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.
June 5 – June 11, 2023
All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.
The three-episode docuseries “Burden of Proof” premieres on Tuesday, June 6 on HBO at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi action film “Simulant” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians, African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A computer hacker illegally gives simulants (human clones with artificial intelligence) the ability to completely think on their own, and a government enforcer tries to track down and disable these rogue simulants.
Culture Audience: “Simulant” will appeal primarily to people who won’t mind watching derivative sci-fi movies about human clones on the loose.
“Simulant” is this title of this bland and poorly acted sci-fi action flick, but it could also describe how this lackluster movie is pretending to be a creative story. It’s another “human clones must be stopped” movie with no real suspense. Even if the movie’s poster didn’t give away the weak “plot twist” of “Simulant,” it still would be very easy to guess this plot twist within the first 15 minutes of the film.
Directed by April Mullen and written by Ryan Christopher Churchill, “Simulant” begins by showing a married couple—named Evan (played by Robbie Amell) and Faye (played by Jordana Brewster)—having what appears to be a stable and loving relationship, somewhere in an unnamed U.S. city. (“Simulant” was actually filmed in Canada.) The biggest problem in their marriage is that Evan keeps having a nightmare that he and Faye were in a major car accident where he was the driver and she was the passenger in their car. In this dream, the car skids and crashes into another before skidding into a lake.
The dream is so vivid, Evan thinks it’s real. However, Faye insists that nothing like that ever happened to them. But in a movie called “Simulant,” which is about trying to control human clones (called “simulants”) from thinking for themselves, you can easily predict what Evan’s nightmares really mean. It’s explained early on in this completely unoriginal movie that these simulants can be purchased by people who want clones themselves or their loved ones.
The simulants have artificial intelligence that allows them to look and act like real human beings, if the simulants are programmed that way. Brains of the simulants must keep active, or else the brains will atrophy, just like human brains. Most simulants are purchased to be employees, such as Evan and Faye’s housekeeper simulant named Lisa, who wears a creepy mask that makes Lisa look more like a robot than a real human being.
Simulants must also follow these four basic rules:
Do not inflict harm on another human being.
Do not modify themselves or other simulants.
Acts against international and local laws are forbidden.
Obey all commands from simulant masters.
When someone dies, a simulant can replace the dead person. It’s supposed to help people with their grief over a loved one’s death. But it’s also caused an underground resistance movement of people and humanoids who want the simulants to be free to make their own decisions and have their own lives, independent from the simulants’ masters. It’s led to a government crackdown where armed agents who work for the Artificial Intelligence Compliance Enforcement (AICE) are tasked with hunting down “rogue simulants.”
One of these AICE agents is named Aaron Kessler (played by Sam Worthington), a generic tough guy who spends a lot of time in the movie trying to find a rogue simulant named Esmé (played by Alicia Sanz), who has been hiding for more than three years. Esmé has superhuman strength, so the action scenes with her are very predictable. Aaron has a hatred of simulants because his only child was killed by a simulant. “Simulant” clumsily handles the Evan/Faye storyline and the Aaron/Esmé storyline with a character who comes into contact with all four of them: a computer hacker named Casey Rosen (played by Simu Liu), who is suspected of being one of the technology rebels who are setting simulants free.
“Simulant” is so lacking in suspense and is just filled with nonsensical chases, it reeks of lazy storytelling. None of the characters in “Simulant” comes close to being interesting, and the cast members’ performances are reflections of the characters’ hollow personalities. “Simulant” is another B-movie where the “b” could also stand for the boredom that viewers will feel while watching this pile of sci-fi mush.
Vertical released “Simulant” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 2, 2023. DirecTV premiered the movie on May 5, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States, Italy, and South Korea, the documentary “Kim’s Video” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few Asians and African Americans) discussing the legacy and noteworthy inventory of Kim’s Video & Music, a New York City-based retail company that operated from 1995 to 2014, and was known for having thousands of obscure and rare movies.
Culture Clash: “Kim’s Video” co-director Davd Redmon goes on investigative journey to find out what happened to the store’s approximately 55,000 videos that Kim’s Video founder Yongman Kim donated to the small Italian city of Salemi, Sicily, in 2009.
Culture Audience: “Kim’s Video” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in “treasure hunt” type of documentaries and documentaries about the history of video stores.
“Kim’s Video” is a love letter to not just one video store but also a bygone era when people gathered at actual video stores to rent and buy movies and TV shows. This documentary’s “gonzo” style sometimes looks staged, but the movie is mostly entertaining. “Kim’s Video” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and has since made the rounds at other film festivals in 2023, including the Beijing International Film Festival, the Copenhagen Documentary Film Festival and the Tribeca Festival.
Directed by David Redmon and Ashley Sabin, “Kim’s Video” features Redmon as one of the “stars” of the movie. He can be heard on camera as the narrator and interviewer, but he is almost never seen on camera. Most of “Kim’s Video” is about the hunt to find out what happened to the approximately 55,000 videos that used to be inventory for the New York City-based retail company Kim’s Video & Music (more commonly known as Kim’s Video), whose specialty was selling and renting obscure and rare movies.
“Kim’s Video” begins with Redmon giving a brief summary of his personal history. He says he became “obsessed” with movies from a very early age during his childhood in rural Texas. He explains that his parents were only 17 when he was born, and they sent him to live with his grandmother when he was 6 years old. His grandmother let him watch a lot of movies, which inspired his desire to become a filmmaker.
Redmon says he became so obsessed with movies and filmmaking, “Sometimes I found it difficult to distinguish between fiction and reality.” As an example, he mentions that after seeing director Richard Linklater’s 1990 mumblecore comedy/drama film “Slacker” (which was filmed in Austin, Texas), Redmon said he drove to Austin and tried to look for the characters in “Slacker,” because thought they were real people.
He also says that where he lived in Texas (he does not name the city) did not have a video store and the closest that someone could go to be around movies was the local Wal-Mart. He got a job there but got fired after the manager accused him of stealing movies and putting them a dumpster. Redmon moved to New York City and discovered Kim’s Video. “I knew immediately that I found a new home,” Redmon says of the video store.
Before the documentary gets to the “treasure hunt” part of the story, there’s a fairly long stretch of interviews with former Kim’s Video employees, most of whom were store clerks or store managers. Many of these ex-Kim’s Video employees went on to work in the movie industry in some capacity, including filmmaker Alex Ross Perry, comedian David Wain and journalists Dennis Dermody and Lorry Kitka. All of them have nothing but praise for Kim’s Video, which had a chain of about seven stores in New York City, until all but one named Mondo Kim’s remained open. The other store locations all had the word “Kim’s” in the title, such as Kim’s Underground, Kim’s Mediapolis and Kim’s West.
Dermody describes the elections of bootlegs and obscure releases at Kim’s Video: “It was a treasure trove.” Wain remembers what he felt like when he walked into the store: “I’m stepping into the gold mine of cool.” Anna Thorngate, a former Kim’s Video employee, comments on what made Kim’s Video so special: “It was just this weird little headquarters of watching and thinking about movies. It was the place to get weird movies.” Kitka says that Kim’s Video customers Joel and Ethan Coen, who would go on to become Oscar-winning filmmakers, had $600 in late fees by the time the last Kim’s Video store shut down.
Although many of the employees paint a rose picture of Kim’s Video, the company had a shady history of trafficking a lot of bootleg videos, and the company would regularly get fined and raided by the FBI. It’s mentioned in the documentary that Kim would get many of these bootlegs by requesting movies from the U.S. Embassy, making copies of the tapes, and selling those copies. Former Kim’s video employee Ryan Krivoshey says that every time a Kim’s Video store got busted for bootlegs, owner Kim would just replenish the bootleg supply even more.
However, all this bootlegging eventually caught up to Kim’s Video. It’s the main reason why the company shut down having multiple locations and was only left with one, until that final one closed too. Robert Greene, a former Kim’s Video employee, recalls fondly: “We were really proud of those tapes … We felt we were above the law. The law said, ‘Ownership matters.’ We said, ‘Film knowledge matters more.'” Other former Kim’s Video employees interviewed in the documentary include Isabell Gillies, Eric Hynes and Sean Price Williams.
However, there’s a significant part of the documentary that’s about trying to track down Yongman Kim, the mysterious South Korean entrepreneur who founded Kim’s Video. The company was fully operational from 1995 to 2009, and the very last Kim’s Video retail location officially closed in 2014. The documentary mentions that not much is known about Kim outside of his video business. He served in the Korean military; immigrated to the U.S. in 1979, when he was 21; and he started a laundry business before going into the video retail business. In his youth, Kim went to film school and later also dabbled in filmmaking.
In 2008, Kim did something very unexpected: He announced that the Kim’s Video flagship New York City store Mondo Kim’s would be closing the following year and that he was donating the company’s inventory of about 55,000 movies to the Italian city of Salemi, located in Sicily. Why was Salemi chosen? The city promised to take proper care of the videos, give free rentals to customers, and offer sleeping quarters to people who were in the Kim’s Video membership program.
Salemi hired Glen Hyman, a Kim’s Video customer, to write the proposal to Kim’s Video proposal. In the documentary, Hyman admits he had no idea what he was doing at the time when he got involved in this business deal. Filmmaker/ex-Kim’s video employee Perry says he’s still amazed that this relatively obscure city was chosen instead of a more well-known place. “What on earth was anyone thinking that this [donating the inventory to Salemi] made more sense than NYU [New York University] saying, ‘We’ll take it’?”
And so, off Redmon goes to Salemi (in 2017), in search of these lost movies, which are mostly in the formats of cassette tapes and DVDs. It turns out that finding the inventory in Salemi wasn’t as easy as some people thought it might be. Instead of the video store being a tourist attraction, as originally intended, Redmon shows in the documentary that, in 2017, the videos were stored in a place shrouded in mystery and kept off-limits to the public.
“Kim’s Video” takes a sometimes comical tone when Redmon confronts certain people and demands access to the videos, because he says he’s still a card-carrying member of Kim’s Video. And then, the movie takes a dark turn when it exposes the Mafia connection to this bizarre story. It’s a tale of greed and politics. Leopoldo Falco, who was president of Italy’s Anti-Mafia Investigative Commission, gives one of the most memorable interviews in the film. Redmon also gets help from an Italian journalist named Marco Bora.
During the course of the documentary, Redmon has various run-ins with Salemi police chief Diego Muraca, as well people whose job is to guard the place where the long-lost Kim’s Video movies were kept in Salemi. There’s also some amusing footage of Redmon trying to get an interview with then-Salemi mayor Domenico Venuti. It should come as no surprise that Redmon had to stalk Venuti in public places in attempts to get this interview. At one point, Redmon becomes well-known enough to Venuti’s entourage that Venuti is shown on camera actively avoiding Redmon whenever he sees Redmon.
The second half of the documentary is better than the first half, which wastes a little too much time with repetitive gushing about Kim’s Video from ex-employees. One of the other problems that some people might have with the “Kim’s Video” documentary is that it’s difficult to know how much of an act Redmon is putting on for the camera when he does this type of ambush documentary filmmaking. There’s a break-in scene that looks like it could have been staged and possibly scripted.
Is “Kim’s Video” co-director Redmon a dedicated Kim’s Video fan, or is he a fanatic who’s gone too far? “Kim’s Video” invites viewers to make up their own minds. At the very least, the movie give answers that a lot of Kim’s Video enthusiasts might have about what really happened to Kim’s Video founder Kim and all the videos that he donated. People who follow the news about a certain Austin-based company with various locations might already know where those videos are now. But the “Kim’s Video” documentary is a mostly entertaining chronicle of the quest to find out answers to a lot of Kim’s Video questions, although cinephiles who are fans of obscure movies are most likely to appreciate this documentary.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Milpitas, California, the comedy/drama film “Dealing With Dad” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people and African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: Three siblings in their 30s gather at their parents’ home, where their father is having depression issues, and long-simmering family resentments come to the surface.
Culture Audience: “Dealing With Dad” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in bittersweet dramedies about immigrant families, sibling rivalries, and how childhood experiences affect people through adulthood.
“Dealing With Dad” is a generally entertaining dramedy about a specific family with universally relatable issues. Some of the jokes are a little corny, but the movie gets better as it goes along. Ally Maki gives an impressive performance as a Type-A perfectionist with daddy issues. “Dealing With Dad” does an overall capable job of balancing family drama and comedy.
Written and directed by Tom Huang, “Dealing With Dad” (which takes place mostly in Milpitas, California) has many of the predictable arguments and squabbles that are usually found in movies about family reunions where family members have long-held resentments and grudges. The family at the center of this story isn’t completely dysfunctional, but most of the family members have problems communicating openly and honestly with each other. They are forced to reckon with many of their issues when the family patriarch becomes bedridden with depression after being laid off from his accounting job.
Jialuo Chang (played by Dana Lee), an immigrant from Taiwan, is cranky and impatient with everyone around him. Jialuo’s self-confidence of being his household’s main financial provider gets a big blow after he becomes unemployed. It’s later revealed in the movie that Jialuo was verbally abusive and sometimes physically abusive to his three children when they were underage. Jialuo currently lives in Milpitas, California, in the same house where he and his wife raised their three American-born children during most of the kids’ childhoods.
Sophie Chang (played by Page Leong) is Jialuo’s often-demanding and judgmental wife, who is also an immigrant from Taiwan. Sophie is openly racist against people wo aren’t Asian. She tells her children that she wants them to marry only Asian people. Sophie hides her racism by being smiling and polite to people whom she makes racist comments about behind their backs.
Margaret Chang-Atlas (played by Ally Maki) is an uptight, hard-driving business entrepreneur who likes to be in control of situations. Margaret is actually fearful of disappointing her parents, especially her father. Ironically, Margaret can be just as prickly and difficult with other people as her parents are with her. How much of a control freak is Margaret? There’s a scene in the movie where she and her two brothers are eating at a casual restaurant, and she cuts the food on the plate of the younger brother, as if he’s a helpless child.
Margaret knows her mother doesn’t approve of Margaret being married to an African American musician named Jeff Atlas (played by Echo Kellum), who does not have the type of career that Sophie and Jialuo think is suitable for a spouse. Sophie privately uses the derogatory term “half-breed” to describe Margaret and Jeff’s son Nick (played by Caleb Mantuano), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. But when Sophie is around Nick, she acts like a doting and loving grandmother.
Roy Chang (played by Peter S. Kim) is Margaret’s older brother. He works as a bank manager and is feeling down about his life because his wife Sherry is divorcing him. Sherry and Roy have no daughter together, and he worries about Roy doesn’t want the divorce and is hoping that he and Sherry can reconcile. He is also sensitive about his body size and gets defensive when his siblings make negative comments about the large portions of food that he eats.
Larry Chang (played by Hayden Szeto) is Margaret’s younger brother. He is 33 years old, unemployed, and currently living with his parents. Larry is a self-described sci-fi nerd who spends a lot of his time and money on collecting sci-fi memorabilia and playing video games. Larry makes a small amount of money by selling his memorabilia at a local comic book/collectible store managed by Aaron (played by Ari Stidham), another sci-fi enthusiast. Larry owes Roy a certain amount of money that is not specified, but it’s enough money that causes Roy to resent Larry.
Jenny (played by Cindera Che) is Jialuo’s younger sister, who lives in Denver, but she goes to Milpitas after hearing about Jialuo’s mental health issues. For years, Jenny has been openly hostile or standoffish to Margaret, who doesn’t know why. During the course of the movie, the reason why is revealed.
Margaret and Roy both live far enough away from their parents that when they both find out that their father is bedridden, Roy and Margaret reluctantly take a plane ride to go to their parents’ home in Milpitas. Margaret’s husband and son don’t go with her. Before this family crisis, Margaret hadn’t talked to her parents in months.
The first half of “Dealing With Dad” is structured and written almost like a sitcom, with a bunch of family members making verbal zingers and lobbying sarcastic insults at each other. It starts to get very repetitive, but not completely boring. Jialuo has become very reclusive, so he is not seen for much of the movie. The three siblings are somewhat relieved that they don’t have to deal with Jialuo’s usual tryannical bossiness, but his wife Sophie causes a lot of drama.
There’s a subplot about Larry reconnecting with a goofy former high-school classmate named Sarah Schumer (played by Megan Gailey), who has recently moved back to the area after serving time in the Peace Corps. Larry has had a crush on Sarah since high school. She has many of the same interests as Larry does, and she likes him, but he is too shy to ask her out on a date.
Meanwhile, a nerdy doctor named Gordon, also known as Gordy (played by Karan Soni), who is a former high-school classmate of Margaret’s, stops by for a house call to treat Jialuo. Sophie is impressed that Gordon is a doctor, so she makes awkward attempts to play matchmaker between Margaret and Gordon, even though neither one is romantically interested in the other. Sophie also tries to set up Larry with a quiet Chinese immigrant named Cai Shi (played by Peggy Lu), who’s about 25 years older than Larry.
Gordon prescribes Zoloft to Jialuo and recommends that Jialuo get therapy for the depression. Jialuo is too proud to accept that he needs this help. The movie takes a much more serious turn when tensions run even higher because Jialou refuses to take the Zoloft. He literally throws the pills across the room. And in one incident, he spits a Zoloft pill in Margaret’s face.
The siblings’ battle to get Jialuo to take his prescribed Zoloft becomes a symbol for the grudges that all three of his children have against him. Margaret has the most resentment toward her father, so she’s the one who fights the most to get him to take the Zoloft pills. Flashbacks to Margaret’s childhood show that Jialuo was the hardest on her, out of all his three children, because he had the highest expectations for Margaret. Miya Cech has the role of Margaret at about 12 or 13 years old.
In one of these flashback scenes, Margaret has a painful memory of Jialuo slapping her hard in the face in front of her softball teammates, after she joyfully told him that she made it onto the softball team. Instead of being happy for her, Jialuo got angry and assaulted her for having “B” grades on her report card. Later, he gave her an apology gift of new softball gloves, which the adult Margaret says are the only signs that she has that Jialuo might have loved her.
“Dealing With Dad” also shows Margaret’s anxiety issues. She has a recurring nightmare that she’s trapped in a narrow hallway that has a tidal wave of flooding that’s about to drown her. Although Margaret likes to put forth an image to the world that she’s got her whole life together, this vulnerable side to her gives the movie more emotional depth. And she’s not a completely sympathetic protagonist, because she has a tendency to act superior to her brothers and other people. It’s a personality flaw that Margaret gets confronted about at one point in the story.
“Dealing With Dad” also has authentic depictions of the dynamics between immigrant parents and their children who were born and raised in the country where the parents immigrated. Jialuo and Sophie want to tightly hold on to their “old school” Taiwanese traditions and have a hard time accepting that their children might not feel the same way. Those traditions include a reluctance to get psychiatric help for mental health issues.
All of the cast members give performances that range from mediocre to very good. The movie is told mainly from Margaret’s perspective, so Maki has the most challenging role, because of the myriad of emotions that she has to convey. The pace of the movie occasionally drags in the middle, but the last third of the film is the best part. Just when you think “Dealing With Dad” might end on an expected formulaic note, it surprisingly shows that, just like in real life, not everyone is going to change annoying personality traits just because of a family reunion.
1091 Pictures/Screen Media Films released “Dealing With Dad” in select U.S. cinemas on April 16, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on May 9, 2023.
Directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Power and Justin K. Thompson
Some language in Spanish with no subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and in the fictional multiverse called the Spider-Verse, the superhero animated film “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: American teenager Miles Morales, who is one of many spider characters in the Spider-Verse, encounters various heroes and villains in the Spider-Verse.
Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching animated movies that have an inconsistent visual style and a very muddled plot.
Just like a tangled web from a scatterbrained spider, “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is a convoluted mess. This overstuffed movie takes too long to define the plot. It’s a barrage of inconsistent visuals that often look like ugly comic-book graffiti. And it’s a huge disappointment as a sequel to 2018’s Oscar-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” (based on characters from Marvel Comics), a visually stunning, highly entertaining film that showed tremendous potential as the next great “Spider-Man” movie series. Superhero movies are supposed to tell viewers within the first 30 minutes what the story is going to be about and who the villain is, but the 140-minute “Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse” fails to deliver those basic elements until the movie is more than halfway done.
“Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse” (directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Power and Justin K. Thompson) also commits one of the worst sins of a movie sequel: It’s very unwelcoming to newcomers. People who didn’t see or don’t know what happened in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will be confused from the very first scene of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” And even if viewers saw and remember “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” they will have their patience tested by how the overly long “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” jumps from one subplot to the next without much explanation or resolution. Characters appear, disappear for long stretches of time, and then might or might not reappear with any meaningful context on what they’re really supposed to be doing in this movie.
In “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Miles Morales, also known as web-slinging superhero Spider-Man (voiced by Shameik Moore) is a student in his last year of high school. Miles is the movie’s central character, and he seems to be just as confused by what’s going on in his world as may viewers will be. Miles (who lives in New York City’s Brooklyn borough) is one of several people or creatures who have a Spider superhero alter ego. In the Spider-Verse, these various Spider iterations can time jump and appear in other universes, depending on if they have the power to do so, or are sent there by someone else. Unlike the teenage Peter Parker in the “Spider-Man” franchise, or even the Miles Morales in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” the Miles in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is barely shown in school or interacting with his schoolmates.
That’s not what’s irritating about this movie. What’s irritating about “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is that it’s so enamored with the concept of various Spider beings, it overloads in introducing these characters but doesn’t have much real character development for them. There are moments of wisecracking jokes (the movie’s comedy is best appreciated by teenagers and adults), but these quips don’t make up for the rest of the uninspired plot and dialogue. And the movie’s big climax just drags on and on, like a rambling stand-up comedian who doesn’t know when to get off the stage.
Miles’ main ally in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is Gwen Stacy (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld), a teenager who’s close to Miles’ age and who might or might not be his love interest. Gwen has a superhero alter ego named Spider-Gwen, who was the last person known to see the adult Peter Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson), also known as the most famous Spider-Man, before Peter died. (This death scene is shown as a flashback of Spider-Gwen at Peter’s side when he dies in a massive urban wreckage.) Gwen’s widower father George Stacy (voiced by Shea Whigham), who’s had a rocky relationship with Gwen, is determined to arrest Spider-Gwen, not knowing that his daughter is really Spider-Gwen.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” has such a poorly constructed narrative, the only backstory that viewers get about Gwen is her vague voiceover narration in the movie’s opening scene: “I didn’t want to hurt him, but I did. He’s not the only one.” After the flashback of Parker Parker dying in the wreckage, Gwen says in a voiceover: “I never really made another friend after that—except one, but he’s not here.” That other friend, of course, is Miles Morales. But only Spider-Man experts or people who saw “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will know what Gwen is babbling about in this opening scene.
Gwen is the drummer for an all-female rock trio called the Mary Janes. (The band’s name is a cheeky nod to Mary Jane Watson, who is Peter Parker’s girlfriend in other “Spider-Man” stories.) The beginning of the movie shows the band rehearsing and then Gwen quitting in anger. Why? Don’t expect a good explanation, except she appears to be angry over Peter’s death but she can’t talk to anyone about it. It’s a scene that’s ultimately pointless, like many other scenes in this long-winded film.
After her temper tantrum, Gwen goes home, where she has a bratty attitude with her father, who tells her that the police have gotten a break in the Peter Parker/Spider-Man death case. George says to Gwen: “Too punk rock to hug your old man?” She then quickly hugs him, and all seems to be forgiven. But as soon as you know that George and his police colleagues have made progression in their Peter Parker death investigation, you know what’s eventually going to happen.
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” also shows that Miles’ home life is affected by his superhero antics. A lot of time in this movie is spent on repetitive and not-very-interesting subplots about Miles’ parents—Jefferson Davis (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry) and Rio Morales (played by Luna Lauren Velez, previously known as Lauren Velez)—getting annoyed and worried because Miles is constantly tardy or absent from places where he needs to be. A running “joke” in the movie is that Miles’ parents keep adding to the number of months that they say Miles is grounded.
Miles pops in and out of a meeting that he’s supposed to have with his parents and his school principal (voiced by Rachel Dratch) to discuss his plans after high school. The principal is worried that Miles might be squandering his potential, since he’s been skipping classes. And there are some racist overtones when the principal says she wants to fabricate a narrative for Miles’ college applications by saying on the applications that Miles (who is Afro-Latino) is a poor, underprivileged kid with a rough childhood. (He’s not. Miles actually comes from a stable middle-class family.) Fortunately, the principal’s awful idea is nixed.
In the meeting, it’s mentioned that Miles wants to go to Princeton University to study physics. Rio gets upset because she thinks New Jersey is too far away from Brooklyn. (It’s not.) And then, Miles is out the door before the meeting is over because he has to attend to some secretive Spider-Man superhero business. His plans for what he wants to do after graduating from high school are never mentioned again in the movie. It’s just a time-wasting scene.
n “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” Miles’ relationship with his parents looks authentic. In “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” Miles’ relationship with his parents looks fake and rushed. There’s a very disjointed sequence where Miles is late for a rooftop party that his family is having to celebrate Jefferson getting promoted from lieutenant to captain at the New York Police Department. The death of Jefferson’s thieving criminal brother Aaron, which was shown in “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” is treated as an quick afterthought in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Miles introduces Gwen to his parents in this rooftop party sequence, which keeps getting interrupted by Gwen and Miles going in and out of the Spider-Verse.
During this very sloppily told and often visually unappealing movie, other characters show up, disappear, then show up again, and might disappear again, with the movie never clearly defining who some of them are and what is purpose of these characters. A villain who comes and goes with no real significance is Adrian Toomes, also known as The Vulture (voiced by Jorma Taccone), who gets into a battle with Spider-Gwen. Don’t expect the movie to give an explanation of who The Vulture is and where he came from, because it’s never mentioned in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”
Miles later thwarts a convenience store robbery by Jonathan Ohnn, also known as The Spot (voiced by Jason Schartzman), a portal-jumping villain character with a black hole for a face and who looks like he’s wearing a white full body suit with Dalmatian patterns. The Spot appears and disappears into portal holes, with no explanation for viewers who aren’t familiar with this character from Marvel comic books. The only clue offered is when The Spot tells Miles, “I’m from your past.”
Other characters who are dropped in and out of scenes are Miguel O’Hara (voiced by Oscar Isaac), a mysterious motorcycle-riding character dressed in a Spider-Man costume; Jessica Drew (voiced by Issa Rae), a no-nonsense, highly trained fighter who happens to be pregnant; and Lyla (voiced by Greta Lee), who is Miguel’s artificial-intelligence assistant. A version of the adult Peter Parker shows up, as a married father of a baby daughter named Mayday, who seems to fill the movie’s quota to have a cute kid character in the movie. A LEGO universe is briefly shown as nothing more than product placement for LEGO.
There are also international versions of Spider superheroes. Hobart “Hobie Brown,” also known as Spider-Punk (voiced by Daniel Kaluuya), is a snarling, sarcastic Brit who seems to be influenced by a 1980s-era Billy Idol. Spider-Punk is the only character who does not have a non-generic personality. Margo Kess, also known as Spider-Byte (voiced by Amandla Stenberg), is an American, openly queer computer expert, whose presence in the movie barely makes a difference to the story. Ben Reilly, also known as Scarlet Spider (voiced by Andy Samberg), is a clone designed to look like Peter Parker. Spider-Man India (voiced by Karan Soni) doesn’t even get his own birth name in the movie, which gives him a brief, goofy appearance that reeks of tokenism.
Some of the movie’s animation is deliberately made to look like unfinished sketches from a comic book. There might be some people who like this visual style, but most viewers of superhero movies want to see consistency in the animation style of movies in the same series. “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” have almost entirely different teams of screenwriters and directors—and these difference show to the movie’s detriment. Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey and Rodney Rothman directed “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” which was written by Rothman and Phil Lord. “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” was written by Lord, Christopher Miller and Dave Callaham.
There are huge parts of the “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” that look like an experimental art project gone wrong. The animation sometimes look jagged, unpolished and blurry. As for the movie’s unfocused plot, it looks like it was made only for the type of people who know Spider-Man inside jokes or who religiously look for Easter Eggs in “Spider-Man” visual content. A typical family with children under the age of 10 who see this movie will probably feel alienated by how so much of the film is cluttered and unclear. And it begs the question: “Why mess up such a good thing?”
Not all of the visuals in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” consists of animation. There are a few Spiderverse scenes where people appear as cameos in live-action visuals. Donald Glover has one of these cameos. (In real life, Glover famously campaigned to get the role of Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the early 2010s. Andrew Garfield ended up getting the role.) Another cameo is from sassy convenience store owner Mrs. Chen (played by Peggy Lu), who is a minor character in the “Venom” movies, which are connected to the “Spider-Man” franchise. People who haven’t seen the “Venom” movies just won’t know or care about this Mrs. Chen cameo. These cameos are nothing more than stunt casting and add nothing to the plot.
It seems like “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” is trying to be an artsy superhero animated film. The problem is that the “Spider-Man” movie brand was made for a wide variety of people, not just comic-book enthusiasts who are obsessive about Spider-Man “canon,” which in comic-book terms means the story as it was originally presented in the comic books. The movie has an annoying tendency to assume all viewers are going to be Spider-Man experts.
And speaking of “canon,” expect to hear a lot of about “canon disruption” in “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Pity any viewer of this steaming pile of pretentiousness who doesn’t have encylopedic knowledge of what is and what is not “canon” in the Spider-Verse. Because yes, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” is a very pretentious animated film that is sure to baffle and disappoint many people who think they’re going to see a continuation of what made “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” so special.
Anyone who’s letting children under the age of 10 watch the very messy “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” should be warned that these children will most likely be bored and/or confused, unless all they care about is seeing bright, splashy visuals on screen. The voice cast members for “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” do what they’re supposed to do. But the plot is so jumbled and smug with its fan-servce pandering, by the time the end of “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” announces that the story continues in “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse” (due out in 2024), many viewers will be thinking to themselves: “No, thank you.”
Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures Animation will release “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” in U.S. cinemas on June 2, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the horror film “The Boogeyman” (based on a short story by Stephen King) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: A 16-year-old girl and her 10-year-old sister experience an evil creature in their home after their mother dies, but their therapist father doesn’t believe his daughters.
Culture Audience: “The Boogeyman” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Stephen King and unimaginative horror movies filled with a lot of clichés.
Dull, dimwitted, and very derivative, “The Boogeyman” offers minimal scares and has too many scenes of people talking about certain horrors and not enough scenes actually showing those horrors. The movie’s last scene is very weak and underwhelming. The majority of “The Boogeyman” is literally a back-and-forth slog of two underage sisters (separately or together) looking frightened in dark rooms and then trying to convince their skeptical father that they’re being haunted. And when the evil creature they see finally does appears in full view, it’s just more of the same type of horror showdown that’s been in countless other horror movies.
Directed by Rob Savage, “The Boogeyman” is based on Stephen King’s short story that was first published in the March 1973 issue of Cavalier magazine, and then republished in King’s 1978 short-story collection “Night Shift.” King’s “The Boogeyman” (which had only three characters) had a much better ending than the formulaic dreck that’s in “The Boogeyman” movie, whose screenplay was written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman. “The Boogeyman” movie adds several characters to give the story enough for a feature-length film. But the additions do not bring any creativity to the story. Everything is a rehash of many other horror movies about an evil creature or spirit that’s haunting a household.
In “The Boogeyman” short story, the only characters were a psychotherapist named Will Harper, his client Lester Billings and The Boogeyman. The story took place in one setting: Will’s office, during a therapy session between Will and Lester. Will has a wife and kids who are mentioned in the short story, but these other Harper family characters do not appear in the story.
In “The Boogeyman” movie (which was filmed on location in New Orleans), Will Harper (played by Chris Messina) is a supporting character, while his two daughters are more of the focus. The main protagonist is 16-year-old Sadie Harper (played by Sophie Thatcher), a moody introvert. The main location in the movie is the Harper house, where Will has his therapist office. Sadie and her inquisitive 10-year-old sister Sawyer Harper (played by Vivien Lyra Blair) live there, but Will is a widower in the movie. It’s mentioned that Will’s wife (the mother of Sadie and Sawyer) died fairly recently in car accident.
Viewers know the death is recent because early on in the movie, Sadie is shown at her high school (in one of several scenes that take place at the school), and many of the students react to her like someone who’s just come back from a brief hiatus. On her first day back at school since her mother’s death, Sadie is wearing one of her mother’s dresses. And (cliché alert) a group of “mean girls” bully Sadie about it near her locker.
The leader of the mean girls is a snooty blonde named Natalie (played by Maddie Nichols), who says the most to make Sadie feel bad about Sadie’s choice in clothing. When Sadie tells Natalie, “You’re being a bitch,” it leads to a tussle, where Sadie gets shoved hard against her locker. The only student at school whom Sadie considers to be a close friend is Bethany (played by Madison Hu), who sticks up for Sadie whenever she can.
Back at home, the Harper family members are dealing with their grief in different ways. Will has become more caught up in his work and more emotionally distant from his daughters. Ironically, even though Will is a therapist who’s trained to help people with things such as grief, he’s avoiding helping his own daughters process their own grief. Instead, Will has hired a therapist named Dr. Weller (played by LisaGay Hamilton) to counsel Sadie and Sawyer.
Sadie would rather talk to Will about how to cope with her mother’s death, but Will tells Sadie to talk to Dr. Weller about it instead. This rejection causes Sadie to feel more alienated and depressed. Sawyer clings to Sadie for emotional support, but Sadie is barely hanging on to feeling like she’s capable of functioning in the way she used to before their mother died. And things are about to get worse when Sadie and Sawyer find out that their house is haunted.
One evening, when Will has seen his last client of the day, a mysterious stranger shows up unannounced at the house. His name is Lester Billings (played by David Dastmalchian), and he asks Will if he could have a therapy session. Will tells Lester that he doesn’t give therapy to a new client without a phone consultation first. However, Lester pleads for Will’s help. Lester looks so sad and desperate that Will agrees to make an exception for Lester.
During the therapy session, Will asks Lester to tell more about himself. Lester says that people think that Lester killed his wife and kids, one at a time, even though Lester says he’s not guilty. Lester says his first child was a baby girl who died of sudden infant death syndrome. Lester and his wife had two other kids.
And then, the conversation gets weirder. Lester says that he glimpsed “it” before one of his children died of a broken neck. Lester shows Will a drawing that Lester made of the creature that Lester says he saw. Lester says to Will: “It cares for your kids when you’re not paying attention.” By this point, Will has gotten freaked out by this conversation, so he excuses himself, goes in another room, and calls the police to report that a potentially dangerous man is in his home.
Meanwhile, Sadie has come home, and Will tells her to go to her room because there’s a stranger in the house that Will needs to have removed. Will goes back in his office, but Lester isn’t there. A frantic Will searches for Lester in the house. Sadie hears noises that sound like two people are fighting in her bedroom. When she looks in her bedroom closet, she sees Will dead, from an apparent suicide by hanging.
None of this is really spoiler information, because the main things that keep happening in “The Boogeyman” movie are typical “shadows and bumps in the night” scenarios, where Sadie and Sawyer are in dark or barely lit rooms (apparently, the Harper family doesn’t know the meaning of having good overhead lighting), where they hear or see something strange, but when they investigate further, it appears to be nothing but their imagination. When Sawyer and Sadie tell Will, he doesn’t believe them.
Sawyer has a glowing orb that’s the size of a bowling ball, which she uses as lighting in a dark room, instead of doing what most kids would do if they’re frightened in a dark room: Turn on a room light. But no, Sadie doesn’t do that. Instead, she rolls this glowing orb on the floor, like she’s a paranormal bowler, but with no bowling pins.
And predictably, wherever the orb stops on the floor, you know it’s going to be right where something “scary” is. Seriously, this glowing orb is not even remotely believable as a toy that most 10-year-old girls would want to have, let alone use as a way to see in a dark room. It’s one of the many phony-looking things about “The Boogeyman,” which lumbers along at a glacial pace and fills up a lot of time showing scenes of mopey Sadie being a social outsider at her school.
As already revealed in the movie’s trailer, when Dr. Lester does some strobe-light therapy on Sadie and Sawyer, the girls both see The Boogeyman, but Dr. Lester doesn’t see this creature. The strobe-light therapy looks like a very questionable thing for a therapist to do to emotionally fragile children. There are long stretches of the movie where Will is not seen at all in the Harper household, even though he works from home. Will’s absence is never explained. It’s just more of this movie’s phoniness on display.
There’s a subplot in “The Boogeyman” about Sadie being an amateur sleuth to find out more about Lester, which leads to some not-scary-at-all flashbacks/visions involving Lester’s wife Rita Billings (played by Marin Ireland). A better movie would have had the creepy character of Lester in a lot more scenes, instead of killing him off so early in the movie. The performances in “The Boogeyman” aren’t terrible, but they aren’t anything special, and they certainly don’t do much to elevate this very drab and slow-paced movie.
“The Boogeyman” was originally going to be released directly to Hulu (and other Disney-owned streaming services outside the U.S.), but those plans were changed after horror movies such as 2022’s “Smile” (from Paramount Pictures) and “Barbarian” (from 20th Century Studios) became hits in movie theaters, after these horror flicks were originally planned to be released as direct-to-streaming movies. (20th Century Studios, the theatrical distributor of “The Boogeyman,” is owned by Disney.) “The Boogeyman” might satisfy viewers who want the most basic, run-of-the-mill horror movie that’s mild on scares. But considering how the movie’s ending is such an inferior (and overly formulaic) departure from the original short story, “The Boogeyman” will just leave a lot of viewers feeling disappointed instead of satisfyingly terrified.
20th Century Pictures will release “The Boogeyman” in U.S. cinemas on June 2, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas, Mexico, Eastern Europe, and the United Kingdom, the action film “One Ranger” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos and Native Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.
Culture Clash: A Texas ranger is enlisted by a British intelligence agent to help capture a Northern Irish terrorist.
Culture Audience: “One Ranger” will primarily appeal to people who don’t mind watching low-quality “law and order” chase movies.
“One Ranger” star Thomas Jane is one of those actors who has done so many bad movies over the last several years, people who watch a lot of movies already know that any film he stars in will be a terrible flop. “One Ranger” is just a ridiculous series of chase scenes where viewers are supposed to believe that MI6 can’t catch an international terrorist without the help of one Texas Ranger. John Malkovich’s oddly placed role in the movie is really a glorified cameo.
Written and directed by Jesse V. Johnson, “One Ranger” not only has subpar acting and poorly staged action scenes, it also has a barrage of cringeworthy dialogue. The movie foreshadows how horrible it’s going to be with a captioned statement in the introduction that says: “In 1896, Texas Ranger Captain William ‘Bill’ McDonald arrived in Dallas to quell the riot expected to an accompany an illegal heavyweight fight. Seeing MacDonald alone, the mayor asked where the other lawmen were, McDonald replied, ‘Hell, ain’t I enough?’ One riot, one ranger.”
This hokey statement is supposed to be the excuse for why the entire movie is about how only one Texas Ranger is needed to take down an elusive international terrorist. The Texas Ranger in this case is Alex Tyree (played by Jane), a rough-and-tumble character who is nothing but a hollow stereotype, as are almost all the characters in this creatively bankrupt film. “One Ranger” viewers will learn nothing about who Alex really is as a person. He might as well be a robot.
Alex is first seen in a shootout involving the arrest of Tom Worth (played by Gregory Zaragoza), because Tom has violated his parole. Tom is being accused of assault, brandishing a firearm in a public place, and stealing a horse, a rifle and whiskey from Tom’s employer. Alex snarls at Tom: “Try to run, I’ll kill you … You’re just more trash in Terlingua County, like me.”
Alex and Tom are in a desert area. Out of nowhere, a gunman shows up and tries to hold Tom hostage, but the the gunman runs away when he sees that Alex is a skilled shooter. Later, Alex is seen getting into a confrontation with a generic FBI Agent with the last name Derby (played by Spencer Collins), who gets punched in the face by Alex. We get it. Alex likes to intimidate criminals and federal agents.
One day, Alex gets a visit from someone who describes herself as an agent from “British intelligence.” She won’t say the word “MI6,” but everything in the movie indicates that she’s from MI6. Her name is Jennifer Smith (played by Dominique Tipper), who informs Alex that she needs his help in catching an international terrorist who has shown an extraordinary ability to evade capture. Why was Alex chosen? Jennifer says Alex has a reputation for being the best Texas Ranger to catch fugitives.
The terrorist is Declan McBride (played by Dean Jagger), whom Jennifer describes as an “ex-provisional IRA wanted for a string of terrorist activities on and off the British mainland.” She also describes Declan and “vicious” and “resourceful.” Jennifer says that to get money, Declan charges a “small fee” to rob banks. He then passes on the proceeds from his robberies “to the worst criminal causes imaginable.”
Jennifer has gotten a tip that Declan is planning a big job in Great Britain, and he might or might not be hiding in a part of Mexico that’s close to the Texas border. The rest of “One Ranger” alternates between showing Declan and showing Alex (with Jennifer sometimes accompanying him) in this fugitive pursuit. There are several uninteresting, time-wasting scenes in the tedious buildup to the predictable final showdown.
Alex goes to London at one point to meet Jennifer’s boss: a prickly cynic named Geddes (played by Malkovich), who talks in a weird cadence and sounds like he’s slurring his words. Don’t be fooled by Malkovich sharing headline billing with Jane for this movie. Malkovich’s screen time in the 95-minute “One Ranger” is less than 10 minutes.
The movie has a few boring scenes of Declan meeting with a terrorist crony named Yuri the Cossack (played by Nick Moran, doing a terrible Eastern European accent), a character that doesn’t add anything substantial to the story. Declan is shown having relationship problems with his disheveled and angry lover Angel (played by Rachel Wilde), who has one glass eye and who gets drunk a lot. Declan also has a muscular protector named Oleg Jakovenko (played by Jess Liaudin), who has a stereotypical brutish role.
Tipper makes some effort to bring some spark to her performance as Jennifer, but Jane is just going through the expected motions for his robotic Alex character. Jagger (who is American in real life) does a very questionable Northern Irish accent as Declan. Everyone else in the cast is easily forgettable because their characters are so banal. “One Ranger” is the kind of “one and done” movie that only needs to be watched once, and it will be probably be followed by the feeling that the time could have been spent watching a much better film.
Lionsgate released “One Ranger” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on May 5, 2023. The movie will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 13, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Denver, the dramatic film “Sanctuary” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A dominatrix’s client tries to end his relationship with her, but she has other plans.
Culture Audience: “Sanctuary” will primarily appeal to people who are interested in watching well-acted dramas where the main characters play a lot of mind games.
Role playing and power struggles are at the center of “Sanctuary,” a talkative psychological drama about a dominatrix and her client. The dialogue can get repetitive, but the cast members’ lively performances make the conversations more compelling. The movie (which has some dark comedic elements) does a fairly interesting presentation of the age-old question about sex workers and their clients: What should be done when the relationship might become more than transactional? “Sanctuary” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by and written by Micah Bloomberg, “Sanctuary” could easily have been a stage play. That’s because almost everything in the movie (except for flashback scenes) takes place in a hotel suite, with a very long conversation as the basis of the story. The conversation takes place between a dominatrix named Rebecca (played by Margaret Qualley) and her client named Hal Porterfield (played by Christopher Abbott), during and after one of their sessions.
“Sanctuary” (which takes place in Denver but was actually filmed in New York state) doesn’t reveal until after the first 15 minutes that Rebecca and Hal are in a dominatrix/client relationship. The opening scene shows Rebecca arriving at the Hal’s hotel suite. He’s the scion of Porterfield Hotels and Resorts.
Rebecca, who says she’s from the Lichter-Haynes law firm, is there to “interview” Hal for a liability affidavit that is included in a background check. It’s part of an evaluation process that Hal has to go through to determine if he’s acceptable to the company’s board of directors, who have to decide whether or not Hal will get the company’s CEO position. Hal seems a little nervous but confidently ready for the questions he’ll be getting.
At first, Rebecca (who has the mannerisms and outward appearance of efficient young legal executive) asks questions that seem typical for a personal background check. She asks Hal to confirm his date of birth. He says it’s April 7, 1987. But when she asks him his height and weight (which aren’t really appropriate questions), Hal lies and tells Rebecca that he’s 6’2″ and 200 pounds, which is taller and heavier than he really is. Rebecca mildly scolds him for telling her this lie.
Rebecca then asks Hal what his history is in taking legal and illegal drugs. He tells her he takes prescribed medication and that he’s taken recreational illegal drugs “thousands of times” in his life. Hal also says he’s been in treatment for alcohol addiction. Rebecca comments on the fact that Hal is drinking alcohol during the interview.
And then, the questions get inappropriate. Rebecca asks Hal if he has any sexually transmitted diseases. Hal tells Rebecca that he doubts that question is part of the affidavit. She insists that it is. Rebecca then asks Hal when he lost his virginity. He tells her he was 13, but she correctly guesses that he was actually 25. Rebecca grows increasingly hostile with Hal and starts berating and insulting him.
Rebecca then writes on her legal pad, “Hal Porterfield fucks like Caligula.” She then orders him to get on his knees and clean the bathroom in the suite. It’s soon revealed that Rebecca isn’t really a law firm employee who’s there to take an affidavit. She’s a dominatrix who’s been hired by Hal to do say these things to him to get him sexually aroused so that he can masturbate in front of her.
Hal (who really is a hotel heir) wrote the entire script for this encounter too. Rebecca is a dominatrix whose rule is that the clients don’t touch her, and she doesn’t touch the clients. Hal has been her client for an untold period of time, but the movie implies that it’s been at least several months. In other words, they’ve done this type of role playing many times before. Hal also isn’t a job candidate for CEO of Porterfield Hotels and Resorts. He already has the job and has recently been appointed to the position.
All of this information is revealed early on in the movie. And this revelation is the point where viewers will ether be intrigued or will not be interested in seeing the rest of the film. The rest of “Sanctuary” is a back-and-forth conversation where Hal tries to get Rebecca to leave because he wants to end their relationship, but Rebecca wants the upper hand and tries to prolong the stay as long as possible.
Why does Hal want to end the relationship? It’s not because he’s bored with Rebecca. In fact, after the session, Hal genuinely compliments her on giving another great performance. Rebecca takes off her straight blonde wig to reveal her natural brunette curly hair, which is an indication that she’s not “working” at that moment and is being “herself.”
Hal invites Rebecca to stay a little while and have a meal with him, even though he’s intending to end their relationship. There’s something about Rebecca that’s making Hal very uneasy, so he wants to stop seeing her. Viewers with enough life experience will figure out exactly what’s going on, long before the movie ends.
“Sanctuary” is meant to be an often-uncomfortable watch as these two people, who are both control freaks in their own ways, try to one-up each other in their power dynamics. Gender roles (traditional and non-traditional) have an effect on these dynamics. It should come as no surprise that Hal has “daddy issues” and is living in the shadow of his deceased mogul father Phillip “Phil” Porterfield. (Dominic Defilips portrays Phil as an elderly man, while Rene Calvo portrays Phil as a young man.) Rebecca is less forthcoming about her own personal issues, but eventually the cracks begin to show in her emotional shields.
Because “Sanctuary” is essentially about two people talking in a hotel suite, the movie lives or dies by the performances of Abbott and Qualley. Abbott gives the more credible performance, since Qualley has a tendency to over-act in some scenes. They both handle their dialogue like two people locked in a fencing match—and neither one wants to back down or admit defeat. It’s a battle of egos, wits and complicated feelings that might leave viewers feeling exhausted but unlikely to be bored.
Neon released “Sanctuary” in select U.S. cinemas on May 19, 2023.
Some language in Persian, Arabic and Urdu with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in the mid-2010s in Iran, Dubai, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom, the action film “Kandahar” features a white and Middle Eastern cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A Scottish military-trained operative, on loan from MI6, works undercover with the CIA to stop terrorism in the Middle East, but his cover is blown, and he and an interpreter must find their way to safety at an extraction point in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Culture Audience: “Kandahar” will primarily appeal to people who are fans of star Gerard Butler and formulaic and forgettable action movies about fighting terrorists in the Middle East.
“Kandahar” gets awfully convoluted and takes too long to get to the main mission in the story. The film editing is sloppy, while the action scenes are unremarkable. The movie’s worst idea is the secret CIA surveillance room that gets unrealistic footage. It’s yet another violent action flick about stopping terrorists in the Middle East, with a predictable protagonist who’s “rough around the edges” heroic. The problem is that “Kandahar” gets so distracted with subplots, the movie just ends up being a formulaic mush of chase scenes, explosions and fights in Middle Eastern locations.
Directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Mitchell LaFortune, “Kandahar” seems very impressed with itself in showing all the international locations where the story is supposed to take place, but there’s very little character development in all of this nation-hopping. The movie, which takes place in the mid-2010s, jumps back and forth to scenes that are supposed to take place in Iran, Dubai, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the United States, and the United Kingdom. “Kandahar” was actually filmed in Saudi Arabia.
The first 30 minutes of the two-hour “Kandahar” is like watching a racing car spin its wheels and not getting anywhere. A lot of viewers who watch “Kandahar” without knowing anything about it in advance will be wondering during these first 30 minutes exactly what this movie is going to be about. The movie’s first 30 minutes are a very long setup to show that Tom Harris (played by Gerard Butler), a gruff and tough undercover operative originally from Scotland, is on loan from MI6 to the CIA. He’s embedded as part of a CIA mission to destroy Iran’s nuclear program before Iran has a chance to build a catastrophic bomb.
The opening scene shows Tom and a CIA operative named Oliver Altman (played by Tom Rhys Harries) getting detained by Iranian soldiers in a desert in Qom, Iran. Tom and Oliver are posing as service employees for a company named SIBLIXT Communications, and they have a SIBLIXT Communications van as part of their cover. When Oliver and Tom are questioned by the suspicious soldiers, Tom (who is seen as the bigger threat) and Oliver insist that they were hired by the Iranian government to work on telephone lines so that the city of Qom can have better Internet connectivity.
It all looks so phony, because this setting is in a remote desert area, with no telephone lines in sight. Tom and Oliver being obvious Westerners are also big indications that they’re not who they say they are. They might as well be wearing T-shirts that say “Undercover Operatives From a Western Nation.” Tom shows the interior of the van to the soldiers, in order to prove that Tom and Oliver have no weapons. Tom also shows them some video footage on his cell phone to “prove” that there’s Internet service in the area.
Even though none of this proves that Tom and Oliver are who they say they, the soldiers let Tom and Oliver go anyway. Oliver and Tom drive away with some relief and pride that the soldiers believed their story. The only purpose of this scene is to show viewers that Tom has the skills to talk his way out of tricky situations with dimwitted soldiers.
Meanwhile, a British journalist named Luna Cujai (played by Nina Toussaint-White) is seen getting some photos emailed to her from a U.S. Pentagon contact named James. These photos are irrefutable evidence that the CIA is involved in covert operations that are usually not sanctioned by the government (also known as black ops), and this activity is happening in Iran and other parts of the Middle East. Luna has a phone conversation with a supervisor to tell this boss that she has uncovered some bombshell information.
“It’s a bigger scandal than [Edward] Snowden and WikiLeaks combined,” Luna excitedly tells her supervisor. She then sends the incriminating evidence to her boss, who is never seen on camera. And when a journalist in a movie about fighting terrorism uncovers something that could be an international scandal, it’s easy to predict that the journalist is going to be in some peril at some point in the movie. As already shown in the trailer for “Kandahar,” Luna gets kidnapped.
Tom’s main CIA contact in the Middle East is another undercover operative named Roman Chalmers (played by Travis Fimmel), an American who is mostly seen having secretive phone conversations while dressed in traditional Middle Eastern garb. Roman’s big action scenes don’t come until much later in the movie. What looks very fake about many of Roman’s phone conversation scenes is that he discusses classified information while walking around in public, as if no one else can eavesdrop on these public conversations.
And it wouldn’t be a typical Gerard Butler action movie without part of the plot being about his “hero” character having a race against time to get home safely to a family member. In the case of Tom, he has promised his soon-to-be ex-wife Corrine Harris (played by Rebecca Calder) that he will be back in the United Kingdom in time go to the high-school graduation ceremony of their daughter Ida Harris (played by Olivia-Mai Barrett), who wants to become a doctor.
During a phone conversation between Tom and Corrine, she says that she wants Tom to sign their divorce papers. Corrine tells him that she has a new man in her life but doesn’t go into further details. Corrine suggests that, for Ida’s sake, Tom should find a safer line of work, such as teaching. Tom replies, “I’m not really interested in sitting behind a desk all day.”
Meanwhile, Roman has hired an Iranian interpreter named Mohammad “Mo” Doud (played by Navid Negahban) to work with Tom for their undercover mission. Mo needs the money, but he has another motivation to do this potentially dangerous job. Mo eventually tells Tom that Mo blames the Taliban for the death of his son Amin, who was Mo’s only child. In a movie like “Kandahar,” the odds are very high that Mo will come face-to-face with the man who murdered Amin.
Mo is also looking for the missing sister of his wife Adila Doud (played by Reem AlHabib), who is a typical “worried wife at home” character that’s very common in macho movies like “Kandahar,” where only men are seen in combat. Mo’s search for his missing sister-in-law is yet another subplot that gets thrown into the movie, only to be mishandled and lost in the overall muddled story. Expect to hear Tom give multiple apologies to Mo for various screw-ups and deliberate miscommunications that are in the movie just to create more drama.
“Kandahar” has generic depictions of the CIA and Tom’s opponents. A meeting between the Taliban Shura leadership with Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (I.S.I.) at I.S.I. headquarters in Islamabad, Pakistan, is plunked into the movie like a soulless and drab corporate meeting, with characters who are mostly nameless. The movie makes little effort to have memorable antagonists to the “heroes.”
There’s a cold-blooded Iranian government operative leader named Bashar Hamadani (played by Vassilis Koukalani), a Taliban ally, who orders the kidnapping of Luna, when he finds out that she has valuable information about CIA operations in Iran and elsewhere. Farzad Asadi (played by Bahador Foladi), who is Bashar’s loyal subordinate, is the main person who interrogates Luna when she’s in captivity. A ruthless assassin named Kahil (played by Ali Fazal) is supposed to be a rising star in the Taliban, but he comes and goes in the movie with all the personality of a cardboard cutout.
And the CIA officers giving orders and making leadership decisions are equally lacking in distinctive personalities. Mark Lowe (played by Mark Arnold) and Chris Hoyt (played by Corey Johnson) are the bland CIA officials who are given the most screen time. Mark and Chris do a lot of monitoring in a secret CIA room with giant video screens. This secret room has inexplicably perfect aerial views of whatever fight scenes or chases are going with the CIA operatives on the ground, even though there are no drones in the sky during these scenes to explain how the CIA is getting this video footage.
The secret CIA room can also pick up audio with pristine sound levels when people are giving chase or are being chased in the same scene. In other words, the CIA can listen in on what’s being said during these chase scenes. Who knew that the CIA could somehow plant invisible microphones on the Taliban in the middle of a chase scene that’s usually in a remote desert? And it’s all filmed for the CIA from the air and sometimes in the vehicles that are involved in the chase.
Because yes, “Kandahar” wants viewers to believe that the CIA has all this magical surveillance equipment to monitor CIA operatives and opponents, but the CIA can’t figure out how to get Tom and Mo to safety when Tom’s cover is blown because the information that journalist Luna uncovered is leaked to the Taliban. Tom and Mo’s only hope for safety is to reach an extraction point in Kandahar, Afghanistan, but there comes a point in the movie when Tom and Mo are left to figure out how to get there on their own. Somehow, the CIA’s magical surveillance room isn’t going to work to find Tom and Mo, because there would be no “Kandahar” movie if Tom and Mo weren’t left stranded in the desert with Taliban soldiers chasing after them, which is the movie’s main dramatic hook.
The acting performances in “Kandahar” aren’t terrible, but they’re not great either. That’s because almost everyone in the movie is written like a video game character. Negahban’s performance as Mo is the exception, since there’s real depth to his portrayal of the Mo character, who has more at stake in trying to stay alive than making it on time to a child’s graduation ceremony. Hollywood movies almost never have characters like Mo as the central protagonists. The type of suffering that Mo lives with is just too real for make-believe films that want to perpetuate myths about a certain stereotypical character who is almost always the main hero of the story.
Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment released “Kandahar” on U.S. cinemas on May 26, 2023.