Review: ‘Bones and All,’ starring Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet and Mark Rylance

November 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet in “Bones and All” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Bones and All”

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1988 to 1989, in various parts of the United States, the horror film “Bones and All” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After being abandoned by her single father, an 18-year-old loner who has a terrible secret (she’s a cannibal) becomes a nomad and falls in love with a young man who’s also a nomadic cannibal, and they go on a road trip where they feed their deadly desires.

Culture Audience: “Bones and All” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet; filmmaker Luca Guadagnino; and gruesome horror movies that know how to make people squirm.

Taylor Russell and Mark Rylance in “Bones and All” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Bones and All” is more than just a gory horror film about a cannibal couple. The movie also has clever social commentary about the pitfalls of judging people by outward appearances. Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet portray the attractive young couple at the center of the movie, but supporting actor Mark Rylance steals the show with a creepy performance as a middle-aged cannibal with a sinister obsession. Sensitive viewers be warned: “Bones and All” is not a cute horror romance. This movie has very explicit scenes showing human cannibalism.

Directed by Italian filmmaker Luca Guadagnino, “Bones and All” is his first movie filmed in the United States. Chalamet and Guadagnino previously worked together in 2018’s “Call Me by Your Name,” starring Chalamet in his Oscar-nominated breakout role as a 17-year-old American in Italy who falls in love with a 24-year-old American man who works as a college teaching assistant. “Bones and All” is based on the 2015 novel by Camille DeAngelis. David Kajganich wrote the “Bones and All” adapted screenplay. “Bones and All” had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival in Italy, where Guadagnino won the festival prize for Best Director, while Russell won the Marcello Mastroianni Award, a prize given to emerging actors and actresses.

Taking place in 1988 and 1989, “Bones and All” begins in 1988, in an unnamed U.S. state. Shy and introverted 18-year-old Maren Yearly (played by Russell), who is in her last year of high school, has been invited to a slumber party by a fellow student named Sherry (played by Kendle Coffey), who is a popular student in the school. Maren doesn’t have any close friends at this school, so she’s very surprised by this invitation. Maren tells Sherry that Maren’s overprotective father won’t allow her to go this party, but Sherry suggests that Maren sneak out f Maren’s home at night.

Maren takes this advice and goes to the slumber party, where the female teenagers in attendance are curious to know more about Maren, who is fairly new to the area. Maren and her father Frank Yearly (played by André Holland) have moved around a lot, and they currently live in a trailer in the working-class/poor part of town. Maren recently moved to the area from “the Eastern shore.” She tells the other girls at the party that she doesn’t have any memories of her mother, who abandoned Maren and Frank when Maren was a very young child.

Maren has a big secret about herself that will soon be exposed: She has an intense craving to eat human flesh. The party starts off as festive and friendly. However, Maren’s urges take over, and she suddenly lunges at Sherry and bites off one of Sherry’s fingers. While Sherry and the other partygoers scream in horror, Maren runs back to her home in a panic.

As soon as Frank sees that Maren has come home in a distressed state of mind, he immediately figures out that she snuck out against his wishes and has revealed her cannibal ways. It’s only a matter of time before the police show up at their door. Maren tells Frank that she’s sorry, but he is visibly annoyed and doesn’t want to hear any excuses.

Maren and Frank quickly pack up what they can and leave that night, with no intention of ever going back. Frank and Maren hide out and stay at a motel in Maryland for a few days. It’s not the first time they’ve had to suddenly leave an area because of Maren’s cannibalism.

One morning, Maren wakes up in the motel room and finds out that her father has abandoned her. Frank has left a note saying that he can no longer be around her because he doesn’t know how to deal with her anymore. Frank has also left behind these items for Maren to keep: Maren’s birth certificate, some cash and an audio tape of Frank’s diary-like messages.

In his farewell note, Frank asks Maren to destroy the tape after she’s finished listening to it. In his audio recordings, which Maren plays throughout the movie, Frank tells Maren that when she was 3 years old, she killed her babysitter. Frank covered up that crime and many other cannibal-related crimes committed by Maren. He says after the babysitter’s murder, he changed the family’s surname.

Now completely on her own and homeless, Maren spends the majority of the story as a nomad. Maren is deeply ashamed of being a cannibal, but she also won’t ignore her cannibalistic urges. And now that Maren has her birth certificate, she’s determined to find her mother, whose name is Janelle Kerns (played by Chloë Sevigny).

One night, Maren is out on the street when she meets a soft-spoken, eccentric man named Sully (played by Rylance), who tells her that he’s a cannibal too. Sully says that he knew that Maren is a cannibal because cannibals can smell each other. He also tells Maren that he can tell that Maren has not eaten human flesh in months.

Sully, who is middle-aged and speaks in a Southern drawl, has a very unusual appearance of wearing long, braided hair and a fisherman’s vest. Later, viewers find out that Sully has a gruesome fascination with braided hair: After he eats a human, he takes the dead person’s hair, braids it, and keeps it in a collection.

Knowing that Maren is hungry for human flesh, Sully invites her to go with him to a house where a dying, elderly woman lives alone. Upstairs in her bedroom, the woman is barely conscious. Sully tells Maren that he found the woman in this condition. Sully convinces Maren that if they kill the woman, it will be a mercy killing. And you can imagine what happens next.

Sully tells her a few things about cannibal life that Maren did not know: He says that the most important rule is that cannibals should not eat other cannibals. Sully also warns Maren that her cravings for human flesh will increase as she gets older.

Sully lives in a small, unassuming house. He invites Maren to stay with him for as long as she wants. At first, Sully gives the impression that he wants be a protective father figure to Maren. But it soon becomes apparent that Sully is sexually attracted to Maren and will eventually expect them to be more than friends. Maren knows it too, which is why she secretly gets on a bus to leave the area without saying goodbye to Sully.

The bus is going to Minnesota. Maren’s plan is to eventually travel to Ohio, the state where Maren has her mother’s last-known address. Along the way, she meets another wayward cannibal named Lee (played by Chalamet), who’s a runaway in his late teens. He’s originally from Kentucky and has been living on his own since he was 17. Lee has a truck that he stole from one of his victims: a bachelor named Barry Cook from Centerville, Indiana. Lee invites Maren to travel with him, and they take turns driving.

Lee is not as conflicted as Maren about giving in to his cannibalistic urges. He also tells Maren that he prefers to kill someone who lives alone so he can steal that person’s car and other belongings. As if to justify his crimes, Lee says he usually chooses victims who do something awful to show Lee that these victims “deserve” to be killed.

Lee knew that murder victim Barry lived alone, so he and Maren go to Barry’s home to look for things to steal. Because the vehicles that Lee steals will eventually be reported stolen, he says that’s the motivation he needs to find and kill other people who have cars that he can steal. It’s a vicious cycle that puts Lee and Maren at great risk of getting caught.

Maren isn’t entirely comfortable with what Lee does, but she goes along with everything because she’s lonely and very attracted to him. Lee and Maren become friends and eventually lovers during their extended road trip. During this trip (which takes them to states such as Missouri and Iowa), Lee and Maren experience a lot of highs and lows.

Over time, Lee and Maren share some of their previous cannibal experiences. Lee says that his first cannibal victim as his babysitter. He remembers feeling a like a “superhero’ the first time that he killed and ate her. Maren shares an experience she had when she was 8 years old and went on a camping trip, where a boy was one of her victims.

A memorable part of the movie is when Lee and Maren encounter two other middle-aged cannibals named Jake (played by Michael Stuhlbarg) and Brad (played by David Gordon Green). Over a campfire, Jake and Brad tell Lee and Maren that eating a body, “bones and all,” can give a cannibal an ecstatically powerful feeling like no other. Stuhlbarg, who co-starred with Chalamet in “Call Me by Your Name,” has a much smaller role in “Bones and All,” but his screen time in the movie is still meaningful.

One of the most pivotal parts of “Bones and All” takes place at a carnival, where Lee decides to target a booth worker (played by Jake Horowitz), for reasons that are shown in the movie. This experience is a turning point, because it’s the first time that Maren sees firsthand what Lee is capable of doing. She has to decide if it’s worth staying with him, or if she should continue her journey on her own.

“Bones and All” has stellar acting and a few surprises that make this movie better than the average horror flick. Russell and Chalamet are believable as an emotionally damaged couple who find comfort with each other but are always on edge because of the terrible secrets that they have to keep. Lee and Maren make an interesting pair who are opposites in some ways. Maren is quiet and doesn’t like to call attention to herself, while talkative Lee (with his magenta-streaked hair) has a way about him that practically screams, “Look at me!”

Unlike Maren, whose parents abandoned her, Lee has chosen to abandon his family. Lee has a backstory involving his turbulent relationship with his younger sister Kayla (played by Anna Cobb), who has a lot of resentment toward Lee for leaving the family. Lee confides in Maren that he feels guilty about leaving Kayla behind when he had promised her that he would give her driving lessons.

Chalamet is perfectly fine in the role of a troubled young rebel, but it’s the type of character that’s been seen and done in many other movies and TV shows. Russell has the more difficult role, since Maren is very guarded and insecure about her feelings and not a typical wisecracking or sweet ingenue character that would usually be the female love interest in this type of story. Russell capably expresses many emotions through facial expressions and body language because Maren is often afraid of saying what she’s thinking out loud.

And although Sully is not in most of “Bones and All,” his scenes in the movie are what might disturb people the most. Rylance is riveting as this utterly sleazy character, who deliberately disarms people into thinking that he’s just a harmless oddball. On a different level, Lee is a con artist too, because he presents himself as a down-on-his-luck charmer to his victims, who are fooled into thinking that he won’t hurt them.

“Bones and All” has a total running time of 130 minutes, which is a little long for a movie that could have easily been a little under two hours. Although a few scenes in “Bones and All” weren’t entirely necessary, the overall film will still leave a big impression on people. One of the movie’s biggest strengths is that it could have ended in many predictable ways, but it has a twist that many viewers won’t see coming. “Bones and All” goes down a path that will no doubt upset some viewers, but it’s bold enough to not take the easy way out in how to end this grisly and often-heartbreaking story.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures released “Bones and All” in select U.S. cinemas on November 18, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 23, 2022.

Review: ‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, Michael Stühlbarg and Rachel McAdams

May 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Xochitl Gomez, Benedict Wong and Benedict Cumberbatch in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”

Directed by Sam Raimi

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and various parts of a multiverse, the superhero action film “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Superhero sorcerer Doctor Strange, also known as surgeon Stephen Strange, goes on a quest to save teenager America Chavez, who has a special superpower that a villain wants to steal. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen and the Disney+ superhero series “WandaVision.”

Elizabeth Olsen in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has now become the world’s first cinematic franchise where you need encyclopedia knowledge of certain comic books to know what’s going on and to fully enjoy the movies and TV shows in the franchise. There are many MCU fans who’ve invested years of watching every Marvel movie and every Marvel TV show that comes along. And that investment has its rewards in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

But what about people who aren’t die-hard Marvel fans and just want to see a good superhero movie? Simply put: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a convoluted but entertaining experience that should not be a viewer’s first MCU movie. It’s a movie that can be considered the tipping point where at least one Marvel show on Disney+ is essential viewing to understand the entire film.

For “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” that essential Marvel show is “WandaVision.” It also helps, but it’s not crucial, to watch the Disney+ animated series “What If…?,” which explored alternate storylines for Marvel characters. If you don’t want to watch any of these Marvel shows, then “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has this message for you: “Too bad, because you will be left behind, and you will feel ignorant about storylines and nuances in any upcoming MCU movies.”

Viewers also need to see (or at least know what happened in) the following movies to fully appreciate “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” and its complex plot: 2016’s “Doctor Strange,” 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War” and 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame.” If you don’t know about the supervillain Thanos or the five-year “disappearance” that he caused, some of the dialogue in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will not make sense to you. Viewers who have no prior knowledge of any Marvel movie will just be hopelessly lost and will just have to try to enjoy “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” for the movie’s high-energy action scenes and compelling visual effects.

The movie’s screenplay, written by Michael Waldron, keeps transporting characters from Multiverse scene to Multiverse scene with such dizzying regularity, the best way to know these characters is by seeing them in previous MCU stories. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is just like very eye-catching and detailed icing on a cake. It will appeal to many people but be completely unnecessary to others.

Sam Raimi—a filmmaker known for helming the first three “Spider-Man” movies and horror classics such as the first two “Evil Dead” films—directed “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” as someone who is clearly an ardent fan of the MCU. But he also directed “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” as an ardent fan who expects everyone watching to be all caught up in almost everything related to Marvel on screen prior to the release of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” And that includes some of the Marvel movies released by the studio formerly known as 20th Century Fox, because some characters from those movies make cameos in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

Here are the basic things that people need to know before watching “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”: New York City-based superhero sorcerer Doctor Strange, also known as brilliant surgeon Stephen Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch), is going on another “good versus evil” quest. Fights and chase scenes ensue. And the “Multiverse” in the MCU is really just another word for “different versions of comic book characters existing in different universes.” After the blockbuster success of 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which had three different versions of Spider-Man interacting with each other in the same movie, there’s no point in being coy about what “multiverse” means if it’s part of a Marvel story.

However, there’s a reason why spoiler-free descriptions of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” are so vague: The movie is filled with more spoilers than a typical superhero film. And those spoilers include describing which characters encounter different versions of themselves in the Multiverse. It should come as no surprise that viewers can expect to see more than one version of Doctor Strange, whose rescue mission in the movie is to save superhero newcomer America Chavez (played by Xochitl Gomez), who’s about 16 or 17 years old, from being robbed of her extremely rare superpower.

What is her superpower? She can travel through the Multiverse with ease. But in this movie, she doesn’t know how to control the power. All she knows is that she can exert this power in moments when she feels extreme fear. America doesn’t know yet that she’s a superhero, so “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” can be considered the introduction to her discovering her superhero identity. One of the things that America knows about herself is that she has not found other versions of herself in the Multiverse.

The movie also has a brief flashback to America, when she was about 7 or 8 years old (played by Aliyah Camacho), being separated from her two lesbian mothers—Elena Chavez (played by Ruth Livier) and Amalia Chavez (played by Chess Lopez)—who were involuntarily yanked into a portal that took the mothers into another universe. Ever since then, America has been looking for her mothers, and she fears that her mothers might be dead.

America feels a lot of guilt because she caused that portal to appear after she became frightened by a bee, not knowing that her parents would be taken away from her. In the Marvel comic books, America is openly a lesbian, but her sexuality is not mentioned in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” She’s too busy running around trying not to get killed to think about dating or having a love interest.

And who exactly is targeting America for her Multiverse superpower? It’s Wanda Maximoff, also known as Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen), a character who is a hero or a villain, depending on which version of this character is in the scene. And because this movie is all about the Multiverse, the Wanda/Scarlet Witch character can sometimes be a hero and a villain in the same scene.

In “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” Wanda is a single mother to fraternal twin boys Billy (played by Julian Hilliard) and Tommy (played by Jett Klyne), who are about 8 or 9 years old. Billy and Tommy have superpowers in “WandaVision” that might or might not be on display in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Wanda’s motherhood is crucial to her motivations in almost everything she does in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Her motherhood is used as a way for her to manipulate people and how she is manipulated herself.

Viewers who last saw Wanda in 2019’s “Avengers: Endgame” without knowing what happened in “WandaVision” might be utterly confused over when she became a mother. “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” explains (in a “WandaVision” spoiler alert) that Wanda/Scarlet Witch used her magical powers to create these children. She quips in response: “That’s what every mother does.” Doctor Strange scolds Wanda/Scarlet Witch for using her magic to mess with reality, which is completely ironic and hypocritical considering what he does later in the movie.

What “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” doesn’t explain adequately is why Wanda created these children. The twins were raised by Wanda and her superhero love partner Vision (played by Paul Bettany) up until a certain point in “WandaVision.” People who know what happened in “WandaVision” also know what happened to Vision, which is not explained in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” What happened in “WandaVision” helps people understand why Wanda, as the Scarlet Witch, has turned to the “dark side,” which in this universe is called the Darkhold, an ancient book of spells.

Don’t expect this movie to have any meaningful “WandaVision” flashbacks to further reveal Wanda’s family situation in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” but her family motivations are supposed to make her look more sympathetic in doing the things that she does in the movie. It also gives her character more emotional depth to viewers who know her family history, compared to viewers who don’t know. It’s all part of a cross-marketing plan for Disney-owned Marvel Studios to get people to subscribe to Disney+ to watch the Marvel shows on Disney+ so that viewers can fully understand Marvel movies. It’s also called creating viewer FOMO (“fear of missing out”) to full effect.

Certain characters from 2016’s “Doctor Strange” make their return in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Stephen’s ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (played by Rachel McAdams), a surgeon who worked with him at the same hospital, gets married to a man named Charlie (played by Ako Mitchell), who is a fan of Doctor Strange. Stephen is invited to the wedding, where he privately tells Christine that he regrets not trying harder for them to stay together. (They broke up because he’s a workaholic and because all those superhero duties got in the way.)

Christine responds, “Stephen, it was never going to work out between us. Because you were always going to be the one holding the knife. I could respect you for it, but I could never love you for it.” And there are more heartbroken and emotionally wounded moments for Stephen/Doctor Strange in the movie, with some of those moments involving Christine.

Doctor Strange’s loyal superhero colleague Wong (played by Benedict Wong) also makes his return. Wong is now the Sorcerer Supreme, who oversees sorcerer training in Kamar-Taj, which is located in another dimension. Doctor Strange and Wong fight side by side in some scenes, but there’s a stretch of the movie where Doctor Strange and Wong are not in the same universe and have to fight separate battles. There’s no story arc for steadfast and dependable Wong in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which is a missed opportunity, because Wong deserves to have more character development in the MCU.

Also returning is Karl Mordo (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), who became an enemy of Doctor Strange in the first “Doctor Strange” movie, but Mordo might or might not have the same type of personality or life story in other parts of the Multiverse. Dr. Nicodemus “Nic” West (played by Michael Stühlbarg), the surgeon who operated on Stephen’s hands after Stephen was in a near-fatal car accident in the first “Doctor Strange” movie, makes a brief appearance (less than five minutes) in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” where Dr. West is a guest at Christine’s wedding. In this scene, Dr. West sits next to Stephen and smugly tells Stephen that although Doctor Strange likes to think that he is the “best surgeon and the best superhero,” in the end, Stephen/Doctor Strange “didn’t get the girl.”

Other than America Chavez, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” doesn’t do much with new characters in the MCU. These new MCU characters include mystic artists Sara (played by Sheila Atim) and Rintrah (played by Adam Hugill), who are both disciples of Wong in Kamar-Taj. The purpose for Sara and Rintrah in the movie is exactly what you think it might be in forgettable roles. As far as introducing new characters, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse” is all about making America Chavez a newcomer star of the MCU.

Scarlet Witch is the movie’s main villain, but there are some monsters that also cause mayhem. One of them is a giant one-eyed octopus that appears during Christine’s wedding. It’s a somewhat awkwardly staged scene, where the octopus suddenly appears on the streets of New York City, and Doctor Strange quickly puts on his magical cloak (don’t call it a “cape,” according to him) and jumps off of a balcony to fight the monster. Some generic-looking demons also make appearances during the fight scenes.

Visually, the movie has its dazzling moments. In terms of its story, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a mixed bag. At times, it gets repetitive and jumbled as you think it can be when people jump through portals and enter different universes during chase scenes. And that’s not the only repetition: “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” repeats the MCU formula of superheroes making wisecracking jokes during action scenes. There are also parts of the movie that repeat a scenario where someone has to “prove” their identity and show evidence that what they’re saying is the truth, because the Multiverse is supposed to make people feel disoriented about what’s real and what isn’t real.

The movie also repeats a theme of the main characters looking for their definition of happiness. More than once in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” someone is asked, “Are you happy?” And then it’s followed up with some version of saying, “Are you really happy? Don’t lie to me because I can tell you’re not really happy.” Is this a superhero movie or a therapy session?

Other times, the movie works very well when it comes to laying the groundwork for developing the story of America Chavez and how she became an ally of Doctor Strange and Wong. Some horror movie elements kick into high gear in the last third of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” which handles horror better than 2022’s “Morbius” movie, the origin story of Marvel’s vampire anti-hero Morbius. Raimi’s experience as a horror filmmaker greatly benefits “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

There’s nothing really spectacular about any of the acting in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” but the acting isn’t terrible either. Stephen Strange/Doctor Strange is known for his arrogance and impatience, but in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” he shows more humility and emotional vulnerability than in previous Marvel movies, and Cumberbatch plays the part accordingly. McAdams doesn’t have a lot to work with for her Christine character, who has a stereotypical action movie role of an ex-girlfriend thrown back into an ex-boyfriend’s life so she can be in the action scenes too.

Olsen is very good in her role as Wanda Romanoff/Scarlet Witch, but she was better in “WandaVision,” which required her to show a wider range of personalities in vastly different scenarios. Viewers’ reactions will largely depend on how emotionally connected they feel to Wanda Romanoff/Scarlet Witch, considering she has presented many different sides of herself in the MCU. Gomez portrays America with credibility as someone who is an awkward, slightly rebellious teenager who feels like a lost soul. She and Doctor Strange eventually learn to trust and respect each other, but their clashes just retread the “smart-alecky kid paired with a reluctant adult mentor” formula that’s been in many other movies.

The most emotional moments in”Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” will have the greatest resonance with people who’ve seen “WandaVision” and the aforementioned MCU movies. Everything that has to do with Wanda/Scarlet Witch can best be understood by people who know what happened in “WandaVision.” And when you need to watch a TV series first to understand a movie’s chief villain, that could be a problem for “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.”

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” also has the expected mid-credits/end-credits scenes that tease what will happen in other movies or TV shows that are part of the MCU franchise. Charlize Theron is in the mid-credits scene as a character who becomes a very important part of Doctor Strange’s life, based on this character’s Marvel Comics storyline. The movie’s end-credits scene is a throwaway joke that has no bearing on subsequent storylines, but it’s a reference to a spell that was cast on someone in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” Some of the “surprise” cameos just further establish that certain franchise characters that were kept separate from the MCU have now become a part of the MCU.

If you yearn for a time when watching a new superhero movie sequel didn’t have to entail seeing at least three other movies in the franchise and possibly a TV series related to the franchise, in order to understand what happens in the sequel you’re watching, then get used to this MCU reality, because that simpler time is over. Also long gone are the days when having a maximum of five superheroes in a movie sequel was considered too much. Nowadays, not only has the MCU raised expectations for each MCU movie sequel to have numerous superheroes (as main characters and as cameos), but “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” has also ensured that viewers can expect different versions of these superheroes to pop up at any time. It’s a superhero party for superfans, but regular fans or casual fans will feel like they’re at a party where only certain people understand the inside jokes.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” in U.S. cinemas on May 6, 2022. Disney+ will premiere the movie on June 22, 2022.

Review: ‘Shirley,’ starring Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young and Logan Lerman

June 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

Michael Stuhlbarg and Elisabeth Moss in “Shirley” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Shirley”

Directed by Josephine Decker

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1964 in Bennington, Vermont, the psychological drama “Shirley” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans) representing academia and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two married couples who are temporarily living together have tensions and conflicts over emotional well-being, infidelity and career achievements.

Culture Audience: “Shirley” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of actress Elisabeth Moss, real-life author Shirley Jackson or atmospheric dramas about people who play mind games.

Logan Lerman and Odessa Young in “Shirley” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Shirley” is not an easy film to watch because the movie’s namesake—renowned horror writer Shirley Jackson—is not someone who lives life easily. The movie is based on Susan Scarf Merrell’s 2014’s book “Shirley: A Novel,” a fictional story of an emotionally troubled Jackson and her professor husband, Stanley Hyman, inviting a young newlywed couple named Fred and Rose Nemser to temporarily live with them. Fred and Rose are offered free lodging in exchange for doing chores around the house. But the invitation into the Jackson/Hyman home is really so Shirley can have a distraction from her anxiety, depression and apparent delusions.

“Shirley” the movie—directed by Josephine Decker and written by Sarah Gubbins—starts off with the naïve newlyweds Fred (played by Logan Lerman) and Rose (played by Odessa Young) arriving by train to Bennington, Vermont. It’s 1964, and they’ve moved to Bennington because Fred has been hired as an assistant to Stanley (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), who’s an English professor at Bennington College. Chain-smoking, hard-drinking Shirley (played by Elisabeth Moss) has become a bed-ridden recluse after the very divisive reactions to her psychological horror novels and short stories, most notably “The Lottery” and “The Haunting of Hill House.”

Shirley’s reputation has preceded her, so Rose and Fred are intrigued to meet this famous but unsociable author. And viewers soon see why Shirley has a reputation for being difficult. At a dinner party at their home, Stanley plays the charming host, while Shirley is the temperamental, often abrasive artist. When someone asks Shirley, “What are you writing now?” She replies curtly, “A little novella called ‘None of Your Damn Business.'”

When newlyweds Rose and Fred arrive at the home, Stanley asks them to temporarily stay at the house to help with household duties, such as cleaning and shopping, in exchange for living rent-free at the house. Stanley explains that the family housekeeper has suddenly quit, so they’re desperate for the help, since Shirley is having one of her “bouts.” Rose is pregnant and reluctant to accept the offer, but Fred doesn’t want to alienate his new boss, so he says yes.

Meanwhile, the “bout” that Shirley is having is a bout of depression. Stanley has to plead with her to get out of bed, in order to meet the new couple who will be living with them. (In the “Shirley” novel, Shirley and Stanley have four children. In the movie, the couple has no children.)

Shirley isn’t thrilled about Rose and Fred being there. “A clean house is a sign of mental inferiority,” Shirley tells Stanley. “I don’t want strangers here.” Stanley convinces Shirley to have dinner with him and the new couple by telling her that “it’s cocktail hour” and that she doesn’t have to behave at the table.

And “misbehave” Shirley does. Knowing that Rose is pregnant, Shirley rudely asks Rose if Fred knew that Rose was “knocked up” before he married her. She makes some other comments that are meant to upset the couple, just to see what their reaction will be. Rose gets so upset that she and Fred leave the dinner table early. When Rose and Fred are alone together in their room, Rose says she wants to leave as soon as they can, while Fred tells her that they can’t risk alienating Stanley because Fred is hoping that Stanley will recommend him for a permanent position at Bennington College.

Meanwhile, Shirley continues to make Rose uncomfortable. When Rose goes into Shirley’s study, supposedly to bring some coffee, Rose ends up looking through some of the things in the study instead. Shirley catches her in the act and yells at Rose to never go in the study again. Rose can’t help but feel disappointed in the way that Shirley is treating her because when they first met, Rose complimented Shirley on “The Lottery” by telling her something she thought Shirley would like to hear: “The Lottery” made Rose feel “thrillingly horrible.”

Shirley has been working on a novel based on the mystery of a real-life missing Bennington College student named Paula Jean Welden (also played by Young), in a case that has remained unsolved. Rose also becomes obsessed with the case, so Rose and Shirley start to become closer over this common bond. The two women end up becoming co-dependent friends, which is a surprise to Fred.

It’s implied, not outrightly stated, that Shirley and Rose are also sexually attracted to each other, with Shirley making the first moves in being sexually flirtatious with Rose. For example, there’s a scene where the two couples have dinner together, and Shirley suggestively rubs her leg against Rose’s leg underneath the table without their husbands’ knowledge. And there’s another scene where Shirley and Rose almost come close to having an erotic embrace and kissing.

Meanwhile, Stanley flirts with Rose too, by rubbing up against her and even kissing her quickly on the mouth when they’re alone together. She reacts with surprise, but doesn’t say anything to protest. It’s not much of a shock to find out later in the story that Stanley cheats on Shirley with female students at Bennington College. (One of his eccentricities is playing the music of blues artists such as Leadbelly in his his all-female classes.) Shirley knows about Stanley’s philandering but does nothing about it except privately seethe.

Because his wife is a successful author who makes more money than he does, Stanley tries to validate his intelligence and ego in the marriage by telling Shirley that he needs to look over her drafts before she sends them to her publisher. And in order to thwart any power that the younger and better-looking Fred might have in the household, Stanley does a brutal critique of Fred’s dissertation in front of Fred, Shirley and Rose. Underneath the easygoing and friendly demeanor, Stanley is really a creepy control freak.

As Rose spends more time with Shirley, Rose starts to become more like Shirley: paranoid, disheveled and suspicious of what kind of infidelities her husband might be committing. It’s a change in Rose that Fred doesn’t like at all. And so, the roles between the couple are reversed: Rose once was eager to leave Shirley’s home because Shirley made Rose feel intimidated and unwanted, but now Rose is reluctant to leave because Shirley now makes her feel trusted and needed in the home.

“Shirley” is the type of movie that’s more about evoking moods rather than telling a straightforward narrative. For people who aren’t familiar with the “Shirley” novel on which this movie is based, don’t expect it to be the type of story where Rose and Shirley turn into ace detectives to solve the mystery of a missing person.

The movies touches a little on the rigid and expected roles of women in that era, when Shirley comments to Rose about Rose’s unborn child: “Let’s pray for a boy. The world is too cruel to girls.”

But the heart of the story is how Shirley and Rose end up finding out that they are kindred spirits because they both consider themselves to be “outsiders.” There’s a pivotal scene in the movie where Rose confesses to Shirley that Fred’s parents cut him off because he eloped with Rose. Shirley tells Rose, “People are afraid to brush up against me. They’re afraid my dark thoughts will infect them.”

All of the actors in the cast do a perfectly fine job with their roles, but Moss (who seems to like portraying characters with a lot of emotional turmoil) has to do the heaviest lifting, since Shirley is the catalyst for almost everything in the story. “Shirley” is not her most memorable film, but Moss’ performance is compelling enough that viewers will be curious to see what she does next in the story.

However, parts of the film do end up dragging and might bore people who are expecting more things to happen. “Shirley” portrays the uncomfortable reality that insecure people often unnecessarily create chaos in their lives because inner peace is just too banal for them. The movie is less about Shirley Jackson’s creative process and more about her tendency to emotionally destroy and self-destruct.

Neon released “Shirley” in select U.S. virtual cinemas, digital, VOD and Hulu on June 5, 2020.

Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins get caught up in an unusual love story in ‘The Shape of Water’

December 1, 2017

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in "The Shape of Water" (Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)
Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer in “The Shape of Water” (Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures)

From master storyteller, Guillermo del Toro, comes “The Shape of Water,” an other-worldly fable, set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962.  In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (played by Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation.  Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (played by Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.  Rounding out the cast are Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg and Doug Jones.

Here are videos and photos from “The Shape of Water”:

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