Review: ‘Dream Scenario,’ starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Nicholson, Michael Cera, Tim Meadows, Dylan Gelula and Dylan Baker

November 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

Nicolas Cage in “Dream Scenario” (Photo by Jan Thijs/A24)

“Dream Scenario”

Directed by Kristoffer Borgli

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the sci-fi comedy/drama film “Dream Scenario” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos, Asians and one Native American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An insecure college professor finds out that he’s appearing in the dreams of millions of people around the world, and he experiences the positives and negatives of fame. 

Culture Audience: “Dream Scenario” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Nicolas Cage and movies that take satirical looks at how public images and fame can be used and exploited.

Dylan Gelula, Michael Cera and Kate Berlant in “Dream Scenario” (Photo by Jan Thijs/A24)

“Dream Scenario” offers interesting ideas about fame and the power of perception versus reality. Although the ending of this satirical comedy/drama is a little too rushed, there’s enough in the movie to keep viewers guessing on what will happen next. It’s a big concept for “Dream Scenario,” which sometimes bites off more than it can chew on this concept.

Written and directed by Kristoffer Borgli, “Dream Scenario” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. “Dream Scenario” has some plot elements that were science fiction at the time this movie was filmed and released in the early 2020s, but some of the fictional technology shown in the movie could very well become a reality. That futuristic possibility is what holds this movie together in its intention to be provocative as well as entertaining, because some parts of “Dream Scenario” start to wear thin and almost fall apart.

The protagonist of “Dream Scenario” (which takes place in unnamed U.S. cities) is Paul Matthews (played by Nicolas Cage) a nerdy and insecure professor who teaches biology at the fictional Osler University. “Dream Scenario” was actually filmed in Toronto. Paul (who has a background in ocean biology) and his wife Janet (played by Julianne Nicholson) have been married for 15 years and have two teenage daughters: Hannah Matthews (played by Jessica Clement) is about 15 or 16, and Sophie Matthews (played by Lily Bird) is about 13 or 14.

One day, Sophie tells Paul that he was in one of her recent dreams, where he stood by while objects crashed from the sky into their swimming pool and Sophie floated in the air. The opening scene of “Dream Scenario” shows this particular dream. Paul doesn’t think too much about it, but he thinks it’s curious that Sophie says that Paul has been dreaming about him frequently. He also wonders out loud why he was just a passive bystander in the dream.

Later that day, Paul has lunch with a former graduate school classmate named Sheila Harper (played by Paula Boudreau), who tells Paul that she’s about to publish a research about ant intelligence or “antelligence” that will be published in a magazine called Nature. (Sheila’s research paper is titled “Antelligence Theory.”) The problem for Paul is that this research sounds a lot like his ideas that he talked about with Sheila when they were grad students, but she had no interest in those ideas at the time.

Paul is miffed and a little jealous that Sheila is now getting a research paper published for ideas that he thinks she “stole” from him. Sheila believes that she doesn’t have to give Paul any credit, because she genuinely developed an interest in the research paper’s topic. Their conversation has some tension. Paul and Sheila don’t seem interested in seeing each other again after this somewhat uncomfortable encounter.

Not too long after that lunch meeting, Paul and Janet go to see a play. After the play is over, another audience member sees Paul in the hallway and gives him a warm hello. Her name is Claire (played by Marnie McPhail), who used to date Paul years ago. It’s the first time that Janet has met Claire. Paul tells Janet right away that Claire is an ex-girlfriend.

Claire has something unusual to tell Paul: She has been dreaming about him. In her dreams, she is in danger while he is just a bystander observer. Claire invites Paul to lunch to discuss it further. During their lunch meeting, Claire says she writes for a pyschology online publication called New Inquiry, and she wants to do an article about her dreams about Paul, who willingly gives her permission to write about him.

Soon after this article is published, Paul starts getting hundreds of social media messages from strangers , who all say that Paul is in their dreams too. This is how Paul finds out that Claire’s article included a link to his social media accounts. Paul then becomes a media sensation, as the numbers of people who dream about him grow into the millions, including many people he knows, such as his students and friends. Paul is overwhelmed but flattered by all the attention.

One person who hasn’t been dreaming about Paul is Janet. When he asks Janet what her dream/fantasy about him would be, Janet says she sometimes has a fantasy that she is in danger somewhere, and Paul comes to her rescue, wearing a Halloween costume that Paul had years ago: a replica of the oversized suit that singer David Byrne wore in the Talking Heads’ 1984 concert documentary “Stop Making Sense.”

Paul’s fame attracts a mentally ill man named Tristan (played by Jim Armstrong), who breaks into the Matthews home at night while carrying a knife and threatening to kill everyone in the house. The intruder is apprehended without resistance. Paul and Janet later find out from an investigator that the intruder was having a “manic” episode and meant no harm. Still, the investigator advises Paul and Janet to beef up their security, such as getting alarms and learning self-defense.

Janet is worried about what Paul’s fame will do to him and their family, but Paul wants to cash in his fame while he still has it. He has a meeting with a trendy start-up marketing agency called Thoughts, which is led by Trent (played by Michael Cera) and Mary (played by Kate Berlant), who are smarmy entrepreneurs willing to say and do anything to make money. The executives at Thoughts initiated the contact with Paul, who is ignorant about marketing and advertising.

Paul has to go out of town to meet these executives for the first time at Thoughts headquarters. The first person he meets in the office is Molly (played by Dylan Gelula), the assistant of Trent and Mary. Molly sits in on the meeting. Paul tells Trent and Mary that the first thing he wants Thoughts to do for him is help Paul get a book deal. However, Trent and Mary are more interested in signing up Paul to do advertising for Sprite. Trent and Mary are eventually able to convince a reluctant Paul to go along with their plans.

“Dream Scenario” takes a few unexpected turns which are hit and miss for this story. It’s enough to say that whatever Paul does in people’s dreams greatly affect their perception of who he is in real life. Something changes when Paul finds out that Sheila is getting praise and media attention for her research paper. And then, things get ugly when people start having violent nightmares about Paul.

“Dream Scenario” cleverly lampoons the fickle nature of fame and how people think they “know” a celebrity they’ve never met. The movie features several sequences of how Paul appears to people in their dreams. Many of these sequences are amusing, but some are very menacing and are meant to be unsettling. When things start to go very wrong for Paul, he gets some sympathy and advice from Osler University dean Brett (played by Tim Meadows) and Matthews family friend Richard (played by Dylan Baker), but their friendship limits are tested as Paul’s life starts to get out of control.

Cage (who is one of the producers of “Dream Scenario”) gives a wide-ranging and very watchable performance, because Paul goes through some extreme experiences. “Dream Scenario” is a dark comedy that takes an “ordinary” person and puts that person in extraordinary circumstances. The supporting cast members are also quite good in their roles, but this movie rises or falls mainly on Cage’s talent of being realistically comedic in absurd situations. Some viewers might not like how the movie ends, but the last scene in the movie is entirely consistent with the bittersweet message that “Dream Scenario” is trying to convey about how people use reality and fantasy in their lives, for better or worse.

A24 will release “Dream Scenario” in select U.S. cinemas on November 10, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 22, 2023.

Review: ‘Barbie’ (2023), starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, America Ferrera, Kate McKinnon, Issa Rae, Rhea Perlman and Will Ferrell

July 19, 2023

by Carla Hay

Emma Mackey, Simu Liu, Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling and Kingsley Ben-Adir in “Barbie” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Barbie” (2023)

Directed by Greta Gerwig

Culture Representation: Taking place in Barbie Land and in “the real world” in the United States, the comedy film “Barbie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) portraying Barbie dolls and human beings.

Culture Clash: Barbie and Ken, who are two of Mattel’s most famous dolls, leave Barbie Land to venture out into the real world, and they encounter humans who have various reactions.

Culture Audience: “Barbie” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Barbie brand and campy comedies that have pointed observations about society and feminism.

Ana Cruz Kayne, Sharon Rooney, Alexandra Shipp, Margot Robbie, Hari Nef and Emma Mackey in “Barbie” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Despite a few parts of the screenplay being clumsy and meandering, “Barbie” is a nearly pitch-perfect comedy in its blend of satire and social commentary. The production design, costume design and casting are impeccable. The musical numbers are a bonus. If you like pop-culture-drenched comedies that can appeal to many generations (but adults will understand most of the jokes), then “Barbie” is the type of movie for you.

Directed by Greta Gerwig (who co-wrote the “Barbie” screenplay with Noah Baumbach), “Barbie” is candy-hued madcap adventure that sometimes gets overstuffed and unfocused in what it’s trying to say. It’s an occasionally bumpy ride that’s still worth the journey, but it’s best appreciated by people who are attuned to the impact that Mattel’s Barbie dolls have had on the perception of “feminine ideals.” People’s views of the “Barbie” movie will likely be affected by their views of Barbie dolls.

Barbie dolls (and what they represent) have been loved, hated, and somewhere in between by countless numbers of people, ever since the first Barbie dolls were sold in 1959. Within the Barbie toy brand are dolls with other names, but the Barbie doll name is iconic for various reasons. Barbie having a woman’s body and an entire imaginary world built around her have become part of Barbie’s image of being a “superstar” doll.

The “Barbie” movie acknowledges this impact from its opening scene, where voiceover narrator Helen Mirren is heard saying, “Since the existence of time, there have been dolls—baby dolls.” It’s a spoof of the opening scene from the 1968 sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The “Barbie” movie then shows girls playing on a beach with baby dolls until a giant Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) suddenly appears on the beach, in a one-piece, black-and-white-striped swimsuit, like a doll version of Godzilla. The girls on the beach quickly smash and abandon their baby dolls and are in awe of Barbie.

Over the years, Mattel has presented Barbie as different races, occupations and body sizes, in order to deflect criticism that Barbie is not diverse. The “Barbie” movie does the same thing too. It also pokes fun at the stereotype that the “ideal” Barbie is supposed to be thin, blonde and pretty, by naming its protagonist Stereotypical Barbie (played by Robbie, one of the producers of the movie) and having her do a lot of stereotypical things that an eternally cheerfully doll would do. Barbie lives in fantastical world called Barbie Land, where the majority of everything is in pink, and parties often feature well-choreographed song-and-dance numbers.

But then, this Barbie begins to see signs that she’s not as “perfect” as she thought she was. Barbie starts to have dark thoughts about death. Her feet—which are supposed to be in permanent “tip-toe” mode so she can easily slip into high heels—suddenly become flat fleet, much to the horror of the other Barbies in Barbie Land. The movie’s other Barbies who have prominent speaking roles are portrayed by Issa Rae (the president of Barbie Land), Hari Nef, Emma Mackey, Alexandra Shipp, Sharon Rooney, Ana Cruz Kayne, Ritu Arya, Dua Lipa and Nicola Coughlin.

In the “Barbie” movie, Stereotypical Barbie has a possible love interest named Ken (played by Ryan Gosling), just like Mattel has a Ken doll that’s supposed to be Barbie’s love interest. In the movie, there are also various Kens of different races and body sizes. The ones with prominent speaking roles are portrayed by Simu Liu, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Scott Evans, Ncuti Gatwa and John Cena. (Cena’s appearance in the movie is very brief: no more than two minutes.)

More often than not, the Barbies in Barbie Land co-exist peacefully with each other and the Kens and are in perpetual supportive “girl power” mindsets. The Kens in Barbie Land aren’t as friendly with each other, because they are often competing for the attention of the Barbies. Gosling and Liu portray the Kens who have the biggest rivalries with each other. It’s the movie’s way of saying that competitive male egos will always exist, even in so-called utopias. (After all, history has shown which gender is more likely to start wars on Earth.)

One male who’s not named Ken in Barbie Land is Allan (played by Michael Cera), who represents every sad-sack beta male who’s treated like an outcast misfit. Allan is not considered “cool” enough to be a close friend of the Kens in Barbie Land. And he’s not considered “attractive” enough to be swooned over by the Barbies in Barbie Land, although the Barbies treat Allan better than the Kens do.

The Barbies have their own outcast misfit: Weird Barbie (played by Kate McKinnon), a disheveled doll who was played with too hard by whoever used to own her. Weird Barbie is a moody, sarcastic nonconformist who prefers the real world over Barbie Land. Almost all of the Barbies in Barbie Land have no idea what the real world is about, but they have a vague concept that it’s an undesirable place.

Weird Barbie has some of the best lines in the movie. There’s a scene that has some snarky commentary about how Mattel makes all Barbie and Ken dolls with genital areas that are not explicitly detailed. Weird Barbie quips in this scene about the Ken character played by Gosling: “I’d to see what kind of nude blob he’s packing under those jeans.” There’s also a joke about discontinued Barbie dolls, including Midge (played by Emerald Fennell), who was controversial because she was pregnant.

The Ken played by Gosling is frustrated because he wants to have sleepovers at Stereotypical Barbie’s place. Stereotypical Barbie doesn’t think about sex and only wants to have female-only slumber parties, so Ken is always rejected when he asks Barbie to spend the night at her home. As Barbie tells Ken about her sleepover rules: “Every night is girls’ night.”

Stereotypical Barbie grows increasingly disturbed by signs that she’s turning into a different Barbie. In addition to having flat feet, Barbie also shows signs that she’s becoming klutsy, insecure and no longer “perfect.” Through a series of events, Stereotypical Barbie finds out from Weird Barbie that someone in the real world has been planning a Barbie with “irrepressible thoughts of death” and other non-Barbie-like characteristics that Stereotypical Barbie has been experiencing.

And so, to solve this mystery and to find the person who’s been messing with her “perfect” life, Barbie decides to go to the real world, right to the place where she was made: Mattel headquarters in the Los Angeles area. Because she’s a master traveler, she goes by land, air and sea in a quick montage. Barbie starts her journey on a road trip, and she’s surprised to find Ken has hidden in the back of her car, because he wants to go to the real world too.

The Mattel executives are an all-male team led by an unnamed CEO (played by Will Ferrell), who has more ego posturing and bluster than he has intelligence. His team consists of a bunch of “yes men,” except for a junior executive named Aaron Dinkins (played by Connor Swindells), who dares to be an independent thinker. The CEO is predictably a bumbling oaf.

Meanwhile, another Mattel employee named Gloria (played by America Ferrera) and her daughter Sasha (played Arianna Greenblatt), who’s about 12 or 13 years old, are big parts of the story. Sasha is a pouty adolescent who’s angry that her mother left her father, for reasons that aren’t fully explained in the movie. Sasha and her female friends hate Barbie dolls and aren’t afraid to say so.

“Barbie” director/co-writer Gerwig is an outspoken feminist, so it should come as no surprise that the movie has a lot of satire about misogyny, patriarchy and how people are treated or perceived a certain way because of gender and physical appearances. The female characters aren’t excused for terrible actions, since “Barbie” also lampoons “mean girls” who are bullies and snobs. “Barbie” is not a male-bashing film, but it does point out the privileges men often get just for being men. One of the funniest parts of the movie is when Ken discovers that the real world is the opposite of Barbie Land, such as men have most of the power in the real world.

“Barbie” stumbles a bit in the backstory for Gloria and Sasha. It could have been a better-developed part of the screenplay, because Gloria and Sasha just seem kind of thrown into the movie without viewers really getting much of a chance to know them before Gloria and Sasha become a big part of the story. The movie also doesn’t do enough with Barbie’s and Ken’s “real world” interactions with adults who don’t work for Mattel.

There’s a very children’s movie-type subplot about the Mattel CEO wanting to capture Barbie and Ken, in order to put both of these life-sized dolls back in their boxes. During a chase sequence through Mattel headquarters, Barbie finds refuge in a kitchen, where she meets an elderly woman named Ruth (played by Rhea Perlman), who shows up again later in a hilarious scene.

Robbie and Gosling are a very good comedic team in “Barbie,” with both playing their respective roles in an effectively funny tongue-in-cheek style. Robbie’s Barbie is naïve but resourceful and a quick learner. Gosling’s Ken proves that he’s not just a mindless “himbo” and he has very thoughtful side. McKinnon (whose Weird Barbie deadpan delivery is very amusing) is a true standout among the “Barbie” cast, but she isn’t in the movie as much as many people think she should have been.

Ferrell, who has played pompous jerks in many other comedies, doesn’t do anything new in “Barbie,” but people who like to see him in this type of role will find his performance to be what’s expected. Ferrera and Greenblatt give believable performances as a mother and a daughter working through their own issues. Ferrera’s Gloria character has had an interesting life that is only hinted at in the movie, especially when she gives a dramatic monologue at one point in the story. The rest of the “Barbie” cast members give serviceable performances.

The soundtrack music of “Barbie” has some predictable selections, including Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” Spice Girls’ “Spice Up Your Life” and Lizzo’s “Pink.” Barbie has a personal theme song during her “real world” journey: Indigo Girls’ “Closer to Fine,” while Ken’s personal theme song after he discovers patriarchy is Matchbox Twenty’s “Push.” “Closer to Fine” and “Push” are inspired choices for the soundtrack, which includes “Barbie” co-star Lipa’s “Dance the Night,” Gosling’s “I’m Just Ken” and Billie Eilish’s “What Was I Made For?” Also on the soundtrack: Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice have a duet cover version of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”

Making a live-action “Barbie” movie is so much harder than it sounds. You can’t alienate the die-hard Barbie fans, but you can’t make it so sickeningly sweet that it will turn off people who have no interest in buying Barbie dolls. There’s some product placement in “Barbie,” but it isn’t aggressively obnoxious, like some product placement is in many other major studio movies. The “Barbie” movie is a lot like a Barbie doll: Some people will find it to be disposable entertainment, while others will be hooked and will become devoted fans.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Barbie” in U.S. cinemas on July 21, 2023.

Review: ‘The Adults,’ starring Michael Cera, Hannah Gross and Sophia Lillis

July 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Hannah Gross, Sophia Lillis and Michael Cera in “The Adults” (Photo by Tim Curtin/Variance Films)

“The Adults”

Directed by Dustin Guy Defa

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hudson Valley, New York, the comedy/drama film “The Adults” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An abrasive man, who is the eldest of three siblings, visits his estranged sisters, who each have different reactions to seeing him after spending three years apart from him. 

Culture Audience: “The Adults” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Michael Cera and movies where not much happens except family members moping, arguing, and acting out bizarre inside jokes.

Hannah Gross and Michael Cera in “The Adults” (Photo by Tim Curtin/Variance Films)

Repetitive, boring and very aimless, “The Adults” is the type of movie that’s overrated by people who think that characters being obnoxious and weird in a movie should automatically deserve praise. This is “indie cred pandering” cinema at its worst. There is barely anything unique or interesting about the movie’s three main characters to justify this movie’s existence. If you’ve seen enough independent films where people act neurotic and argumentative at family reunions, then you’re not going to see anything new in “The Adults.”

Written and directed by Dustin Guy Defa, “The Adults” had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival and its North American premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival. It’s a very slight film that doesn’t have much going for it except the name recognition of some of the stars of the movie, which was filmed on location in Hudson Valley, New York. The entire movie looks as washed-out as the lackluster tone of the film.

In the beginning of “The Adults,” Eric (played by Michael Cera), who is the eldest of three siblings, has arrived in the Hudson Valley area from Portland, Oregon, where he lives. Eric is in town to visit his two sisters, whom he hasn’t seen in three years: brittle and sarcastic Rachel (played by Hannah Gross) and bubbly and unpredictable Maggie (played by Sophia Lillis). Rachel works as a producer/editor at a radio station called WBSI. Maggie is a recent college dropout; she quit college after a year of attendance and hasn’t figured out yet what she wants to do with her life. All three siblings are unmarried and have no children.

Rachel lives in the house that she inherited after the siblings’ widowed mother died a number of years ago. Rachel is still angry with Eric that she was the sibling who had to handle all the funeral arrangements and the responsibility of paying the house’s property taxes. Meanwhile, Eric tells Rachel: “Why do you want me to feel guilty about how I’m organizing this trip when you haven’t bothered to visit me in Portland?” It’s a valid question that never really gets answered in the movie.

Maggie is just happy to see Eric and gives him a big hug when they see each other again. Eric has been so out of touch with Maggie, he didn’t even know that she dropped out of college until Rachel told him. At first, Eric had trouble contacting Maggie for this visit because, as Rachel tells him, Maggie is currently on “digital detox” where she is on a break from using any electronic devices.

During this visit, Eric spends a lot of time trying to reconnect with some of his former buddies from high school. He shows up unannounced at the house of a former school pal named Dennis (played by Wavyy Jonez), because Eric doesn’t have Dennis’ current phone number. Eric is surprised and disappointed that Dennis isn’t going to spontaneously go out to a bar with Eric, because Dennis is now a married father who doesn’t want to stay out late on this particular night. It’s the first sign in the movie that Eric is self-centered and emotionally tone-deaf.

Eric becomes fixated on getting some of his former high school buddies together to play poker, like they used to when they were schoolmates. After some dreadfully dull scenes of Eric trying to make this get-together happen, it finally does. And it just becomes an eye-rolling slog, as the conversation turns to philosophical questions that get asked and everyone in the group has to give their answers. One of the questions is, “When was the first time you realized death existed?”

Eric has a losing streak during this poker game get-together. He’s the first to admit that he’s extremely competitive. He not only wants to win back all the money that he lost, but he also wants to come out ahead by leaving with more poker game winnings than anyone else in the group. Eric even postpones his plane flight home so he can be the ultimate winner. Later, Eric gets unexpectedly humbled by his obsession to win at all costs.

Meanwhile, Rachel has been dealing with some mental-health issues such as panic attacks and depression. She’s also still reeling from a breakup from an ex-boyfriend who cheated on her, but she doesn’t want to admit to anyone how hurt she’s been by the breakup. When Eric suggests that Rachel has a bitter attitude because of this breakup, Rachel’s reaction is verbally hostile and defensive.

At the radio station where Rachel works, viewers see for the first time the family quirk that’s supposed to be a running joke in the movie. Rachel is having a discussion with a co-worker named Bobby (played by Lucas Papaelias) about what parts of a pre-recorded radio show needs to be edited out or kept in the show. All of sudden, Rachel starts talking in a cartoonish voice that sounds similar to Fozzie Bear of the Muppets. Bobby gives Rachel a puzzled look, as if he thinks she’s being too weird for him. Rachel sees that her attempt to be playful didn’t get the reaction she wanted, so she quickly stops.

Rachel, Eric and Maggie are shown using the same voice and playing guessing games as different characters, as a way to bond with each other in various parts of the movie. It’s a family inside joke that obviously goes back to their childhoods, but “The Adults” doesn’t really go into details on when these siblings started using these cartoonish voices or playing these childlike games. After a while, it just becomes very dull to watch this gimmick over and over. There’s a scene where the three siblings dance together to Men at Work’s 1983 hit “Overkill,” a song title that is an apt description for how overly repetitive “The Adults” can be with these “look at these oddball siblings” scenes.

When Eric first arrived for his visit, he gave the impression that he only wanted to stay for a few days. But then, he finds one reason after another to keep extending his visit. The problem with this poorly written part of the plot is that viewers never really know what the stakes are for Eric to keep postponing his return to Portland. Viewers know that he’s a bachelor with no kids, but what kind of life does he have in Portland that he’s putting on hold to stay in New York? The movie never answers that question.

And therein lies much of the flimsy foundation of “The Adults,” which relentlessly pushes Eric to be the center of the siblings’ conflicts but never really shows who he is except being an egotistical jerk with very little self-awareness. It’s an over-used and tiresome cliché (especially in these types of independent dramedies) to elevate this type of repugnant character as being worthy of admiration or interest, when Eric is neither smart, funny, nor charismatic enough to justify what is essentially a movie about what he decides to do with his visit.

If this is the type of dull egomaniac you want to waste your time watching in a movie, then “The Adults” is for you. Lillis and Gross give better performances than Cera, but their characters of Maggie and Rachel still come across as kind of hollow. If you’d rather watch a movie with more substance, then there are much better options in the large number of films about estranged family members having an awkward and tension-filled reunion.

Variance Flms will release “The Adults” in select U.S. cinemas on August 18, 2023.

Review: ‘Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,’ starring the voices of Michael Cera, Ricky Gervais, George Takei, Aasif Mandvi, Michelle Yeoh and Samuel L. Jackson

July 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Hank (voiced by Michael Cera) and and Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align and Aniventure)

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank”

Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional town of Kakamucho, the animated film “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals.

Culture Clash: Inspired by the 1974 comedy film “Blazing Saddles,” a dog named Hank is chosen to be a samurai to save a town of cats, but Hank doesn’t know not he’s been set up by villain who wants to rid the town of the cats and wants Hank to be killed.

Culture Audience: “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” will appeal primarily to fans of “Blazing Saddles” and people who enjoy family-oriented films with positive messages of self-confidence and not judging people by physical appearances.

Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais) and Ohga (voiced by George Takei) in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align and Aniventure)

No one should expect “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” to be award-worthy. But as family entertainment with positive messages, memorable characters and an action-filled story (that sometimes gets jumbled), the movie delivers on a satisfactory level. Although “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” was inspired by the classic 1974 film “Blazing Saddles,” anyone expecting the dark comedy of “Blazing Saddles” will be sorely disappointed.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is an animated film geared to people of various ages (mostly underage kids), so the tone of the movie is lighthearted and lightweight. Because it’s an animated movie with talking animals and a theme of an underestimated animal training to be a protective fighter, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” might also get some comparisons to the 2008 animated film “Kung Fu Panda.” “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” isn’t as good as “Kung Fu Panda” and is unlikely to have as large of a fan base that the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has, but not all movies aspire to be classics.

Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” has the benefit of very talented voice cast members who give the movie’s characters unique personalities. This is not the type of animated film where it’s hard to tell the characters apart from each other. Ed Stone and Nate Hopper wrote the adapted screenplay for “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” which also gives screenwriting credit to “Blazing Saddles” screenwriters Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” begins with showing a town called Kakamucho, which is populated entirely by cats. Although the town could exist anywhere, the Kakamucho residents follow ancient Japanese military traditions of shoguns and samurai. The town has recently been plagued by bandits. The shogun of Kakamucho will be arriving soon and will be asked by find samurai who can protect the town. “Blazing Saddles” director/co-writer Brooks is the voice of Shogun, a British shorthair cat.

However, the story’s villain wants to get rid of the residents of Kakamucho, so that he can use the land for greedy redevelopment purposes. The villain is a scheming Somali cat named Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais), a character that people might or might not enjoy watching, depending on how they feel about Gervais and his cutting British comedy that he brings to this cat’s personality. In movies like this, every villain has a sidekick. Ika Chu’s sidekick is Ohga (voiced by George Takei), a burly Manx cat who leads Ika Chu’s army.

Ika Chu has concocted a plan where he decides to fool a dog into thinking that the dog has been selected as a samurai to protect Kakamucho. Because cats and dogs have been enemies, Ika Chu is counting on the dog to be killed by the Kakamucho residents. Because it’s against the law to kill a samurai, Ika Chu will then have the entire town arrested, and then have the land to himself.

The dog who becomes the unwitting target of Ika Chu’s dastardly plan is Hank (voiced by Michael Cera), a socially awkward beagle who has recently been released from prison. It’s implied that Hank might have been unjustly imprisoned simply because he’s a dog in a cat’s town. Iku Chu summons Hank and lies to him by saying that Hank has been chosen as the samurai to protect Kakamucho. When Hank expresses skepticism, Ika Chu spontaneously scratches the word “samurai” on a coffee mug and gives it to Hank as an “official” memento that Hank is now an appointed samurai.

Hank has no idea how to be a samurai, so he enlists the help of tuxedo cat Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), a washed-up and cranky samurai, who spends a lot of time getting drunk on catnip. Jimbo is very reluctant to become a sensei mentor to Hank, but he eventually agrees. Jimbo isn’t entirely convinced that a dog will be accepted by the cats of Kakamucho.

Hank and Jimbo do a lot of arguing during this training, but they have somewhat of a emotional breakthrough when Hank finds out that he’s met Jimbo before. Hank tells Jimbo about a time several years earlier when an unidentified samurai cat rescued Hank from being bullied by some bad dogs. Jimbo reveals that he was that cat.

Jimbo eventually opens up to Hank about something painful from his past too. Years ago, Jimbo was head of security at the birthday party for his employer, an elite feline named Toshi. However, Jimbo accidentally caused a major disaster at the party. The accident resulted in Toshi’s in-laws to become sterile. This mishap embarrassed Jimbo so much, he quit being a samurai and became a bitter recluse.

Although this is a fictional animated film, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” has a lot to say about prejudices that can negatively divide individuals. It’s a message that’s explicitly stated in the film, but one that’s still meaningful. The bigotry between the cats and dogs in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is obvious symbolism for bigotry in hate groups that teach people to hate others based on their identities or physical appearances.

Observant viewers will also notice how “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” shows something that often happens in real life: opinions and thoughts from young females are often dismissed just because they’re young females. In the movie, a young female Persian cat named Emiko (voiced by Kylie Kuioka), who wants to be a samurai, is intelligent and observant. However, her smart ideas are often ignored, or an older male in the community takes credit for her ideas. The way that Emiko handles this disrespect and what happens to her in the end are good lessons for people of any age.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” gets a little messy with a tad too many subplots. One of these subplots involves a giant ginger cat named Sumo (voiced by Djimon Hounsou), who is at various times feared and adored. Sumo arrives in Kakamucho as a fighting enemy to Hank, but will Sumo ends up as a friend?

In “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” the female cats are often the calm voices of reason amid the chaos. Yuki (voiced by Michelle Yeoh) is a cheerful Persian cat who is Emiko’s mother. Little Mama (voiced by Cathy Shim) is a wise matriarch of Kakamucho. There’s also a clownish duo of friends: klutzy calico cat Chuck (voiced by Gabriel Iglesias) and tuxedo cat Ichiro (voiced by Aasif Mandvi), who are like the Laurel & Hardy of Kakamucho.

The movie has no shortage of action, with some scenes working better than others. The last third of the movie consists of a flurry of battles and chase sequences that should hold viewers’ interest, despite predictable outcomes. The visuals in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” are good but not outstanding. The most striking visuals are the outdoor scenic shots and many of the action scenes.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” makes some sarcastic self-referential comments on movie clichés that can be found in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.” When Hank begins training under Jimbo’s tutelage, Hank says, “This is the training montage.” Jimbo replies, “This is my favorite part—the part where you suffer.” A movie that can laugh at itself in this way can’t be taken too seriously.

Paramount Pictures will release “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” in U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

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