Review: ‘Stillwater’ (2021), starring Matt Damon

July 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Matt Damon and Camille Cottin in “Stillwater” (Photo by Jessica Forde/Focus Features)

“Stillwater” (2021)

Directed by Tom McCarthy

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Marseille, France, and briefly in Stillwater, Oklahoma, the dramatic film “Stillwater” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Middle Eastern people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged oil rig/construction worker from Stillwater, Oklahoma, goes to Marseille, France, where he tries to prove that his mid-20s daughter has been wrongly imprisoned for murder.

Culture Audience: “Stillwater” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful and emotionally layered murder mysteries, even if some aspects of this crime investigation are far-fetched.

Abigail Breslin and Matt Damon in “Stillwater” (Photo by Jessica Forde/Focus Features)

“Stillwater” is a crime drama that’s somewhat flawed in how a murder mystery is investigated in the movie, but the principal cast members bring emotional authenticity that resonates in an impactful way throughout the story. It’s a movie about a man with a checkered past who’s seeking redemption not only for his imprisoned daughter but also redemption for himself for being an absentee father for most of her life. And on another level, it’s a classic “fish out of water” story about an American trying to navigate the legal system and culture in France when he knows next to nothing about either.

“Stillwater” writer/director Tom McCarthy won a best original screenplay Oscar for 2015’s “Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s real-life investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests and the Catholic Church knowingly covering up these crimes. The crime investigation in “Stillwater” is much more personal and much more underground because it doesn’t always follow legal protocol, and is therefore much more dangerous. However, “Stillwater” (which McCarthy wrote with Thomas Bidegain, Marcus Hinchey and Noé Debré) is nowhere as authentic as “Spotlight,” when it comes to depicting a crime investigation.

In “Stillwater,” Bill Baker (played by Matt Damon) is a longtime oil rigger (also known as a roughneck) who has been experiencing some hard times in his hometown of Stillwater, Oklahoma. Six months ago, he was laid off from his job. He’s been able to find temporary construction jobs here and there, but his lack of steady employment has caused him a lot of financial strain. Bill has been an oil rig worker, ever since he dropped out of high school to work with his father, who was also a roughneck.

Bill’s personal life is also a mess. He’s been a widower ever since his wife committed suicide a little more than 20 years ago, when their daughter Allison (played by Abigail Breslin) was 4 years old. After this tragedy, Allison was raised by her maternal grandmother Sharon (played by Deanna Dunagan), who has a cordial relationship with Bill. It’s in contrast to the estranged relationship that Bill has with his own mother, whom he hasn’t been in contact with for years. Bill only hears about how his mother is doing when Sharon tells him.

The movie never explains why Bill and his mother are estranged, but later on in the story, Bill reveals that he’s in recovery from alcohol and drug addiction. Now that Bill has more free time on his hands than when he was working full-time, he’s decided that he’s going to Marseille, France, for two weeks to try to solve the biggest problem he’s ever encountered: getting Allison exonerated for murder and released from prison.

Allison, who’s about 24 or 25, is in a Marseille prison and has served five years of a nine-year prison sentence for murdering her live-in lover Lena Momdi, who attended Marseille University with Allison. Going to the same university is how the former couple met. Lena is not shown in flashbacks, and whatever information about her in the movie comes mostly from Allison, who has vigorously maintained her innocence in Lena’s murder.

Why did Allison want to enroll in a university in France? It’s revealed later in the movie that she was very unhappy in Stillwater and wanted to live somewhere far away from her hometown. Lena, who was of Arabic heritage, had a very different background than Allison’s: Lena came from a stable, upper-middle-class family.

Allison’s and Lena’s personalities were different too. Allison is a creative type who likes to draw. She’s introverted and doesn’t make friends easily. Lena was more sociable and extroverted. It’s hinted throughout the movie that Lena was Allison’s first serious romance and the first relationship where Allison could live openly as a lesbian/queer woman.

The story comes out in bits and pieces in the movie, but these are the indisputable facts: Lena was stabbed to death in the apartment that she shared with Allison, who doesn’t have an alibi during the time that investigators say that Lena was murdered. Allison claims that she came home to find Lena murdered. At the time, Lena and Allison were having problems in their relationship because Lena was cheating on Allison.

Allison says she doesn’t know who murdered Lena, but she has a theory that it was probably a guy in his 20s named Akim (played by Idir Azougli), whom Lena had recently met in a bar. Allison says she briefly met Akim too, but Allison doesn’t know anything about him except his first name, and she has a vague memory of what he looks like. Allison has told her father Bill that she found out that a female acquaintance had overheard Akim bragging about stabbing Lena.

That’s not enough to prove Allison’s innocence, but there was untested DNA at the crime scene. Allison thinks that the DNA is the DNA of the murderer and could be Akim’s, if Allison’s theory is correct. Bill then takes it upon himself to try get Allison’s case re-opened by finding the evidence that could exonerate her.

If this murder mystery sounds a lot like the real-life Amanda Knox case, that’s because “Stillwater” was partially inspired by Knox’s case, according to the “Stillwater” production notes. Knox was an American student attending a university in Perugia, Italy, in 2007, when she, her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito and their acquaintance Rudy Guede were convicted of sexually assaulting and stabbing to death Knox’s British female roommate Meredith Kercher, who attended a different university in the same city. However, only Guede was directly tied to the crime through physical evidence (his bloody fingerprints), and Knox never wavered from proclaiming her innocence. The case was notorious for its twists and turns and worldwide media exposure.

Allison’s murder case in “Stillwater” also made a lot headlines, but the filmmakers wisely chose not to have flashbacks in this movie. That’s because the main characters in the story want to forget painful memories from their past. By the time that Bill visits Allison in prison, the media frenzy over Allison’s case has died down. And it seems that almost everyone involved, except Allison and her few family members, have given up hope that she will be exonerated and set free from prison.

While Bill is staying at a low-priced hotel, he notices the two people who are in the room next to his. He doesn’t find out who they are until a little later, but these hotel neighbors are theater actress Virginie (played by Camille Cottin) and her 8-year-old daughter Maya (played by Lilou Siauvaud), who is a bright and energetic child. Bill doesn’t know it yet, but all three of them will become part of each other’s lives in ways that they don’t expect.

The first time that Bill talks to Virginie, it’s because she’s partying on her room balcony with a friend. They’re laughing, drinking, and playing music loudly, so Bill asks them to keep the noise down. Virginie says that she only speaks French, and she has a dismissive tone toward Bill. A disgruntled Bill decides not to cause an argument and just shuts his room’s sliding glass door.

The next day, Bill sees that Maya has been locked out of the room and she doesn’t have a room key. Because he wants to make sure that Maya is safe, he takes her to the hotel lobby so that the front desk can give Maya a spare key. Virginie eventually shows up and she thanks Bill for his act of kindness. Bill notices that Virginie can speak perfect English. And when he points it out to her, Virginie looks embarrassed and makes a sheepish apology.

Virginie explains that the reason why Maya was accidentally locked out of the hotel room was because Virginie (who’s a single mother) was running late from an appointment for their new apartment. Virginie and Maya are staying at the hotel until they can move into their new home. Later, Virginie reveals to Bill that Maya’s father is alive but not in their lives, and that Virginie has been the only parent to raise Maya. Virginia describes Maya’s father as a “fling” who now lives in Crete,

Meanwhile, Allison doesn’t trust the prison mail system and knows all meetings and phone conversations in prison are recorded. And so, Allison has given Bill an important letter written in French that she wants him to hand-deliver to her defense attorney named Leparq (played by Anne Le Ny), to try to get the case re-opened. After encountering some obstacles, Bill gets an in-person meeting with Leparq, who reads the letter and says that there’s nothing more she can do because the case cannot be appealed without significant evidence.

A frustrated and angry Bill goes back to the hotel, where he asks Virginie to translate the letter for him. In the letter, Allison describes Akim as a likely person of interest who could be a match for the untested DNA that was at the crime scene. Allison also says in her letter that she doesn’t trust her father to help, even though he is her only family member who can be in France. (Allison’s grandmother Sharon, who wears an oxygen tube, has health issues and can’t travel overseas.)

As soon as Bill knows what the letter says, it’s at this point where viewers know he’s going to want to get back in Allison’s good graces. He meets with a local private investigator named Dirosa (played by Moussa Maaskri), but Bill can’t afford the investigator’s starting fee of €12,000. And so, that means Bill is going to do the investigating himself.

The first step is to find the witness who claims that she heard Akim confess to the murder. This witness can only speak French. Luckily, Viriginie is very sympathetic to Bill’s plight, and she readily agrees to be his translator. Things don’t go smoothly, of course, and Bill finds himself increasingly obsessed with finding Akim. Bill also gets personally involved with Virginie.

Although “Stillwater” does a very good job of unpeeling the layers of the story’s three complicated adults—Bill, Allison and Virginie—where the movie falters is in the almost absurd acts of vigilantism that Bill commits in the movie. His two immediate main goals are to find Akim and get Akim’s DNA. But since Bill doesn’t know Akim’s last name, and Allison can only give a vague description, there’s a time-consuming process of finding out if Akim really exists.

Akim really does exist, and there’s a scene in the movie where Bill has the perfect opportunity to get Akim’s DNA by taking a plastic straw and cup that Akim was drinking from and then discarded at an outdoor cafe. However, Bill doesn’t take the cup and straw as DNA evidence. Something else happens that takes this movie down a very dark path. Viewers will have to assume that Bill is so ignorant about the law that he doesn’t know that how evidence is gathered can affect whether or not the evidence is admissible in court.

“Stillwater” has many references to the cultural and social class differences of an American like Bill being in France. Bill has to correct people who incorrectly assume that because he’s American who has the ability to travel to France, he must be rich. In another scene, Virginie agrees to help Bill after she suspiciously asks him, “Did you vote for [Donald] Trump?”

Bill doesn’t say what his political leanings are and instead says he can’t vote in U.S. elections because he’s a convicted felon, although he doesn’t say why he was in prison and when. Virginie makes it clear that Bill’s prison record wouldn’t bother her as much as it would bother her if he voted for Trump. She hangs out with a lot of progressive hipster types in her theater group.

In another scene, Virginie and Bill have an argument when she helps him interview a local cafe owner who might have seen Akim. The cafe owner named Max (played by Pierre Piacentino) is very racist against Arabs and tells Virginie in French that he’s willing to accuse anyone Arab to help with the case. Virginie abruptly ends the interview in disgust and tells Bill why, but Bill is willing to overlook this racism because he thinks the cafe owner might still have valuable information.

Bill tells Virginie that he works with a lot of people who have these racists thoughts, but he believes you can still work with these people if they’re on your side. It’s the first of many clues that Bill is willing to do whatever it takes to free Allison from prison, even if it could mean getting a racist witness who will lie in order to wrongfully accuse someone. Virginie makes it clear that she has certain ethics that are non-negotiable. It won’t be the last time that Bill’s and Virginie’s two different moral codes will clash with each other.

An issue that “Stillwater” doesn’t adequately address is that Allison got only a nine-year prison sentence for murder. That’s an incredibly lenient sentence, considering that it was a brutal stabbing that appears to have been pre-meditated. It’s implied throughout the story that Allison was convicted of first-degree murder. It’s never discussed in the movie (although it should have been discussed) that Allison, who’s young enough to potentially have several decades of life ahead of her, was lucky to get such a light prison sentence for this serious crime.

No one says the words “white privilege” in this movie, but a lot of viewers who know that racial inequalities exist in criminal justice systems will immediately think about how a person of color in the same circumstances as Allison probably would’ve gotten a punishment that’s a lot worse and longer than a nine-year prison sentence. Likewise, Bill takes for granted and feels emboldened that as a white man traveling by himself, he can feel entitled to go in certain neighborhoods as a stranger and do whatever vigilante things that he does. It’s because he consciously or subconsciously knows that people are less likely to call the police on someone who looks like him when he acts aggressively or does suspicious things.

Allison already served five years of that nine-year prison sentence, so it raises more questions that the movie doesn’t answer about how Bill and Allison went about solving her legal problems. The legal process to get someone exonerated could take a lot more than four years. And it means that Allison could be released from prison in a shorter period of time than it could take for her to be exonerated.

That probability is never discussed in the movie, because “Stillwater” is all about Bill trying to get things done in an unrealistic “only in a movie” period of time. And yes, Bill and Allison want to clear Allison’s name. But at what cost, when Bill starts breaking the law like a vigilante?

It’s why “Stillwater,” even though it benefits from stirring performances by the principal cast members, still feels like a Hollywood version of how to free a prisoner who claims to be wrongly convicted. Usually, in melodramatic movies like “Stillwater,” someone is portrayed as a one-person juggernaut doing almost all the detective work. In reality, it takes several people and many years of investigations and court procedures to get a convicted prisoner exonerated.

In the production notes for “Stillwater,” McCarthy comments on some of the main inspirations for him to make the movie: “I was inspired by a number of Mediterranean Noir writers like Andrea Camilleri, Massimo Carlotto and Jean-Claude Izzo, whose brilliant Marseille Trilogy led me to the French city. One visit to Marseille and I knew that I found my port.”

And just like those novels, “Stillwater” is a fictional version of life. The movie is entertaining, suspenseful and a “be careful what you wish for” cautionary tale. However, “Stillwater” shouldn’t be used as an ideal example of a dramatic film that realistically portrays how to try to get someone out of prison.

Focus Features will release “Stillwater” in U.S. cinemas on July 30, 2021.

Review: ‘RK/RKAY,’ starring Rajat Kapoor, Mallika Sherawat, Kubbra Sait, Ranvir Shorey, Manu Rishi Chadha and Chandrachoor Rai

July 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rajat Kapoor in “RK/RKAY” (Photo courtesy of Outsider Pictures)

“RK/RKAY”

Directed by Rajat Kapoor

Hindi and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in an unnamed city in India, the comedy film “RK/RKAY” features an all-Indian cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After killing off the hero character in his most recent film, an independent filmmaker is frustrated and alarmed when the hero character takes on human form and infiltrates the filmmaker’s life to protest his on-screen death.

Culture Audience: “RK/RKAY” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Indian cinema that takes a satirical look at the art of filmmaking.

Mallika Sherawat in “RK/RKAY” (Photo courtesy of Outsider Pictures)

Although it can get a little too repetitive, the comedy film “RK/RKAY” offers a mostly breezy film-within-a-film story that parodies the cliché of “bringing a character to life.” This low-budget, independent Indian film can be considered a viable alternative to people who want to see something other than a typical Bollywood formula. Underneath the comedic antics is an effective portrait of someone going through a mid-life crisis who is afraid of becoming so irrelevant to everyone around him that he will eventually be “erased.”

Rajat Kapoor, a longtime independent filmmaker, is the writer, director and star of “RK/RKAY,” which was financed mainly through crowdfunding, after Kapoor got tired of getting rejections from potential investors to make this movie. In “RK/RKAY,” Kapoor plays two roles: (1) an independent filmmaker named RK, who has just starred in his recently completed movie (whose name is never revealed in “RK/RKAY”) that he wrote and directed and (2) Mahboob Alam, the hero character of RK’s movie.

The Mahboob character is a protagonist in a “Pink Panther”-type of comedic thriller movie that is set in the 1960s. Mahboob, who is 45 years old, has a moustache that’s very much like the type that Peter Sellers’ bumbling Inspector Clouseau character had in the “Pink Panther” films. By contrast, RK is clean-shaven and wears glasses.

RK thinks of himself as a suave intellectual, while Mahboob was created to be somewhat of a goofy character. RK writes and directs all of his films, so he’s very adamant about protecting his “artistic integrity.” RK gives the impression that he won’t take other people’s advice if they think something should be changed about his movies before the movies are completed.

To fully appreciate “RK/RKAY,” you should have a tolerance for very “meta” films. Anyone who gets easily confused by movie-within-a-movie films that are a wink and a nod to the filmmakers’ real-life experiences probably won’t enjoy “RK/RKAY” very much. The movie is a madcap whirlwind that taps into a nightmarish fear that some screenwriters might have but rarely dare to put into their work: What if a character created by the screenwriter became more popular than the writer?

In “RK/RKAY,” that fear becomes a reality for RK, whose has recently finished filming a movie where the hero Mahboob dies at the end because Mahboob was killed by the villain. RK is proud of the fact that he completed the film ahead of schedule (it was done in 36 days on a 40-day production schedule) and under budget. Toward the end of the film shoot, RK and the crew celebrated his birthday.

The film’s producer Goel Sahab (played by Manu Rishi Chadha) is fairly new to the movie industry. Goel’s main way to make money has been in the construction business. Goel expresses concerns to RK that the hero dies at the end of the movie. Goel asks RK later, “If the hero can’t stay in the film, why would the audience stay?”

Goel is also worried about the movie being in two languages (Hindi and English), because Goel thinks it will be too confusing to the “common man.” RK listen to Goel’s fears and assures this new film producer that he knows what he’s doing because he’s been making movies for years. But the issue about Mahboob getting killed will soon be a problem that no one involved in this movie can ignore.

As RK begins the stressful process of overseeing the film’s editing, in order to make the movie’s October 15 release, his workaholic ways seem to have taken a toll on his personal life. RK’s wife Seema (played by Kubbra Sait) and their son Vivan (played by Abishek Sharrma), who’s about 7 years old, were on the film set to visit RK on his birthday and were also at the on-set birthday party that the film crew had for RK.

The family members seemed to have a good time at the party. But on the ride back home that night, Seema and Vivan are emotionally distant from RK. Vivan tells RK that he doesn’t want to ever want to come back to the film set. RK accepts that decision. And later, when RK and Seema are getting ready to bed, she makes it clear that RK won’t be getting an intimate love for his birthday.

“Be nice,” RKAY says, “It’s my birthday.” Seema coldly replies, since it’s after midnight, “Your birthday’s over now. Why do you want to make this film?” RK responds, “I don’t know.” Seema than says with not much emotion, “Happy birthday.”

The iciness between RK and Seema seems to thaw somewhat when they have lunch together at a cafe, but RK has to cut the lunch short when he gets an emergency call from production assistant Namit (played Chandrachoor Rai), who is in a panic. All of the filmed footage with Mahboob is now missing. RK rushes to the editing room to find out what happened.

When he gets to the editing room, the film editor (played by Anhjeeet Deshpande) and producer Goel both confirm that the footage is missing. And members of the film crew also report something bizarre: Mahboob was seen as a real person leaving the film set. The movie shows that Mahboob hailed a taxi to go to a train station.

When Mahboob got to the train station, he couldn’t board it because the ticket he has is fake, because it was a ticket invented by RK. A dejected Mahboob stays at the train station until Namit tracks him down. It’s here that Mahboob reveals why he came to life and wanted to run away: Mahboob objects to being killed off in the movie, and he won’t come back to the film set until RK agrees to reshoot the film so that Mahboob can live.

The rest of the movie shows how Mahboob infiltrates RK’s life as a way to protest being killed off in the movie. Mahboob shows up at RK’s home and quickly endears himself to Mahboob’s wife Seema, son Vivan and daughter Rabia (played by Grace Girdhar), who’s about 9 years old. Mahboob cooks meals for the family, and predictably, RK starts to feel like an outsider.

Meanwhile, Mahboob charms producer Goel and other members of the film crew. It doesn’t take long for Mahboob to convince people to be on his side. And so, people involved in making the film try to persuade RK not to kill off the Mahboob character. Mahboob becomes more popular than RK with RK’s family and co-workers. And naturally, this doesn’t sit too well with RK, who feels very disrespected.

One day, when Mahboob is at RK’s house, RK tries to exert some of the power that he feels slipping away. RK shouts at Mahboob: “I gave birth to you!” Mahboob replies in a bid for sympathy: “I;m your child!” Soon after, RK mutters to Seema about himself: “What a failure you must be if even the characters you write don’t listen to you.”

Further complicating matters, in RK’s movie, Mahboob owed money to a crime lord named KN Singh (played by Ranvir Shorey), who is the movie’s chief villain. Shorey also has the role of the actor named Ranvir, who plays KN Singh in RK’s thriller movie. Because Mahboob has gone “missing” from the movie, KN Singh comes to life and goes on a manhunt to find Mahboob in the real world. “RK/RKAY” gets a little messy at this point, but RK has a devious motive for wanting Mahboob killed in the real world: RK doesn’t want to change the ending of his movie.

Will Mahboob die or survive? Will RK get the ending he wants? That question is answered in the movie, where the last 10 seconds of the film will reveal what really happened to conclude this story. It’s a plot twist that’s an example of how viewers need to see an entire movie in order to make a fully informed judgment about it.

Because “RK/RKAY” revolves around the RK and Mahboob characters played by Kapoor, much of the movie’s appeal has to do with his knack for making these two look-alike characters very distinct from each other. The other cast members are perfectly adequate in their roles, but Shorey’s performance as the villain KN Singh is a little too hammy and might annoy some viewers.

“RK/RKAY” is not a perfect movie. One of its biggest flaws is how underdevloped the female characters are There are only two women with significant speaking roles (both supporting roles), and they’re both sidelined as love interests who show only three types of emotions: angry, worried or loving. The aforementioned Sait, who portrays RK’s wife Seema, is one of the supporting female characters.

Mallika Sherawat has two roles: She plays Mahboob’s love interest Gulabo and the temperamental actress Neha, who plays Gulabo in RK’s movie. Gulabo is meek and passive and is mostly seen pining over Mahboob while she’s alone in her bedroom. It’s a very uninteresting, stereotypical role.

Neha has an opposite personality: She’s bossy and ill-tempered, but also presented in a shallow way. When Neha is on the set, and production assistant Namit reads her lines, she yells at him: “What’s wrong with you, asshole? You can’t even read from the script?”

Later, after the film shoot ends for the day, and Neha is ready to leave, she sees Namit and some other film crew members outside and says she’s sorry for the rude way that she talked earlier. Before she gets into her chauffeur-driven car, she tells the crew members that she’ll star their movie if they ever get the chance to make their own film. After Neha leaves, Namit jokes that the movie would be called “Death of a Witch.”

The scene with Neha acting like a diva from hell takes place near the beginning of “RK/RKAY.” But then, the character of Neha is never really given any significant screen time as herself again. (Her screen time playing lovesick Gulabo doesn’t count.) It will just make viewers wonder if other scenes with Neha were cut out of the film, because a character arc seems to have been introduced for Neha, but then is inexplicably left hanging.

“RK/RKAY” is definitely a movie where the men get the best dialogue and the most character development. As a comedy, it’s got some pacing and editing problems, with some parts of the film very manic, while others parts of the film repeating Mahboob’s presence in RK’s home until it becomes a bit monotonous. “RK/RKAY” is very much like being on a merry-go-round of meta filmmaking. Some people will want to get off of the ride, while others will want to stay and get as much enjoyment out of it as possible.

Outsider Pictures released “RK/RKAY” in select U.S. cinemas on May 14, 2021.

Movie and TV Reviews

Reviews for New Movies Releasing June 4 – July 30, 2021

The 8th Night (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
12 Mighty Orphans (Photo by Laura Wilson/Sony Pictures Classics)
All Light, Everywhere (Photo by Corey Hughes/Super LTD)
Bad Detectives (Photo courtesy of Mutiny Pictures)
Black Widow (Photo by Jay Maidment/Marvel Studios)
The Boss Baby: Family Business (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animaton)
Censor (Photo by Maria Lax/Magnet Releasing)
Chasing Wonders (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Photo by Ben Rothstein/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Death in Texas (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
El Cuartito (Photo courtesy of Wiesner Distribution)
Escape Room: Tournament of Champions (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)
The Evil Next Door (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
F9 (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
First Date (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)
Flashback (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
The Forever Purge (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Gaia (Photo by Jorrie van der Walt/Decal)
The God Committee (Photo by Matt Sakatani Roe/Vertical Entertainment)
Hero Mode (Photo by Rachael Thompson/Blue Fox Entertainment)
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard (Photo by David Appleby/Lionsgate)
Holler (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)
How It Ends (Photo courtesy of MGM/American International Pictures)
I Carry You With Me (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics)
In the Heights (Photo by Macall Polay/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Kid Candidate (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)
Lansky (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Love Type D (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Luca (Image courtesy of Disney/Pixar Animation Studios)
Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over (Photo by Annie Sprinkle)
Mama Weed (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)
Old (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
Our Ladies (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures Releasing International)
A Perfect Enemy (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)
Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions/American Masters Films/PBS)
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (Photo courtesy of CNN/Focus Features)
School’s Out Forever (Photo courtesy of Central City Media)
Siberia (Photo by Federico Vagliati/Lionsgate)
Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Skydance)
The Sparks Brothers (Photo by Anna Webber/Focus Features)
Spirit Untamed (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)
Stillwater (Photo by Jessica Forde/Focus Features)
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Sweet Thing (Photo by Lasse Tolboll/Film Movement)
Too Late (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
Undine (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
Werewolves Within (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/IFC Films)
Zola (Photo courtesy of A24)

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Athlete A — documentary

Attack of the Murder Hornets — documentary

Baby God — documentary

Babysplitters — comedy

Babyteeth — drama

Bacurau — drama

Bad Boys for Life — action

Bad Detectives (formerly titled Year of the Detectives) — drama

Bad Education (2020) — drama

Bad Therapy (formerly titled Judy Small) — comedy/drama

Ballad of a White Cow — drama

Banana Split — comedy

Banksy and the Rise of Outlaw Art — documentary

Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar — comedy

Beanpole — drama

Beast Beast — drama

Beastie Boys Story — documentary

Becoming — documentary

Behind You — horror

Beneath Us — horror

Big Time Adolescence — comedy/drama

The Big Ugly — drama

Billie (2020) — documentary

Bill & Ted Face the Music — sci-fi/comedy

The Binge — comedy

Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) — action

Black Bear — drama

Blackbird (2020) — drama

Black Box (2020) — horror

Black Is King — musical

Black Magic for White Boys — comedy

Black Widow (2021) — action

Blast Beat — drama

Blessed Child — documentary

Blithe Spirit (2021) — comedy

Blood and Money — drama

Blood on Her Name — drama

Bloodshot (2020) — sci-fi/action

Bloody Hell — horror

Blow the Man Down — drama

Blue Story — drama

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island — horror

Body Cam — horror

Bố Già (Dad, I’m Sorry) — comedy/drama

Boogie — drama

The Booksellers — documentary

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm — comedy

The Boss Baby: Family Business — animation

The Boys (first episode) — action

Brahms: The Boy II — horror

Breaking Fast — comedy

Breaking News in Yuba County — comedy

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists — documentary

The Broken Hearts Gallery — comedy

Brothers by Blood (formerly titled The Sound of Philadelphia) — drama

Browse — drama

Buffaloed — comedy

Bully. Coward. Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn — documentary

Burden (2020) — drama

Burning Cane — drama

Burn It All — drama

The Burnt Orange Heresy — drama

Cactus Jack — horror

Cagefighter — drama

Calendar Girl — documentary

The Call of the Wild (2020) — live-action/animation

A Call to Spy — drama

Call Your Mother — documentary

Cane River — drama

Capone — drama

Carmilla — drama

Castle in the Ground — drama

Catch the Fair One — drama

Censor (2021) — horror

Centigrade — drama

Changing the Game (2021) — documentary

Chasing the Present — documentary

Chasing Wonders — drama

Chick Fight — comedy

Children of the Sea — animation

Chop Chop — horror

Circus of Books — documentary

City of Lies — drama

The Clearing (2020) — horror

Clementine — drama

Cliff Walkers (formerly titled Impasse) — drama

The Climb (2020) — comedy/drama

Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: Contact Has Begun — documentary

Clover — drama

Coachella: 20 Years in the Desert — documentary

CODA — comedy/drama

Coded Bias (formerly titled Code for Bias) — documentary

Coffee & Kareem — comedy

Collective — documentary

Color Out of Space — sci-fi/horror

The Columnist — horror

Come as You Are (2020)  — comedy

Come Play — horror

Come to Daddy — horror

Come True — sci-fi/drama

Coming 2 America — comedy

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It — horror

Console Wars — documentary

The Cordillera of Dreams — documentary

Count Basie: Through His Own Eyes — documentary

The Courier (2021) (formerly titled Ironbark) — drama

The Craft: Legacy — horror

Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words — documentary

Creem: America’s Only Rock’n’Roll Magazine — documentary

Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution — documentary

Crisis (2021) — drama

Critical Thinking — drama

Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan — documentary

The Croods: A New Age — animation

Crown Vic — drama

CRSHD — comedy

Cruella — comedy/drama

The Curse of Audrey Earnshaw — horror

Cut Throat City — drama

Da 5 Bloods — drama

Daddy Issues (2020) — comedy

Dads — documentary

Dangerous Lies — drama

Dara of Jasenovac — drama

The Dark Divide — drama

Dark Web: Cicada 3301 — action/comedy

Dave Not Coming Back — documentary

A Day in the Life of America — documentary

Days of Rage: The Rolling Stones’ Road to Altamont — documentary

Days of the Whale — drama

A Deadly Legend — horror

Dear Santa — documentary

Death in Texas — drama

Decade of Fire — documentary

The Deeper You Dig — horror

The Delicacy — documentary

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil — documentary

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba The Movie: Mugen Train — animation

Denise Ho — Becoming the Song — documentary

Desolation Center — documentary

Desperados — comedy

The Devil Below (formerly titled Shookum Hills) — horror

Devil’s Night: Dawn of the Nain Rouge — horror

Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo — documentary

Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy — documentary

Disappearance at Clifton Hill — drama

Disclosure (2020) — documentary

Diving With Dolphins — documentary

The Djinn — horror

The Dog Doc — documentary

Dolittle — live-action/animation

Dolphin Island — drama

Dolphin Reef — documentary

Do Not Reply — horror

Don’t Look Back (2020) (formerly titled Good Samaritan) — horror

The Doorman (2020) — action

Dosed — documentary

Downhill — comedy

Dream Horse — drama

Dreamland (2020) (starring Margot Robbie) — drama

Driven to Abstraction — documentary

Driveways — drama

Driving While Black: Race, Space and Mobility in America — documentary

The Dry — drama

Duty Free — documentary

Easy Does It — comedy

El Cuartito — comedy/drama

Elephant (2020) — documentary

Ella Fitzgerald: Just One of Those Things — documentary

Embattled — drama

Emma (2020) — comedy/drama

The Emoji Story (formerly titled Picture Character) — documentary

Endangered Species (2021) — drama

End of Sentence — drama

Enforcement (formerly titled Shorta) — drama

Enhanced (2021) (also titled Mutant Outcasts) — sci-fi/action

Enola Holmes —drama

Entwined (2020) — horror

Epicentro — documentary

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions — horror

The Etruscan Smile (also titled Rory’s Way) — drama

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — comedy

Evil Eye (2020) — horror

The Evil Next Door — horror

Exit Plan — drama

Extraction (2020) — action

F9 — action

Falling (2021) — drama

A Fall From Grace — drama

The Fallout — drama

Farewell Amor — drama

Fatal Affair (2020) — drama

Fatale — drama

The Father (2021) — drama

Fatima (2020) — drama

Fatman — comedy

Fear of Rain — horror

The Fight (2020) — documentary

Finding You (2021) — drama

First Cow — drama

First Date (2021) — comedy

Flashback (2021) (formerly titled The Education of Frederick Fitzell) — drama

Flipped (2020) — comedy

Force of Nature (2020) — action

The Forever Purge — horror

For They Know Not What They Do — documentary

The Forty-Year-Old Version — comedy

Four Good Days — drama

Four Kids and It — fantasy

Framing John DeLorean — documentary

Freaky — horror

French Exit — comedy/drama

Friendsgiving — comedy

From the Vine — comedy/drama

Funhouse (2021) — horror

Gaia (2021) — horror

Game of Death (2020) — horror

Ganden: A Joyful Land — documentary

The Garden Left Behind — drama

The Gasoline Thieves — drama

Gay Chorus Deep South — documentary

The Gentlemen — action

Get Duked! (formerly titled Boyz in the Wood) — comedy

Get Gone — horror

The Ghost of Peter Sellers — documentary

A Girl From Mogadishu — drama

A Girl Missing — drama

A Glitch in the Matrix — documentary

The God Committee — drama

Godzilla vs. Kong — action

The Go-Go’s — documentary

Golden Arm — comedy

Goldie — drama

Good Posture — comedy

Gordon Lightfoot: If You Could Read My Mind — documentary

Greed — comedy/drama

Greenland — sci-fi/action

Gretel & Hansel — horror

Greyhound — drama

The Grudge (2020) — horror

Guest of Honour — drama

Gunda — documentary

Half Brothers — comedy

The Half of It — comedy

Halloween Party (2020) — horror

Happiest Season — comedy

Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics — documentary

Haymaker (2021) — drama

Healing From Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation — documentary

He Dreams of Giants — documentary

Held — horror

Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful — documentary

Here Are the Young Men — drama

Here Today — comedy/drama

Hero Dog: The Journey Home — drama

Hero Mode — comedy

Herself — drama

The High Note — comedy/drama

His House — horror

The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard — action

Holler — drama

Holly Slept Over — comedy

Honest Thief — action

Hooking Up (2020) — comedy

Hope Gap — drama

Horse Girl — sci-fi/drama

The Host (2020) — horror

Hosts — horror

The House Next Door: Meet the Blacks 2 — comedy/horror

House of Hummingbird — drama

How It Ends (2021) — comedy

How to Build a Girl — comedy

How to Fix a Primary — documentary

Human Capital (2020) — drama

Human Nature (2020) — documentary

The Hunt — horror

Hunter Hunter — horror

Hysterical (2021) — documentary

I Am Human — documentary

I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story — drama

I Am Vengeance: Retaliation — action

I Carry You With Me — drama

If I Can’t Have You: The Jodi Arias Story — documentary

I Hate New York — documentary

I Hate the Man in My Basement — drama

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me — documentary

Impractical Jokers: The Movie — comedy

I’m Thinking of Ending Things — drama

I’m Your Woman — drama

Incitement — drama

Infamous (2020) — drama

The Infiltrators — docudrama

The Informer (2020) — drama

Initials SG — drama

Inna De Yard: The Soul of Jamaica — documentary

In Our Mothers’ Gardens — documentary

Instaband — documentary

In the Earth — horror

In the Footsteps of Elephant — documentary

In the Heights — musical

The Invisible Man (2020) — horror

Iron Mask (formerly titled The Mystery of the Dragon Seal) — action

Irresistible (2020) — comedy

I Still Believe — drama

It Takes a Lunatic — documentary

I Used to Go Here — comedy/drama

I’ve Got Issues — comedy

I Want My MTV — documentary

I Will Make You Mine — drama

Jakob’s Wife — horror

Jay Myself — documentary

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey — musical

John Henry — action

John Lewis: Good Trouble — documentary

JonBenét Ramsey: What Really Happened? — documentary

Judas and the Black Messiah (formerly titled Jesus Was My Homeboy) — drama

Judy & Punch — drama

Jungleland (2020) — drama

Kajillionaire — comedy/drama

Kat and the Band — comedy

Kaye Ballard: The Show Goes On! — documentary

Kid Candidate — documentary

Kill Chain: The Cyber War on America’s Elections — documentary

Killer Among Us — horror

Killer Therapy — horror

The Killing of Two Lovers — drama

The Kill Team (2019) — drama

Kill the Monsters — drama

The Kindness of Strangers — drama

Kindred — drama

The King of Staten Island — comedy/drama

La Llorona — horror

Land (2021) — drama

Lansky (2021) — drama

The Last Full Measure — drama

The Last Vermeer — drama

The Lawyer — drama

Leftover Women — documentary

Les Misérables (2019) — drama

Let Him Go — drama

The Lie (2020) — drama

Life in a Day 2020 — documentary

Like a Boss — comedy

Limbo (2021) — comedy/drama

Limerence — comedy

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice — documentary

Lingua Franca — drama

Little Fish (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Little Things (2021) — drama

The Lodge — horror

The Longest Wave — documentary

Long Live Rock…Celebrate the Chaos — documentary

Long Weekend (2021) — sci-fi/drama

Lost Bayou — drama

Lost Girls — drama

Lost Transmissions — drama

Los Últimos Frikis — documentary

Love and Monsters — sci-fi/horror/action

The Lovebirds — comedy

Love Sarah — comedy/drama

Love Type D — comedy

Love Wedding Repeat — comedy

Low Tide — drama

Luca (2021) — animation

Lucky Grandma — action

Luz: The Flower of Evil — horror

LX 2048 — sci-fi

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over — documentary

Mai Khoi & the Dissidents — documentary

The Main Event (2020) — action

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound— documentary

Mallory (2021) — documentary

Mama Weed — comedy/drama

Mank — drama

The Man Who Sold His Skin — drama

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — drama

Mark, Mary & Some Other People — comedy

The Marksman (2021) — action

Martha: A Picture Story — documentary

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words — documentary

Mass (2021) — drama

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back — documentary

The Mauritanian — drama

Mighty Ira — documentary

Mighty Oak — drama

Military Wives — comedy/drama

The Mimic (2021) — comedy

Minari — drama

The Mindfulness Movement — documentary

Misbehaviour — drama

Miss Americana — documentary

Miss Juneteenth — drama

MLK/FBI — documentary

Moffie — drama

The Mole Agent — documentary

Monday (2021) — drama

Monster Hunter — sci-fi/action

Mortal — sci-fi/action

Mortal Kombat (2021) — fantasy/action

Most Dangerous Game — action

Most Wanted (formerly titled Target Number One) — drama

Mr. Soul! — documentary

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado — documentary

Mulan (2020) — action

Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story — documentary

Murder to Mercy: The Cyntoia Brown Story — documentary

My Boyfriend’s Meds — comedy

My Dad’s Christmas Date — comedy/drama

My Darling Vivian — documentary

My Love (2021) — comedy/drama

My Octopus Teacher — documentary

My Salinger Year (also titled My New York Year) — drama

My Spy — comedy

Mystify: Michael Hutchence — documentary

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind — documentary

The Nest (2020) — drama

Never Rarely Sometimes Always — drama

Never Too Late (2020) — comedy

New Order (2021) — drama

News of the World — drama

A Nice Girl Like You — comedy

The Night (2021) — horror

Night of the Kings — drama

Nina Wu — drama

Noah Land — drama

Nobody (2021) — action

Nocturne (2020) — horror

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin — documentary

Nomadland — drama

No Man’s Land (2021) — drama

No Small Matter — documentary

Notturno — documentary

The Novice (2021) — drama

Old — horror

The Old Guard — action

Olympia — documentary

Olympic Dreams — comedy/drama

Once Upon a River — drama

Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band — documentary

One Hour Outcall — drama

One Night in Bangkok — drama

One Night in Miami… — drama

Only — sci-fi/drama

On the Record — documentary

On the Rocks (2020) — drama

On the Trail: Inside the 2020 Primaries — documentary

Onward — animation

Open — drama

Ordinary Love — drama

Origin of the Species — documentary

Otherhood — comedy

The Other Lamb — drama

Other Music — documentary

Ottolenghi and the Cakes of Versailles — documentary

Our Friend (formerly titled The Friend) — drama

Our Ladies — comedy/drama

Our Time Machine — documentary

Out of Blue — drama

The Outpost — drama

Out Stealing Horses — drama

The Painter and the Thief — documentary

Palm Springs — comedy

Paper Spiders — drama

The Paper Tigers — action

Parallel (2020) — sci-fi/drama

Paranormal Prison — horror

Parkland Rising — documentary

A Patient Man — drama

A Perfect Enemy — drama

The Personal History of David Copperfield — comedy/drama

Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway — live-action/animation

Phobias (2021) — horror

The Photograph — drama

The Place of No Words — drama

The Planters — comedy

Plucked — documentary

Plus One (2019) — comedy

The Pollinators — documentary

Pornstar Pandemic: The Guys — documentary

Possessor Uncut — sci-fi/horror

Premature (2020) — drama

The Prey (2020) — action

The Price of Desire — drama

Profile (2021) — drama

Project Power — sci-fi/action

Promising Young Woman — comedy/drama

Proxima — sci-fi/drama

P.S. Burn This Letter Please — documentary

Public Enemy Number One — documentary

PVT CHAT — drama

The Quiet One — documentary

A Quiet Place Part II — sci-fi/horror

Quo Vadis, Aida? — drama

The Racer — drama

Radioactive — drama

A Rainy Day in New York — comedy

Raising Buchanan — comedy

Raya and the Last Dragon — animation

Rebuilding Paradise — documentary

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project — documentary

Red Penguins — documentary

Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs — animation

A Regular Woman — drama

Relic — horror

The Rental (2020) — horror

Rent-A-Pal — horror

The Rescue List — documentary

Resistance (2020) — drama

Retaliation (formerly titled Romans) — drama

Rewind — documentary

The Rhythm Section — action

The Ride (2020) — drama

Ride Like a Girl — drama

Riders of Justice — drama

The Right One — comedy

Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It — documentary

River City Drumbeat — documentary

RK/RKAY — comedy

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain — documentary

Roald Dahl’s The Witches — horror/fantasy

Robert the Bruce — drama

The Rookies (2021) — action

Run (2020) — drama

Runner — documentary

Run With the Hunted — drama

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words — documentary

Safer at Home — drama

Saint Frances — comedy/drama

Saint Maud — horror

Save Yourselves! — sci-fi/horror/comedy

The Scheme (2020) — documentary

Scheme Birds — documentary

School’s Out Forever — horror

Scoob! — animation

Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street — documentary

Screened Out — documentary

Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth (formerly titled Seahorse) — documentary

Seberg — drama

The Secret: Dare to Dream — drama

A Secret Love — documentary

The Secrets We Keep — drama

See Know Evil — documentary

See You Yesterday — sci-fi/drama

Selah and the Spades — drama

Separation (2021) — horror

Sergio (2020) — drama

Sesame Street: 50 Years of Sunny Days — documentary

The Seventh Day (2021) — horror

Shadows of Freedom — documentary

She Dies Tomorrow — drama

She’s in Portland — drama

Shine Your Eyes — drama

Shirley — drama

Shithouse — comedy/drama

Shortcut — horror

The Short History of the Long Road — drama

Showbiz Kids — documentary

The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock — documentary

Siberia (2021) — drama

Silk Road (2021) — drama

A Simple Wedding — comedy

The Sinners (2021) (formerly titled The Color Rose) — horror

Six Minutes to Midnight — drama

Ski Bum: The Warren Miller Story — documentary

Skin Deep: The Battle Over Morgellons — documentary

Skin Walker — horror

Skyman — sci-fi/drama

Slay the Dragon — documentary

Smiley Face Killers — horror

Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins — action

Sno Babies — drama

Somebody Up There Likes Me (2020) — documentary

Some Kind of Heaven — documentary

Sometimes Always Never — comedy/drama

The Sonata — horror

Songbird — sci-fi/drama

Sonic the Hedgehog — live-action/animation

Sorry We Missed You — drama

Soul — animation

Sound of Metal — drama

Spaceship Earth — documentary

The Sparks Brothers — documentary

Spell (2020) — horror

Spelling the Dream (formerly titled Breaking the Bee) — documentary

Spiral (2021) — horror

Spirit Untamed — animation

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run — live-action/animation

Spontaneous — sci-fi/horror/comedy

Sputnik — sci-fi/horror

Standing Up, Falling Down — comedy/drama

Stardust (2020) — drama

Starting at Zero — documentary

The State of Texas vs. Melissa — documentary

Stealing School — comedy/drama

Stevenson Lost & Found — documentary

Still Here (2020) — drama

Stillwater (2021) — drama

The Story of Soaps — documentary

The Stranger (Quibi original) — drama

Stray (2021) — drama

Stray Dolls — drama

Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street — documentary

Street Survivors: The True Story of the Lynyrd Skynyrd Plane Crash — drama

The Stylist — horror

Subjects of Desire — documentary

Sublime — documentary

Sugar Daddy (2021) — drama

Summerland — drama

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) — documentary

The Sunlit Night — comedy/drama

Supernova (2021) — drama

The Surrogate — drama

Survive — drama

Swallow — drama

Sweet Thing (2021) — drama

The Swerve — drama

The Swing of Things — comedy

Sylvie’s Love — drama

Synchronic — sci-fi/horror

Tape (2020) — drama

Tar — horror

A Taste of Sky — documentary

Ten Minutes to Midnight  — horror

Tesla  — drama

Then Came You (2020)  — comedy

They Call Me Dr. Miami — documentary

The Thing About Harry  — comedy

Think Like a Dog — comedy/drama

This Is Personal — documentary

This Is Stand-Up — documentary

Those Who Wish Me Dead — drama

A Thousand Cuts (2020) — documentary

A Thread of Deceit: The Hart Family Tragedy — documentary

Through the Night (2020) — documentary

Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison — comedy

Time (2020) — documentary

The Times of Bill Cunningham — documentary

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made  — comedy

To Kid or Not to Kid — documentary

The Tobacconist — drama

Together Together — comedy/drama

Tom and Jerry — live-action/animation

Tommaso — drama

Tom of Your Life — sci-fi/comedy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free — documentary

Too Late (2021) — horror/comedy

Totally Under Control — documentary

Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare — drama

The Trial of the Chicago 7 — drama

The Trip to Greece — comedy

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts — documentary

Trolls World Tour — animation

Troop Zero — comedy

The True Adventures of Wolfboy — drama

The Truffle Hunters — documentary

Trust (2021) — drama

The Truth — drama

The Turning (2020) — horror

The Twentieth Century — comedy

Two of Us (2021) — drama

Tyson — documentary

Unbelievable (premiere episode) — drama

Uncaged (also titled Prey) – horror

Uncorked — drama

Under the Volcano (2021) — documentary

Underwater — sci-fi/horror

Undine (2021) — drama

Unhinged (2020) — action

The Unholy (2021) — horror

The United States vs. Billie Holiday — drama

The Unthinkable — drama

Up From the Streets: New Orleans: The City of Music — documentary

Uprooting Addiction — documentary

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own — documentary

Valley Girl (2020) — musical

The Vanished (2020) (formerly titled Hour of Lead)— drama

Vanquish (2021) — action

The Vast of Night — sci-fi/drama

The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee — comedy

The Vigil (2021) — horror

The Village in the Woods — horror

Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations — documentary

The Virtuoso (2021) — drama

Vivarium — sci-fi/drama

Voyagers — sci-fi/drama

Waiting for the Barbarians — drama

Wander Darkly — drama

The War With Grandpa — comedy

Watson — documentary

The Way Back (2020) — drama

We Are Freestyle Love Supreme — documentary

We Are Little Zombies — comedy/drama

We Are Many — documentary

We Are the Radical Monarchs — documentary

Weathering With You — animation

We Broke Up — comedy

Welcome to Chechnya — documentary

Werewolves Within — horror/comedy

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali — documentary

What We Found — drama

What Will Become of Us — documentary

When the Streetlights Go On — drama

The Whistlers — drama

A White, White Day — drama

Widow of Silence — drama

Wig — documentary

Wild Mountain Thyme — drama

The Windermere Children — drama

Wine Crush (Vas-y Coupe!) (formerly titled Vas-y Coupe!) — documentary

Witch Hunt (2021) — horror

Wojnarowicz — documentary

The Wolf House — animation

The Wolf of Snow Hollow — horror

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem — documentary

Women (2021) — horror

Wonder Woman 1984 — action

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation — documentary

Words on Bathroom Walls — drama

Work It — comedy/drama

The World to Come — drama

Wrath of Man — action

The Wretched — horror

A Writer’s Odyssey — fantasy/action

The Wrong Missy — comedy

XY Chelsea — documentary

Yellow Rose — drama

You Cannot Kill David Arquette — documentary

You Don’t Nomi — documentary

You Go to My Head — drama

You Should Have Left — horror

Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn — documentary

Zack Snyder’s Justice League — action

Zappa — documentary

Zola — comedy/drama

Zombi Child — horror

True Crime Entertainment: What’s New This Week

The following content is generally available worldwide, except where otherwise noted. All TV shows listed are for networks and streaming services based in the United States. All movies listed are those released in U.S. cinemas. This schedule is for content and events premiering this week and does not include content that has already been made available.

Monday, July 26 – Sunday, August 1

TV/Streaming Services

All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.

Peacock’s docuseries “Dr. Death: The Undoctored Storypremieres on Thursday, July 29, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT.

Monday, July 26

“ATL Homicide: Inconvenient Truth”
“Incovenient Truth: Craig Porter” (Episode 309)
Monday, July 26, 9 p.m., TV One

“Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes”
“The Rditors” (Episode 105) 
Monday, July 26, 9 p.m., HBO

“Catch and Kill: The Podcast Tapes”
“The Spy” (Episode 105) **Series Finale**
Monday, July 26, 9:30 p.m., HBO

“Betraying the Badge”
“To Protect and Serve the Mob” (Episode 102)
Monday, July 26, 10 p.m., Vice

“Reasonable Doubt”
“Deadhead” (Episode 403)
Monday, July 26 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Infamy: When Fame Turns Deadly”
“Murder on the Mic” (Episode 108)
Monday, July 26, 10 p.m., VH1

Tuesday, July 27

“Body Cam”
“Near Miss” (Episode 407)
Tuesday, July 27, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Wednesday, July 28

“Court Cam”
(Episode 405) 
Wednesday, July 28, 9 p.m., A&E

“Court Cam”
Shocking Fights 2″ (Episode 406)
Wednesday, July 28, 9:30 p.m., A&E

Thursday, July 29

“Dr. Death: The Undoctored Story” (Limited docuseries)
Thursday, July 29, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Peacock

“Dateline”
“Mystery on Sunset Drive”  
Thursday, July 29, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Sins of the City”
“Las Vegas” (Episode 112)
Thursday, July 29, 9 p.m., TV One

“Deadly Women”
“Ice Cold” (Episode 1407)
Thursday, July 29, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Friday, July 30

“20/20”
TBA
Friday, July 30, 9 p.m., ABC

Saturday, July 31

“Cold Justice”
“Unnatural Causes” (Episode 604)
Saturday, July 31, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Accident, Suicide or Murder?”
“The Pact” (Episode 310)
Saturday, July 31, 9 p.m., Oxygen

Sunday, August 1

“Snapped”
TBA
Sunday, August 1, 6 p.m., Oxygen

“Charmed to Death”
“A Life in Jeopardy” (Episode 102)
Sunday, August 1, 7 p.m., Oxygen

“Evil Lives Here”
“Why Did I Let Him In?” (Episode 3001)
Saturday, August 1, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Forensic Files II”
“The Reunion” (Episode 207)
Sunday, August 1, 10 p.m., HLN

“Forensic Files II”
“The Orange Shorts” (Episode 206)
Sunday, August 1, 10:30 p.m., HLN

Movie Theaters and Home Video

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some movie theaters in the U.S. are closed until further notice. Some independent movie theaters that are physically closed are showing new movies online, as part of a “virtual cinema” program. 

“Enemies of the State”

Directed by Sonia Kennebeck

Release date: Friday, July 30 in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD

Description from IFC Films:

“Enemies of the State” is a documentary thriller that investigates the strange case of Matt DeHart, an alleged hacker and whistleblower, and his former Cold War spy parents who believe they are at the center of a government conspiracy and are ready to do anything to save their son from prison. This stranger-than-fiction story takes audiences on a wild ride of unexpected plot twists and bizarre discoveries in an artistic and cinematic documentary that blurs the line between reality and paranoia. With extraordinary access to all lead characters and key sources, this film presents many contradicting viewpoints as it attempts to solve a mystery that has kept attorneys, activists and journalists occupied for over a decade.

“Enemies of the State” is a timely and compelling media and legal case study, showing how conspiracies can be created, evolve, and then be perpetuated with the help of the internet and aided by lack of transparency by the government. At the same time, this film examines the transformation of a local criminal case to an international media story, and the trust – or blindness – of completely devoted parents who will protect their son, literally at all costs.

A powerful combination of investigative journalism and true crime story, “Enemies of the State” recreates dramatic events with the high production value and feel of a fiction film. The story is as twisted and complex as the Serial podcasts or Making a Murderer, with a beautiful and cinematic visual style comparable to The Imposter or The Thin Blue Line. Similar to these movies, “Enemies of the State” uses its unreliable narrators to play with the audience’s perception of reality, exposing the power of conviction and manipulation and the significance of seeking the truth.

Radio/Podcasts

No new true crime podcast series premiering this week.

Events

Events listed here are not considered endorsements by this website. All ticket buyers with questions or concerns about the event should contact the event promoter or ticket seller directly.

All start times listed are local time, unless otherwise noted.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many in-person events in the U.S. have been cancelled or postponed if the event was expecting at least 50 people in the year 2021. Many events that would normally be in-person are now being held as virtual/online events.

No new true crime events this week.

Review: ‘Mama Weed,’ starring Isabelle Huppert

July 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kamel Guenfoud, Isabelle Huppert and Youssef Sahraoui in “Mama Weed” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)

“Mama Weed”

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé

French and Arabic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Paris, the comedy/drama “Mama Weed” features a cast of white, Middle Eastern and Chinese characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged widow, who’s a language translator for a police department’s narcotics unit, steals a large supply of hashish from drug dealers and creates a persona as a savvy drug lord to sell the drug stash back to the unsuspecting drug dealers.

Culture Audience: “Mama Weed” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Isabelle Huppert and who are interested in dark comedies about drug trafficking, even if the story has some deliberately far-fetched elements.

Isabelle Huppert in “Mama Weed” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)

There have been several movies about narcotics law enforcement agents who profit from selling drugs that they steal from drug dealers, but there’s none quite like “Mama Weed.” It’s a movie that has playful fun with the concept that a middle-aged widow who works as a translator for a Paris police department’s narcotics unit can “go rogue” and come up with a scheme to commit this crime. The movie’s dark comedic spin and Isabelle Huppert’s captivating performance make the hard-to-believe and absurdist elements of the plot easier to enjoy.

Directed by Jean-Paul Salomé, “Mama Weed” is based on Hannelore Cayre’s 2019 novel “The Godmother.” Salomé and Cayre co-wrote the “Mama Weed” screenplay. It’s a story that requires a certain suspension of disbelief that the protagonist gets away with as much as she does when she doesn’t do much to disguise her face and there are surveillance cameras in public areas where she does her deals. However, because she works in the same police narcotics unit that could potentially bust her for her misdeeds, she has access to information and resources that help her hide her criminal activities from her colleagues.

In “Mama Weed,” Huppert portrays Patience Portefeux, a translator for the Paris Police Department’s narcotics unit. She speaks Arabic, which is the first language of many the drug dealers who are arrested by the department. Patience is not a typical employee of a police department’s narcotics unit, because she has a Ph. D. in Arabic studies. What is she doing in a low-paying job at a police department? It’s never really explained, but it’s implied that because Patience is near the age range when most people retire, she hasn’t been able to find work anywhere else where she can use the type of education that she has.

Patience (who likes to wear black leather jackets and black jeans when she’s on the job) is not a frumpy, uptight woman who can’t handle the rough and dangerous work that she has to do as part of her job. Her work includes accompanying narcotics cops on their drug raids. She’s a fairly even-tempered police employee who doesn’t get easily rattled.

In the film’s opening scene, Patience is with her cop colleagues on a drug bust that involves Arabic-speaking drug dealers from a crime family whose last name is Abelaziz. The drug dealers have been arrested for possession of seven kilograms of hashish. Back at police headquarters, two of the suspects are being interrogated, with Patience acting as the translator.

One of the suspects won’t reveal any information and shouts at the interrogating cop, “Fuck you! I want a lawyer!” Another cop in the room starts to get rough with the suspect, by kicking him and hitting him. The suspect then spits on Patience, while the interrogating cop freezes in shock. Patience is horrified, but she takes this spitting assault in stride and doesn’t get emotional. Meanwhile, the violent cop angrily hauls off the suspect for what will probably be more police brutality.

After this tension-filled interrogation, Patience walks into her supervisor’s office to tell him what happened in the interrogation room and that the suspects probably won’t say anything incriminating while in custody. Patience’s boss Philippe (played by Hippolyte Girardot), who’s about the same age as she is, has recently been promoted to police chief. An upcoming drug bust will be the first under his command as chief of the department.

Philippe is concerned but not surprised that the suspect spit on Patience. He can’t get too disturbed by it though because it’s part of law enforcement’s job to expect suspects to attack anyone who works in law enforcement. Philippe also isn’t too concerned that the suspect isn’t giving up information while in custody, because the police department already has enough incriminating evidence in the form of secret audio recordings that they made of these drug dealers.

A lot of what Patience does in the office is translate this type of surveillance, which she sometmes has to do live, as these conversations are being recorded. It’s this part of the job that causes a turning point in her life and serves as the catalyst for what happens when Patience ends up “going rogue.” And there’s an extra complication that makes Patience’s criminal activities even riskier: Patience and Philippe (who’s an available bachelor) have been secretly sleeping with each other.

The word “romance” isn’t really the best description for this relationship, because although Patience is very fond of Philippe, she’s not in love with him. However, Philippe seems to be in love with Patience and drops hints that he wants them to live together. It’s a suggestion that she tactfully brushes off, because she seems to like her independence and wants to keep living alone in her condo apartment.

Patience has been a widow since 1994, when her husband Martin suddenly died of a stroke when he was 34 years old. Patience and her late husband have two adult daughters—Hortense (played by Iris Bry) and Gabrielle (played by Rebecca Marder)—who are both in their 20s. Based on conversations that Patience has with her daughters, Patience hasn’t had much of a dating life since her husband died. Getting intimately involved with Philippe seems like something that happened because she spends so much time at work and they’re both available.

Patience’s husband Martin died while they were on vacation in Oman. It was an annual trip that the family used to take and always looked forward to every year. But after Martin died, Patience didn’t want to go back to Oman because it brought back painful memories of his death. She still talks about Oman with a lot of affection though, as if she still has good memories of where she and her family used to go in Oman.

There are some other more immediate problems in Patience’s life because she’s been struggling financially. For years, she’s been paying off debts that her late husband owed. In addition, her ailing mother (played by Liliane Rovère), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie, is in an assisted living facility. Patience is a few months’ behind on paying the facility fees.

It’s later revealed in the movie that Patience’s mother is a Holocaust survivor. Patience’s father was an Algerian immigrant who met Patience’s mother in 1962. Patience’s Algerian heritage on her father’s side provides context for why she loves speaking Arabic and why she got her university education in Arabic studies.

At the assisted living facility, a kind, middle-aged Moroccan woman named Kadidja (played by Farida Ouchani) is the main caretaker for Patience’s mother. Patience and Kadidja have a friendly rapport with each other where they trust and respect each other. Kadidja knows what Patience does for a living. Kadidja is also very good at handling Patience’s mother, who can be cranky and stubborn. Patience and her mother seem to have a fairly good relationship that has been occasionally marred by typical mother-daughter squabbles.

One day on her job, Patience is listening in on live surveillance by narcotics cops, who have been tracking a suspected drug courier in his early 20s. This suspect is driving a truck carrying a large shipment of hashish, and the truck is headed for Paris. (The cops have a GPS tracking device on the truck.) Patience overhears someone mention the suspect’s name, and she’s immediately alarmed. His name is Afid (played by Yasin Houicha), and based on his description and where the cops have been tracking him, he sounds exactly Kadidja’s son.

Patience uses her personal cell phone to breach protocol by secretly calling Kadidja to warn her that Afid is under surveillance by police and is about to be busted for this hash haul. Patience frantically advises Kadidja to call Afid and tell him about this impending drug arrest and to make an unplanned detour so he can find a way to hide or get rid of the drug stash before the cops can catch up to him. Patience also tells Kadidja to be careful of how she talks to Afid on his phone because the conversation will be recorded by the cops.

Afid does what his mother tells him to do, so that by the time the narcotics police catch up to him, Afid is arrested but there are no drugs in the truck. The cops think they have enough evidence on Afid to keep him in custody anyway, because of previous surveillance recordings where he incriminated himself as working with ths drug cartel. However, the narcs are frustrated because Afid won’t tell anyone where he hid the large supply of hash. They hope that Afid can give up information on his drug connections so they can bust the dealers who are higher-ranked in this drug cartel, but Afid isn’t likely to snitch.

The drug dealers who were expecting this large shipment are predictably furious. They are from the Cherkaouis crime family, led by two menacing brothers (played by Kamel Guenfoud and Youssef Sahraoui), who don’t have first names in the movie. These two brothers are hauled in for questioning by police, since the brothers were heard on audio surveillance. However, there’s not not enough evidence to put the brothers in jail, so they are let go.

In a private conversation between Philippe and Patience at the police station, he admits that he’s very embarrassed that this drug bust was bungled under his supervision. Patience tries to comfort him. The subject comes up about the narcotics unit using canines to detect drugs. Philippe mentions that after the dogs are retired from police work, they get sent to a local shelter. If the dogs don’t get adopted by a certain period of time, then they’re euthanized.

Philippe goes to an animal shelter website on his phone to show Patience some of the former polce dogs who are up for adoption there. Patience semi-jokes that he should help her adopt a dog. She sees a male German Shepherd on the wesbite that immediately catches her eye. And it plants an idea in her head: What if she got a former police dog to find that large supply of missing hash?

The next thing you know, Patience now owns the German Shepherd that she saw on the shelter website. She’s given the dog the name DNA. Patience tests his drug-sniffing skills when she lets him loose on some local drug dealers she sees on the streets. When she sees that the dog’s drug-sniffing skills are still very strong, she gets to work to find that drug stash.

Patience drives around with her dog DNA in places where she thinks someone would be able to hide the drug supply that went missing from the truck that Afid was driving. One of these places is a remote-looking field that has a locked shed. The dog goes crazy when she drives by and immediately runs up the shed, which is locked.

Patience breaks into the shed and—voilà—she finds the missing supply of hash. It’s not spoiler information to say that Patience found this drug stash, because people seeing this movie should already know that the main part of the story is that she’s selling stolen drugs by pretending to be a drug lord. The spoiler information is whether or not she gets caught.

The hash supply is so large that Patience has to rent a truck and go back to the shed more than once to retrieve it all. She hides all the hash (which is wrapped tightly in plastic brick-sized packages) in her apartment building’s storage room that she knows isn’t being used. And she thinks of small but important details, such as putting hanging air refresheners in the storage space to try to mininize the smell of hashish.

Patience plans to sell all the hash to the same drug dealers who were going to buy the stash before Afid got arrested. To entice the these drug dealers, she offers them a “discount.” She wants to use the money to pay off all her bills, give some money to Kadidja to help with Afid’s legal problems, and use the rest of the money to live off of comfortably in retirement.

It’s a very risky plan that yields some comical results. One of the problems that Patience encounters is her nosy neighbor Colette Fo (played by Nadja Nguyen), a Chinese immigrant who’s suspicious of Patience’s sudden interest in the building’s unused storage space. Patience has bought a lock for the storage space so only Patience can access the space for the time being. (The movie conveniently never shows a superintendent in the building.)

Patience then creates a false persona as an out-of-town drug lord named Mrs. Ben Barka. Because she speaks fluent Arabic, she disguises her ethnic identity by pretending to be Middle Eastern. Some people might be offended that all of the movie’s drug dealers are of Middle Eastern heritage, because in reality there are plenty of white drug dealers who exist in France.

The Cherkaouis brothers have never heard of Mrs. Ben Barka, so they send two bumbling henchmen named Scotch (played by Rachid Guellaz) and Chocapic (played by Mourad Boudaoud) to check out Mrs. Barka to see if she’s legitimate and not an undercover cop. She’s able to easly fool them because she’s picked up enough drug-dealing lingo from her job to sound convincing. Patience finds out later that the drug dealers have privately given Mrs. Barka the nickname Mama Weed.

But here’s the part of the movie where viewers have to suspend disbelief: While Patience is interacting with these dealers as Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed, she is able to avoid being identified by her cop colleagues who have the Cherkaouis drug cartel under audio and video surveillance. Some of it can be explained away, because at the police station, she has access to evidence that she could steal, delete or destroy if necessary.

Patience only wears a hijab and sunglasses for her disguise. That doesn’t sound like it would be enough to disguise her identity if she’s caught on surveillance video, but she’s careful to try to stay out of camera range as much as possible. Even more inexplicably, she often doesn’t bother to wear sunglasses in places where there’s sure to be video surveillance that’s not controlled by the police. Luckily for her, the quality of this surviellance video is so low that her image shows up as quite blurry.

As for possibly being recorded by the police’s audio surveillance, viewers of this movie will have to assume that the officers won’t recognize Patience’s voice on the recordings when she speaks Arabic, or that Patience got to the audio surveillance evidence first and was able to get rid of it. There are several scenes in the movie that imply that the French-speaking cops in the narcotics unit completely trust Patience in her job when she’s given access to surveillance recordings where people speak Arabic. They leave her to do the translating and transcribing with little to no supervision or independent verification.

There is one person in the police department who notices that Patience bears a striking resemblance to the Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed who’s suddenly being seen with members of the drug cartel that the police want to arrest. (It’s very easy to predict who’s the first to notice.) However, Patience laughs it off when it’s mentioned to her. The person who sees the physical resemblance doesn’t want to believe that Patience is capable of being the experienced drug lord that Mrs. Barka/Mama Weed appears to be, so it doesn’t take much for this person to dismiss these suspicions.

As far-fetched as Patience’s plan might seem to be, it’s actually fairly shrewd because she would be one of the last people ever suspected of concocting this plan. Hiding in plain sight, indeed. This movie’s concept wouldn’t work if Patience weren’t an insider in the police department’s narcotics unit, with access to evidence and information about how the narcotics investigations were being handled.

What would motivate someone like Patience to commit these very hazardous crimes? The movie points out in subtle and nuanced ways that Patience has a history of being closer to criminals than she would like to publicly admit. Near the beginning of the film, Hortense bitterly mentions that her late father Martin was a “crook” who left behind “20 years of debt” that Patience was stuck with having to pay. Patience chastises Hortense and tells her not to talk about her dead father in that way.

Throughout the movie, Patience sometimes makes offhand remarks to her cop colleagues that she has some sympathy for the drug dealers because she seems to think that drug-related punishments don’t fit the crimes. Her comments get mildly surprised reactions but not enough to arouse suspicion. However, it explains why she was eager to help Kadidja, even though Kadidja is not a close friend.

And there’s probably some unspoken anger and bitterness behind Patience wanting to steal the drug stash and sell it. Patience most likely thinks that at her age and with her education, she should be doing better in her life. Instead, she’s stuck in a low-paying job and barely able to pay her bills and debts. It’s easy to see how someone like Patience might think that she got a raw deal in life and wants to take it out on the justice system—or at least take it out on the police department that’s underpaying her.

As for the drug dealers being so gullible, there are many real-life true crime cases where criminals do the dumbest things and make the most illogical decisions out of pure greed. It’s not implausible to think that these drug dealers wouldn’t really care about where Mama Weed got her drug supply, as long as they know they’re getting a huge discount. In their minds, they might think Mama Weed is the stupid one for selling the hash for below the market value.

And that’s one of the messages of this movie: Don’t be surprised by what people will do because of greed. Patience is one of the people who’s not immune to greed becoming a blind spot that clouds her judgment. One of the best things about “Mama Weed” is that it doesn’t make Patience a criminal mastermind. She makes some mistakes that cause some very close calls for her.

However treacherous things might get for Patience and other people, the movie keeps a sly comedic tone, with plenty of wisecracking (especially between Patience and Colette), to remind viewers not to take it all too seriously. A slapstick shootout scene toward the end of the movie is filmed a little awkwardly and almost brings “Mama Weed” into cartoonish territory. But because of Huppert’s immense talent in balancing comedy and drama, her performance is worth watching in this unconventional crime caper.

Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films released “Mama Weed” in select U.S. cinemas on July 16, 2021, and on digital and VOD on July 23, 2021. The movie was previously released in various countries (including France and Canada) in 2020.

Review: ‘Siberia’ (2021), starring Willem Dafoe

July 24, 2021

by Carla Hay

Willem Dafoe in “Siberia” (Photo by Federico Vagliati/Lionsgate)

“Siberia”

Directed by Abel Ferrara

Some language in Aleut and Russian with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various locations around the world, the dramatic film “Siberia” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, Eskimos and one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A loner, who is haunted by past tragedies and regrets, experiences a “fever dream” type of existence where he can no longer distinguish reality from his nightmarish visions.

Culture Audience: “Siberia” will appeal primarily to ardent fans of director Abel Ferrara and actor Willem Dafoe, because very few other people will enjoy this nonsensical and dull movie.

Willem Dafoe and Laurent Arnatsiaq in “Siberia” (Photo by Federico Vagliati/Lionsgate)

Some film directors were labeled “auteurs” early in their careers. And ever since then, certain people have been deluded into thinking that every movie that these “auteurs” make is somehow supposed to be important—even when these “auteurs” have made some substandard and ridiculous movies that would be trashed if those same movies were made by unknown filmmakers. Unfortunately, one of these pompous junk movies is the incomprehensible drama “Siberia,” directed by Abel Ferrara, who has been coasting on an outdated reputation of being an “auteur” filmmaker since the 1980s.

Simply put: “Siberia” (which Ferrara co-wrote with Christ Zois) is an irritating, self-indulgent, incoherent bore. It’s one of those garbage movies that’s pretentious and lacking in self-awareness at how bad it is. The only reason why people might praise this movie is because there are famous names involved in making the film. However, whatever claim to fame these people have, it’s for work that’s of much higher quality than the forgettable and embarrassing “Siberia.”

Willem Dafoe (a frequent collaborator of Ferrara’s) has the starring role in “Siberia,” which has no plot. It’s just a bunch of scenes strung together of Dafoe’s character in the movie having “fever dream” type of experiences, none of which make much sense or have any specific theme. The only conclusion that can be drawn from watching this movie is that Ferrara wanted to do yet another movie about a man having a mid-life crisis and couldn’t be bothered with writing anything that could pass as an engaging story.

Dafoe’s Clint character (who is American) isn’t just having a mid-life crisis. He seems to be having a mid-life psychosis. Almost everything he experiences in the movie might seem to start off looking “normal,” but then something demented happens to let viewers know everything is all in Clint’s imagination. There are bits and pieces of his past that come up to indicate that he’s haunted by some unresolved issues. However, there’s barely enough information to piece together what really happened, because it’s all muddled by more weird fantasies.

It’s all just a very pseudo-intellectual way to make viewers feel less than smart if they don’t understand the “true meaning” of a movie. Actually, sometimes there is no “true meaning” to a horribly dumb film with no real story. Sometimes filmmakers just want to mess around and make weird art that’s not supposed to make sense. If you’re into that sort of thing, then you might enjoy “Siberia,” because there are no redeeming qualities for this movie since it was obviously made only for the sake of being bizarre.

“Siberia” starts off with brief voiceover narration from Clint. He says that when he was a kid, during the summertime his father would take Clint and Clint’s brother up to a remote part of northern Canada to go fishing. They had Cree Indians as their fishing guides. The guide leader was an old trapper, who cut himself off from civilization 20 years before and communicated by shortwave radio. The guides lived in a camp that had Siberian Huskies that were “sweet but wild,” according to Clint.

The only purpose for telling this story is so there’s some context to the scenes where Clint is on a dog sled pulled by Siberian Huskies or when he goes fishing or camping with his Siberian Huskies nearby. What does Clint do for a living? He’s a bartender at a roadhouse in an unnamed area that gets heavy snow. It could be Siberia, but this movie plays too many guessing games on where scenes are taking place in the world, and it’s all irrelevant overall to the story.

Wherever Clint lives, there are hints that it seems to be close to the Arctic, because he has Eskimos and people who speak Russian as his customers. Clint lives by himself and there’s no mention of his brother again. However, based on hallucinations that Clint has later, he used to be married to a blonde (played by Dounia Sichov), and they had a young son (played by Anna Ferrara) who died, apparently at around 3 or 4 years old.

Don’t expect any details to be revealed about how this child died or what happened to Clint’s wife, because there are no details except hints that the wife blamed Clint for the son’s death and he feels guilty about it. She shows up in a hallucination or two where she tells Clint that she’s angry at him because he humiliated her. Don’t expect to find out more information about their relationship, because the movie doesn’t reveal it.

By the way, Clint is the only character in this movie who has a name, which is a reflection of the self-absorbed lunacy that stinks up this movie. Viewers can assume that Clint’s wife divorced him. It might be the only thing about this movie that makes sense, because who would want to be married to someone who’s this cut off from reality?

The roadhouse where Clint works (it’s unclear if he’s the owner or not) has a small slot machine for gambling. Clint tells a customer that he never plays the slot machine because “I don’t want to lose.” As soon as Clint makes that comment, the movie then abruptly cuts to a scene of Clint getting attacked by a brown bear in this roadhouse. And then, the next scene is of an unharmed Clint talking to two Russian-speaking women at the bar as if nothing happened. The bear attack is not spoken about or hinted at again. Yes, it’s that kind of incoherent movie.

When people speak in non-English languages (Aleut or Russian) in this movie, there are no subtitles. It doesn’t really matter because much of the dialogue in English doesn’t make sense. The two Russian-speaking women at the bar are a young pregnant woman (played by Cristina Chiriac) and her elderly mother (played by Valentina Rozumenko), who are the bar’s only customers in this scene. They appear to be having a pleasant conversation with each other, while Clint nods, even though he doesn’t understand what they’re saying.

For no apparent reason, except to have a gratuitious scene with nudity and sex, the pregnant woman unbottons her clothes, to expose her naked front side, and then Clint kisses her pregnant belly and lower—all while right next to the woman’s mother, who’s watching with an approving look on her face. Clint and the pregnant woman are next seen having sex in a bedroom. At least Voyeur Russian Grandma wasn’t there to leer at them while they were having sex.

But that isn’t the last that the movie shows Voyeur Russian Grandma. The next time Clint sees her, she’s dead or unconscious, with blood between her legs, and an unidentified bloody animal’s head (possibly a horse) in between her legs. Clint sees her and does nothing to try to get her medical help. What is the purpose of this scene? Nothing. However, someone using Freudian psychology would speculate that it’s a msyognistic scene thought up by someone who has “mother issues.”

In fact, much of “Siberia” has subtle and not-so-subtle sexism, because all of the female characters with speaking roles in the movie are either mentally disturbed, angry or used as sex objects. There’s a montage scene where Clint has sex with three different unidentified women: one white (played by Maria Knofe), one Asian (played by Cornelia Nguyen Luu) and one black (played by Ilham Midjiyawa). It might be Ferrara’s way of saying that he deserves credit for having a racial diversity checklist when it comes to misogynistic, gratutitous sex scenes where the females have to show their private parts but not the male star of the movie. And it should come as no surprise that the movie has a demon character (played by Stella Pecollo) that Ferrara deliberately decided should be a woman.

The hatred isn’t just directed toward women. Clint has a lot of self-hatred too. In one scene, Clint calls out the name “Mitchell” (don’t expect to find out who Mitchell is), before falling down a cliff into a cave, where he hallucinates seeing a version of himself in some water in the cave. His reflection scolds Clint: “You pretend to be open to all things but can’t see how close-minded you are. Your soul is outside of it and you must claim it … Time will pass and you’ll continue to be lost … You were never a loving son. You were a burden to him, and now to me.”

Predictably, when Clint hallucinates seeing his father, his father looks just like Clint. (Dafoe plays both characters.) Clint sees his father dressed in a longjohn in the cave, where Clint appears to envision being in some kind of nightmarish hospital setting. A woman in a hospital gown wanders by in a daze and keeps repeating, “Teach me how to die.”

In this “hospital” scene, there’s an overweight nude little woman in a wheelchair, which seems a tad exploitative of disabled little people. There’s also an overweight naked woman dancing as if she’s insane, while she keeps repeating, “I’m waiting for the doctor.”

In another hallucination, Clint has ended up in an unnamed desert where people wear turbans, live in tents and have camels as pets. In one of the tents, Clint sees his father dressed as a surgeon and operating on Clint’s son. Don’t expect there to be any explanation for this operation scene. Viewers will never find out if this happened in Clint’s real life and will never find out if Clint’s father was a surgeon.

In a different “daddy issues” scene, Clint wanders into a run-down house, where heavy-metal music is blaring and some dirty-looking people in their late teens and early 20s are gleefully kicking around a locked trunk-sized box that has someone inside who’s screaming in agony. Some horrible quick-cut editing shows that the person inside the box has managed to climb out. And it’s Clint’s son. Some viewers won’t be surprised because it’s another example of “Siberia” doing something purely for shock value, not to further a plot that doesn’t exist in the first place.

There’s a random scene of fully naked men being rounded up by soldiers and brutally shot to death. Who are these men? Don’t expect the movie to reveal that either. In another scene, British actor Simon McBurney has a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” cameo as a magician whom Clint meets at an unnamed location. Clint tells him, “I hear you’re a great magician. I hear you’re into the black arts.” McBurney’s character is not seen or heard from again, and viewers never find out why Clint wants to dabble in the black arts.

“Siberia” is like being stuck in someone’s unpleasant psychedelic hallucinations for about 90 minutes. A lot of people who take psychedelics say they want to have deeper enlightenment about life when they get to the other side. The only enlightenment that viewers will get from “Siberia” is that some overrated filmmakers are very good at convincing people to give them money to make crappy movies.

Lionsgate released “Siberia” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 18, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on June 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Old,’ starring Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Abbey Lee, Aaron Pierre, Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff

July 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Abbey Lee, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Ken Leung, Thomasin McKenzie, Rufus Sewell, Aaron Pierre, Vicky Krieps and Gael García Bernal in “Old” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Old”

Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed tropical beach location, the horror film “Old” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Several people who are on vacation at a beachside resort are invited to go to a secretive beach on the property, and they find out that this mysterious beach causes rapid aging and is difficult to escape.

Culture Audience: “Old” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan or who don’t mind seeing a horror movie that takes an intriguing concept and squanders it with terrible screenwriting.

Thomasin McKenzie and Alex Wolff in “Old” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The only thing that gets really old quickly in “Old” is how this abysmally bad horror movie keeps shoving ludicrous dialogue, dumb plot holes and tiresome characters in viewers’ faces. The story is mainly about vacationers stuck on a sinister beach where everyone ages rapidly. Viewers of this awful dreck will be stuck wondering how much worse “Old” can get, as it continues a pile-on of inconsistent and ill-conceived science fiction.

Many of the movie’s characters are as unappealing as the disgusting giant tumor that makes an appearance at one point in the movie. (You’ve been warned.) “Old” (written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan) is the type of dreadful movie where a 6-year-old boy experiences the trauma of swimming in a beach area when a floating dead body of a naked woman crashes into him, but his parents react as if the kid should eventually forget about this decomposing cadaver, just because they covered up the body with a blanket. Meanwhile, just a few minutes after the body is discovered, one of the other kids on the beach who witnessed this horror pipes up, “I’m hungry!”

“Old” is based on the 2010 graphic novel “Sandcastle” by Pierre Oscar Lévy and Frederik Peeters. And it’s the type of cinematic misfire where you can tell that the book is much better than the move. Shyamalan has a very mixed track record when it comes to his horror/suspense films because of his frustrating tendency to create convoluted and unnecessary plot holes that lower the quality of the material. “Old” isn’t his worst-ever movie, but it’s not good enough to be considered simply average.

“Old” starts out fairly promising in the part of the movie that doesn’t take place on the ominous beach. The main protagonists are a family of four vacationing at a beach resort called Anamika Resort in an unnamed tropical location. (“Old” was actually filmed in the Dominican Republic.) Once the movie switches to the “beach that causes rapid aging” scenes, the story quickly goes downhill from there.

Insurance actuary Guy Capa (played by Gael García Bernal), his museum curator wife Prisca Capa (played by Vicky Krieps) and their two children—11-year-old daughter Maddox (played by Alexa Swinton) and 6-year-old son Trent (played by Nolan River)—are a family from Philadelphia who are on vacation. They’ve arrived by a shuttle van to Anamika Resort, which seems to cater to a middle-class and upper-middle-class clientele. The family is warmly greeted by the resort’s staff, including the unnamed resort manager (played by Gustaf Hammarsten) and his perky assistant named Madrid (played by Francesca Eastwood), who promptly offers the adults some cocktails. It’s at this point in the movie that you know that there’s more to those cocktails than meets the eye.

The family seems very happy with the resort so far. Prisca (pronounced “priss-kah”) marvels at the beauty of the resort and says, “Can you believe I found this place online?” The four family members quickly get settled into their suite and spend some time outside in the resort’s beach/activities area. Trent is an inquisitive and friendly motormouth, while Maddox is quieter and more reserved. The siblings get along with each other very well. The same can’t be said for their parents.

Guy and Prisca have two big secrets that they want to keep from their children while they’re on this three-day vacation. The first big secret is that Guy and Prisca are going to separate. It’s revealed later in the movie why they’ve been having marital problems: The other big secret is that Prisca has been recently diagnosed with a serious medical illness.

Prisca and Guy plan to tell the kids about the separation after their vacation ends. Prisca is more hestitant about when to tell the children about her big health problem. There are hints of why Prisca and Guy have been clashing when they start arguing about when they should tell the children about Prisca’s medical diagnosis.

Prisca shouts at Guy, “You’re always thinking about the future!” Guy yells back at Prisca, “You’re always thinking about the past!” Meanwhile, a sad-looking Trent and Maddox are seen in the next room, overhearing their parents’ argument. It’s a sign that the kids know more about what’s going on in this marriage than the parents think the children know.

At the resort, Trent has made fast friends with another precocious and extroverted boy who’s about the same age. His name is Idlib (played by Kailen Jude), and he says the resort manager is his uncle. Idlib lives at the resort, and there’s no mention of his biological parents. Viewers will have to assume that Idlib’s uncle is Idlib’s legal guardian, because the uncle seems to be the only parental-like authority in Idlib’s life.

Trent and Idlib find out that they both have an interest in deciphering coded language. Idlib and Trent also like going up to random vacationers at the resort and asking them their names and what they do for a living, in order to strike up friendly conversations with them. Trent doesn’t go too far away from his parents or Maddox, so that Trent is always within view of his family members.

At the resort’s main beach, Trent and Idlib meet three adults who are sitting together on lounge chairs. One of them is an American cop named Greg Mitchell (played by Daniel Ison), and he’s with his dancer wife and their British female friend who’s a chef. The only purpose of this scene is so that viewers will know there’s an off-duty cop on the premises.

Meanwhile, at the resort’s main beach area, viewers see another family of vacationers who will be a big part of the story. Charles (played by Rufus Sewell) is an arrogant cardiothoracic surgeon/chief medical officer. He’s at the resort with his vain, much-younger trophy wife Chrystal (played by Abbey Lee); their 6-year-old daughter Kara (played by Kylie Begley); and Charles’ mother Agnes (played by Kathleen Chalfant), who doesn’t show much of a personality in this movie.

While having lunch at an outdoor cafe near the beach, Chrystal lectures Kara about sitting up straight in her chair. Chrystal tells Kara that if she doesn’t practice good posture, she’ll be a hunchback who’ll be unattractive to men. Meanwhile, Chrystal somewhat flirts with the waiter serving them, even though the waiter looks like he’s barely out of high school. This scene is relevant to what happens later in the story.

It doesn’t take long for some drama to start on the beach. A vacationer at the resort named Patricia (played by Nikki Amuka-Bird) has an epileptic seizure, in full view of the two families. Patricia’s attentive husband Jarin (played by Ken Leung), who identifies himself as a nurse, rushes to her side to help. Charles also goes over to Patricia to see if he can assist and announces that he’s a doctor. To everyone’s relief, Patricia ‘s seizure ends before she gets hurt.

Shortly after this incident, the manager tells the Capa family about a private beach area on the property that only a select number of resorts guests are invited to visit. He calls this beach a “once-in-a-lifetime experience” and a “natural anomaly.” The resort manager adds, “I only recommend it to certain people.” Guy and Prisca are curious and excited about this private beach, so they immediately say yes to this invitation.

The unnamed van driver who takes them to this private beach is portrayed by “Old” writer/director Shyamalan, who always casts an acting role for himself in his movies. (He’s a mediocre actor.) In addition to Guy, Prisca, Maddox and Trent, the other passengers in the van are Charles, Chrystal, Kara and Agnes.

The van driver has given them several baskets filled with free food for this trip. Charles says it’s unnecessary to take all this food with them to the beach, but the driver insists on it because he says that the kids will get hungry. When Charles asks the driver for help in carrying all these baskets of food to the beach, the driver says he can’t because he has to leave to go somewhere else that he’s needed for work.

When the two families arrive at this mystery beach, they see an African American man (played by Aaron Pierre), who’s in his late 20s, sitting by himself near the cliffs that surround the beach. He seems to be in a daze or in some kind of trance. Two of the new arrivals to the beach have very different reactions to this mystery man.

Maddox immediately recognizes him as a famous rapper named Mid-Sized Sedan. Not surprisingly, the adults have no idea who Mid-Sized Sedan is. Maddox is star-struck and wants to go over to Mid-Sized Sedan to meet him, but her father Guy says not to bother this celebrity who’s on vacation. Maddox is disappointed, but she follows her father’s request to respect Mid-Sized Sedan’s privacy.

Meanwhile, Charles suspiciously looks at this tall and athletic-looking African American man and immediately wants himself and his family to stay far away from this stranger. Mid-Sized Sedan eventually reveals his real name and family background, and it’s not what some people might expect to hear. Even though there’s no racist name-calling in this movie, there are several moments in the film where it’s obvious that Charles is prejudiced against black men.

When things go wrong, Charles immediately accuses Mid-Sized Sedan of being the perpetrator, and he ignores Mid-Sized Sedan’s protests of being innocent. And the animosity gets violent. Therefore, viewers who are triggered by Black Lives Matter issues might be triggered by some of the scenes in this movie. However, the way these issues are depicted in the movie just seems like Shyamalan’s cynical way of pandering to these issues.

Shyamalan isn’t subtle at all about the racial issues in this movie. Observant viewers will notice that the entire time that Mid-Sized Sedan is on the beach, he doesn’t age. It has something to do with the nose bleeds he has. Those nose bleeds eventually are explained in the movie. But the other reason why Mid-Sized Sedan doesn’t age is so that he can keep looking like the young, athletic black man who is treated like a dangerous threat by Charles.

Not long after the two families arrive on the beach, they are joined by married couple Patricia and Jarin, who say that they were invited to the beach and dropped off in the same manner as the other guests. Patricia is a psychologist, so she tries to uses a lot of therapy techniques when things start to bonkers on this beach. Jarin tries to figure out scientific/medical ways to get out of their predicament. Jarin and Patricia are this trapped group’s only adults who attempt to use logic to try to escape.

Did we mention that there’s no cell phone reception? And when people on this beach try to leave, something bad happens, such as they feel a pounding pressure on their head, they pass out, and wake up on the beach again. And you can guess that happens if anyone tries to climb over those cliffs that surround the beach.

What the movie doesn’t explain (it’s one of many plot holes) is how this resort can deliberately trap guests on this beach without regard to the probability that these guests told other people that they were vacationing at this resort. There’s an offhand mention in the beginning of the movie about how Anamika Resort tells guests, soon after they arrive at the resort, to hand over their passports to the resort for “safekeeping.” That should be a big warning sign to guests, because no legitimate resort would do that, and no traveler with common sense would willingly let strangers keep the traveler’s passport.

But the passport confiscation doesn’t address another major issue: Eventually, the missing people would have others looking for them, and the resort would come under scrutiny for these disappearances. That reality is ignored because the “Old” filmmakers expect viewers to be as dumb as this movie.

It doesn’t take long for the visitors on this private beach to figure out that something else is very wrong with this beach: For every 30 minutes that they’re on the beach, the people age one year. Lots of panic, horribly written dialogue and unrealistic signs of aging then ensue.

However, a realistic moment of comedy happens when Mid-Sized Sedan makes a “black don’t crack” reference to how black people’s skin doesn’t as age as quicky as other people’s skin because of melanin. As the people on the beach panic over the horror that they’re aging rapidly, Mid-Sized Sedan gives a knowing look to Patricia (the other African American on the beach) and says: “It’s the first time they wish they were black.” Patricia replies in agreement: “Mmm-hmm.”

The actors who are adults when they get to the beach are played by the same actors as they age. But even though their faces show wrinkles over time, this movie is so sloppily made that the aging adults don’t get gray or white hair when the characters reach the ages when they should have gray or white hair. Keep in mind that there’s no hair dye on this beach.

The children are portrayed by different actors as these characters age. Maddox is shown at as a teen/young adult, starting from age 16 (played by Thomasin McKenzie), and as a middle-aged adult (played by Embeth Davidtz). Trent is shown as an 11-year-old (played by Luca Faustino Rodriguez); as a teen/young adult, starting from age 15 (played by Alex Wolff); and as a middle-aged adult (played by Emun Elliott). Kara is shown as an 11-year-old (played by Mikaya Fisher) and as a 15-year-old (played by Eliza Scanlen). Trent and Kara have a quickie teen romance where something happens that will make viewers have divisive reactions.

Some of the actors seem to be cringing inside at the clumsy and stilted dialogue they have to say in this movie. Most of the cast members seem emotionally detached from their characters and just recite their frequently awful lines of dialogue, while others over-emote. It’s an awkward mix.

McKenzie is the only cast member who seems committed to realistically depicting her character’s feelings of confusion and angst over how rapidly her body is changing. It’s in subtle ways, such as her body language when Maddox covers up her breasts while wearing a bikini, because she hasn’t gotten used to having a body that’s reached puberty. While on the beach, all of the characters in “Old” who are parents make horrible decisions that make the parents look very irresponsible.

One of the biggest flaws in “Old” is that it does not adequately address how the children mature mentally and emotionally. When Trent’s body ages to 11 years old, the movie makes a point of saying that mentally, he’s still 6 years old. But then later in the movie, based on dialogue and actions, the children’s mental and emotional developments are supposed to match the ages of their bodies. There’s no explanation for this inconsistency.

When 11-year-old Maddox’s body turns into a 15-year-old’s body, her parents have a horrified reaction when they see her for the first time as a 15-year-old. Maddox is confused over why they’re reacting in this way. It’s because the movie wants viewers to believe that Maddox isn’t supposed to know right away that her body has changed.

However, Maddox wouldn’t need a mirror to see the changes to her body. All she would need to do is look down to see that grew breasts. And she would also sense that she got taller. But no, this movie wants viewers to forget all that common-sense logic and just accept whatever crappy plot fail is being thrown at them.

“Old” has some dubious merits of being so bad that it’s almost funny. There’s a subplot of Charles starting to go crazy on the beach. He starts rambling about random things, and the way his wild-eyed madness is depicted in the movie is unintentionally laughable because the acting is so over-the-top dreadful.

For example, Charles starts fixating on asking people to name the movie starring Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson. Viewers won’t get the answer to the question while watching “Old.” But the name of the movie starring Brando and Nicholson is the 1976 Western drama “The Missouri Breaks.” It’s the only film that Nicholson and Brando ever did together. What does “The Missouri Breaks” have to do with “Old”? Absolutely nothing. It’s just one of many nonsensical things dropped into “Old.”

Throughout the movie, there are signs that these unlucky vacationers are being watched while they’re on the beach from hell. Therefore, when it’s revealed what’s going on and why they were chosen, it isn’t surprising at all. It’s downright anti-climactic and edited in a haphazard way. The big “reveal” at the end of “Old” is an idea that’s very similar to the reveal of another Shyamalan clunker movie, which won’t be named here because that would give away the ending of “Old.” You know a movie is bad when it rips off another unsurprising plot twist from another horrible movie that the same writer/director made years ago.

“Old” is also one of those movies that looks like it could’ve had three different endings, with none of them particularly inventive or unpredictable. Writer/director Shyamalan decided to cram all these ideas in the movie just to try to make “Old” look more clever than it really is. However the film ends, viewers should be glad when this monotonous mess of a movie is finally over.

Universal Pictures released “Old” in U.S. cinemas on July 23, 2021.

Review: ‘Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins,’ starring Henry Golding

July 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Henry Golding and Takehiro Hira in “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Skydance)

“Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins”

Directed by Robert Schwentke

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan and briefly in Washington state and Los Angeles, the fantasy action flick “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” features a predominantly Asian cast (with some white people and African Americans) portraying a heroic ancient Japanese clan called Arashikage and the story’s villains.

Culture Clash: Members of Arashikage battle against villains from a group called Cobra, who want to take over the world.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of people who are fans of the “G.I. Joe” games and franchise, “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching mindless action flicks that don’t offer any new or exciting to the genre.

Peter Mensah, Iko Uwais, Haruka Abe, Henry Golding and Andrew Koji in “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures/Skydance)

The “G.I. Joe” movies never had a reputation for being well-made action classics. “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” won’t do anything to change that reputation. It’s a frequently dull parade of sloppily filmed action clichés and no-talent acting by some of the movie’s cast members.

No one is expecting this movie to be an Oscar-caliber film. But there should be a reasonable expectation that the actions scenes will be memorable and exciting and the characters will be engaging. Instead, “Snake Eyes: G.I . Joe Origins” (directed by Robert Schwentke) follows the same, lazy formula of forgettable B-movies about people who use martial arts skills in battles of good versus evil. B-movies have just a small fraction of the reported $88 production budget that “Snake Eyes” had, but in many ways, “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” doesn’t look like money well-spent.

The movie opens with an origin story cliché of a male hero in an action movie: He becomes an orphan as a child. It’s 20 years ago, in a heavily wooded area of Washington state, where a young Snake Eyes (played by Max Archibald), who’s about 11 or 12 years old and apparently doesn’t have a regular name, and his unnamed father (played by Steven Allerick) are hiding in the woods. Snake Eyes’ father doesn’t want to alarm his son, so he makes it look like they’re on some kind of adventure. (Snake Eyes’ mother is not seen or mentioned in the story.)

Father and son go to a safe house, where the Snake Eyes’ father tells Snake Eyes to lock himself into a room. “Do not move, no matter what happens.” But something does happen: A ruthless villain named Mr. Augustine (played by Samuel Finzi) shows up with two thugs. Mr. Augustin rolls a pair of dice, which each end face up with a “number one”, also known as a “snake eyes” total.

Mr. Augustine and his goons rough up the father, and Snake Eyes runs out of the room to come to his father’s defense. Snake Eyes’ father is shot and killed, and Snake Eyes runs away into the woods. Before Mr. Augustine and his henchmen leave, they burn down the house.

Twenty years later, Snake Eyes (played by Henry Golding) is (cliché alert) an emotionally damaged loner living on the edge of society. He’s a drifter somewhere on the West Coast of the United States. Snake Eyes has made it his mission in life to find his father’s murderer, and kill him for revenge. Snake Eyes apparently doesn’t do much else with his life but get into brawls with strangers.

In this particular moment when viewers first see the adult Snake Eyes, he is in a brutal fight with several men, and he’s able to take on all of them, even though he’s outnumbered. (Get used to this type of unrealistic spectacle, because this movie has a lot of them.) There’s someone who’s watching this fight who’s very impressed with Snake Eyes’ fighting skills. His name is Kenta Takanura (played by Takehiro Hira), who recruits Snake Eyes to work for him. “I could use a guy like you,” Kenta tells Snake Eyes.

The next thing you know, Snake Eyes is at the Port of Los Angeles four weeks later. He’s at a warehouse filled with an all-male crew of workers who are hiding guns in large gutted fish. Snake Eyes gets suspicious over this obvious illegal activity, so Kenta tests Snake Eyes to see what kind of loyalty he has. Kenta orders Snake Eyes to shoot and kill Kenta’s cousin Tommy (played by Takehiro Hira), who is also a worker at the warehouse, but Snakes Eyes refuses to do it.

Instead, Snake Eyes and Koji fight off several men in the warehouse, and the two escape by trying to drive off in a truck. However, the warehouse workers, who apparently are secret ninjas too, attack the truck by plunging several swords through the truck’s roof and windows while Snake Eyes and Tommy are inside. Apparently, none of these ninja villains thought to use the swords on the truck’s tires.

This is the type of ridiculous fight scene that litters “Snake Eyes” with mind-numbing repetition of the heroes getting out of seemingly “impossible” situations, even though they’re outnumbered and surrounded. Cops from the Los Angeles Police Department show up at the scene of the truck attack, but then the movie inexplicably cuts to Snake Eyes waking up on a luxury private plane with Tommy.

What happened after the cops showed up? Was anyone arrested? The movie doesn’t reveal any of that information, so viewers will have to assume that everything worked out for Tommy and Snake Eyes, because now they’re hanging out on a private plane as if they’re jetset adventurers. The plane is not a ramshackle aircraft: It’s first-class, with luxury amenities and staffed with attractive female flight attendants. Who’s paying for all it?

Snake Eyes is about to find out. The plane is headed to Japan, where Tommy reveals that he’s a member of a heroic ancient Japanese clan called Arashikage. Tommy is grateful that Snake Eyes saved his life, so he invites Snake Eyes to consider joining Arashikage. The leader of Arashikage is Himiko (played by Eri Ishida), a no-nonsense and traditional elderly woman who will decide if Snake Eyes can become a member of the clan.

And you know what that means: More busy-looking, logic-defying fights so that Snake Eyes can prove his worth. He has to complete three different “challenges of the warrior” before Himiko can approve Snake Eyes to Arashikage. Not surprisingly, the third and final challenge is supposed to be the hardest.

“Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” is one of worst-lit action movies you might see in recent memory. For a movie that’s not set in outer space or a location underneath the ground, the lighting that’s way too dark in many scenes, even when the scenes are during the day. Maybe all this dark lighting (from cinematographer Bojan Bazelli) is so viewers won’t notice how mediocre the fight choreography is.

One of the few scenes in the movie that’s well-lit is at a visually striking location where there are hundreds of lighted Japanese lamps on display. It’s one of the best set designs fo this overall unimpressive movie. Good set designs are wasted though when the story isn’t written well. Evan Spiliotopoulos, Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel wrote the screenplay for “Snake Eyes: G.I . Joe Origins.”

All of the movie’s characters, including Snake Eyes, are very generic. The actors are stuck with playing two-dimensional characters, with only Snake Eyes having anything that can be called a backstory. This is a pure action film: There are no distracting love stories or even a hint that these characters have personal lives. Kenta and Tommy are cousins who’ve become enemies, but their family dynamics and family history are mostly ignored in the movie.

Other characters who interact with Snake Eyes include three people who are tasked with supervising Snake Eyes in his challenges: Blind Master (played by Peter Mensah), Hard Master (played by Iko Uwais) and Akiki (played by Haruka Abe), who is Arashikage’s head of security. Akiki is skeptical of a lot of Snake Eyes’ abilities and belief, so Akiki and Snakes inevitably disagree with each other. It’s a bit of a stretch to describe their conflicts as “personality conflicts,” because you have to have a personality in the first place, and these characters have none.

Samara Weaving plays an Arashikage ally called Scarlett, but she’s not in the movie as much as a lot of viewers might think she is. There’s a female villain called Baroness (played by Úrsula Corberó), who displays the stiffest acting out of all the principal cast members. It’s hard to take a villain seriously when the person playing the villain has acting that’s so bad, it’s a distraction. Instead of the Baroness, she should’ve been called the Boringness.

And what about Snake Eyes’ quest to avenge the death of his father? The movie doesn’t forget about that. This revenge subplot is handled in a very predictable way, if you know before watching “Snake Eyes” that it’s been rated a family-friendly movie for people over the age of 12. The most obvous sign that the movie doesn’t too heavy with any violence is because there’s a lot of fighting with swords and other weapons, but there’s hardly any blood in sight.

A few of the fight scenes end too abruptly, which are signs of careless screenwriting and editing. For example, there’s a scene where Snake Eyes is trapped somewhere with attackers, and someone in Arashikage swoops in to come to his rescue. But viewers never get to see the rescue. Instead, the next scene just cuts to Snake Eyes and his rescuer back at Arashikage headquarters, as if nothing happened.

The movie makes a half-hearted attempt to throw in a few surprise curveballs, by showing one or two characters who have “fluid alliances.” But it just comes across as phony and not the shocking twist that this movie needed to liven up this formulaic story. The characters are so underwritten that viewers won’t feel like they know any of them well enough to get a sense of what the characters want to do with their lives besides join in on a fight when needed.

And if viewers are expecting an awe-inspiring mega-weapon in the movie, forget it. There’s a glowing red gem (about the size of small vase) that has the power to make people burst into flames. For a movie that cost $88 million to make, it’s kind of pathetic that’s the best they could come up with for the story’s most-coveted deadly weapon.

The visual effects in “Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins” aren’t going to be nominated for any awards. In a film called “Snake Eyes,” there are inevitable snakes in multiple action scenes. In this movie, they’re giant anacondas. But the suspense in these scenes almost becomes laughable, when Snake Eyes closes his eyes and uses a meditation technique where the meditation energy will supposedly make the attackers peaceful and willing to back away. If you want to believe that giant anacondas can tap into an inner zen in the middle of an attack, go right ahead.

Viewers will feel like closing their eyes for a different reason: The movie is so tedious that it could put some people to sleep. You could fall asleep in the middle of the film and still know exactly what’s going happen by the end of the film. And it does. It’s all just a set-up for a sequel.

Paramount Pictures will release “Snake Eyes: G,.I. Joe Origins” in U.S. cinemas on July 23, 2021.

Review: ‘How It Ends’ (2021), starring Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny

July 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny in “How It Ends” (Photo courtesy of MGM/American International Pictures)

“How It Ends” (2021)

Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy film “How It Ends” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Hours before an impending apocalypse, a woman in her 30s sees a physical manifestation of her 15-year-old self, and together they visit people they know to say their goodbyes in case they don’t survive the apocalypse. 

Culture Audience: “How It Ends” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “mumblecore” comedies that are self-consciously quirky in a way that will annoy some viewers.

Zoe Lister-Jones and Cailee Spaeny in “How It Ends” (Photo courtesy of MGM/American International Pictures)

The smugly oddball “How It Ends” looks and sounds like it could have been a pilot episode for a mumblecore sitcom rather than a compelling cinematic experience. In this time-wasting apocalyptic comedy, the end of the world is depicted as Los Angeles hipsters and weirdos acting as annoying as possible and thinking that they’re hilarious. You can see that on Hollywood Boulevard for free. You don’t need to pay money to see that in a movie as dull as this one.

Husband-and-wife duo Zoe Lister-Jones and Daryl Wein wrote and directed “How It Ends,” and it looks exactly like what it is: A movie that was rushed into production during the pre-vaccine COVID-19 pandemic, just so the filmmakers could brag about how they braved the pandemic to make this movie. Unfortunately, not enough time seems to have been spent on developing an interesting story for this repetitive and mostly empty-headed film.

“How It Ends” takes place in Los Angeles, just hours before an apocalypse is supposed to destroy the world. It’s never explained how people know the exact hour that this apocalypse is going to hit. But the characters in this movie are just way too calm about it, and they go about their lives as if it’s just another sunny day in California.

At least half of this movie just shows the two main characters walking from house to house, as they say goodbye to friends and assorted loved ones before the end of the world happens. Expect to see repetitive shots of people sauntering down a street as if they’re just out for a pleasant stroll before the apocalypse. And everyone they talk to just happens to be “quirky.”

The two main characters in the story are supposed to be the same person at different stages in her life. The movie opens with protagonist Liza (played by Lister-Jones), who’s in her 30s and with an unknown occupation, in her home on the morning before the apocalypse. There’s a teenage girl (played by Cailee Spaeny) jumping up and down on Liza’s bed.

Liza checks her voice messages and finds out that her friend Mandy (played by Whitney Cummings) has invited Liza to an end-of-the-world party happening that night. Liza tells the teenage girl, “Tonight, I want to get really fucking high and eat ’til I puke.” The girl in Liza’s house replies, “I can list so many problems with that idea. The first is: You’re out of weed.”

Who is this girl? Liza finds out this other person in her home is her 15-year-old self. Liza might want to roll on Ecstasy to get high, but the only thing rolling during this movie will be viewers’ eyes at the self-consciously twee absurdity of it all. Guess who’s hanging out with Liza for the whole movie? Young Liza, who’s somehow wiser and more emotionally intuitive than the older Liza.

It’s explained in the movie that Young Liza can only be seen on the last day before the apocalypse happens. And based on the advice that Young Liza gives her older self, Young Liza is supposed to embody hindsight. Young Liza also doesn’t have the emotional baggage that older Liza has, so she’s able to see things more clearly when it comes to unresolved issues in older Liza’s life.

Before Liza and her younger self go to the party, they decide to visit a series of people to say their final goodbyes. A lot of these half-baked scenes (many of them look improvised) are just filler. There are long stretches of the movie where it’s nothing but Liza and her younger self walking from place to place and encountering goofy, strange and usually very irritating people.

Wait, doesn’t everyone drive in Los Angeles if they can afford it? The movie comes up with a reason for why Liza and her teenage mini-me end up walking everywhere for more than half the movie: Liza’s car has been stolen. It’s the end of the world, so there’s no point in reporting the theft to the police. Will Liza get her car back though? That question is answered in the movie.

Most of the people whom Liza and her young self visit are the type of characters you would expect in a low-budget indie flick where the filmmakers think that it’s automatically supposed to be funny to see adults acting like immature kooks. There are the wacky neighbors in different homes, such as Derek (played by Bobby Lee), who’s a babbling stoner; Manny (played by Fred Armisen), a forgetful eccentric; and anxious Dave (played by Paul Scheer), who gets yelled at by another neighbor for not washing his recycling container.

And then there are a few people randomly performing in the middle of the street or on a sidewalk in this residential area, including a nameless stand-up comedian (played by Ayo Edebiri), who’s actually one of the few highlights of the film. Real-life singer Sharon Van Etten shows up toward the end of the film as a folksy singer named Jet, who plays acoustic guitar in the street to an enthralled audience of two: Liza and her younger self.

“How It Ends” desperately wants to be a uniquely modern film, but it uses the oldest and most cliché trope in a comedy starring a woman: She’s pining over a man because she wants him to be her romantic partner. In Liza’s case, “the one who got away” is Nate (played by Logan Marshall-Green), a former hookup whom she has deeper feelings for than she was willing to admit when he was in her life and when she emotionally pushed him away. Liza regrets shutting Nate out of her life, and she wants to see Nate again so she can tell him that she loves him before the end of the world happens.

Liza also has some unfinished business with her divorced parents Kenny (played by Bradley Whitford) and Lucinda (played by Helen Hunt), as well as her ex-boyfriend Larry (played by Lamorne Morris), who cheated on her when they were together. Liza visits all of them during this movie to tell them how she really feels. Viewers find out that she has major abandonment issues and has had a problem communicating her true feelings to the people who are closest to her.

But the best and funniest encounter that Liza has is with an estranged friend named Alay (played by Olivia Wilde), who’s just as neurotic as Liza is. Liza and Alay have a rapid-fire conversation where they talk over each other about what went wrong in their friendship (they fell out because Alay didn’t approve of Larry), and they call a truce—because of, you know, the apocalypse.

Alay eats a very decadent-looking cake during this conversation and says she’s a psychic. What does she see in Liza’s afterlife future? Alay says, “Timothée Chalamet and lots of dairy with no consequences.” Sounds like heaven for a lot of people.

If only “How It Ends” had more of this type of laugh-out-loud comedic scene with Wilde and Lister-Jones, because they have such natural and appealing chemistry with each other. Maybe they can co-star in another movie someday. Hopefully, it would have a better screenplay and more exciting direction than what’s in “How It Ends.”

But for every scene like the rip-roaring one with Wilde, there are five or six more scenes in “How It Ends” that are just so tedious and downright cringeworthy. For example, when Liza goes to her ex-boyfriend Larry’s home, it’s a retro ripoff with derivative ideas: She holds up a boombox (just like John Cusack famously did in the 1989 movie “Say Anything”), and then she quotes the chorus of Alanis Morissette’s 1995 hit “You Oughta Know.”

And there’s some self-pitying drivel, such as when Liza and her younger self have an argument with each other. Liza wants to ditch her younger self and continue on her own, because she thinks Young Liza doesn’t count as her real self. Young Liza shouts, “I do count! All your life, you’ve been licking your fucking wounds, when I’m the biggest wound of all!” Oh, boo hoo. Did anyone bring any tissues?

Lister-Jones and Spaeny previously worked together in the disappointing 2020 horror film “The Craft: Legacy,” which was written and directed by Lister-Jones and starred Spaeny as a teenage witch who joins a coven of other teen witches. The chemistry between Lister-Jones and Spaeny in “How It Ends” is more like older sister/younger sister as two different people, rather than entirely convincing as two versions of the same person. One of the takeaways from the movie is that Liza looks physically older than her younger self, but she hasn’t emotionally matured very much since she was a teenager.

Spaeny makes some attempt to mimic certain mannerisms that older Liza would have had in her teen years. And there are times that Liza and her younger self do things in snyc when they’re walking down the street. However, the movie looks like it was filmed so quickly that Spaeny and Lister-Jones didn’t have enough time to do work on body language and speech patterns that are more subtle and nuanced.

“How It Ends” is not so off-putting that it won’t find its share of people who will love this movie. There’s a very specific type of viewer who automatically thinks any movie that reeks of being self-congratulatory “quirky” is something that’s worth admiring. But for people who prefer their comedies to actually be funny and have a significant plot, you’ll have to look elsewhere, because “How It Ends” comes up very short in these elements and is mostly just a series of poorly conceived vignettes.

MGM’s American International Pictures released “How It Ends” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 20, 2021.

Review: ‘El Cuartito,’ starring Mario de la Rosa, Claribel Medina, Isel Rodriguez, Ianis Guerrero and Fausto Mata

July 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Cast members of “El Cuartito,” pictured clockwise from upper left: Claribel Medina, Ianis Guerrero, Mario de la Rosa, Isel Rodriguez and Fausto Mata (Photo courtesy of Wiesner Distribution)

“El Cuartito”

Directed by Marcos Carnevale

Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in San Juan, Puerto Rico, during the Donald Trump administration, the comedy/drama film “El Cuartito” features a predominantly Hispanic cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Five strangers find themselves stuck together in a detainee room at the San Juan Airport for different reasons, and they have various conflicts while a possible hurricane is looming,  

Culture Audience: “El Cuartito” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in far-fetched, broad comedies that try to be politically edgy but end up being very sappy.

Fausto Mata, Isel Rodriguez, Ianis Guerrero, Claribel Medina and Mario de la Rosa in “El Cuartito” (Photo courtesy of Wiesner Distribiution)

“El Cuartito” mistakenly gives the impression that it’s a satirical comedy about how people in Puerto Rico were affected by immigration policies of the Donald Trump administration. The movie is really just a silly hodgepodge of ludicrous scenarios that have no real edge. And at least two of the movie’s five main characters will annoy even the most patient viewers.

Directed by Marcos Carnevale (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Javier De Nevares), “El Cuartito” (which translates to “The Little Room” in English) takes place almost entirely at San Juan Airport in Puerto Rico. The movie’s scenes that don’t take place in Puerto Rico are mostly when the five main characters in the story have flashbacks of what happened to each of them before they arrived at the airport on this fateful day. Each of these backstories explains why each of these five characters has had the inconvenience of being detained at the airport.

“El Cuartito” takes place sometime during the period of time when Donald Trump was president of the United States, after he notoriously made this September 2017 statement about Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria devastating Puerto Rico: “This is an island, surrounded by water. Big water.” A recording of Trump saying these words at a news conference is repeated at the beginning and at the end of “El Cuartito.” And several of the characters talk about Trump in the movie.

But if viewers are expecting to see or hear anything politically or socially witty in “El Cuartito,” disappointment will quickly set in because the movie consists mostly of people being illogical, argumentative and/or or mentally unhinged for long stretches of the film. And the ways that certain problems are resolved in the story are downright cringeworthy and insulting to viewers’ intelligence.

For most of “El Cuartito,” five strangers are stuck together in a detainee room in the San Juan Airport, whose formal name is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. During the course of the story, these detained airline customers argue with each other, worry about what immigration officials will do to them, and eventually plot to escape when they see an air vent in the room that could possibly be a way out of the building.

These five strangers are:

  • Juan Miguel “Toti” Cuervo (played by Mario de la Rosa), a has-been, egotistical pop/rock star from Madrid, Spain, is desperate to make a comeback because he’s bankrupt. Toti is in San Juan to perform a lucrative Thanksgiving dinner concert for a rich private client. However, Toti has been detained at the airport because his fidgety manager Juan David León (played by Hector Escudero Lobe) failed to get a work visa for Toti and got him a tourist visa instead.
  • Lina Fernández de Montepieller (played by Claribel Medina), who lives in Paris, is a high-maintenance and wealthy snob who is on multiple types of medication. Lina is in San Juan to meet her sister, so that they can take a Prince of the Ocean cruise together. Lina has been detained because while she was waiting in line to go through X-ray clearance, she accidentally dropped several of her pills from their bottles, which raised airport suspicions about what types of pills she’s carrying. Airport security has to do toxicology tests on the pills to make sure they’re not illegal.
  • Mariel (played by Isel Rodriguez), a heartbroken woman, is orginally from Puerto Rico, but she has been living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the past 15 years. Mariel has been estranged from her mother, for reasons that are revealed in the movie, and wants to possibly reconnect with the family she left behind in Puerto Rico. Mariel has been detained because her passport has expired.
  • Jesus Reyes (played by Ianis Guerrero), a native of Mexico, has a secret reason for wanting to be in Puerto Rico. He was detained because airport officials caught him with a fake passport. Early on in the movie, before he was detained at the airport, Luis is shown furtively talking to someone on the phone and asking if “the merchandise is okay.” It’s obvious that Jesus is talking in code.
  • Santos Domingo (played by Fausto Mata) is a flamboyant preacher from the Dominican Republic capital of Santo Domingo. Santos aspires to be someone like Joel Osteen (a megachurch preacher with his own TV show), and he claims that he has psychic powers that he’s received directly from God. Santos has been detained because he’s tried to illegally enter Puerto Rico before, and this is the third time he’s been busted for it.

When Jesus is brought into the room, Lina (who is by far the loudest and most obnoxious character in the story) immediately accuses him of being a terrorist. Why? She thinks he looks like a terrorist. Jesus is insulted. He tells Lina that he’s Mexican and that Mexicans aren’t radical Muslim terrorists.

Lina says that Mexicans can be drug lords, which Jesus doesn’t disagree with, but he says drug lords aren’t the same as terrorists. “Mexicans don’t bomb people!” Jesus angrily shouts at Lina. However, Lina keeps thinking that he must be some kind of criminal, even though she doesn’t know anything about him.

There’s some repetitive back-and-forth arguing between Lina and Jesus, as Lina exposes herself as being very racist and xenophobic. And she’s not very smart, because she keeps confusing Puerto Rico with Costa Rica. It’s supposed to be a running joke in the movie. Lina also goes into loud hysterics and throws tantrums, which she thinks will help her get out of the detainee room early. Her unruly diva antics don’t work.

In the detainee room, which looks very much like the set of a movie or a stage play, there are three items hanging on the wall: A photo portrait of Trump, in between the U.S. flag and the Puerto Rican flag. At various times in the movie, the detainees occasionally go up to the photo of Trump and say things to and about him—mostly innocuous and forgettable comments about the Trump administration’s immigration policy changes. Lina seems to be a Trump supporter, while Jesus is most definitely not.

Meanwhile, Mariel happens to be a fan of Toti’s music, so she acts very star-struck with him. He’s very flattered and he expresses an attraction to her too, but he’s not sure what Mariel’s story is (she’s not wearing a wedding ring), and he isn’t sure how far to go with their flirtation. Toti is still famous enough that people who know who he is would know that he’s an available bachelor. Mariel’s relationship status is eventually revealed in the movie.

Mariel and Toti’s would-be romance is actually quite boring and more than a little corny, since Mariel acts like a gushing teenage girl around Toti. For example, Mariel sings lines from Toti’s hit songs to him while they’re locked up together. And at one point, he sings to her too. Try not to retch.

Santos isn’t brought into the detainee room until the movie is already half over. He’s predictably over-the-top with his preaching. He’s also very good at figuring out personal information about his fellow detainees, based on how they look and the way that they act. Santos and Lina are both very status-conscious, which somewhat explains a subplot that happens between them toward the end of the movie. But this subplot is rushed into the film, and seems to come out of nowhere.

During all the arguing, fretting and ego posturing in this room, there’s some potential drama waiting for these detainees outside the airport. When they arrived at the airport, it was all over the news that a hurricane was probably headed toward Puerto Rico. This potential disaster is also handled in a disappointing way in the movie.

“El Cuartito” has moments that can bring chuckles, so it succeeds in minor ways as a comedy. However, the movie fails to consistently bring genuinely clever, laugh-out-loud scenes because the jokes often fall flat. If you’re doing a movie where most of it is about people who are stuck in a room, then the characters need to seem real, relatable and developed. Unfortunately, the main characters in “El Cuartito” are nothing but stereotypes acting in predictable ways. And the secrets that are revealed about their personal lives are not surprising at all. The actors don’t add any depth to these clichés.

The last third of the movie really goes off of the rails with a dumb escape plan where these detainees don’t think that they’ll just make more trouble for themselves if they escape. “El Cuartito” has some slapstick moments that look like something out of a bad telenovela. There’s some mocking of Trump (including a scene where his framed portrait falls off of the wall and the glass cracks), but the anti-Trump jokes look dated, considering he’s no longer president of the United States.

And that’s not all that’s outdated about the movie. It’s like “El Cuartito” is trying to be an adult, Puerto Rican version of filmmaker John Hughes’ 1985 comedy “The Breakfast Club,” which was about teenagers stuck in a classroom on a weekend morning because they’re in high school detention. “El Cuartito” copies “The Breakfast Club” formula of each character eventually revealing a personal sob story, so that everyone in the group can feel more empathetic to each other. The big difference is that “The Breakfast Club” is a genuinely funny classic, while “El Cuartito” is a lightweight, clumsily written comedy that most viewers will forget about soon after seeing it.

Wiesner Distribution released “El Cuartito” in select U.S. cinemas on July 16, 2021. The movie was released in Puerto Rico on March 25, 2021.