching mediocre and predictable movies about teenage girls who are catty and obsessive.

Melissa Leo in “Jane” (Photo courtesy of Creator+)

Heinously using suicide as a story gimmick, “Jane” is the type of formulaic teenage drama movie that looks it could have been made as disposable Netflix content. Too many plot holes and unanswered questions ruin any credibility that “Jane” tries to have. It’s yet another movie about havoc wreaked by a selfish, immoral teen who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Expect to see “mean girl” scenes repeated to monotony in “Jane.”

“Jane” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Sabrina Jaglom (who co-wrote the “Jane” screenplay with Rishi Rajani), and it’s the second movie released by the Creator+ movie distribution company and streaming service. Creator+’s first movie is the romantic comedy “Diamond in the Rough,” released in June 2022. Based on these tepid movie offerings, Creator+ needs to come up with much better content that would be worth the price of a movie ticket. Everything about “Jane” looks like a made-for-TV movie.

“Jane” begins with the suicide of the movie’s title character. Jane (played by Chloe Yu), who is 17 or 18 years old, is seen jumping off of a plank overlooking a cliff. Jane attended a private high school in Los Angeles named Greenwood School for Girls, where the students are required to wear matching uniforms. It’s an elite prep school where students come from middle-class and upper-middle-class families. (“Jane” was actually filmed in New Mexico.)

Jane’s two closest friends at school—classmates Olivia Brooks (played by Madelaine Petsch) and Isabelle “Izzy” Morris (played by Chloe Bailey)—are devastated by Jane’s death, which happened at the beginning of the school year. Olivia and Izzy are both in their last year at Greenwood, and they both have high hopes to get into Stanford University, which is their first-choice university. During the course of the movie, Olivia and Izzy inflict mean-spirited bullying on people at their school, but Olivia is much more obsessive and more vindictive than Izzy is.

Olivia also has some serious mental health issues. Sometimes, when Olivia is overwhelmed with negative emotions, she faints. Throughout the movie, Olivia sees visions of Jane (who never says a word in the visions), usually right before Olivia does something cruel or illegal. Sometimes, Jane is seen silently encouraging Olivia to do something wrong, or Jane is seen doing something wrong, when in reality, Olivia is the one committing these acts.

You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know that it’s Olivia’s way of projecting the worst parts of herself into her memory of Jane, in order for Olivia to psychologically disassociate herself from her own misdeeds. Olivia doesn’t come right out and say, “Jane made me do it,” because she never tells people that she sees Jane. (This isn’t a ghost horror story.) Instead, throughout the movie, Olivia pretends to be ignorant about certain things that Jane is seen on screen doing, but Olivia doesn’t want to admit that Olivia actually did these things.

Because the movie “Jane” is so transparent about this psychological duplicity, there’s no real suspense if you’ve seen these types of “bad girl with an alter ego” movies many times already. You already know that whatever nasty games Olivia is going to play, they’re going to escalate and get worse. And someone might end up physically hurt or dead. The only real curiosity might come from wondering how much Olivia will get away with and what will happen if anyone finds out her secrets.

“Jane” makes it looks like the mental unraveling of Olivia is triggered or aggravated because of Jane’s suicide and Olivia’s obsession to get into Stanford. However, it’s also suggested that Olivia’s mental health problems have existed long before her last year of high school, but Olivia has been able to hide these problems very well. When Olivia finds out that her application to Stanford has been deferred, she predictably has a minor meltdown about it. A sympathetic school counselor named Mrs. Billings (played by Ramona DuBarry) offers to work with Olivia to craft an appeal letter to Stanford’s admissions department.

Olivia is the captain of the school’s debate team, where she is accustomed to being the “queen bee.” But the arrival of a new transfer student named Camille Cortez (played by Nina Bloomgarden) threatens Olivia because Camille has experience as a school debater who went to a national competition. Greenwood’s debate team has only made it as far as a state competition. Camille gloats about this fact when talking to Olivia for the first time.

The teacher in charge of Greenwood’s debate team is an easygoing instructor named Mr. Richardson (played by Ian Owens), who wants Camille to possibly co-lead the debate team with Olivia. Not surprisingly, Olivia hates the idea and doesn’t want it to happen. Camille and Olivia predictably have a clash of egos, and they exchange thinly veiled insults at each other in their first conversation together in the debate classroom.

Camille tells Olivia, “I just think this team can really benefit from my leadership.” This comment sets Olivia over the edge. In full view of Mr. Richardson and other students, Olivia yells at Camille, “Fuck you!” And then Olivia faints. Even though Olivia later says she’s sorry for what happened, Mr. Richardson tells Olivia that she can’t participate in the team’s next debate, so that Olivia can take some time for self-care.

Olivia is very angry about this temporary suspension. And you know what that means: Olivia is going to find a way to get Camille out of the debate team. Olivia tells Izzy that Camille is a horrible person, in order to turn Izzy against Camille. Izzy and Olivia then find out that Camille left her previous school in New York because of a scandal where Camille accused a teacher of sexual misconduct. After an investigation by the school, the teacher was cleared of the accusation.

Olivia and Izzy don’t know the whole story, but Olivia comes up with the idea to create a fake online account to send unsettling messages to Camille about this scandal. They use a social media platform called Connect, which looks similar to Facebook. Olivia and Izzy’s plan is to make Camille so psychologically shaken, she won’t be able to concentrate, and she’ll fail on the debate team.

It just so happens that when Olivia and Izzy are hanging in Izzy’s bedroom, they find out that on Izzy’s laptop computer, Jane was using Connect and accidentally forgot to log out. Olivia and Izzy have the twisted idea to send the anonymous messages from Jane’s Connect account. Over time, their bullying from this account targets other people at the school.

One of the targets is a teacher named Mrs. West (played by Victoria Foyt), who gave Olivia a grade on an assignment that was below what Olivia wanted. Another person who becomes a victim of Olivia and Izzy’s wrath is a student named Josa (played by Kerri Medders), who begins dating a guy who broke up with Izzy. Olivia and Izzy’s revenge plot against Josa has much worse consequences than hurt feelings from anonymous social media messages.

Greenwood’s chief administrator Principal Rhodes (played by Melissa Leo) has a no-nonsense approach in interrogating the students at the school when the bullying gets out of control. But the movie’s biggest failing is that Olivia and Izzy are so obviously the prime suspects who would be the most likely to have access to the dead Jane’s Connect account. However, Olivia and Izzy don’t get the type of immediate scrutiny and suspicion from school authorities and other students that Olivia and Izzy would get if this were a story that happened in real life, not in a movie.

“Jane” also mishandles the issue of people’s Internet activities being easily traced by IP (Internet protocol) addresses if they don’t have a VPN service or another way of masking their IP address. Olivia and Izzy (who aren’t as smart as they think they are) don’t think about being exposed through IP address tracing until it’s too late, after they’ve already both logged on to Jane’s phantom account several times, using their own personal computer devices. This fear of being caught through their IP addresses becomes a subplot that eventually goes away in an implausible manner.

Another plot hole is in the investigation of something terrible that happened to Josa because of a deliberate action by Olivia and Izzy. In order for viewers to believe that Olivia and Izzy escaped suspicion, you’d have to believe that investigators wouldn’t think to ask Josa who could’ve possibly been responsible for the action that caused Josa serious harm. If investigators did ask Josa, she would most likely remember that the only two people who were with Josa right before this harmful incident were the same two people who gave something to Josa that caused this harmful incident. And those two people were Olivia and Izzy.

Olivia’s loving and supportive parents—Steve Brooks (played by Morse Bicknell) and Eleanor Brooks (played by Amie MacKenzie)—are oblivious to Olivia’s dark side and think she’s a good girl who’s grieving over the suicide of Jane. Olivia is an only child who has a lot of freedom to do what she wants when she’s home alone. Izzy’s parents or other family members are never shown in the movie. The movie’s big climatic scene is very problematic because it’s sloppily constructed and doesn’t take into account that DNA, fingerprints and cell phone tower records would place someone at the scene of a crime when that person claims not to have been there at all.

The cast members of “Jane” give adequate performances with their characters. Petsch (who is also one of the producers of “Jane”) has some chilling moments as the very emotionally disturbed Olivia. However, so much of “Jane” is a retread of “bad girls who pretend to be good” movies, there’s nothing in “Jane” that stands out as being completely original. “Jane” doesn’t sufficiently address all the mental health issues that the movie irresponsibly uses as plot devices. The ending of “Jane” might have been intended to be disturbing, but it really just looks like the filmmakers’ cheap and lazy way of leaving the possibility open that this forgettable movie could get a sequel.

Creator+ released “Jane” in select U.S. cinemas on August 26, 2022. The movie premieres on Creator+ on September 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Measure of Revenge,’ starring Melissa Leo and Bella Thorne

April 9, 2022

by Carla Hay

Bella Thorne and Melissa Leo in “Measure of Revenge” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Measure of Revenge”

Directed by Peyfa

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “Measure of Revenge” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A fairly well-known Broadway actress is out for deadly revenge against the people who supplied a dangerous drug to her musician son and his pregnant girlfriend, who both died from an overdose of this drug. 

Culture Audience: “Measure of Revenge” will appeal primarily to fans of mindless vigilante movies, because nothing about this movie is appealing, interesting or well-done.

Jake Weary and Melissa Leo in “Measure of Revenge” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The crime drama “Measure of Revenge” is such an atrocious dud, no one wants to be listed as the movie’s screenwriter. And it’s easy to see why. It’s a heinous story about a Broadway actress who becomes a murderous vigilante on a rampage because she wants revenge for the drug overdose deaths of her musician son and his pregnant girlfriend. Directed by Peyfa (the alias of Peter Wong), “Measure of Revenge” is nothing but a complete embarrassment to everyone involved in making this pathetic excuse of a movie. “Measure of Revenge” was filmed on location in New York City, which is probably the only thing that looks authentic in this very awkwardly acted and fake-looking film.

What makes “Measure of Revenge” so cringeworthy is that the movie tries to look artsy by throwing in various themes and characters from William Shakespeare plays. “Measure of Revenge” sullies, trashes and insults Shakespeare’s legacy in ways that are even more offensive than the phony-looking murders that take place in the movie. Believe it or not, the unhinged vigilante in “Measure of Revenge” commits one of her murders during an intermission for a play where she’s performing on stage as the Ghost in “Hamlet,” without bothering to change her clothes or disguise herself during the murder. She then goes back to her dressing room, as if no one would notice that she committed the murder while decked out in the same costume and makeup as she wore on stage in front of an audience.

Get used to a lot of this type of silly nonsense in “Measure of Revenge,” which is a movie that’s hard to watch not just because it’s so moronic, but also because it takes itself so seriously. Maybe the filmmakers thought that having an Oscar-winning actress in the cast (Melissa Leo) would automatically improve the movie’s quality. Wrong. Leo gives a lackluster performance as vigilante actress Lillian Cooper, who doesn’t garner much sympathy for her vengeful actions because they’re so ludicrously stupid.

During the course of the story, Lillian appears in various revisionist productions of Shakespeare plays that wouldn’t be worthy of a Broadway stage in real life and certainly wouldn’t pass muster in any reputable performing arts school. In other words, expect to see amateurish, almost laughable versions of “Macbeth” and “Hamlet” in “Measure of Revenge.” The movie’s horrible ending takes this Shakespeare theme to an idiotic and corny level that proves that there was no hope in redeeming this creatively bankrupt flop.

In the beginning of “Measure of Revenge,” Lillian (who’s a widow) happily welcomes her wayward son Curtis Cooper (played by Jake Weary) into her apartment, where he will be staying with her after getting out of rehab for addictions to drugs and alcohol. Curtis is a semi-famous musician/lead singer of a rock band called Red Drums. Curtis’ addictions have caused the band to cancel an upcoming tour.

Curtis’ rehab counselor Mike (played by Michael Gruenglas), who drops Curtis off at Lillian’s home, gives her this advice about Curtis: “Don’t let him out of your sight. The first few days [out of rehab] can be very delicate.” Curtis’ father/Lillian’s husband Raphael Cooper died in 1997, at the age of 36, long before Curtis grew up to become a famous musician.

Lillian’s home (which looks like a two-bedroom apartment) is about to get more crowded, because Curtis’ loving and supportive girlfriend Olivia (played by Jasmine Carmichael), who’s a nurse, is moving into Lillian’s place too. And soon afterward, Lillian finds out that Olivia is pregnant and that Curtis plans to propose marriage to Olivia. Curtis shows Lillian the engagement ring. Lillian approves of these marriage plans.

However, Curtis’ life after rehab isn’t going that smoothly. One day, Lillian is in a diner to meet Curtis for lunch. She looks out the window and sees Curtis in an angry confrontation with some of his band mates. She can’t hear what the argument is about, but she sees Curtis hit one of the men with the guitar that Curtis is carrying. When Curtis goes in the diner, all he will say to Lillian about his band situation is this: “I can’t go back to that world right now. It’s not for me.”

Not long after that, Lillian’s world is shattered when she comes home to find Curtis and Olivia dead. The medical examiner reports list the official cause of their deaths as an accidental overdose of a drug called PMA, which is described as being like Ecstasy (MDMA), but more toxic. Of course, Lillian doesn’t believe the overdoses were accidental. She’s certain that Curtis and Olivia were murdered, or at least that whoever supplied the drugs should be held responsible for these deaths. The police—including a dismissive cop named Detective Eaton (played by Michael Potts)—are of no help, so Lillian decides to take matters into her own hands.

Along the way, Lillian encounters a jaded photographer named Taz (played by Bella Thorne, giving a very stiff performance), who sells drugs, including PMA. Taz knew Curtis because she did album covers and portrait photography for him and his band. Lillian goes back and forth on whether or not she can trust Taz, who has a gun and gets menacing when Lillian tries to threaten her with a knife.

Taz knows a lot more than she’s telling, but she still gives Lillian enough information to point Lillian in the direction of the people who are Taz’s PMA suppliers. Lillian also has conflicts with Red Drums manager Billy (played by Ivan Martin); band member Ronin (played by Benedict Samuel); record company executive Claude (played by Kevin Corrigan); and a drug lord named The Gardener (played by Jamie Jackson), who has that nickname because he slit a man’s throat using gardening tools. Predictably, not everyone Lillian comes in contact with makes it out alive.

“Measure of Revenge” also has a love quadrangle as a weak subplot. Lillian finds out that before Curtis and Olivia became an official couple, Olivia was romantically involved with Ronin, but Olivia cheated on Ronin with Curtis. Meanwhile, Taz had her own secret affair going on with Curtis when he was dating Olivia. It’s all just another sordid aspect to this cheap and tacky movie.

During her murder spree, Lillian finds time to still do her Shakespeare plays, including her role as the Ghost in “Hamlet.” (And fittingly, early on in the movie, Lillian plays one of the three witches in “Macbeth.”) She also become increasingly disturbed and starts having hallucinations, such as thinking that she’s Gertrude from “Hamlet.” Not surprisingly, Lillian gets no enjoyment or satisfaction from her sloppy and dimwitted crimes. The same can be said for anyone who experiences “Measure of Revenge,” a sloppy and dimwitted crime against cinema.

Vertical Entertainment released “Measure of Revenge” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 18, 2022.

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