Movie and TV Reviews

Sneak Preview Spotlight

Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Photo by Kimberley French/Columbia Pictures)
 

Reviews for New Movies Releasing September 3 – October 29, 2021

The Addams Family 2 (Image courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)
Ascension (Photo by Jessica Kingdon/MTV Documentary Films)
Blue Bayou (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
The Card Counter (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
Copshop (Photo courtesy of Open Road Films)
Dating & New York (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
Dear Evan Hansen (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)
Falling for Figaro (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
Halloween Kills (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
I’m Your Man (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)
It Takes Three (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)
Karen (Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution)
Lamb (Photo courtesy of A24 Films)
The Last Duel (Photo by Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios)
Los Últimos Frikis (Photo courtesy of Topic)
Malignant (Photo by Ron Batzdorff/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Mass (Photo by Ryan Jackson-Healy/Bleecker Street)
No Time to Die (Photo by Nicola Dove/Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)
The Nowhere Inn (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)
Queenpins (Photo courtesy of STX)
Saving Paradise (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)
Small Engine Repair (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Tango Shalom (Photo courtesy of Vision Films)
Time Is Up (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Titane (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)
Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free: The Making of Wildflowers (Photo courtesy of Tom Petty Legacy, LLC/Warner Music Group)
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
We Need to Do Something (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)
Wild Indian (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Witch Hunt (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)
Yakuza Princess (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

 

Complete List of Reviews

1BR — horror

2/1 — drama

2 Graves in the Desert — drama

2 Hearts — drama

2 Minutes of Fame — comedy

5 Years Apart — comedy

7 Days (2021) — comedy

8 Billion Angels — documentary

The 8th Night — horror

9to5: The Story of a Movement — documentary

12 Hour Shift — horror

12 Mighty Orphans — drama

17 Blocks — documentary

37 Seconds — drama

76 Days — documentary

The 420 Movie (2020) — comedy

499 — docudrama

2040 — documentary

7500 — drama

Aamis — drama

Abe — drama

About Endlessness — comedy/drama

Above Suspicion (2021) — drama

The Addams Family 2 — animation

Adverse — drama

Advocate — documentary

The Affair (2021) (formerly titled The Glass Room) — drama

After Class (formerly titled Safe Spaces) — comedy/drama

After Parkland — documentary

After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News — documentary

Ailey — documentary

AKA Jane Roe — documentary

Algorithm: Bliss — sci-fi/horror

All Day and a Night — drama

All I Can Say — documentary

All In: The Fight for Democracy — documentary

All Light, Everywhere — documentary

All My Life — drama

All My Puny Sorrows — drama

All Roads to Pearla (formerly titled Sleeping in Plastic) — drama

All the Bright Places — drama

Almost Love (also titled Sell By) — comedy/drama

Alone (2020) (starring Jules Willcox) — horror

Alone (2020) (starring Tyler Posey) — horror

Amazing Grace (2018) — documentary

American Fighter — drama

An American Pickle — comedy

American Street Kid — documentary

American Woman (2020) — drama

Ammonite — drama

Amulet — horror

And Then We Danced — drama

Annette — musical

Another Round — drama

Antebellum — horror

Anthony — drama

Apocalypse ’45 — documentary

The Apollo — documentary

The Arbors — sci-fi/horror

The Argument — comedy

Army of the Dead (2021) — horror

Artemis Fowl — fantasy

The Artist’s Wife — drama

Ascension (2021) — documentary

Ask for Jane — drama

Ask No Questions — documentary

As of Yet — comedy/drama

The Assistant — drama

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal — documentary

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 Conscious — horror

Blood on Her Name — drama

Bloodshot (2020) — sci-fi/action

Bloody Hell — horror

Blow the Man Down — drama

Blue Bayou (2021) — drama

Blue Story — drama

Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island — horror

Body Cam — horror

The Body Fights Back — documentary

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

Buckley’s Chance — 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

Candyman (2021) — horror

Cane River — drama

Capone — drama

The Card Counter — drama

Carmilla — drama

Castle in the Ground — drama

Catch the Fair One — drama

Censor (2021) — horror

Centigrade — drama

Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring World — documentary

Changing the Game (2021) — documentary

Chasing the Present — documentary

Chasing Wonders — drama

Chehre — drama

Chick Fight — comedy

Children of the Sea — animation

Chinese Doctors — drama

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

Copshop (2021) — action

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

Cryptozoo — animation

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

Dating & New York — 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 Evan Hansen — musical

Dear Santa — documentary

Death in Texas — drama

Decade of Fire — documentary

The Deeper You Dig — horror

Deerskin — comedy

The Delicacy — documentary

Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil — documentary

Demonic (2021) — horror

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

Die in a Gunfight — action

Disappearance at Clifton Hill — drama

The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu — comedy/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 Breathe 2 — 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

Earwig — horror

Easy Does It — comedy

The East (2021) — drama

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

Enemies of the State (2021) — documentary

Enforcement (formerly titled Shorta) — drama

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

Enola Holmes — drama

Entwined (2020) — horror

Epicentro — documentary

Escape From Mogadishu — drama

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

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021) — drama

F9 — action

Falling (2021) — drama

Falling for Figaro — comedy/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 Kendrick Johnson — documentary

Finding You (2021) — drama

First Cow — drama

First Date (2021) — comedy

Flag Day — drama

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

Free Guy — action

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

Ghostbusters: Afterlife — comedy/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

The Green Knight — horror/fantasy

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 Kills — horror

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 After (2021) (formerly titled Faraway Eyes) — drama

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 Man (2021) — sci-fi/comedy/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

It Takes Three (2021) — comedy

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

Joe Bell (formerly titled Good Joe Bell) — drama

John and the Hole — drama

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

Jungle Cruise — action

Jungleland (2020) — drama

Kajillionaire — comedy/drama

Karen (2021) — 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

Lakewood — drama

La Llorona — horror

Lamb (2021) — horror

Land (2021) — drama

Lansky (2021) — drama

The Last Duel (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

Lorelei (2021) — 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/drama

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over — documentary

Ma Belle, My Beauty — drama

Mai Khoi & the Dissidents — documentary

The Main Event (2020) — action

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound— documentary

Malignant (2021) — horror

Mallory (2021) — documentary

Mama Weed — comedy/drama

Mandibles — comedy

Mank — drama

The Man Who Sold His Skin — drama

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom — drama

Marathon (2021) — comedy

Mark, Mary & Some Other People — comedy

The Marksman (2021) — action

Martha: A Picture Story — documentary

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words — documentary

Masquerade (2021) — horror

Mass (2021) — drama

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back — documentary

The Mauritanian — drama

Meat Me Halfway — documentary

Midnight in the Switchgrass — 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

Montana Story — drama

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

Naked Singularity — drama

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind — documentary

The Nest (2020) — drama

Never Gonna Snow Again — 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

The Night House — horror

Night of the Kings — drama

Nina Wu — drama

Nine Days — 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

No Time to Die (2021) — action

Notturno — documentary

The Novice (2021) — drama

The Nowhere Inn — comedy/drama

Old — horror

The Old Guard — action

Olympia — documentary

Olympic Dreams — comedy/drama

On Broadway (2021) — documentary

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

PAW Patrol: The Movie — animation

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

Playing God (2021) — comedy

Plucked — documentary

Plus One (2019) — comedy

The Pollinators — documentary

Pornstar Pandemic: The Guys — documentary

Port Authority (2021) — drama

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

The Protégé (2021) — action

Proxima — sci-fi/drama

P.S. Burn This Letter Please — documentary

Public Enemy Number One — documentary

PVT CHAT — drama

Queenpins — comedy

The Quiet One — documentary

A Quiet Place Part II — sci-fi/horror

Quo Vadis, Aida? — drama

The Racer — drama

Radioactive — drama

Raging Fire — action

A Rainy Day in New York — comedy

Raising Buchanan — comedy

Rare Beasts — 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

Reminiscence (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Rental (2020) — horror

Rent-A-Pal — horror

The Rescue List — documentary

Resistance (2020) — drama

Respect (2021) — 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

Ride the Eagle — comedy/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

Rushed — drama

Ruth: Justice Ginsburg in Her Own Words — documentary

Safer at Home — drama

Saint Frances — comedy/drama

Saint Maud — horror

Saloum — horror

Save Yourselves! — sci-fi/horror/comedy

Saving Paradise — drama

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

Settlers (2021) — sci-fi/drama

The Seventh Day (2021) — horror

Shadows of Freedom — documentary

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — action

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

Small Engine Repair (2021) — comedy/drama

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

Space Jam: A New Legacy — live-action/amination

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) — documentary

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

The Suicide Squad — action

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

Swan Song (2021) — comedy/drama

Sweet Thing (2021) — drama

The Swerve — drama

The Swing of Things — comedy

Sylvie’s Love — drama

Synchronic — sci-fi/horror

Take Back — action

Tango Shalom — comedy/drama

Tape (2020) — drama

Tar — horror

A Taste of Sky — documentary

Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman  — horror

Ten Minutes to Midnight  — horror

Terrorizers  — drama

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

Time Is Up (2021) — drama

The Times of Bill Cunningham — documentary

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made  — comedy

Titane — horror

The Tobacconist — drama

Together (2021) — comedy/drama

Together Together — comedy/drama

To Kid or Not to Kid — documentary

To Kill the Beast — drama

Tom and Jerry — live-action/animation

Tommaso — drama

Tom of Your Life — sci-fi/comedy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free: The Making of Wildflowers — documentary

Too Late (2021) — horror/comedy

Totally Under Control — documentary

Trafficked: A Parent’s Worst Nightmare — drama

The Tragedy of Macbeth — 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

Un Rescate de Huevitos — animation

The Unthinkable — drama

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

Uprooting Addiction — documentary

Ursula von Rydingsvard: Into Her Own — documentary

Val — documentary

Valley Girl (2020) — musical

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

Vanquish (2021) — action

The Vast of Night — sci-fi/drama

Venom: Let There Be Carnage — action

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

We Need to Do Something — horror

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 Indian — drama

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

Yakuza Princess — action

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

Review: ‘Yakuza Princess,’ starring Masumi, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Tsuyoshi Ihara

October 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Masumi in “Yakuza Princess” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Yakuza Princess”

Directed by Vicente Amorim

Japanese, Portuguese and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan and in Brazil, the action flick “Yakuza Princess” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A trinket shop worker, who was orphaned as a baby, finds out that she comes from a powerful Japanese crime family, and it’s her destiny to be a samurai-sword-wielding warrior.

Culture Audience: “Yakuza Princess” will appeal primarily to people who interested in violent action movies and don’t care if the plot is an idiotic mess.

Masumi and Jonathan Rhy Meyers in “Yakuza Princess” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

Japanese women rarely get to star in an action flick, so it’s a shame that “Yakuza Princess” is such mindless junk that isn’t even a worthy showcase for the female protagonist. The men in this incoherent movie actually get most of the screen time. The movie’s title character is more of a sidekick who’s in service of a story that cares more about what happens to a European stranger who ends up in Brazil and in Japan to look for a mysterious and rare sword. In other words, don’t be fooled into thinking that the “yakuza princess” is the only leading character in this horrible movie. It’s a “bait and switch” title where the female protagonist’s fate is largely decided by men.

Directed by Vicente Amorim, “Yakuza Princess,” is based on Danilo Beyruth’s graphic novel “Samurai Shiro,” which would have been a more accurate title for this movie because the film puts a lot of emphasis on a character named Shiro. Amorim co-wrote the “Yakuza Princess” screenplay with Fernando Toste, Kimi Lee and “Yakuza Princess” producer Tubaldini Shelling. Unfortunately, having four people write this movie’s screenplay just means that four people, instead of the usual one or two screenwriters, made a mess of the story.

In “Yakuza Princess,” so much screen time is given in the beginning to Shiro (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers), viewers will start to wonder at what point they’re going to see the “yakuza princess” part of the movie. There’s a lot of scenes of Shiro getting into fights and trying to find out who he is and his purpose in life before significant time is spent on the identity of the “yakuza princess.” The men of the yakuza (the term used for Japanese mafia) also spend a lot of time fighting with each other before viewers see any of the “yakuza princess,” her fighting skills and her identity journey.

Shiro actually doesn’t have a name for the majority of the film because he’s a European stranger who has amnesia for most of the story. He wakes up strapped to a hospital bed in São Paulo, Brazil, with no idea of who he is and why he’s there. Shiro doesn’t waste time in breaking out of the hospital in his first of many bloody action scenes. He then spends most of the story looking for a rare samurai sword, which has a connection to a Japanese woman in her early 20s named Akemi (played by Masumi), who lives in São Paulo and works as a trinket shop employee.

Akemi is really a “yakuza princess,” who finds out that her immediate family members (her parents and older brother) were killed in a mass murder when she was a baby in Japan. She was kidnapped, and ended up spending most of her life in São Paulo. This isn’t spoiler information because this massacre and kidnapping are shown at the very beginning of the film.

Akemi’s family wasn’t an ordinary family. She came from a family called the Takikawa clan, which had an influential hold on a crime syndicate in Japan. There was a power struggle in the syndicate that resulted in her father’s enemies plotting the massacre to get him and his heirs out of the way so the enemies could take over. These foes know that someone saved Akemi from being murdered along with her family. Whoever kidnapped her did so to put Akemi into hiding under a new identity in São Paulo, which has a large Japanese community.

But here’s why “Yakuza Princess” is so moronic: Akemi is supposed to be shocked when she finds out that she comes from a crime family. And yet, the first scene of her in the movie shows Akemi getting trained in samurai sword fighting skills from a middle-aged man named Chiba (played by Toshiji Takeshima), who has told her that her grandfather brought her to Chiba when Akemi was 6 years old.

And then, when Chiba is training Akemi, Chiba says, “You have the vocation to become a great warrior, but to fulfill it, you must leave your grief and anger.” Akemi replies, “I’m trying.” Chiba then gives her a samurai sword and says, “Let discipline shape your mind. You and your sword must become one. Allow this principle to guide you in your journey. It’s what your grandfather wanted.”

Anyone with common sense can see that all this talk about being destined to be a warrior and Akemi having a grandparent who wanted her to have fight skills all add up to her having a family that wants her to get extensive training to defend herself for a good reason. It’s all pretty obvious, but Akemi is too simple-minded to figure it out. You’d think she’d be curious about why her grandafather wanted to have these fight skills, since she’s an orphan who’s not in touch with any of her biological family members.

But apparently, Akemi has to wait for Shiro to show up so he can help solve the mystery of her past. It’s all so very patriarchal. And just like a princess fairy tale where an ordinary young woman transforms into a princess during a milestone event, Akemi becomes an ass-kicking warrior on her 21st birthday. It happens when she’s celebrating her birthday by doing karaoke at a bar, and she’s sexually harasssed by a creep. The next thing you know, she’s doing high kicks and martial arts brawling until a cop breaks up the fight.

“Yakuza Princess” is one of those mind-numbing martial arts movies that thinks a bunch of fight scenes strung together are enough to make up for a flimsy plot. Unfortunately, none of the acting is very good either. Rhys Meyers has an “I don’t care, just give me my paycheck” attitude that seeps through his performance. Masumi is best known as a singer and makes her feature-film acting debut in “Yakuza Princess.” All it shows is that Masumi needs to take more acting lessons.

And the feuding villains who want Akemi dead because she’s the rightful heir to her father’s yakuza empire are all so forgettable and generic. There’s some time-wasting scenes showing how a yakuza thug named Takeshi (played by Tsuyoshi Ihara) is competing with another yakuza thug named Kojiro (played by Eijiro Ozaki) to be the top-ranking henchman for their boss, who views this rivalry like watching two schoolboys squabbling. The inevitable torture and fight scenes involving these gangsters are absolutely soulless. And so is this entire movie.

Magnet Releasing released “Yakuza Princess” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.

Review: ‘Masquerade’ (2021), starring Bella Thorne, Alyvia Alyn Lund, Skyler Samuels, Mircea Monroe and Austin Nichols

October 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Skyler Samuels and Alyvia Alyn Lind in “Masquerade” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

“Masquerade” (2021)

Directed by Shane Dax Taylor

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Masquerade” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: While her parents are away from home, an 11-year-old girl is menaced by masked intruders.

Culture Audience: “Masquerade” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching badly made horror movies that have stupid and gimmicky plot twists.

Austin Nichols, Bella Thorne and Mircea Monroe in “Masquerade” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

“Masquerade” is a trashy film with a gimmicky twist ending that tries to put a different spin on “home invasion” horror movie stereotypes. However, the movie’s conclusion misses the mark because it’s a half-baked and sloppily executed idea. Until viewers get to the ending (assuming that viewers make it that far in watching this terrible movie), “Masquerade” is a tedious slog about home invaders who inflict terror on an 11-year-old girl who’s trapped in the house. Meanwhile, there’s a simultaneous storyline of a married couple being driven home by a party catering employee who has sinister intentions for them.

Written and directed by Shane Dax Taylor, “Masquerade” begins with an upscale fundraising party at a restaurant in an unnamed U.S. city. (“Masquerade” was actually filmed in the Kentucky cities of Louisville, Prospect and Goshen.) The party guests are encouraged to wear masquerade-type masks. The party hosts are happily married couple Daniel (played Austin Nichols) and Olivia (played by Mircea Monroe), who are in their late 30s or early 40s.

A server in her early 20s named Rose (played by Bella Thorne) has been closely observing Daniel and Olivia at the party. At one point, Olivia and Rose happen to be in the restroom at the same time. While they stand near the restroom mirror, Rose compliments Olivia by saying that Olivia has a “dream life. You actually remind me of my mom. She passed away several years ago.” Rose then says she’s sorry for making such a depressing comment at what’s supposed to be a festive occasion, but Olivia is gracious and tells Rose that it’s okay.

Meanwhile, two intruders are lurking in a wooded area as they prepare for a home invasion. These intruders, who are dressed entirely in black, aren’t wearing ordinary masks. They’re wearing helmets with meshed face coverings that are similar to what beekeepers would wear. The home invaders are also wearing devices that disguise their voices.

The intruders are a man (whose identity is later revealed) and a woman (played by Skyler Samuels), who are targeting a well-to-do family’s home that’s near the woods. Inside the home are an 11-year-old girl named Casey (played by Alyvia Alyn Lind) and her babysitter Sophia (played by Joana Metrass), who are watching a horror movie before Casey goes to bed. The burglars are there to steal some valuable art. Most of the movie is about what happens when the intruders break into the home.

Meanwhile, it’s shown early on that Rose is up to no good. During the party, Rose sneaks into a back room of the restaurant to make a secretive phone call, where she tells the person on the other line to disable a house’s security system by cutting the power line. When the party ends, Rose offers Daniel and Olivia a car ride back to the couple’s home because Rose says she needs the money. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Rose is setting up this couple for some type of crime.

When “Masquerade” isn’t showing what happens with Casey trapped inside the house, it shows what’s going on with Rose and her attempts to delay bringing Daniel and Olivia back to their home, in order give her accomplices more time. Rose gets text messages from her cronies asking her to keep stalling Daniel and Olivia. The movie makes it obvious early on that Rose is involved in planning a home burglary. But, without giving away any spoiler information, it’s enough to say that all is not what it first appears to be in “Masquerade.”

Some ridiculous things happen, such as the idiotic burglars deciding to take too much time inside the house to mess around with the art that they’re supposed to be stealing. Instead of finding the art, stealing it, and getting out of the house as soon as possible, they increase their chances of getting caught by overstaying in the house. And of course, things get complicated when the burglars find out that Casey is a witness. The fact that these burglars didn’t make sure ahead of time that no one was in the house before they broke in is all you need to know about how stupid these criminals are.

All of the characters in this movie are very hollow and written with generic and often-insipid dialogue. Lind makes some effort to bring some suspense as the terrified Casey. But so much of “Masquerade” is just bland horror cliché after bland horror cliché. The most intriguing character is supposed to be Rose, but Thorne isn’t a good-enough actress to convincingly portray a mysterious person. Instead of depicting someone who’s enigmatic, she comes across as lethargic.

Most viewers are really going to hate the ending of this movie. When secrets are revealed, it will feel like 95% of the movie was a just a poorly conceived manipulation. Casey isn’t the only person who will feel trapped in this “Masquerade” fiasco. This entire movie holds viewers hostage with its dull and substandard filmmaking. It’s a horror film that ultimately fails at the most basic thing that a horror movie is supposed to do: Be scary.

Shout! Studios released “Masquerade” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Malignant’ (2021), starring Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Brianna White, Jacqueline McKenzie, Jake Abel and Ingrid Bisu

October 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Annabelle Wallis in “Malignant” (Photo by Ron Batzdorff/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Malignant” (2021)

Directed by James Wan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle, the horror flick “Malignant” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: While recovering from an abusive marriage and a pregnancy miscarriage, a woman experiences nightmarish visions and a sinister force that seems to be targeting her for violence.

Culture Audience: “Malignant” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in slightly campy horror movies that are suspenseful and have intriguing twists and turns.

Annabelle Wallis and Maddie Hasson in “Malignant” (Photo by Matt Kennedy/Warner Bros. Pictures)

It’s always refreshing when a horror movie fully commits to an absolutely insane twist ending that viewers will either love or hate. “Malignant” doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s serious about bringing its own quirky spin to the horror cliché of a woman being menaced by an unknown entity. The movie also has sobering (and possibly triggering) portrayals of domestic violence and pregnancy miscarriage. By the end of the movie, “Malignant” reveals that the concept of a mind playing tricks on someone isn’t limited to just the movie’s protagonist.

Directed by James Wan and written by Akela Cooper, “Malignant” sometimes crosses the line into campy territory when depicting the inevitable murders that happen and frequent hysteria that results from these killings. Wan is a horror master who is best known in horror filmmaking for creating “The Conjuring” universe. It’s a movie franchise that’s straightforward about what’s behind the evil mayhem (it’s a cursed doll named Annabelle) that’s unleashed on the victims in “The Conjuring” and related movies. Wan also co-created with “Saw” horror movie franchise with Leigh Whannell. By contrast, the answers to the mystery in “Malignant” aren’t so transparent.

Annabelle Wallis was the star of 2014’s “Annabelle,” a dull and disappointing prequel to 2013’s “The Conjuring.” In “Annabelle,” which takes primarily in 1955, Wallis had a bland and somewhat forgettable role as a housewife who unwittingly brings home the Annabelle doll. In “Malignant,” Wallis has a much better showcase for her acting talent, in a role that is physically and emotionally more demanding. Wallis takes on the role with admirable and convincing gusto.

In “Malignant,” Wallis is Madison “Maddie” Mitchell, an abused wife who has suffered through several miscarriages. When viewers first see Maddie, she is about seven or eight months pregnant with a baby girl whom she has nicknamed Dumpling. Maddie is an aide at a hospital, where she has continued to work through this late stage in her pregnancy because she had her unemployed husband Derek Mitchell (played by Jake Abel) need the money.

Derek has a mean streak and a violent temper. When Maddie comes home from an exhausting day at work, it doesn’t take long for him to pick a fight with her. He berates her for having had previous miscarriages. Derek gets so angry that he punches Maddie in the abdomen very hard, and the force of the punch makes her hits her head against the wall.

Maddie starts bleeding in the back of the head. Like many abusers, Derek is apologetic about the harm that he caused and he offers to get Maddie some ice to treat her injury. Like many abuse victims, Maddie doesn’t call anyone for help or to report the abuse. She lockes herself in a room and sobs about her miserable life.

Later that night, Derek is viciously murdered while he’s sleeping on the living room sofa. Maddie was the only other person who was known to be home at the time, so she immedately falls under suspicion for the murder. She insists that a male intruder committed the murder, and she claims the intruder attacked her. However, Maddie’s description of the intruder is so vague (a black shadowy figure) that police officers investigating the case think that Maddie is lying.

It doesn’t take long for the investigation cops—George Young (played by Kekoa Shaw) and Regina Moss (played by Michole Brianna White)—to find out that Derek was abusing Maddie, thereby giving Maddie a motive to kill him. George is more compassionate to Maddie in the interrogations than Regina is, because George is more willing to give Maddie the benefit of the doubt, while Regina is more inclined to think that Maddie is guilty of Derek’s murder.

At various times in the story, Maddie is put under psychiatric evaluation. She has nightmares with visions of other murders that are exactly like murders that end up happening. Because she seems to know too much information, George and Regina have no choice but to put Maddie on the top of their list of possible suspects. One person who completely believes in Maddie’s innocence is her younger sister Sydney Lake (played by Maddie Hasson), who is Maddie’s only real source of support.

Maddie’s head injury mysteriously doesn’t heal. Throughout the story, Maddie notices that the back of her head is bleeding again. And coincidence or not, every time she notices this bleeding, something bad usually happens not long afterward. She also starts to act increasingly unhinged and starts babbling about having an imaginary friend.

The opening scene of “Malignant” indicates that there are dark secrets that will eventually be revealed. This first scene takes place at Simon Research Hospital in Seattle in 1993. Someone named Gabriel has been unleashing an attack on the hospital’s staff. This attack includes causing the electricity to go haywire.

Gabriel is eventually subdued. And under the orders of Dr. Florence Weaver (played by Jacqueline McKenzie), Gabriel is strapped to a chair. “You’ve been a bad, bad boy, Gabriel,” Dr. Weaver scolds him. When Gabriel threatens, “I will kill you all,” Dr. Weaver responds, “It’s time to cut out the cancer.” What Gabriel looks like is shown in this scene, but it won’t be described in this review. It’s enough to say that this scene goes a long way in explaining what’s revealed later in the movie.

“Malignant” is the type of gruesome horror movie that tries to inject some comedy in a tension-filled story. There’s a minor subplot about a young police constable named Winnie (played by Ingrid Bisu), who has a crush on her older co-worker George. Winnie’s eager-to-impress attitude with George is looked at with amusement or pity by jaded co-worker Regina. George keeps his relationship with Winnie strictly professional, but Winnie’s obvious crush on him leads to some comedically awkward moments.

For all of its mystery and suspense, “Malignant” is not without its flaws. There’s a kidnapping and attempted murder that happens to a Seattle Underground tour guide (played by Jean Louisa Kelly), who ends up in a coma in a hospital. However, the movie unrealistically has her listed as a Jane Doe, even though it wouldn’t be that hard for the cops to find out who she is, based on her job and the circumstances under which she was found. It’s a minor plot hole that doesn’t ruin the movie because her identity is eventually discovered.

The big plot twist/reveal at the end of the movie isn’t completely shocking, because there were some big clues along the way. However, it still feels a little to rushed in at the movie’s big climactic scene, without giving viewers enough time to absorb the magnitude of this reveal. That might have been the intention to give the plot twist/reveal a maximum shocking effect. However, the way that this reveal was filmed could have been slightly better.

All of the actors in the cast do perfectly fine jobs in their roles, with Wallis being the obvious standout, even though “Malignant” is not the type of movie that’s going to win awards. However, Wallis skillfully portrays a character whose words and actions make her harder to figure out over time. Viewers will start to wonder how much of Maddie’s visions are real and how much are pure insanity. It’s that mystery—rather than the typical horror movie violence that ensues—that will keep viewers of “Malignant” on edge, because what’s in someone’s mind can be scarier than some bloody murder scenes.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Malignant” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on September 10, 2021.

Review: ‘Lamb’ (2021), starring Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson

October 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hilmir Snaer Gudnason and Noomi Rapace in “Lamb” (Photo courtesy of A24 Films)

“Lamb” (2021) 

Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson

Icelandic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Iceland, the horror movie “Lamb” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: A farmer wife and her husband, who live in a remote area, have a life-changing experience when an unusual lamb is born on their farm.

Culture Audience: “Lamb” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a “slow burn,” artistically made film that has subtle commentary about the consequences of trying to mess with Mother Nature.

Noomi Rapace in “Lamb” (Photo courtesy of A24 Films)

“Lamb” is being marketed as a horror movie, but during the first two-thirds of the story, viewers might be wondering what’s so terrifying about this film. It isn’t until the last third of the movie that the horror elements kick into high gear and culminate in a memorable and impactful ending. Until then, “Lamb” is a very slow-paced film that can fool viewers into thinking that all they’re going to see is a movie about farmer couple taking care of a very unusual lamb.

“Lamb” is an impressive feature-film directorial debut from Valdimar Jóhannsson, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Sjón. The movie does a lot with very little. Not only is the landscape sparse where this movie takes place (on a sheep farm in rural Iceland), but “Lamb” also has a very small number of cast members. Only three actors in the movie have speaking roles. And there isn’t a lot of talking in this film.

Because the entire story revolves around this unusual lamb, it would be giving away too much spoiler information to say why this lamb is so unique. However, the movie trailer for “Lamb” does show glimpses that reveal why this is no ordinary lamb. It’s best to avoid watching the “Lamb” trailer before seeing the movie if you want to be completely surprised.

For people who don’t wany any hints whatsoever, it’s enough to say this: When married farmer couple Maria (played by Noomi Rapace) and Ingvar (played by Hilmir Snær Guðnason) help the lamb’s mother give birth in the sheep barn, and they see this lamb’s unusual characteristics, instead of being horrified or confused, Maria and Ingvar are happy. Ingvar and Maria also exchange glances after seeing this newborn lamb, as if they were expecting this newborn to look this way.

Maria and Ingvar begin taking care of the female lamb as if it’s a human child, including having the lamb sleep underneath blankets in a portable tub that’s a makeshift crib. Eventually, the lamb gets its own real baby crib. Maria carries the lamb around as if it’s a human baby and uses a milk bottle to feed it. They name the lamb Ada and talk to the lamb as if the lamb is their own child.

Maria is very maternal and protective of this lamb, to the point where she becomes annoyed when she sees that the lamb’s mother has figured out that the lamb is living in the house. The lamb’s mother constantly makes noises as if she’s distressed that her child has been taken away from her. There are moments in the movie where viewers can tell that there are visual effects that give certain animals human-like expressions on their faces. It’s the first indication of the supernatural elements in the story.

Maria and Ingvar are happily married but they have a very isolated existence. They live far away from other people and don’t communicate with any other people besides each other. A lot of the movie’s screen time is showing Maria and Ingvar doing mundane tasks around the farm. They have a dog and a cat to keep them company, but their lives revolve around Ada.

It’s later revealed in the story why Maria and Ingvar have become so attached to this lamb and why they have named the lamb Ada. It’s the most obvious reason you can imagine. What isn’t obvious is how and why this lamb is so unusual. That reason becomes clearer as time goes on and viewers see that there are others who know about this lamb’s existence.

There’s a subplot in the movie where Maria and Ingvar’s isolation is interrupted when Ingvar’s older brother Pétur (played by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson) unexpectedly comes to visit. Pétur used to be in a semi-famous rock/pop band. But lately, he just seems to be a ne’er-do-well drifter who’s trying to avoid debt collectors.

Viewers first see Pétur when a car drives up on a road near Maria and Ingvar’s farm and two women and a man shove Pétur out of the car. It’s a scene that implies that Pétur has had some dealings that have gone wrong with some other shady people. And now, they’ve dumped Pétur in this isolated area.

Maria and Ingvar welcome Pétur into their home. He doesn’t tell them about the problems in his personal life, but they can sense that he’s temporarily homeless. Pétur’s first reaction to Ada is repulsion, but he eventually gets used to Ada’s uniqueness and grows fond of her.

In case it wasn’t obvious that Pétur has a sleazy side, he tries to make moves on Maria when they’re alone together. She rebuffs Pétur’s advances and makes it clear that she’s not sexually interested in him and that she won’t cheat on Ingvar. Pétur won’t take no for an answer though, so he continues with his sexual harassment of Maria. How she ultimately handles this problem is one of the few amusing moments in the movie.

Rapace gives an effective performance that is both endearing and chilling as an extremely devoted “mother” to Ada. “Lamb” is a movie that might be too creepy and slow-paced for some viewers, who might be expecting more action throughout most of the film. However, it’s worth it to keep watching, because the last 20 minutes pack a wallop. The movie’s ending is unsettling and bizarre, but it actually answers a lot of questions while leaving other questions deliberately unanswered.

A24 released “Lamb” in select U.S. cinemas on October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Falling for Figaro,’ starring Danielle Macdonald, Hugh Skinner and Joanna Lumley

October 13, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hugh Skinner and Danielle Macdonald in “Falling for Figaro” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Falling for Figaro” 

Directed by Ben Lewin

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Scotland and briefly in England, the romantic comedy/drama “Falling for Figaro” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with two people of Indian heritage and one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A successful fund manager, who is bored with her job and with her life, goes on a leave of absence to train as an opera singer, but she has conflicts with her singing instructor and the instructor’s longtime protégé.

Culture Audience: “Falling for Figaro” will appeal primarily to fans of co-star Joanna Lumley and to people who like lightweight but appealing romantic dramedies.

Joanna Lumley and Danielle Macdonald in “Falling for Figaro” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Falling for Figaro” hits all the predictable beats of a romantic comedy/drama about a woman who goes outside her comfort zone and ends up finding true love. Thanks to a charming performance from Danielle Macdonald, the movie is slightly better than the usual schmaltz. “Absolutely Fabulous” co-star Joanne Lumley, who has been typecast as portraying cranky battle-axes with an acerbic wit, does more of the same type of performance in “Falling for Figaro.” However, Lumley’s fans should enjoy how she embodies the role with such comedic commitment that viewers will wonder what foul and mean-spirited things will come out next from this character’s mouth.

Ben Lewin directed “Falling for Figaro” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Allen Palmer. The movie has the added benefit of being set in the world of opera competitions, which is a unique context for a romantic comedy/drama. But make no mistake: “Falling for Figaro” is utterly formulaic in its story arc and structure. A talented cast makes this movie mostly enjoyable to watch, because most viewers will know how this movie is going to end.

In “Falling for Figaro,” Macdonald portrays Millie Cantwell, an American living in an unnamed big city in England. She works at a corporate job as a fund manager. (Macdonald is actually Australian in real life, but her American accent is flawless.) Millie is a rising star at the company. And it’s not just because her boss happens to be her live-in boyfriend.

His name is Charlie (played by Shazad Latif), and he’s proud of Millie’s success as a fund manager and wants to promote her to a higher position. Millie (who’s in her early 30s) and Charlie (who’s in his mid-to-late 30s)—met when he interviewed her to work at the company. There are no flashbacks in this movie. The story begins when Millie and Charlie have already been living together for an unspecified period of time.

It’s kind of a tricky situation in this #MeToo era for a boss to be dating an employee. But somehow, Millie and Charlie have worked it out and are open about their personal relationship while keeping things professional at work. Early on in the movie, she jokingly says to him in private: “I’m going to make more money than you. You’re going to rue the day that you hired me.”

Even though Millie is on the fast track to a big promotion at her job, she’s actually bored and frustrated with her career choice. The first scene in the movie shows Millie and Charlie on a date together at an opera performance. Millie is enthralled and has a fantasy that she’s the one who’s up on stage as the star of the show. Meanwhile, Charlie could care less about opera. He falls asleep during the performance. You know where this is going, of course.

It doesn’t take long for Millie to confess to Charlie that she’s going to take a big risk in her life to pursue a longtime dream of hers: She wants to become a professional opera singer. And in order to do that, Millie is going to take a year off from her job to go through opera training. When she tells Charlie this surprising news that she wants to be an opera singer, his incredulous response is, “Like, in the shower?”

Once the shock wears off, Charlie sees that Millie is entirely serious and determined to achieve this goal. Millie gets some advice from an older co-worker named Patricia Hartley, who tells her that the fastest way to be discovered as an aspiring opera singer is to go on the TV talent contest called “Singer of Renown.”

Millie says to Patricia, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life as a fund manager … Why shouldn’t I follow my heart?” Patricia doesn’t want to discourage Millie, but she expresses some skepticism about Millie trying to become an opera singer when many people start training in their childhood or teen years. Millie says defiantly in response to this skepticism, “Patricia, I’m not that old, and it is not too late. I’m willing to do this, with or without your help.”

Patricia recommends that Millie get her training from an opera instructor whom Patricia knows named Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (played by Lumley), who is based in the Scottish Highlands small town of Drumbuie. Meghan is at an age when most people are retired, but she refuses to think of herself as too old to work. Patricia warns Millie about Meghan: “She’s a little unorthodox.” A more accurate description of Meghan is, “She’s a little crazy and very rude.”

Charlie thinks that Millie is making a mistake to pursue a career as an opera singer. However, Millie has already made up her mind. And so, off Millie goes to Scotland with big dreams, a lot of hope and the expected amount of fear that she might end up failing.

Drumbuie is the type of small town where the local pub/restaurant (The Filthy Pig) is the center of the townspeople’s social lives. The Filthy Pig’s bartender Ramsay Macfadyen (played by Gary Lewis), who’s about the same age as Meghan, is the type of friendly person who knows regular customers by their names. He’s attuned to what’s going on in most of the customers’ personal lives. (In other words, he’s nosy.) And in a case of “opposites attract,” it turns out that Ramsay and Meghan have a little bit of a romance going on, but they’re trying to keep it low-key.

One of the waiters at the Filthy Pig is named Max (played by Hugh Skinner), an occasionally sullen introvert in his mid-30. Max works at the Filthy Pig to supplement his income as he trains to become a professional opera singer. Up until Millie comes along, Max was the only student of Meghan, who is very choosy about which people she wants to train. Meghan is also like a mother figure to Max, whose background isn’t really explained except for a mention that his parents are no longer alive and he has no other family members.

Meghan acts like such a domineering mother to Max that viewers might think that at some point there might be a reveal in the story that she really is Max’s mother, but that doesn’t happen. Max is a live-in handyman on Meghan’s property, so she often treats him like a lowly servant too. It seems like the main reason why Max puts up with Meghan’s shoddy treatment is because he respects her as a vocal instructor and he has an emotional attachment to her because she’s the closest thing he’s got to having a family.

Millie’s audition for Meghan is an outright disaster. For her audition piece, Millie sings “Voi Che Sapete” from “The Marriage of Figaro.” She’s nervous and stumbles in her her vocal delivery because during the audition, Max has been working on some plumbing nearby, and the loud noise is very distracting. Not surprisingly, Meghan rips into Millie not just for her performance but also to personally insult Millie.

Meghan goes on a rant that includes saying haughtily to Millie, “I haven’t finished telling you how worthless you are!” Meghan warns Millie that if Millie becomes Meghan’s student, Meghan will make Millie’s life miserable. Millie is undeterred. And because Millie has no other immediate options, she practically begs Meghan to be her vocal instructor. Meghan is secretly impressed by Millie’s determination and reluctantly agrees to train Millie.

Meanwhile, Max is feeling a little jealous that Meghan has accepted a new student, when he was used to having Meghan all to himself. Max tries to make Millie feel inferior by telling her that he’s been training with Meghan for so long, he can help Millie with some vocal techniques. Millie declines his offer and seems a little insulted because she thinks Max is being condescending to her.

The way that Max takes the rejection indicates that he might be interested in Millie for more than professional reasons. He doesn’t seem too pleased when he finds out that Millie has a boyfriend back home. Millie describes Charlie as her “significant other.” Max’s response: “It doesn’t exactly sound like a love match.” Meanwhile, Meghan sees that there’s some friction between Max and Millie. And what does Meghan do? She suggests that Max and Millie work on a duet together.

Viewers can easily predict how the rest of the story is going to go from there. Max and Millie have their share of disagreements, but they also learn to respect each other’s talent. Charlie arrives for the inevitable surprise visit, as Max and Millie’s attraction to each other grows. Max and Millie end up competing against each other in the “Singer of Renown” contest. Thankfully, the outcome of that contest isn’t as predictable as most people might think it is.

There’s a “Singer of Renown” contestant named Rosa Patullo (played by Rebecca Benson), who might be the most talented singer, but she has confidence issues. Kind-hearted Millie befriends Rosa and helps her deal with these insecurities. Millie isn’t a complete angel in this story, because there are some infidelity issues that she gets herself into during the inevitable love triangle between herself, Charlie and Max.

The opera singing in the movie should delight opera fans and even people who aren’t opera fans but appreciate musical artistry. What isn’t so creative is how many of the supporting characters end up being unremarkable clichés. There’s a gaggle of Filthy Pig regulars who are entirely forgettable. And the movie skimps on a backstory for Millie. Viewers will learn nothing about how and why she ended up living in the United Kingdom and what kind of family background she has.

Max as a love interest is a little bit on the bland side, while Meghan can be a little too over-the-top with her cruel comments. Skinner and Lumley play those roles accordingly. And that’s why the main appeal of “Falling for Figaro” is with Millie’s character, thanks to Macdonald’s relatable and grounded performance in a movie that largely follows a fairytale formula. The direction of this movie is breezy and light, which is an interesting contrast to the heavy bombast of opera. “Falling for Figaro” is far from a groundbreaking romantic movie, but it’s a pleasant-enough diversion for people who want the cinematic equivalent of comfort food.

IFC Films released “Falling for Figaro” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘The Last Duel’ (2021), starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Jodie Comer and Ben Affleck

October 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Adam Driver and Matt Damon in “The Last Duel” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios)

“The Last Duel” (2021)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Culture Representation: Taking place in France from the years 1377 to the late 1380s, the dramatic film “The Last Duel” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Two former friends, who fought battles together in the French military, face off in a violent duel after one of the men is accused of raping the other man’s wife.

Culture Audience: “The Last Duel” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in violent medieval-era dramas where some of the acting and dialogue are too modern be considered authentic, and sadistic machismo is put on the highest pedestal.

Jodie Comer in “The Last Duel” (Photo by Patrick Redmond/20th Century Studios)

When watching “The Last Duel,” it might be annoying or amusing to see Matt Damon in a mullet, as he fumbles attempts to be a medieval Frenchman, by having a modern British-American accent. Ultimately, the movie has nothing new or insightful to say about violent machismo. If you really need to see the same rape of a woman depicted twice in a movie, just for the sake of showing the rape from the perspectives of the rapist and the victim, then “The Last Duel” is your kind of movie.

Directed by Ridley Scott, “The Last Duel” is written by Damon, Ben Affleck and Nicole Holofcener. They adapted the movie’s screenplay from Eric Jager’s 2004 book of the same name. Scott, Damon, Affleck and Holofcener are among the producers of “The Last Duel” movie. All of them have considerable talent, but all of them have made much better movies than “The Last Duel.”

It’s worth noting that “The Last Duel” is the first movie screenplay that Damon and Affleck have written together since their Oscar-winning original screenplay for 1997’s “Good Will Hunting,” a better-quality film about masculine identity. (Damon and Affleck also co-starred in “Good Will Hunting.”) “The Last Duel” certainly has the top-notch production design and cinematography that viewers have come to expect when Scott does a period movie, but it’s no “Gladiator.” In addition, “The Last Duel” has too much subpar acting from Affleck and cringeworthy dialogue in several parts of the movie for “The Last Duel” to be an Oscar-caliber film.

People familiar with the medieval era already know it was a brutal and violent period in history, when women were treated as nothing more than property to be bought and sold for marriage, with husbands having the legal right to “own” their wives. All of that misogyny is accurately depicted in “The Last Duel.” The problem is that the movie has a tone of showing hatred and degradation of women with a little too much enthusiasm.

It’s as if the filmmakers felt that just by having the movie take place during this ancient era, it was enough of a reason to show this misogyny so gratuitously. Any attempt to show any female character with some kind of inner strength is rushed in the last third of the film. This half-hearted nod to female empowerment doesn’t come across as genuine but rather it seems manipulative. It’s the equivalent of filmmakers putting a little dab of cleaner on the avalanche of dirty, sexist muck that’s poured all over the film.

Based on true events, “The Last Duel” takes place in France (mostly in Paris) from 1377 to the late 1380s. But if you were to believe this movie, women couldn’t possibly be as smart or as powerful as men. It completely refuses to acknowledge that women had positions of power and minds of their own in France during the medieval era—most notably Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was a leader more than 200 years before this story takes place. “The Last Duel” is so insistent on shutting out any depictions of intelligent women in power (even if it’s power in their own households) that when Queen Isabeau (played by Serena Kennedy) appears in the movie, she doesn’t have any lines of dialogue and is just there as a spectator sitting next to her king husband (who does talk) during the jousting match that is the movie’s namesake.

“The Last Duel,” is told in three chapters, each from the perspective of the three people involved in a rape case that is the reason for this jousting duel:

  • Jean de Carrouges (played by Damon) is a domineering, middle-aged knight, who has fought many battles in the Crusades. He has the scars on his face and the rest of his body to prove it. Jean’s first wife and son died during the bubonic plague known as the Black Death. His second marriage is to a woman who is the story’s rape victim.
  • Jacques Le Gris (played by Adam Driver), a roguish playboy who’s about 10 years younger than Jean, has risen through the military ranks to become a captain. Jacques is a never-married bachelor who has never had a committed love relationship.
  • Marguerite de Carrouges (played by Jodie Comer), Jean’s second wife, is about 20 years younger than Jean. She comes from a well-to-do family that has fallen on hard times because her scandal-plagued father has been branded as a traitor. Marguerite accuses Jacques of raping her.

Each of the movie’s chapters is titled “Part One: The Truth According to Jean de Carrouges,” “Part Two: The Truth According to Jacque Le Gris” and “Part Three: The Truth According to Marguerite de Carrouges.” Unlike Showtime’s 2014-2019 drama series “The Affair,” “The Last Duel” doesn’t have wildly different memories of the same incidents from the three people involved in a love triangle. The memories and perspectives do have some differences, but they add up to a generally consistent overview of what life was like for the three people who are at the center of the rape case.

Someone who can influence the outcome of the rape case is the hard-partying Pierre d’Alençon (played by Affleck), who is the presiding judge and a close ally of Jacques. Pierre is also the much-older cousin of King Charles IV (played by Alex Lawther), who is portrayed as a brat in his 20s who doesn’t have the maturity to be an effective leader, but he’s tolerated by people around him because he inherited the title of king.

One of the biggest problems with “The Last Duel” is that it’s filled with modern lines of dialogue that sound like they’re straight out of a foul-mouthed movie written by Quentin Tarantino. Certain people, especially Pierre, like to say the words “fuck” or “fucking” a lot. That doesn’t mean that cursing didn’t exist in the medieval era, but the way the words are used in a contemporary-sounding dialogue context is just not accurate for those times.

And it doesn’t help that Affleck and Damon (who are both American) struggle with their fake European accents. Damon has entire scenes where he sounds American and British every time he talks. Driver (who is American) does a much better job at having a European-sounding accent, while Comer doesn’t have to pretend at all, since she’s British in real life.

For a movie that’s supposed to take place in France, it’s kind of pathetic that there are very few French people in “The Last Duel” cast, and none of these French actors has a large role in the film. (“The Last Duel” was actually filmed in Ireland.) This lack of significant French representation in the movie’s cast is an indication that “The Last Duel” director Scott (who is British) has an ethnic bias when it comes to who he wants in his movies. It’s also obvious that he didn’t care about having accurate language consistency for “The Last Duel” characters, since the stars of the movie sound British and American instead of French.

And in case anyone mistakenly thinks “The Last Duel” is a prestigious, Oscar-caliber film, think again. The movie goes into borderline softcore porn territory. Under Scott’s direction, “The Last Duel” seems enamored with showing in more than one tacky scene that Pierre and Jacques regularly participated in orgies together with willing women. One of the orgy scenes has a very “male gaze” to it, because it lingers on three women on a bed having sex with each other, while they wait for Pierre to join them. It’s such a predictable stereotype in these types of movie orgy scenes that same-sex hookups always comes from the women, not from the men.

Pierre is married with eight children, but he seems to think his family life just gets in the way of his sex parties. He even started to have an orgy in front of his pregnant wife Lady Marie Chamaillart (played by Zoé Bruneau), who seems to know what’s about to happen and quickly leaves the room. After having this orgy, Jacques asks Pierre if he wants to spend time with his wife. Pierre scoffs at the idea and says that Marie is “pregnant and hysterical. I’d rather take my chances with the wolves.”

This 152-minute movie plods along in showing Jean’s transactional marriage to Marguerite, whom he hopes will bear him a son so that he can have a male heir again. Jean drove a hard bargain for Marguerite’s dowry, by convincing Marguerite’s disgraced and financially desperate father Sir Robert de Thibouville (played by Nathaniel Parker) to give him a coveted strip of land as part of the deal. Sir Robert reluctantly agrees.

Jean is very patriotic and proud to serve in the military. Jacques becomes a close companion of his during their military battles, and Jean even saves Jacques’ life on one occasion. When Jean is not away from home for war duties, his occupation is being a landlord, but the Black Death caused many of his tenants to die, so he’s been struggling financially and is heavily in debt. Pierre later takes advantage of Jean’s financial woes when Pierre decides that Jean has become his enemy.

Marguerite handles the landlord transactions when Jean is away from home, and she finds out that he’s been an irresponsible business manager by not bothering to collect rent when he was supposed to do it. However, Marguerite is in the type of marriage where she can’t really speak up and point out these mistakes to Jean because his huge ego would just dismiss her concerns. She is constantly reminded by people in society that she should not speak up about problems that would be considered “embarrassing” or “disobedient” to her husband or other men.

Jacques and Marguerite meet at an outdoor party, where Jean introduces his new wife to his friend and tells Marguerite to give a friendly kiss to Jacques. Marguerite ends up kissing Jacques on the lips, and he looks at her in a way that shows it’s attraction at first sight, with that kiss causing some kind of spark in him. Marguerite admits to some of her female friends at the party that she thinks Jacques is handsome, but she doesn’t trust him because of his “bad boy” reputation.

Marguerite is well-read, while Jean is illiterate. In more than one scene in the film, Jacques and some other people express surprise that Jean allows Marguerite to read books. Jacques uses this information to his advantage when, shortly after he meets Marguerite, he flirts with her and tries to impress her with his knowledge of literature.

Later, it becomes clear that Jacques’ lust for Marguerite has turned into obsession, although he claims several times that he’s deeply in love with Marguerite and it’s the first time that he’s ever felt this way. It doesn’t justify him raping her. The movie leaves no ambiguity that this rape did occur.

Up until the rape (which is depicted in a disturbing way that might be too upsetting for sensitive viewers), “The Last Duel” becomes a soap opera filled with clichés that you might find in a cheap and tawdry romance novel. There’s the pretty housewife who’s lonely and bored because her husband is away from home a lot. And when he’s at home, their sex life is passionless and he doesn’t seem to care about what her needs are.

There’s the workaholic husband who’s so preoccupied with his work and self-image that he doesn’t see how unhappy his wife is. He thinks that all he needs to be a good husband is to be a good provider. He’s also annoyed with his wife because she hasn’t gotten pregnant as quickly as he wanted. After five years of marriage, she still hasn’t conceived a child.

There’s the tall, dark “bad boy” who’s just waiting for the right moment to “seduce” the lonely wife. The fact that the husband used to be the bad boy’s best friend makes the bad boy’s lust for the wife even more taboo. Driver is perfectly adequate in this villain role, but he’s limited by this two-dimensional character, and therefore it’s not an outstanding performance.

Also part of this parade of soap opera clichés is the bad boy’s “wingman”/sidekick, who gleefully helps with the scheming because he wants to cause some chaos too. In “The Last Duel,” the “wingman” character is named Adam Louvel (played by Adam Nagaitis), and he plays a pivotal role in Jacques’ planning of the rape. Just like Jacques, he’s a shallow character with no backstory.

The extra strip of land that Jean was promised as part of Marguerite’s dowry becomes the subject of a legal dispute when Jacques, in an effort to impress Pierre, seizes the land and hands it over to Pierre. It results in a messy lawsuit, with Jean suing Pierre and Jacques. Pierre grows increasingly alienated from and irritated with Jean because of this legal dispute. Meanwhile, Jacques tries to put the lawsuit behind him and makes the first move to repair his broken friendship with Jean.

However, any attempts for Jean and Jacques to become friends again get obliterated when the rape happens. “The Last Duel” gives harsh but realistic depictions of the victim blaming and victim shaming that rape survivors experience when they come forward and try to get justice for this crime. Complicating matters, Jacques admits that he had a sexual encounter with Marguerite, but he says it was consensual. He vehemently denies that it was rape. For many people who hear about Marguerite’s accusation, it’s a “he said/she said” situation.

The movie shows in chilling details how victim blaming/shaming reactions to a rape story are universal and timeless and don’t just come from men. Jean’s mother Nicole de Carrouges (played by Harriet Walter) believes Marguerite, but she scolds Marguerite for not keeping quiet about the rape. Meanwhile, Marguerite’s best friend Marie (played by Tallulah Haddon) doubts Marguerite’s accusation, because Marie thinks Marguerite was attracted to Jacques and that Marguerite might have done something to make Jacques think she was willing to have sex with him.

In her depiction of Marguerite, Comer gives an admirable performance of a woman who often has to suppress her emotions, out of fear of being labeled as a “hysterical” wife who might embarrass her husband. Through tearful eyes that still show steely determination, she achieves a balance of being emotionally vulnerable but mentally strong. Marguerite is going to need that inner strength when she gets an onslaught of criticism from many people because she went public with this accusation.

Marguerite tells Jean about the rape before they decide to go public with this accusation. Jean’s initial reaction isn’t to comfort Marguerite but to get angry that Jacques has betrayed him again. Jean eventually takes Marguerite’s side, but he’s motivated more by defending his own honor and reputation than defending Marguerite’s. Because it’s not spoiler information that “The Last Duel” is about Jean and Jacques’ jousting showdown about the rape, the movie just becomes scene after scene that builds up to this battle. Marguerite’s feelings and trauma get pushed to the side, while the movie ultimately gives more importance to the feuding between Jean and Jacques.

Although the movie shows Marguerite’s considerable bravery, it’s Jean who’s supposed to be the “hero” of the story for defending his wife. We know this because the viewer catharsis in the movie is supposed to come mainly from the jousting battle, which centers “The Last Duel” back on the men. The movie ends with scenes showing Marguerite, but make no mistake: “The Last Duel” is very much a movie about egotistical men and the violence they commit to get what they want.

20th Century Studios will release “The Last Duel” in U.S. cinemas on October 15, 2021.

Review: ‘Wild Indian,’ starring Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer, Kate Bosworth and Jesse Eisenberg

October 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michael Greyeyes in “Wild Indian” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Wild Indian” 

Directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.

Culture Representation: Taking place in a California and in an unnamed U.S. state, the dramatic film “Wild Indian” features a Native American and white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two male cousins of Ojibwe Indian heritage have conflicts with each other over a murder they covered up when they were teenagers more than 30 years earlier.

Culture Audience: “Wild Indian” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching dramatic thrillers about sociopaths where the stories don’t offer easy answers.

Phoenix Wilson (pictured at right) in “Wild Indian” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Wild Indian” isn’t going to win any awards for groundbreaking portrayals of Native Americans. However, it’s a suspenseful drama about how two cousins in their 40s have very different views of how to handle the murder cover-up that they participated in when they were teenagers. Taking into account that there are very few American-made feature films with Native Americans comprising at least half of the principal cast members (including the lead actor), “Wild Indian” is notable for having this representation on screen.

The movie won’t satisfy people who are looking for a more definitive ending to the story. However, “Wild Indian” is an astute observation of how race and class play roles in how people are treated by the criminal justice system. This observation might be too realistic for some people’s comfort.

Written and directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., “Wild Indian” tells the story of two Native American cousins from the Ojibwe tribe and how their lives took two very different paths after they decided to keep a dark secret: When they were teenagers, one of the cousins shot and killed another teenage boy in a cold-blooded manner, and he convinced his cousin to help him cover up the crime. The cousin who became an accomplice to murder has been wracked with guilt ever since. The cousin who pulled the trigger has no guilt and would do anything to keep this crime a secret.

If viewers have a problem with Native Americans being portrayed as criminals in this movie, it’s worth noting that “Wild Indian” writer/director Corbine is also from the Ojibwe tribe. “Wild Indian” is his feature-film directorial debut. Corbine’s “Wild Indian” depiction of Native American culture is less about negative stereotypes and more about socioeconomic effects on Native Americans. The movie confronts the very real issues of how Native Americans are treated by American society can depend largely on how well a Native American assimilates into places dominated by white people.

“Wild Indian” shows two parts of the lives of cousins Makwa Giizheg and Teddo: when they are in their early teens in 1985, and when they are in their late-40s in 2019. The actors portraying the two cousins are Phoenix Wilson as young Makwa, Julian Gopal as young Teddo, Michael Greyeyes as adult Makwa and Michael Chaske as adult Teddo. The movie is told from Makwa’s perspective.

As children, Makwa and Teddo (who are about 13 or 14 years old in 1985) live in the same unnamed city in an unnamed U.S. state. (“Wild Indian” was actually filmed in Oklahoma and California.) Makwa, who is an only child, goes to a Catholic school, where he is doing well academically, but he’s an introverted loner. His life at home is very troubled: His mechanic father Darren Giizheg (played by Elisha Pratt) is an alcoholic who is verbally and physically abusive to Makwa. Makwa’s mother Ivy (played by Happy Frejo), who also has a drinking problem, doesn’t do anything to stop the abuse.

Makwa and Teddo go to the same school, where Teddo has a secret crush on a fellow student named Alyse (played by Lauren Newsham), who is pretty and popular. Makwa is too shy to approach Alyse not just because he feels like a social outcast who comes from a troubled family, but also because of underlying, unspoken issues about race. Alyse is white, and so is James Wolf (played by Colton Knaus), the student who has started dating Alyse.

Not surprisingly, Makwa is jealous of James, but Makwa keeps those feelings to himself. At home, Makwa has to try to avoid getting beaten up by his father, who will fly into rages for no good reason. During one of these abuse incidents, Darren physically assaults Makwa and shouts at Makwa: “I don’t want you in the house!” And so, Makwa has to find another place to stay for the night.

The movie doesn’t really show Teddo’s home life when Teddo was a teenager. However, it’s implied that when things get rough in Makwa’s household, he can find refuge in Teddo’s household. Needless to say, Teddo is Makwa’s closest companion. Teddo is the one who teaches Makwa how to shoot a rifle.

Makwa gets injuries from the physical abuse, and some of those injuries (such as a black eye and bruises) are difficult to hide. At school, Makwa is called into the office of the school principal, a caring priest named Father Daniels (played by Scott Haze), who tactfully tries to find out if Makwa is being abused at home. Father Daniels asks Makwa how he got the bruises.

Makwa is sullen and abrupt when he replies, “I was running and I fell. Can I go now?” Father Daniels then asks Makwa about Makwa’s parents: “Do they drink often?” It’s a sore subject for Makwa, who cuts the conversation short. Makwa tells Father Daniels that he’s doing well academically, so there’s no reason for him to be in the principal’s office. It’s the first indication that Makwa has a side to him that’s willing to defy authority and deny there’s a problem to anyone who might want to help him.

In their free time, Makwa and Teddo like to go into the woods to shoot things, such as discarded items, for target practice. They use a rifle owned by Teddo’s father. And one day in the woods during target practice, when Teddo is a few dozen yards away, Makwa happens to see his rival James by himself. Makwa takes aim and coldly murders James.

Teddo hears the gunshot and goes over to see what Makwa as shooting at, and he’s shocked to se James’ dead body. Whle Teddo is panicking and says they should call an ambulance or the police, Makwa convinces Teddo not to tell anyone because he says that they will both get in trouble. Instead, Makwa convinces Teddo to help him bury James in the woods. It’s a secret that they will carry for the next 34 years.

Before the movie fast-forwards to 2019, there’s a very telling scene that shows that Makwa isn’t a misunderstood child who made a horrible mistake. After another vicious fight with his father, Makwa bites his father’s hand, and then runs outside to the woods, where Makwa finds the spot where James’ body iss buried, and he urinates on this makeshift grave. It’s at this point that viewers know what Makwa is a sociopath with no remorse for the murder he committed.

In 2019, Makwa is a successful business executive at an unnamed corporate job in California. The type of business he does isn’t fully described in the movie, but it’s a company where Makwa has to interact with important clients. Some of these clients like to play golf, so Makwa is shown playing golf as a way to be in a better position to network with clients or potential clients.

And there’s something else about Makwa’s reinvention as a successful executive who’s on the rise at his company: He’s changed his name from Makwa Giizheg to Michael Peterson. Michael is also married to an attractive blonde named Greta (played by Kate Bosworth), and they have a son named Michael Jr., who’s about 2 years old. Greta does not know about Michael’s past, including his former name.

Michael and Greta have an upper-middle-class lifestyle somewhere in the Los Angeles area. She works in human resources and isn’t very enthusiastic about her career choice. it’s why when Greta finds out that she’s pregnant, she tells Michael that she wants to take a leave of absence from her job. Michael doesn’t seem very happy that Greta is pregnant with their second child, since this second child was unplanned. Viewers will soon see that Makwa/Michael is not only a sociopath, but he’s also a control freak.

Whatever attempts that Makwa/Michael made to assimilate into his predominantly white environment, he still gets reminders that he’s a person of color. At his job, a white co-worker named Jerry (played by Jesse Eisenberg) seems to genuinely like Michael and is rooting for his success. But when Jerry talks about Michael being a top candidate to be promoted into an open position, he mentions Michael being Native American as something that will make the company look progressive. It’s a casually racist remark that implies that Michael’s race can be used as a trendy gimmick instead of Michael being qualified for the promotion, solely based on his skills and experience.

Meanwhile, as Makwa/Michael has made a life for himself as an “upstanding citizen” who’s living “The American Dream,” Teddo has spent 12 of the past 34 years years in and out of prison. He spent 10 years in prison for drug dealing. He’s also been incarcerated for drug possession and assault and battery.

In 2019, Teddo (who is a a bachelor with no children) has been released from prison and is trying to get his life back on track. He’s moved back into his family home, where he lives with his sister Cammy (played by Lisa Cromarty), who is the single mother of a 5-year-old son named Daniel (played by Hilario “Tres” Garcia III), who is very shy. Since Teddo’s parents aren’t mentioned at this point in the story, it’s implied that they are dead.

Teddo has a much bigger problem than difficulty finding a job because he’s an ex-felon. His conscience has been weighing heavily on him because of the secret that he and Makwa have been keeping. The two cousins have not seen or spoken to each other in years, but Teddo decides he’s going to track down Makwa and confront him about this dark secret. Teddo also reaches out to Lisa Wolf (played by Sheri Foster), the mother of James. (Jennifer Rader portrays Lisa in the scenes that take place in 1985.)

There are some other things that happen in the movie that should be surprises but unfortunately are revealed in the “Wild Indian” trailer. It’s enough to say that Makwa/Michael is forced to deal with this secret, and he goes to extreme lengths to try act innocent. During this period of time, viewers see that Makwa/Michael has been fighting a compulsion to commit violent crimes against people.

For example, Makwa/Michael has a disturbing encounter with a stripper that is eerily similar to what real-life serial killers have done to victims who’ve had violent experiences with serial killers. After this incident, Makwa/Michael is seen frantically praying in a church. It shows he has some feelings of guilt over his horrific crimes, but whatever guilt he feels is overshadowed by his need for self-preservation and control.

“Wild Indian” shows how Makwa/Michael uses his con man skills to lie and and manipulate his way out of a few situations. The movie never shows what happened in the years between the James Wolf’s murder in 1985 and Makwa/Michael’s life in 2019, but it’s easy to see that Makwa/Michael’s reinvention isn’t just about covering up the murder. He now lives a life of privilege, which he uses to hs advantage when it comes time for him to get a lawyer.

As the sociopathic Makwa/Michael, Greyeyes gives a chilling performance, even if it is a little robotic at times. Maybe it’s just Greyeyes’ way of portraying someone who has no empathy. All the other supporting characters in Makwa/Michael’s orbit (except for Teddo) are somewhat two-dimensional. Not enough time is spent with these supporting characters to get a sense of who they are as well-rounded people.

Teddo is a much more interesting character to watch because his adult life is more difficult and complicated than Makwa/Michael’s life. Even though Teddo has more morality than Makwa/Michael, Teddo’s prison record automatically puts him at a disadvantage in how people will judge Teddo and Teddo’s credibility. Spencer gives the role a very compassionate nuance in how he portrays Teddo’s troubled soul.

“Wild Indian” doesn’t have a typical story arc that movies tend to have about people who’ve covered up of a murder years ago, and their past comes back to haunt them. This movie is more of a character study than a predictable criminal justice story. People who have a more realistic view of the world will probably appreciate “Wild Indian” more than viewers who expect movies like this to gloss over life’s harsh realities and wrap up everything nicely in a tidy bow.

Vertical Entertainment released “Wild Indian” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.

Review: ‘I’m Your Man’ (2021), starring Dan Stevens and Maren Eggert

October 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Maren Eggert and Dan Stevens in “I’m Your Man” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“I’m Your Man” (2021)

Directed by Maria Schrader

German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Berlin, the romantic comedy/drama “I’m Your Man” features an almost all-white cast of characters (with one mixed-race person and one person of Indian heritage) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A museum scientist/researcher reluctantly agrees to do a three-week experiment to live with a humanoid robot that is designed to be her perfect man. 

Culture Audience: “I’m Your Man” will appeal primarily to viewers who are interested in well-acted movies that combine romance with depictions of how technology affects humanity.

Dan Stevens and Sandra Hüller in “I’m Your Man” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“I’m Your Man” asks the question “Can a robot be programmed to be a perfect love partner?” It’s a question faced by Dr. Alma Felser (played by Maren Eggers), an analytical scientist who works as a researcher at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. She’s been chosen to participate in an experiment to test if a robot can be programmed to be her perfect man.

Because humans created these robots, it’s an experiment that assumes that humans are the ones in control and have superior knowledge over the robots. However, the appeal of this charming, well-acted movie is when “know it all” Alma finds out that she might learn some things about herself from this robot. The question then becomes, “How emotionally attached should Alma become to Tom, when he can cater to her needs, but he still has no soul?”

Directed by Maria Schrader (who won an Emmy Award for directing the 2020 Netflix limited series “Unorthodox”), “I’m Your Man” is based on Emma Braslavsky’s short story “Ich bin dein Mensch.” Schrader and Jan Schomburg adapted the story into the “I’m Your Man” screenplay. “I’m Your Man” is Germany’s official entry to be considered for a Best International Feature nomination for the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony.

Alma is a never-married bachelorette in her mid-to-late 40s. Her life revolves around her work. In the movie’s opening scene, Alma arrives at a work-related party, where she soon meets Tom (played by Dan Stevens), a good-looking man in his late 30s. Tom immediately kisses her hand, flirts with her, and tries to impress her with his knowledge. He mentions that he likes Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Autumn Day” poem, which is a favorite poem of Alma’s too. Tom shows Alma that he can do large mathematical calculations in his head.

But then, his speech starts to repeat, like a broken record or a glitch in playback. An unnamed Pergamon Museum employee (played by Sandra Hüller), who is supervising this robot experiment, has Tom taken away from the party. And that’s when she tells Alma that Tom is really a robot and that Alma has been chosen to be the ideal person to test if this robot can be the perfect man for whomever is paired with the robot.

Alma’s female colleague says matter-of-factly about the temporary glitch in Tom: “You have no idea how hard it is to program flirting … Holograms can be done cheaper and longer.” The robot that is being tested isn’t just programmed with ways to talk to people. The robot can also anticipate the needs of the companion human, though a series of algorithms. And through detection of brain waves, facial expressions and body language, the robot can deduce a person’s true inner feelings.

Later, when she’s at her job, Alma hears more details about this “perfect man” robot. She finds out that she was chosen for this experiment because she currently doesn’t have a love partner. The experiment would require Alma to live with Tom for three weeks. Alma is completely against the idea that robots can become legitimate companions for human beings, so she refuses to be a part of the experiment.

However, after getting much pleading and coaxing from her colleagues, Alma agrees to participate in the experiment. Alma’s female colleague tells Alma this selling point as a way to convince Alma: “When happiness knocks on the door, you should open it.”

At first, Alma is very uncomfortable with Tom living with her. He is very doting (he cooks and cleans for her without her having to ask) and tries to be affectionate with her. But she is cold and dismissive, treating him more like a pesky housemate, rather than a potentially intimate companion.

Alma considers herself to be an independent woman, so part of her resentment (which she doesn’t say out loud) is that she doesn’t like that her colleagues chose her to live with this robot because they think she’s a lonely, aging spinster. She also hates that Tom has been programmed to say sappy lines to her such as, “Your eyes are like two mountain lakes that I can sink into.”

Stevens, who is British in real life, portrays Tom’s as speaking German with a British accent. It’s explained in the movie that because Alma has shown a pattern of being attracted to non-German men, Tom was programmed to sound like he’s not from Germany. This deep mining of personal information might be troubling to people who value their privacy. But in this day and age, with millions of people posting so much of their personal lives on the Internet, it’s not that far-fetched for people’s preferences in romantic partners to be easily found and used as data.

Alma has also been chosen to recommend to an ethics committee that is overseeing this experiment if having a robot like Tom is psychologically and emotionally healthy for human beings. She is required to submit her recommendation (acceptance or rejection of the project) to Dean Roger (played by Falilou Seck), who is in charge of the ethics committee. Although he’s not supposed to show his bias, he essentially tells Alma that she hopes her decision is an acceptance recommendation.

“I’m Your Man” takes place in a world where robots and holograms are already accepted in the culture as chosen companions for humans. For example, there’s a scene where Alma goes back to a bar where she sees humans on dates with holograms, and it’s considered normal. The question she has to answer for herself and the ethics committee is if it’s ethical for robots to be sold and marketed to humans as live-in partners or spouses.

One of the ways that “I’m Your Man” isn’t a typical “robot fantasy” movie is that Tom isn’t always cheerful and willing to let Alma constantly disrespect him. He talks back to her and calls her out on some of her rude and selfish actions. Because he is supposed to be attuned to her emotions, he tells Alma what he observes about her.

Alma has other things going on in her life that complicate her experiment with Tom. She’s under a lot of stress because her father (played by Wolfgang Hübsch), who doesn’t have a first name in the movie, is showing signs of early dementia. Alma has a sister named Cora (played by Annika Meier), and they both are in various forms of distress and denial over what to do with their father if or when his condition worsens.

As for her love life, Alma has an ex-boyfriend named Julian (played by Hans Löw), who also happens to be one of her co-workers. They remained friends after the breakup, but viewers will get the impression that things aren’t completely resolved between Julian and Alma. He might have lingering feelings toward her.

For example, there’s a scene where Julian asks Alma out to lunch, but she declines, and he seems disappointed. Later, Julian tells Alma that he’s moving in with his girlfriend Steffi (played by Henriette Richter-Röhl) for “mostly financial reasons.” Julian’s heart might not be completely in his relationship with Steffi, but Steffi seems completely in love with Julian. One of the funnier scenes in the movie is when Anna brings Tom as her date to Julia and Steffi’s housewarming party. It’s enough to say that things get awkward.

Stevens’ earnest portrayal of a robot doesn’t fall into a parody, but there is a slight wink and a nod to his performance. He gives enough robotic eye movements and too-perfect smiles to remind viewers that there is no soul underneath this human-looking being, even though Tom knows how to look and act human. It’s a tricky performance that Stevens handles in a very talented way.

Eggert also does an admirable performance as Alma, who is obviously the more complicated one in this would-be couple. Alma doesn’t express her thoughts as easily as Tom does. And it unnerves Alma that Tom can do an accurate psychoanalysis of her, which he does on a regular basis. She’s also conflicted because her scientific brain tells her that robots are incapable of feeling and giving love, but her lonely heart is telling her that maybe she should take unconditional emotional support and companionship wherever she can get it.

Rather than it being a one-sided relationship where Alma bosses Tom around, Tom ends up challenging Alma to look at herself and figure out what she wants out of love and what she’s willing to do to seek out or shut out certain relationships. There are several comedic moments along the way, as well as some emotionally touching dramatic moments. The overall message of “I’m Your Man” is that wishing for an ideal love mate can come at a “be careful what you wish for” price, but it might be worth it if you know who you really are in the first place.

Bleecker Street released “I’m Your Man” in select U.S. cinemas on September 24, 2021. The movie’s digital/VOD release date is October 12, 2021.

Review: ‘Time Is Up’ (2021), starring Bella Thorne and Benjamin Mascolo

October 3, 2021

by Carla Hay

Benjamin Mascolo and Bella Thorne in “Time Is Up” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Time Is Up” (2021)

Directed by Elisa Amoruso

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city and in Italy, the romantic drama “Time Is Up” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: At an unnamed high school, a “good girl” who’s an aspiring physicist falls for a “bad boy” who’s a rising star on the school’s swim team, even though she already has a boyfriend who’s on the same swim team.

Culture Audience: “Time Is Up” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching cliché-ridden, badly acted dramas about teenagers.

Sebastiano Pigazzi and Bella Thorne in “Time Is Up” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Time Is Up” is an example of what happens when filmmakers think that all you need for a romantic drama are some pretty actors and a scenic trip to Italy. It’s too bad they forgot about actually making a good movie. This substandard film is like being in a car wreck of teen drama clichés. And that’s not just because the movie actually does have a car wreck, which causes the female protagonist to experience amnesia soon after she has fallen in love with someone new.

“Time Is Up” is also one of those movies that has a trailer that gives away 85% of the plot, including the amnesia part of the story that doesn’t happen until the last third of the movie. There’s only one plot twist in the movie that isn’t in the trailer: It involves a secret same-sex affair of two people whose reputations would be ruined if the secret got out.

“Time Is Up” director Elisa Amoruso co-wrote the movie’s atrocious screenplay with Lorenzo Ura and Patrizia Fiorellini. The movie attempts to go for the tone of an epic romance, but in reality, “Time Is Up” is a cheesy teen soap opera. One of the movie’s biggest flaws is in its casting: The main actors who portray high schoolers look too old to be in high school.

We’ve seen this formula too many times before: A “good girl” in high school falls for a brooding “bad boy.” If he goes to the same school, he’s usually a new student who’s a mysterious and troubled loner. There’s usually some obstacle that prevents them from getting together right away. (The obstacle is usually a love triangle.) And so, the would-be couple will spend a lot of screen time pouting and eyeing each other lustfully before one of them makes the first move.

“Time Is Up” is a parade of pouting by cast members who know how to look sullen and bored more than they know how to act. Vivien (played by Bella Thorne) is in her last year in high school in an unnamed U.S. city. She’s an aspiring physicist (with a preference for quantum physics), who spouts this laughable, pseudo-physics mumbo jumbo in a voiceover narration in the beginning of the film:

“In the void, pairs of particles are continuously created. Their only destiny is to meet and disappear into each other. When two particles that have interacted with each other are separated, they are no longer distinct particles. The same thing happens when two people fall in love. Even when life pulls them apart, they’ll always carry a trace of the other person inside.”

As soon as you hear this silly schmaltz, you know you’re going to have to brace yourself for more as this movie plods to its very predictable end. Vivien attends an unnamed private high school, where most of the students come from privileged families. Her boyfriend Steve (played by Sebastiano Pigazzi) is a star of the school’s male swim team. Vivien has a sassy best friend (played by Bonnie Baddoo), who seems to be just a token character because the filmmakers never bothered to give her character a name.

Also on the school’s swim team is a new student named Roy (played by Benjamin Mascolo), a heavily tattooed rebel who lives in a trailer park. Roy has a swimming scholarship to attend the school. He has the talent to be the best swimmer on the team. Roy was born in Italy and moved to the U.S. with his family when he was in middle school, so he still has an Italian accent.

But when Vivien and her best friend attend a swim practice, it looks like Roy could be putting his scholarship in jeopardy. Roy has been slacking off during practice, so he gets yelled at by the team’s coach Dylan (played by Nikolay Moss). Dylan warns Roy that if Roy doesn’t improve, Roy won’t be chosen for the swim team’s competitions, and he could lose his scholarship.

Roy shouts back at Dylan: “What are you? My dad? I already have one! I fucking hate him!” Meanwhile, Steve smirks nearby when he sees this conflict between Roy and Dylan, because Steve wants to be considered the team’s best swimmer. Steve feels somewhat threatened that Roy (who’s a better swimmer) could outshine Steve on the team.

One day, Steve, Vivien and Vivien’s best friend are riding in Steve’s car when Roy becomes the topic of the conversation. Vivien’s best friend thinks that Roy is very attractive, and she mentions that she wouldn’t mind having a one-night stand with Roy. She asks Steve for more information about Roy. Steve says that Roy mostly keeps to himself.

Vivien and Steve seem to have a solid relationship on the outside. But lately, Steve has been very preoccupied and doesn’t have time for Vivien in the way he used to have time for her. He’s also not as affectionate with her as he used to be.

Vivien’s best friend notices that the romance between Vivien and Steve has cooled down. Even though Vivien insists that she’s happy with Steve, her best friend comments, “You’re not happy. You’re serene, which is totally different.”

The romantic spark has also apparently dwindled in the marriage of Vivien’s parents. Early on in the film, Vivien (who is an only child) finds out that her mother Sarah (played by Emma Lo Bianco) has been having an affair with another man. Vivien’s businessman father (played by Giampiero Judica), who doesn’t have a name in the movie, is away from home a lot because of his work.

As for Roy’s family, he lives with his widowed father (who’s a mechanic) and pre-teen sister in a dumpy and cluttered trailer. Roy’s father is American, and Roy’s late mother was Italian, which is why Roy’s parents lived in Italy for the first 11 or 12 years of his childhood.

Roy later tells Vivien that one of the reasons why he has hard feelings toward his father is because Roy didn’t want to leave Italy, but it was his father’s decision to move to the United States after Roy’s mother passed away. Roy eventually reveals to Vivien how Roy’s mother died. (Antonella Britti portrays Roy’s mother in this brief flashback.)

At a costume party at a student’s house, Vivien and Roy see each other across the room and they start dancing together. And because this movie is filled with teen movie clichés, a fight inevitably breaks out at the party. You don’t have to be a psychic to know who ends up in the brawl.

Vivien and Roy have another encounter when she’s in the parking lot of a restaurant at night. It’s the same restaurant where Vivien saw her mother on a date and kissing another man. In the parking lot, some young thugs start to harass Vivien. But lo and behold, Roy shows up and comes to Vivien’s rescue.

It turns out he knows these troublemakers because he’s been involved with some criminal activities with them. Later in the movie, Roy is shown committing burglary by breaking into a house with one of his hoodlum pals. They don’t get caught, and the burglary is never mentioned in the movie again.

Vivien’s problems at home and her problems with Steve have upset her to the point where she starts doing her own version of rebelling. There’s a scene where she shows up in a classroom where the teacher is handing out a test to the students. Vivien doesn’t even sit down before she decides she’s going to walk out of the class without taking the test. She doesn’t just walk out. She has to do a dramatic, pouty saunter, as if she’s on some kind of fashion runway.

And what do you know, the swim team is traveling out of the country to go to a swimming competition. And guess where they’ve gone? Italy. Vivien wants to bring the passion back to her romance with Steve. And so, she decides to go to Italy to surprise Steve at the hotel where the swim team is staying.

For reasons that won’t be revealed in this review, Steve isn’t available for most of the trip. But guess who’s available to show Vivien around this part of Italy? You get the gist of what happens in the movie’s trailer. There are no real surprises in how Roy ends up courting Vivien, even though he tells her in a not-very-convincing way that he doesn’t want to fall in love.

Vivien and Roy get together, of course, and they even have (cliché alert) a couple’s signature song: Frankie Valli’s 1967 hit single “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” Expect to hear this tune played multiple times in the movie.

“Time Is Up” is plagued by a lot of uneven acting. Thorne can sometimes rise to the occasion in the melodramatic scenes. But too often, she recites her lines in a wooden and emotionless way. Mascolo is even worse, since his acting is very stiff and unnatural in too many parts of the movie. He’s an example of an actor who was hired more for his physical appearance than anything else. The fact that Thorne and Mascolo became a couple in real life doesn’t help their lackluster acting skills in this movie.

The rest of the cast members are adequate in their performances, which are overshadowed by the cringeworthy dialogue throughout much of the movie. The cinematography often tries to make “Time Is Up” look glossy and glamorous, but mostly the movie comes off looking like a badly edited and cheap-looking romance novel. And worst of all for a romance movie, the main characters have personalities that are as plastic as Ken and Barbie dolls. At least Ken and Barbie aren’t as forgettable as this lazy and unimaginative film.

Vertical Entertainment released “Time Is Up” for one night only (via Fathom Events) in U.S. cinemas on September 9, 2021. The movie was released on digital and VOD on September 24, 2021.