Movie and TV Reviews

Sundance Film Festival Spotlight

Emergency (Photo by Quantrell Colbert/Amazon Content Services)
Fire of Love (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)
La Guerra Civil (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)
The Princess (Photo by Kent Gavin/HBO)

Reviews for New Releases: December 3, 2021 – January 29, 2022

8-Bit Christmas (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/New Line Cinema/HBO Max)
The 355 (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)
American Gadfly (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)
American Underdog (Photo by Michael Kubeisy/Lionsgate)
Being the Ricardos (Photo by Glenn Wilson/Amazon Content Services)
Don’t Look Up (Photo by Niko Tavernise/Netflix)
The Fallout (Photo by Kristen Correll/HBO Max)
Flee (Image courtesy of Neon)
A Hero (Photo by Amir Hossein Shojaei/Amazon Content Services)
Hotel Transylvania: Transformania (Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Amazon Content Services)
Jockey (Photo by Adolpho Veloso/Sony Pictures Classics)
A Journal for Jordan (Photo by David Lee/Columbia Pictures)
The King’s Daughter (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
The King’s Man (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)
The Lost Daughter (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix)
The Matrix Resurrections (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)
Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back (Photo by John Carluccio/Cinqua)
Memoria (Photo courtesy of Neon)
National Champions (Photo by Scott Garfield/STX)
Nightmare Alley (Photo by Kerry Hayes/Searchlight Pictures)
The Novice (Photo by Todd Martin/IFC Films)
The Only One (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
Parallel Mothers (Photo by Iglesias Más/El Deseo/Sony Pictures Classics)
Red Rocket (Photo courtesy of A24)
Scream (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Silent Night (Photo by Robert Viglasky/AMC+)
Sing 2 (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)
Spider-Man: No Way Home (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)
Swan Song (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)
The Tender Bar (Photo by Claire Folger/Amazon Content Services)
The Tragedy of Macbeth (Photo by Alison Cohen Rosa/A24/Apple TV+)
Twas the Night (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)
West Side Story (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)
Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America (Photo by Jesse Wakeman/Sony Pictures Classics)
Wolf (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

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

8-Bit Christmas — comedy

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 355 — action

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

Alpha Rift — action

The Alpinist — documentary

Amazing Grace (2018) — documentary

American Fighter — drama

American Gadfly — documentary

An American Pickle — comedy

American Street Kid — documentary

American Underdog — drama

American Woman (2020) — drama

Ammonite — drama

Amulet — horror

And Then We Danced — drama

Annette — musical

Another Round — drama

Antebellum — horror

Anthony — drama

Antlers (2021) — horror

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

Azor — drama

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

The Beatles: Get Back — documentary

Becoming — documentary

Behind You — horror

Being the Ricardos — drama

Belfast (2021) — drama

Beneath Us — horror

Bergman Island (2021) — drama

Best Sellers (2021) — comedy/drama

The Beta Test — comedy/drama

Big Time Adolescence — comedy/drama

The Big Ugly — drama

Billie (2020) — documentary

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

The Binge — comedy

Bingo Hell — horror

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

Black as Night — horror

Black Bear — drama

Blackbird (2020) — drama

Black Box (2020) — horror

Black Is King — musical

Black Magic for White Boys — comedy

Black Widow (2021) — sci-fi/fantasy/action

Blast Beat — drama

The Blazing World (2021) — horror

Blessed Child — documentary

Blithe Spirit (2021) — comedy

Blood and Money — drama

Blood Conscious — horror

Blood on Her Name — drama

Bloodshot (2020) — sci-fi/action

Bloodthirsty (2021) — horror

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) — fantasy/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 Bullet — action

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 Cleaner (2021) — drama

The Clearing (2020) — horror

Clementine — drama

Clifford the Big Red Dog (2021) — live-action/animation

Cliff Walkers (formerly titled Impasse) — drama

The Climb (2020) — comedy/drama

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

Cloudy Mountain (2021) — action

Clover — drama

C’mon C’mon — 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

Cry Macho — 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 Desperate Hour (formerly titled Lakewood) — drama

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

Don’t Look Up (2021) — comedy

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

Dune (2021) — sci-fi/fantasy/action

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

Emergency (2022) — comedy

Emma (2020) — comedy/drama

The Emoji Story (formerly titled Picture Character) — documentary

Encanto — animation

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/fantasy/action

Enola Holmes — drama

Entwined (2020) — horror

Epicentro — documentary

Escape From Mogadishu — drama

Escape Room: Tournament of Champions — horror

Eternals (2021) — sci-fi/fantasy/action

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 Feast (2021) — horror

The Fight (2020) — documentary

Finch — sci-fi/drama

Finding Kendrick Johnson — documentary

Finding You (2021) — drama

Fire of Love (2022) — documentary

First Cow — drama

First Date (2021) — comedy

Flag Day — drama

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

Flee — documentary/animation

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 — sci-fi/action

The French Dispatch — comedy

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

Gap Year (2020) — documentary

The Garden Left Behind — drama

The Gasoline Thieves — drama

The Gateway (2021) — 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 — sci-fi/fantasy/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

The Harder They Fall (2021) — action

Hard Luck Love Song — drama

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

Hell Hath No Fury (2021) — action

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

A Hero — 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

Hive — drama

A Holiday Chance — comedy/drama

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

Hotel Transylvania: Transformania — animation

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

House of Gucci — drama

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 Humans (2021) — drama

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

India Sweets and Spices — comedy/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) — fantasy/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

Jockey (2021) — drama

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

A Journal for Jordan — drama

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

Judy & Punch — drama

Jungle Cruise — fantasy/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

King Richard — drama

The King’s Daughter — fantasy/drama

The King’s Man — action

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time — documentary

La Guerra Civil — documentary

Lair — horror

La Llorona — horror

Lamb (2021) — horror

Land (2021) — drama

Lansky (2021) — drama

The Last Duel (2021) — drama

The Last Full Measure — drama

Last Night in Soho — horror

The Last Vermeer — drama

The Lawyer — drama

Leftover Women — documentary

Les Misérables (2019) — drama

Let Him Go — drama

Licorice Pizza — comedy/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

The Lost Daughter (2021) — drama

Lost Girls — drama

Lost Transmissions — drama

Los Últimos Frikis — documentary

Love and Monsters — sci-fi/horror/action

The Lovebirds — comedy

Love Is Love Is Love — drama

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

Madres (2021) — horror

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 Manor (2021) — horror

The Man Who Sold His Skin — drama

The Many Saints of Newark — 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

The Matrix Resurrections — sci-fi/action

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back — documentary

The Mauritanian — drama

Mayday (2021) — action

Meat Me Halfway — documentary

Memoria (2021) — sci-fi/drama

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 Family 2 — animation

Monster Hunter — sci-fi/fantasy/action

Montana Story — drama

Mortal — sci-fi/action

Mortal Kombat (2021) — sci-fi/fantasy/action

Most Dangerous Game — sci-fi/action

Most Wanted (formerly titled Target Number One) — drama

Mother, I Am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You. — docudrama

A Mouthful of Air — drama

Mr. Soul! — documentary

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado — documentary

Mulan (2020) — fantasy/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 Country, My Parents (also titled My Country, My Family) — drama

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

National Champions — drama

Needle in a Timestack — sci-fi/drama

The Nest (2020) — drama

Never Gonna Snow Again — drama

Never Rarely Sometimes Always — drama

Never Stop (2021) — 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

Nightmare Alley (2021) — drama

Night of the Kings — drama

Nina Wu — drama

Nine Days — drama

Noah Land — drama

Nobody (2021) — sci-fi/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

Objects — documentary

Old — horror

The Old Guard — sci-fi/fantasy/action

Old Henry (2021) — drama

Olympia — documentary

Olympic Dreams — comedy/drama

On Broadway (2021) — documentary

Once Upon a River — drama

Once Upon a Time in Uganda — documentary

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

The Only One (2021) — 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 (2021) — 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

Parallel Mothers — drama

Paranormal Prison — horror

Parkland Rising — documentary

Passing (2021) — drama

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

The Power of the Dog — drama

Premature (2020) — drama

The Prey (2020) — action

The Price of Desire — drama

The Princess (2022) — documentary

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 Rocket — comedy/drama

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

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City — horror

Resistance (2020) — drama

Respect (2021) — drama

Retaliation (formerly titled Romans) — drama

The Retreat (2021) — horror

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

Ron’s Gone Wrong — animation

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 (2022) — horror

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 — fantasy/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

Silent Night (2021) (starring Keira Knightley) — comedy/drama

Silk Road (2021) — drama

A Simple Wedding — comedy

Sing 2 — animation

The Sinners (2021) (also titled The Virgin Sinners; 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 — sci-fi/fantasy/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

Son of Monarchs — drama

Sorry We Missed You — drama

Soul — animation

The Sound of Identity — documentary

Sound of Metal — drama

The Souvenir Part II — 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

Spencer — drama

Spider-Man: No Way Home — sci-fi/fantasy/action

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 — sci-fi/fantasy/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) (starring Mahershala Ali) — sci-fi/drama

Swan Song (2021) (starring Udo Kier) — 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

The Tender Bar — drama

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

This Is the Year — comedy

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

Tick, Tick…Boom! — musical

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

Twas the Night (2021) — comedy

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

Vengeance Is Mine (2021) — action

Venom: Let There Be Carnage — sci-fi/fantasy/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

West Side Story (2021) — musical

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

Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America — documentary

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

Wolf (2021) — drama

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 — sci-fi/fantasy/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 — sci-fi/fantasy/action

Zappa — documentary

Zeros and Ones — drama

Zola — comedy/drama

Zombi Child — horror

Review: ‘La Guerra Civil,’ starring Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya

January 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya in “La Guerra Civil” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“La Guerra Civil”

Directed by Eva Longoria Bastón

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in primarily in the United States and Mexico, the documentary film “La Guerra Civil” features a predominantly Latino group of people (with some white people) discussing the rivalry and careers of world champion boxers Julio César Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya.

Culture Clash:  Chávez and De La Hoya, who faced off in two championship matches in 1996 and 1998, represented two aspects of Mexican-rooted culture (native Mexicans for Chávez, Mexican Americans for De La Hoya), which affected the type of fan support and images that each boxer had.

Culture Audience: “La Guerra Civil” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in movies about boxing and how ethnicity plays a role in athletes’ identities and public perceptions.

Oscar De La Hoya in “La Guerra Civil” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“La Guerra Civil” goes beyond the usual clichés of boxing documentaries, by taking a candid look at how Julio César Chávez’s Mexican identity and Oscar De La Hoya’s Mexican American identity shaped their championship careers. It’s a traditionally made documentary that doesn’t really break any new ground in cinematic techniques, but the content of the story is meaningful because it shines a light on how ethnicity and nationality have a massive effect on how people feel about a public figure. The movie also vividly describes the conflicts (both internal and external) that can arise when someone identifies as a member of two different countries. Chávez and De La Hoya both participated in “La Guerra Civil,” which had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

“La Guerra Civil” (which means “The Civil War” in Spanish) is the feature-film directorial debut of Eva Longoria Bastón, a Mexican American who is an ideal person to tell this story because she’s lived many of the experiences described in the documentary. There is an authenticity to how this story is told that cannot be replicated by a documentary director who can’t relate to the main subjects of the film. “La Guerra Civil” is not told in complete chronological order, but the engaging editing makes the storytelling easy to follow.

Longoria Bastón conducted the main interviews (she can sometimes be heard off-camera asking follow-up questions), and she made the wise decision not to overstuff the movie with too many talking heads. Because much of the archival footage consists of boxing matches that were already televised, there aren’t many surprises in what’s shown in the documentary, except for some childhood photos or videos of Chávez and De La Hoya. The real value in “La Guerra Civil” is how these two former champs open up about how their past rivalry was bigger than a boxing title: It was a reflection of how people of Latino (especially Mexican) heritage felt about themselves.

“La Guerra Civil” dutifully covers a lot of biography basics that fans of Chávez and De La Hoya might already know but people unfamiliar with boxing might not know. Born in 1962, Chávez grew up very poor in his hometown of Ciudad Obregón, Sonora, Mexico. He had four brothers and five sisters; their father was a railroad worker.

In the documentary, Chávez reveals boxing wasn’t even his favorite sport as a child. He says that at the time, “I liked to play soccer, baseball and volleyball. I liked everything except boxing, because I had two brothers who started boxing before me. ” He adds, “I never thought I’d become a world champion.”

Chávez remembers one of his motivations to start boxing was after he got beaten up by a girl when he was an adolescent. At 16 years old, Chávez eventually got interested in boxing as a way to make money for the family, but he initially had to keep his training a secret from his mother, who disapproved of another one of her sons getting into boxing.

Chávez’s mother, whom he describes as kind and nurturing, eventually approved of his boxing activities when she and the rest of the family saw how talented he was and how his boxing earnings could benefit the family. He relocated from Culiacán to Tijuana to train as a professional boxer. (Hall of Fame boxing trainer Ignacio Beristán gives some background on how Tijuana is an important training ground for Mexican boxers.) Chávez’s “rags to riches” story made him a boxing hero to many, especially those coming from disenfranchised and underprivileged backgrounds.

By contrast, De La Hoya came from a family of boxers (his father, grandfather and brother), and he was pushed into boxing from an early age by his father. “I was forced into it,” De La Hoya says in the documentary. De La Hoya began competing in amateur boxing matches when he was 6 years old. This self-described “scrawny kid” would often bring down opponents who were a lot more muscular and more experienced than he was.

Born in Los Angeles in 1973, De La Hoya is the son of Mexican immigrants, whom De La Hoya says made their household more of a Mexican household than an American household. But because he was a first-generation American, De La Hoya was able to experience and represent both Mexican and American cultures, including being fluent in Spanish and English. Although Chávez and De La Hoya both say that they grew up in rough neighborhoods, De La Hoya’s East Los Angeles neighborhood was decidedly more middle-class than Chávez’s destitute La Redonda neighborhood in Culiacán.

De La Hoya says his first memory of boxing was the boxing fights that would take place for fun in the garage of his uncle. When De La Hoya was about 5 years old, he was ordered to fight one of his older cousins. De La Hoya vividly recalls the fear and humiliation he felt when he lost the fight and how it motivated him to beat the cousin in a rematch.

Golden Boy Promotions president Eric Gómez, who’s been a friend of De La Hoya’s since their childhood, remembers that De La Hoya’s childhood revolved around boxing: “He [could] play for a little while, but when his dad would come out of work, it was time for [Oscar] to go to the gym.” Sports journalist Ron Borges compares De La Hoya to Tiger Woods, in how both athletes had hard-driving fathers who gave them no choice but to train in their respective sports at an age when most children are in kindergarten. “Little Oscar was a business commodity for his father,” Borges comments.

De La Hoya describes these early experiences in terms of how they influenced his career and how he approached boxing. He says that his boxing career was often about him feeling underestimated and wanting to prove his skeptics wrong. Although De La Hoya reached the heights of professional boxing, he makes it clear that it was with constant criticism from many people who thought that he “wasn’t Mexican enough.”

His good looks and the media’s “The Golden Boy” nickname of De La Hoya also made him the target of ridicule by people who thought he was too handsome and too Hollywood to be taken seriously. It’s mentioned several times in “La Guerra Civil” that at public appearances, De La Hoya would get just as many cheers and he would get boos from audiences.

Several of the people interviewed in the documentary discuss at length why Chávez got such unwavering public adoration in Mexican communities, while reactions to De La Hoya were decidedly more mixed. Boxing commentator Eduardo Lamazón says, “Chávez was a man of the people, of the slums. He was raised like many Mexicans, eating the same food as they did, listening to the same music. And he boxed like a Mexican too.” Boxing journalist Jose Luis Camarillo adds, “Chávez was a god. He was the star of the show.”

Sports reporter Claudio Trejos describes a common perception: “For the die-hard boxing fan, Oscar’s just a pretty boy from East Los Angeles. He’s not a real Mexican.” It’s also mentioned in the documentary that people would often call De La Hoya a “pocho,” which is a derogatory term for a person of Mexican heritage who is deliberately ignorant of Mexican culture and doesn’t know how to speak Spanish. It’s a word that bilingual De La Hoya was unfairly applied to him because he says he was raised in Mexican culture and can fluently speak Spanish and English.

On the plus side for De La Hoya was his crossover appeal, which was skillfully marketed by people such as boxing promoter Bob Arum, who helped get De La Hoya many lucrative endorsement deals. By contrast, Chávez fluency in English remained very limited. In the documentary, sports agent Leigh Stenberg says about De La Hoya: “He radiated charisma. He had a killer smile. If you had to create a marketable boxer, you couldn’t go wrong with starting with Oscar De La Hoya.”

Sports journalist Dan Rafael comments, Chávez made himself a legend … He was the star of stars until Oscar De La Hoya came along.” Gómez comments on when the real backlash started against De La Hoya: “It wasn’t until the [1996] Chávez that people started questioning, that people started saying, ‘He’s [De La Hoya] is not a real Mexican.”

“La Guerra Civil” talks about the rise and fall of these two boxing champs, with a lot of emphasis on the rise. The expected highlights of their careers are shown in clips of thrilling boxing matches, as well as large, adoring crowds who gathered to see them at other public appearances. There’s enough discussion of boxing techniques to please boxing fans but not too much of an overload that would alienate people who aren’t boxing enthusiasts.

De La Hoya talks a lot about his commitment to rigorous training, which served him well when he went up against his hero Chávez for the first time, in 1996 for the World Boxing Council’s light welterweight championship. It was billed as the Ultimate Flory fight. In the lead-up this famous boxing match, Chávez and De La Hoya (and their respective entourages) did a U.S. press tour. While De La Hoya was keeping a tight schedule of an athlete in intense training, Chávez was spending his free time doing a lot of partying.

Borges, who covered the press tour, remembers the contrasting lifestyles of Chávez and De La Hoya on this tour: “He [De La Hoya] was working out every day. Chávez was, I assure you, not working out during this trip. He was out [partying], but he was not working out.”

De La Hoya shares his perspective of his and Chávez’s very different approaches to preparing for this big fight: “He’s not taking me serious. But guess what? I’m going to take you serious.” Chávez essentially admits that all of this was true.

When Chávez and De La Hoya had their rematch in 1998, De La Hoya said he didn’t slack off on his intense training. De La Hoya convinced legendary boxing Jesús Rivero (who’s interviewed in the documentary) to come out of retirement to help with De La Hoya’s training. De La Hoya describes Rivero as “a man of few words” and “grumpy” but “by fair the best trainer I ever had.”

Based on how De La Hoya and Chávez discuss how fame affected them, Chávez might have been more beloved overall by people of Mexican heritage, but Chávez had more self-esteem problems in coping with his success. Chávez says that although he got everything he ever dreamed of in his career and he was surrounded by people who adored him, at the height of his fame, “I felt very alone.”

Feeling lonely and empty inside is why Chávez says he turned to cocaine for comfort. He mentions that the first time tried cocaine was after winning a light welterweight title fight against Héctor “Macho” Camacho in 1992. “And that was my ruin,” Chávez says of cocaine. “I took refuge in drugs and alcohol.”

Chávez is open about his addictions to drugs and alcohol, but De La Hoya doesn’t discuss in the documentary that he also had addictions to drugs and alcohol. De La Hoya’s personal demons and rehab stints are briefly mentioned by someone else toward the end of the documentary, almost as if it’s an afterthought. You get the feeling that De La Hoya wanted this topic to be off-limits in order for him to participate in the movie.

The documentary also leaves out any talk about other aspects of Chávez’s and De La Hoya’s personal lives. For example, their marriages and children are not discussed. The movie makes passing references to De La Hoya being a sex-symbol boxer to many women when he was in his prime, but he doesn’t go into details about how he handled all that amorous attention.

Even though De La Hoya doesn’t talk about his addictions in this documentary, he does show a vulnerable side when remembering about his late mother Cecilia and his complicated relationship with her. Oscar De La Hoya’s brother Joel De La Hoya Jr. describes their mother Cecilia as Oscar’s biggest fan. Oscar says, “My mother went through a lot of emotional abuse,” but “she beat the hell out of us … My aggression, my pain, my anger—that comes from her.”

Oscar also shares his heartbreak of his mother dying of breast cancer in 1990, just three weeks after he won the gold medal at the Goodwill Games. “It was the biggest blow I ever felt in my life,” he says of his mother’s death. Oscar says he became so depressed that he was going to quit boxing, but he changed his mind, largely because he had promised his mother that he’d win a gold medal in boxing at the 1992 Olympics. And he did. When De La Hoya famously waved the flags for Mexico and the U.S. after his Olympics victory, this symbolic act of identifying with both nations cemented his dual heritage in many people’s minds.

The 1996 boxing match between Chávez and Oscar De La Hoya marked the first time that a Mexican and a Mexican American would be battling each other in this type of high-profile boxing championship. Critical sports scholar Rudy Mondragón explains why this particular match had such cultural resonance, particularly with people of Mexican heritage: “Boxing is a sport that’s never been shy to utilize race and ethnicity to create a theatrical spectacle … It was like the world was telling us: ‘There’s one way to be Mexican: Oscar’s way or Julio’s way.”

In the documentary, actor/comedian George Lopez and actor/TV host Mario Lopez, who are both Mexican American and not related to each other, share their thoughts on the Chávez/De La Hoya rivalry. Mario Lopez says he’s been a die-hard fan of Chávez since childhood, while George Lopez seems to be more sympathetic to De La Hoya. George Lopez and Mario Lopez are the only two people interviewed in “La Guerra Civil” who aren’t in the boxing/sports industry, but their “fan perspective” still seems very privileged since they’re both celebrities.

Some people might find “La Guerra Civil” lacking in some areas. For example, Trejos is the only woman who’s interviewed. This token female perspective is very noticeable, especially since the documentary mentions several times that women were a large percentage of Oscar De La Hoya’s fan base.

The movie also leaves out the perspectives of any professional boxers who had high-profile matches against Oscar De La Hoya or Chávez. Commentaries from “non-celebrity” boxing fans are only in very brief clips from archival news footage, not in new interviews conducted for the documentary. The only family member of Chávez who’s interviewed is his brother Rodolfo, who makes a brief appearance in the movie.

Although “La Guerra Civil” has an insular selection of people who are interviewed, what they have to say adds up to a worthwhile story about how people’s varying definitions of Mexican heritage manifested in the rivalry between Chávez and De La Hoya. “La Guerra Civil” isn’t a completely comprehensive documentary, but it does show that people from a similar culture can find common ground among their differences. And that’s why the movie is more than a boxing documentary. It’s also a thoughtful commentary about what we can learn from accepting other people’s identities without diminishing our own.

Review: ‘The Princess’ (2022), starring Diana, Princess of Wales

January 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Diana, Princess of Wales in “The Princess” (Photo by Kent Gavin/HBO)

“The Princess” (2022)

Directed by Ed Perkins

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1981 to 1997, the documentary “The Princess” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and royalty discussing the life of Diana, the Princess of Wales, who died in a car accident in 1997, at the age of 36.

Culture Clash: Diana was plagued by a troubled marriage to Prince Charles; issues with depression and bulimia; and ongoing battles with the media over her privacy.

Culture Audience: “The Princess” will appeal primarily to people who can’t get enough of watching Princess Diana documentaries, but this all-archival documentary reveals nothing new and has nothing interesting to say.

In the never-ending cottage industry of Princess Diana biographies and Princess Diana exploitation, the sloppily made documentary “The Princess” is completely unnecessary and leaves out a lot of information. The Wikipedia page for Princess Diana has more information than this cynical cash grab of a movie. The ending of “The Princess” is extremely off-putting by concluding abruptly with an image of Diana’s burial casket being driven off during the funeral. The movie irresponsibly doesn’t even mention that in Princess Diana’s fatal car accident, the driver of the car was drunk.

Directed by Ed Perkins, “The Princess” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary consists entirely of archival footage from 1981 to 1997—the years that the woman born as Diana Spencer lived in the public eye. Most of the footage is from British television. There is absolutely nothing new in this documentary that hasn’t already been seen elsewhere, except for some random home videos of people reacting to Diana’s untimely death. (She died in Paris on August 31, 1997.)

Watching this movie is exactly like watching a video version of a Wikipedia page, but less so because the movie gives no information about the investigation into Diana’s death. The filmmakers also seem to have an agenda by leaving out the drunk-driver information and instead showing repetitive footage of people blaming the paparazzi for Diana’s death. The documentary ignores the reality that the investigation into the car accident, the news coverage about it and the facts uncovered were extremely important to Diana’s tragic story.

“The Princess” is just a chronological telling of basic facts of her life that people already know, with some tabloid headlines thrown in the mix. People already know about the courtship and doomed marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. (The former spouses separated in 1992, and officially divorced in 1996.) People already know about the conflicts in the British Royal Family. People already know about the tabloid scandals, Diana’s charity work, and how much she adored her sons William and Harry.

There are amateur YouTube videos about Princess Diana that are more interesting than this lazy documentary. The film has voiceover soundbites, but the people talking in these voiceovers are never identified, and neither are the media sources for these soundbites, or the year that these comments were made. The only people who might think “The Princess” is interesting are people who don’t know much about Princess Diana, or obsessive fans who can’t get enough of anything to do with her, no matter tacky it is.

HBO will premiere “The Princess” on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘The King’s Daughter,’ starring Pierce Brosnan, Kaya Scodelario, Benjamin Walker, Rachel Griffiths, Julie Andrews, Fan Bingbing and William Hurt

January 22, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pierce Brosnan and Kaya Scodelario in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter”

Directed by Sean McNamara

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1684 in Versailles, France, the fantasy drama film “The King’s Daughter” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: King Louis XIV wants to get immortality by taking the life force from a magical mermaid, but the king’s rebellious daughter Marie-Josèphe does everything she can to prevent this mermaid’s death.

Culture Audience: “The King’s Daughter” will appeal primarily to people who like watching tacky and poorly made fairy-tale movies.

Kaya Scodelario and Benjamin Walker in “The King’s Daughter” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures/Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

“The King’s Daughter” is a laughably bad movie that seems like a parody, but with no self-awareness about how truly awful it is. It’s a fantasy drama filled with hokey dialogue, cheesy visual effects, and high-society women in 1680s France who dress like 1980s prom queens. Some of the scenery and production design are nice to look at (parts of the movie were filmed at the Palace of Versailles), but everything else is so bottom-of-the-barrel predictable and corny, it’s an embarrassment to everyone involved in making this horrendous flop.

Directed by Sean McNamara, “The King’s Daughter” is adapted from Vonda N. McIntyre’s 1997 novel “The Moon and the Sun,” which was a combination of science fiction and historical romance. Barry Berman and James Schamus adapted the novel for “The King’s Daughter” screenplay, by hacking up “The Moon and the Sun” and turning it into a screenplay equivalent of a cheap and vapid romance novel. “The King’s Daughter” takes place in 1684 in Versailles, France, but the movie looks like the filmmakers just wanted to stick the movie in a palace setting, hire some well-known actors, and then hope the audience doesn’t notice how phony everything looks.

The makeup and costume design in “The King’s Daughter” can best be described as careless, with too many modern details that make the movie look confused about the century in which this story is supposed to take place. Things aren’t much better with how “The King’s Daughter” has wildly uneven acting that ranges from campy to bored. Maybe it’s because the dialogue that the cast members have to work with is so cringeworthy. Somehow, the filmmakers convinced Oscar-winning actress Julie Andrews to do some voiceover narration for “The King’s Daughter.” Someone should’ve told Andrews that this atrocious movie makes “The Princess Diaries” look like an Oscar-worthy masterpiece in comparison.

“The King’s Daughter” has a muddled story about King Louis XIV (played by Pierce Brosnan, hamming it up in a long-haired wig) wanting to live forever, because he’s so egotistical that he thinks France will go downhill if he dies. “My immortality secures the future of France!” King Louis XIV pompously declares. King Louis XIV, who is also called the Sun King, feels more urgency to find the secret to immortality after he survives a botched assassination attempt upon his victorious return from a war. This assassination scene is sloppily acted: The king gets shot on the side of his abdomen, but then he’s able to get up, as if he just has a slight bruise.

The king’s personal physician Dr. Labarth (played by Pablo Schreiber) tells him that in the underwater Lost City of Atlantis, there’s a fabled female sea creature that could hold the secret to immortality. In order for the immortality magic to work, the creature’s life force can only be taken when the sun meets the moon—in other words, a solar eclipse. The king’s other close advisor is a priest named Père La Chaise (played by a William Hurt), who thinks it’s a bad idea to try to mess with nature and matters of life and death. The priest’s warning doesn’t stop the king from ordering a ship of naval subordinates to find this sea creature in Atlantis.

Captain Yves De La Croix (played by Benjamin Walker) is the ship’s leader. It doesn’t take long for Yves and his men to find two mysterious sea creatures and capture them. The creatures are a mermaid (played by Fan Bingbing, also known as Binging Fan) and a merman, who are a couple with an infant child. The merman is let go, but the mermaid (who’s never given a name) is brought back to an underground grotto area at the king’s palace. Later, it’s shown that the mermaid quickly gave the infant to another mermaid for safekeeping when she saw her male partner being captured and she knew she would be next.

Meanwhile, the beginning of “The King’s Daughter” shows a feisty young woman named Marie-Josèphe (played by Kaya Scodelario), who has grown up in a convent by the sea, being scolded by some nuns for Marie-Josèphe’s penchant of wanting to swim in sea. Rachel Griffiths has a cameo as the convent’s head abbess. Marie-Josèphe’s unnamed mother (played by Tiffany Hofstetter, in a flashback) died when she was a baby. Marie-Josèphe’s father is King Louis XIV, knows about Marie-Josèphe, but never claimed her because she’s an illegitimate child.

Marie-Josèphe has grown up not knowing who her father is, but she’s about to find out. Faster than you can say “stupid fairy-tale movie,” Marie-Josèphe is summoned to the palace by the king, who has no other children and is thinking about his legacy in case he can’t live forever. Eventually, Marie-Josèphe finds out that the king is her father, but he orders her not to tell anyone that he’s her father. The movie tries in overly contrived ways to make Marie-Josephe look like a “relatable princess.” For example, Marie-Josephe clumsily falls in a fountain outside of the palace the first time that she meets the king.

The big conflict in the story comes when Marie-Josèphe finds out about the captured mermaid and wants to free the mermaid from captivity, against the king’s wishes. “The King’s Daughter” awkwardly wastes a lot of time getting to this big conflict. After Marie-Josèphe discovers the captured mermaid in the grotto and starts to befriend her, Marie-Josèphe suddenly gets the urge to play the cello. The music that Marie-Josephe plays is the music she can hear the mermaid communicate. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

When she’s not playing in a string orchestra on the palace lawn, as if she’s some kind of wedding performer, Marie-Josèphe is secretly visiting the mermaid. The strange moaning and shrieks that come out of the mermaid’s mouth can only be described as sounding like a mutation of a whale and a dolphin. The mediocre visual effects for the mermaid are often obscured by the water. The mermaid also glows in the dark.

Marie-Josèphe also hangs out with her lady-in-waiting Magali (played by Crystal Clarke), who is kind of an airhead. This is what Magali says to Marie-Josèphe when Magali finds out that she and Marie-Josèphe both grew up without their biological parents: “Trauma at the start of life often inspires greatness.” The casting of Magali is racially problematic because she is the only black person with a speaking role in the movie—and she’s a servant character who’s essentially a “mammy” stereotype seen in outdated and racist movies.

The movie’s grossly inaccurate fashions are random and very distracting. The society women and men of the king’s court sneer at Marie-Josèphe when she first arrives at the palace, because she’s dressed like a peasant. But some of the women are styled to look like Goths who got rejected from a Siouxie and the Banshees music video from the 1980s.

The fashion mistakes don’t stop there. Marie-Josèphe starts to dress more like a princess, but her gowns are the types of dresses that high school girls in 1980s teen romantic comedies would wear scenes for proms or homecoming dances. Magali sometimes wears a plastic headband that looks like it was bought at a corner drugstore, not something that belongs to a lady-in-waiting in 1680s France. Yves sometimes wears a modern-styled leather jacket, as if he’s about to go on a motorcycle ride in a century where motorcycles weren’t even invented.

Every princess movie has a love story. In “The King’s Daughter,” Yves and Marie-Josèphe make goo-goo eyes at each other almost as soon as they meet, when he catches her hanging out in the grotto with the mermaid. Their courtship plays out exactly like you expect it would. Scodelario and Walker have some on-screen chemistry together (probably because they became a real-life couple because of this movie and are married in real life), but the romance in the movie is very dull.

Predictably, Yves is under orders from the king to keep the mermaid in captivity. Marie-Josèphe wants to set the mermaid free. As Yves and Marie-Josèphe fall in love, his loyalty is torn between King Louis XIV and Marie-Josèphe. You know how this is is going to end, so there’s no suspense.

Marie-Josèphe gets a serious injury on her right arm after falling off of a horse. Dr. Labarth recommends that her arm be amputated. But lo and behold, Marie-Josèphe goes down to the grotto to visit the mermaid, who heals Marie-Josèphe’s arm completely. It makes the king even more determined to steal the mermaid’s powers during the upcoming solar eclipse.

And because this movie is filled with clichés, there’s a love triangle. A haughty rich guy named Jean-Michel Lintillac (played by Ben Lloyd-Hughes) is making King Louis XIV feel guilty because Jean-Michel’s military father was killed in the war, and Jean-Michel blames the king. To get this complainer off of his back, the king offers Jean-Michel the title of duke. Later, the king arranges for Marie-Josèphe to marry Jean-Michel because the king doesn’t want Jean-Michel to be romantically involved with a commoner like Yves, who has some kind of past feud with Jean-Michel.

As the feisty and plucky Marie-Josèphe, Scodelario seems to give a sincere effort to embody her character, but her scenes with Brosnan are undercut by his campy over-the-top acting. Jean-Michel and Dr. Labarthe are just cardboard-like villains, although “Sons of Anarchy” alum Schreiber as Dr. Labarthe should be given some credit for playing a character outside of his usual “working-class tough guy” persona. Meanwhile, Oscar-winning actor Hurt (as Père La Chaise) looks embarrassed to be in this movie. Viewers who watch this train-wreck film might be embarrassed too at wasting their time with this junk.

Gravitas Ventures released “The King’s Daughter” in U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Fire of Love’ (2022), starring Katia Krafft and Maurice Krafft

January 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Maurice Krafft and Katia Krafft in “Fire of Love” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“Fire of Love” (2022)

Directed by Sara Dosa

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the world, the documentary film “Fire of Love” features an all-white group of people discussing the lives and work of French spouses Katia Krafft and Maurice Krafft, who were pioneering volcanologists in the 1970s and 1980s.

Culture Clash: Katia and Maurice Krafft (who died together in 1991) were so obsessed with volcanoes, including going to as many active volcano sites as possible, these two scientists were often described as “weirdos” by their peers and critics.

Culture Audience: “Fire of Love” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in movies about volcanoes and the fine line between passion and obsession.

Katia Krafft in “Fire of Love” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

The visually stunning but occasionally dull “Fire of Love” is best enjoyed by people who are inclined to like nature documentaries. This story about volcanologist spouses Katia Krafft and Maurice Krafft often takes a back seat to the volcano footage. Directed by Sara Dosa and narrated by Miranda July, “Fire of Love” has enough striking visuals that deserve to be seen in a movie theater, but the rest of the movie comes across as a National Geographic TV special. The movie’s constant voiceover narration might annoy some viewers who prefer a “show, don’t tell” approach to filmmaking. “Fire of Love” has its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

It might be easier to understand why there’s voiceover narration in every scene if you know that this documentary has a lot of footage that originally had no sound, according to what Dosa says in the “Fire of Love” production notes. All of the footage in the movie is archival. Most of it consists of 16mm camera footage and photo stills of the Krafft couple’s trips to active volcanoes around the world. Katia and Maurice shot a lot of the footage themselves, while other footage was helmed by colleagues and friends, such as photographer Henry Glicken. A lot of footage also came from publicly accessible archives. The documentary also includes some clips of TV interviews that the couple did over the years, as well as snippets of comments they made in audio form.

July’s narration is perfectly fine, in terms of her tone of voice, for a nature documentary. It’s just that the way that the narration was written tends to have some over-explaining, like a professor’s lecture, when just showing what’s taking place would suffice. The documentary was written by Dosa, “Fire of Love” producer Shane Boris and editors Erin Casper and Jocelyn Chaput. Fortunately, the musical score by Nicolas Godin balances out the very talkative narration with some deeply moving interludes that give viewers the feeling of being transported to the volcanoes that are on screen.

Katia and Maurice Krafft, who were both natives of France, died during a volcanic eruption on Mount Unzen in Japan, on June 3, 1991. Katia was 49, and Maurice was 45. In the “Fire of Love” production notes, Dosa says that one of the documentary’s scientific consultants was volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer, who co-directed Werner Herzog’s 2016 Netflix volcano documentary “Into the Inferno,” which also featured archival footage of Katia and Maurice.

Dosa explains in the “Fire of Love” production notes that she chose to make “Fire of Love” as an all-archival documentary instead of conducting new interviews, in order to immerse viewers in the places and times that the footage was filmed. Dosa comments, “We also wanted to maintain the present tense as much as we could. If we had people commenting on the past, it wouldn’t flow as well.”

Dosa also says in the “Fire of Love” production notes that she was influenced by the French New Wave style of filmmaking in making this documentary, which she compares to a “collage.” The movie is told in chronological order, beginning with a brief summary of how Katia and Maurice met in 1966 (there are at least three different stories of this first meeting), how they bonded over their mutual passion for volcanoes, and how they fell in love. The couple eventually got married in 1970.

Early on in their relationship, Katia and Maurice decided not to have children because the couple’s lives revolved around their all-consuming work. It’s also why Maurice and Katia abandoned their brief stint as anti-war activists, which was a lifestyle that they gave up in pursuit of being volcanologists. Although they did a lot of their volcano work by themselves, they eventually invited some friends and colleagues along to help on their excursions.

Katia was a geochemist who preferred to document their work with still photography. Maurice was a geologist who preferred to document their work as movies. How obsessed were they with volcanoes? Maurice is heard saying in a voiceover: “If I could eat the rocks, I’d stay on the volcanoes and never come down.” Katie says in a TV interview clip: “Once you see an eruption, you can’t live without it.” Even if some critics ridiculed Maurice and Katia for being too unorthodox and acting too much like daredevils in their work, Maurice and Katia were comfortable with their own eccentricities and actually enjoyed their “oddball” reputation.

The Kraffts started out as obscure volcano explorers and scientists, but they became famous for taking risks and bringing back footage of active volcanoes that no one else had at the time. Before drones existed, Katia and Maurice often literally had to stand at the end of volcanoes to get the images that they wanted. Because of the intense and potentially fatal heat involved in their work, they often wore astronaut-like suits (many which they designed themselves) to protect themselves. They worked in all manners of extreme weather conditions.

However, that didn’t mean their work was free from physical injuries and problems. During a 1968 trip to Iceland, the documentary says that the couple’s car broke down 27 times. In addition, there’s footage of Maurice accidentally scalding one of his legs in a volcano pit. The documentary also includes footage of Katia and Maurice in Zaire in 1973 and 1977; Indonesia in 1979; Washington state (for the Mount St. Helens eruption) in 1980; Colombia (for the Nevado del Ruiz eruption) in 1985; and their fateful trip to Japan in 1991.

In addition to the danger, there’s some whimsy and quirkiness in the footage. There’s a scene that shows Maurice and Katia literally dancing together on the edge of a volcano precipice as fiery ash blows through the air. Another scene shows the couple and some friends throwing cowboy hats in the air and act as if they’re in a volcanologist version of a Western movie. There’s footage of Maurice handling molten lava (with gloves on, of course) and plays with it like a child would play with putty. In another scene, Maurice fries eggs in a frying pan using nothing but the hot volcano rocks for heat. He deadpans in his opinion of how the eggs taste: “It’s not great.”

The documentary mentions that Katia and Maurice had journals documenting much of their work and inner thoughts. However, it seems like “Fire of Love” could’ve used more of these personal commentaries in Katia’s and Maurice’s own words. There are only a few instances where journal entries are read. Instead, what viewers will get is July’s narration of the filmmakers’ often-flowery descriptions of the couple and what Katia and Maurice did during their volcano excursions.

For example, the opening scene of the film shows Katia and Maurice driving together in a Toyota Jeep up an icy and snow incline. The Jeep gets stuck in the snow, and there’s some difficulty in getting in moving again. The voiceover narration than says, “In a cold world, although watches start to freeze, the sun came and went between blizzards and gusts that erased all bearings. In this world lived a fire. And in this fire, two lovers found a home.”

The fiery lava in the documentary is color-enhanced in the way that Maurice and Katia intended, according to what Dosa says in the “Fire of Love” production notes. Volcano fire is often brought up in the documentary as a symbol of the couple’s passion for volcanoes and love for each other. “What is it that makes the earth’s heart beat?” July asks in the narration while images of gushing lava fill the screen. “Blood flow.”

Instead of showing Maurice’s and Katia’s personalities, viewers get these descriptions from the narration: “Katia is a like a bird. Maurice is an elephant seal. Katia is drawn to details … Maurice [is drawn to] the singular and grandiose.” Katia was more of author and archivist than Maurice, while Maurice was more of a filmmaker and scientific lecturer than Katia.

To its credit, the movie doesn’t get bogged down in too much technical science, since this movie was intended for people who might have very little interest in science. Katia famously said, “Volcano classifications should be banned,” in a TV interview clip shown in the documentary. However, documentary explains volcanoes in the simple and basic level, by describing two types of volcanoes. Red volcanoes, which erupt when plates pull apart, are basaltic and known for spouting lava that can be up to 1,200 degrees Celsius or 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit. Grey volcanoes, which erupt when plates collide, can go off like nuclear ash bombs and are deadlier than red volcanoes.

After watching this documentary, some viewers might still have a lot of questions about Katia and Maurice. How did their relationship evolve over time? What were their biggest goals and regrets? What did they like to talk about besides volcanoes and work? There are some interesting nuggets of information, such as they both knew that they would probably die together, but none of this information is surprising.

If you’re looking for any sexy romance in a documentary called “Fire of Love,” you’re not going to find it in this documentary. The biggest takeaway from the documentary is that Katia and Maurice Krafft’s greatest love was for volcanoes, so the volcanoes are the real stars of the movie. If you know that information before seeing “Fire of Love,” you’ll have a better chance of enjoying the movie for its majestic depiction of Earth, rather expecting a deep-dive examination of a volcanologist couple’s marriage.

UPDATE: National Geographic Documentary Films will release “Fire of Love” in select U.S. cinemas on a date to be announced. Disney+ will premiere “Fire of Love” on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘Emergency’ (2022), starring RJ Cyler, Donald Elise Watkins, Sebastian Chacon and Sabrina Carpenter

January 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

RJ Cyler, Sebastian Chacon and Donald Elise Watkins appear in “Emergency” (Photo by Quantrell Colbert/Amazon Content Services)

“Emergency” (2021)

Directed by Carey Williams

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city on the East Coast of the U.S., the comedy film “Emergency” features a cast of African American and white characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After planning a night of partying on their college campus, two African American best friends and their Latino roommate have their plans go awry when they find an extremely intoxicated and barely conscious young white female in their house, and the pals have conflicts over what do about this problem.

Culture Audience: “Emergency” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in movies about misadventures of college partiers, but with themes of racial tension and how it affects people’s perspectives of dealing with law enforcement.

“Emergency” repeats a familiar comedy formula of male partiers getting into a big mess on one wild night, but there’s a Black Lives Matter spin on all the shenanigans. The movie’s heavy emotional turn toward the end makes it better than the average comedy about partiers caught up in a big problem, but some movie clichés still remain. Directed by Carey Williams and written by KD Davila, “Emergency” is likely to find an enthusiastic audience of supporters because the movie centers on characters who rarely get to be the lead characters in movies: black male college students. “Emergency” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

“Emergency” opens with the introduction of the two best friends whose partying plans go haywire over fears that they’ll be wrongfully accused of a crime because they are African American. The two pals are undergraduate students in their last year at the fictional Buchanan University, which is in an unnamed city on the East Coast of the U.S. (“Emergency” was actually filmed in New York state.) Kunle, pronounced “kun-lay” (played by Donald Elise Watkins), is a straight-laced, straight-A student majoring in biology and has plans to go to graduate school at Princeton University. Sean (played by RJ Cyler) is a rebellious stoner with a vaping habit and no plans after he graduates. Sean’s college major is not mentioned in the movie.

Kunle and Sean are ready to party one weekend night in the spring, and they want to make it legendary. The university’s Black Student Union headquarters has a “hall of fame” wall displaying commemorative portrait plaques of black students at the school who were the first to achieve something at the university. For example, there are plaques for the first black student to be the school’s newspaper editor, or the first black student to be student government president. “Emergency” pokes fun of this “first black student” tribute wall by also having plaques for trivial things, such as the first black student to use 3-D printing.

Sean and Kunle want to get on the “hall of fame” wall as the first black students to do the Legendary Tour. What is the Legendary Tour? It’s a tour of seven major campus parties happening on the same night, for one night of the year. The parties are invitation-only with distributed passes, and it’s extremely difficult for anyone to score passes for all seven parties.

Not surprisingly, party-loving Sean is the one who’s more caught up than Kunle is in reaching this Legendary Tour goal. Sean is the one who goes to the trouble of getting all the passes that he and Kunle need to complete the Legendary Tour. Kunle goes along with these plans, but he has other things on his mind. He has to complete a very important scientific lab project as part of his thesis required for graduation. The lab project includes meticulous examination and storage of bacteria cultures.

On the day of the Legendary Tour, Sean and Kunle talk about their upcoming party plans and their love lives. Sean has an ex-girlfriend named Asa (played by Summer Madison), another Buchanan University student, who’s done with Sean, but he might not be completely over his feelings for her. Kunle is romantically unattached too, but he has a crush on another student named Bianca (played by Gillian Rabin), who’s in at least one class with Sean and Kunle. Sean, who can be rude and crude, says in typical Sean speak when he and Kunle talk about Bianca: “She wants your dick, bro.”

The movie has only one classroom scene, near the beginning of the film. It appears to be a sociology class, where a British instructor named Professor Clarke (played by Nadine Lewington) says that the topic of the day is hate speech. Sean, Kunle and Bianca are among the students in the class. Not surprisingly, the first word that Professor Clarke wants to discuss is the “n” word, which she says repeatedly, as if she enjoys saying it out loud and knows she’s allowed to say it in this academic context. “What makes this word so powerful?” Professor Clarke asks the students.

Even though the professor reminded the students that this topic of hate speech comes with a trigger warning, and the students signed forms acknowledging that they might hear offensive words during this hate speech topic, Sean whispers to Kunle during the class that he’s still offended. Sean gripes to Kunle: “Why is she teaching a class that she knows nothing about?” Professor Clarke then sees Sean and Kunle talking, and she singles them out to answer questions about the “n” word, which makes Sean even more offended. However, he doesn’t voice his concerns to the professor.

Outside, after the class ends, Sean continues to rant about how Professor Clarke said the “n” word many times in class. Kunle understands both sides of the issue, but he’s also annoyed that Sean is complaining about it to him, not the professor. Kunle reminds Sean that he could’ve said something to the professor about being offended, but Sean didn’t.

Sean’s response is to say: “We got one rule that we ask for white people to respect: ‘Thou shalt not say that one word.’ But they don’t like for us to tell them what to do, so they find loopholes.”

Kunle is more willing to give Professor Clarke the benefit of the doubt by saying she probably didn’t mean any offense. It’s the first sign in the movie that Sean and Kunle have different views of race relations between black people and white people in America. Those differing opinions cause conflicts later on in the movie, which eventually shows if any opinions of the two friends change after their crazy night.

“Emergency” doesn’t go into details over how Sean and Kunle met or how long they’ve been friends, but they’ve been friends since at least their first year at Buchanan University. Conversations in the movie drop some details indicating that Kunle and Sean come from very different family backgrounds. Viewers can see these contrasting backgrounds also shape Sean’s and Kunle’s different perspectives of life as an African American man.

Kunle (who appears to be an only child, since he doesn’t mention any siblings) has parents who are doctors and African immigrants. Kunle is also somewhat of a mama’s boy, since there’s a scene where he talks to his overprotective mother (voiced by Ebbe Bassey) on the phone. There’s a scene later in the movie where Kunle and Sean have a big argument, and Kunle implies that he’s smarter than Sean and has a brighter future because Kunle had a “better” upbringing than Sean.

Sean doesn’t mention his parents, but he comes from a less privileged background where members of his family have had entanglements with police. At one point in the movie, Sean mentions an unarmed cousin who was shot in the rear end by a cop. And there’s another scene in the movie that takes place in the home of Sean’s older brother Terence (played by Robert Hamilton III), who doesn’t want to get involved in Sean’s problems because Terence is on parole for an unnamed reason. It’s hinted in this conversation that Sean has also gotten into trouble with the law in the past, but the movie doesn’t go into any details.

Sean and Kunle live together in an on-campus house with a third student, who’s also in his last year at Buchanan. His name is Carlos (played by Sebastian Chacon), and he’s a nerdy pothead who desperately wants to be accepted by Sean and Kunle to be their close friend. Carlos, who’s an aspiring mechanical aerospace engineer, spends a lot of time by himself smoking marijuana and playing video games. Kunle is more tolerant of Carlos than Sean, who thinks Carlos is very corny, immature and weird. Carlos wears a fanny pack and likes to offer granola bars to people as a way to try to make friends.

This friendship dynamic is a formula that’s been used in other several comedy films about male buddies who go out for a night of partying: Two best friends—one who’s mild-mannered and polite, the other who is cocky and foul-mouthed—end up with a “third wheel” pal/acquaintance who’s an eccentric misfit. Examples include 2007’s “Superbad,” 2009’s “The Hangover” and Hulu’s 2020 silly stoner comedy “The Binge.” You can also go all the way back to “Three Stooges” movies to find this formula. “Emergency” stands out because all three of the men happen to be people of color.

Sean has meticulously mapped out his and Kunle’s plans for the Legendary Tour, including the order in which they’ll go to each party and what they’ll be doing at each party. Even though Carlos wants to party with Sean and Kunle, Sean doesn’t want Carlos tagging along because he thinks Carlos is too much of a dork. Sean and Kunle plan to take Sean’s car for their night of debauchery. Kunle drinks alcohol but doesn’t do drugs, while Sean gives the impression that he’s up for doing any kind of drug that comes his way. Sean is drunk and stoned throughout most of the movie.

Things start to go wrong on the night of the Legendary Tour when Sean and Kunle are all set to go to the first stop on tour, and Kunle remembers that he accidentally forgot to properly refrigerate his lab bacteria cultures. In a panic, he tells Sean that if the cultures are ruined, his thesis will be ruined too, and he won’t be able to graduate. Kunle is also worried that messing up this assignment will hurt his chances of going to Princeton.

Sean doesn’t want to go to the parties without Kunle, so he agrees to go with Kunle to take care of this problem. It’s a detour that will delay their partying for about 15 to 20 minutes, so Sean is slightly annoyed but willing to go along with this change of plans. Before they go to the lab, Sean and Kunle have to stop off at their house to get the lab keys. And that’s when things get crazy.

Soon after arriving in the house, Sean and Kunle notice that the front door is unlocked. And on the living room floor is a teenage girl, dressed in a pink mini-skirt outfit and barely conscious. She’s so intoxicated that she can barely talk, so getting any information from her is useless. The teenager has no purse or ID on her either. And then she starts vomiting, for the first of several times in the movie.

A panicked Sean and Kunle go in Carlos’ room to find out what’s going on and who this mystery girl is, but Carlos has locked himself in his room, getting stoned and playing video games. Carlos doesn’t know who the teenager is and how she got into the house. Carlos is blamed for not knowing how this teenage girl got into the house when he was home, so he’s pressured into helping fix this problem.

Kunle’s first thought is to call 911, but Sean adamantly refuses because he’s certain that because they’re three young men of color in a house with an unconscious white female, they will automatically be blamed for a crime. There’s some back-and-forth arguing over what to do. Kunle hates Sean’s idea to secretly drop the teenager off at a nearby party, but Kunle agrees to the idea that they should anonymously bring her to a hospital.

Of course, there would be no “Emergency” movie if things went according to these friends’ plans. Sean, Kunle and Carlos put the mystery girl in the back of Sean’s car, as they drive to the nearest hospital. What they don’t know yet but the audience finds out early on is that her name is Emma (played by Maddie Nichols), and she’s the younger sister of a Buchanan student named Maddy (played by Sabrina Carpenter), who now knows that Emma is missing and is frantically looking for her.

Maddy invited Emma to hang out with her for some campus partying but lost track of Emma. Maddy doesn’t want to call the police to report Emma missing because Maddy is drunk and doesn’t want to get in trouble for underage drinking. And so, Maddy enlists the help of her level-headed friend Alice (played by Madison Thompson) and Alice’s love interest Rafael (played by Diego Abraham) to find Emma. Luckily, Emma has a Find My app on her phone, so that Maddy, Alice and Rafael can track the general area of where she is.

This phone tracking is crucial to a lot of the twists and turns in “Emergency,” but there are still a few plot holes where viewers have to suspend some disbelief. The biggest plot hole is that Maddy didn’t call Emma’s phone while looking for Emma. Maddy sends texts instead. If Maddy had called the phone, then Sean, Kunle and Carlos would’ve heard the phone ringing and found out right away that Emma had a phone, and none of this mess would’ve happened. And where exactly was Emma’s phone? Why were Sean, Kunle and Carlos not able to see it? Those questions are answered in the last third of the movie.

“Emergency” has a few contrivances to ramp up the comedy, such as Maddy, Alice and Raphael only having a bicycle and a skateboard to get around for transportation. A running joke in the film is that Maddy (who’s too drunk to operate anything that moves) has to be stuck on the back of the bike, while whoever is operating the bike has to work extra hard to pedal the bike because of the extra weight. The movie makes a point of depicting Maddy as a very quick-tempered, bossy and entitled person.

If Maddy is afraid of getting busted by police for underage drinking, Sean is afraid of getting killed by police, just for being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sean repeatedly warns Kunle that it could happen to them. And so, there’s a scene where they try to find white or Asian friends who can call 911 for them. Even though this scene is supposed to be hilarious, there’s some biting truth in how the scene comments on racial disparities between how law enforcement treats black people compared to other races.

“Emergency” also pokes fun at the hypocrisy of white people who claim to support the Black Lives Matter movement but are quick to assume that black people are criminals. This happens in a scene in a quiet suburban neighborhood where Emma has to be taken into some shrubbery so that she can urinate. A suspicious white couple (played by Melanie Jeffcoat and James Healy Jr.) in a nearby house see Sean sitting in his car alone on the street outside the house while this is going on. You can easily guess what happens from there, because the movie makes the point that if Sean had been white, this suspicious couple might have had a very different reaction. Ironically, there’s a Black Lives Matter sign on this couple’s lawn.

“Emergency” has a lot to say about race relations, racism and how they are affected by people’s perceptions and interactions with law enforcement. Even though it’s a fictional movie, it brings up many uncomfortable truths about how people are treated and see the world differently because of racial inequalities. Some viewers might laugh at how “paranoid” Sean acts throughout the entire movie. But sadly, his outlook is the reality of many people.

As a comedy, the movie has some slapstick ridiculousness and it tends to over-rely on gross-out vomit gags, but all of it doesn’t undermine the movie’s message. Cyler and Watkins are a dynamic duo in how they portray this realistic friendship. Their emotional moments that come later in the movie are well-acted and have a resonance that goes deeper than a typical comedy film. Chacon is quite good in his role as a sweet-natured misfit, while Carpenter plays her “entitled princess” role to the hilt.

Is “Emergency” a perfect movie? No. For a movie that’s supposed to be about life from an African American perspective, “Emergency” gives very little screen time or importance to African American women. Sean’s ex-girlfriend Asa is the movie’s only black female character who has more than one scene, but she’s in the movie for less than 10 minutes. In one of her brief appearances, Asa says to Sean about Kunle: “Don’t go dragging him into your bullshit. That boy is Black Excellence.”

“Emergency” is so focused on the pain and pressure that black men get from racism, it fails to mention or show that black women share this burden too. In fact, the Black Lives Matter movement was started by African American women. Filmmakers need to be more mindful of how black women are depicted in movies like “Emergency,” because these filmmakers can be guilty of the same sidelining of black women that happens in so-called “racially insensitive” and “racist” movies.

Despite these flaws in the movie, “Emergency” skillfully blends comedy with some of the serious issues presented in the film. The cast members also elevate the material, which could have been mishandled if the cast members weren’t talented. Sean is the flashiest character in “Emergency,” but the movie wants audiences to pay the most attention to Kunle’s perspective and how Kunle is affected by what he goes through in this story.

Amazon Studios will release “Emergency” in select U.S. cinemas and on Prime Video on dates to be announced.

Review: ‘India Sweets and Spices,’ starring Sophia Ali, Manisha Koirala, Adil Hussain, Deepti Gupta, Rish Shah and Ved Sapru

January 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rish Shah, Sophia Ali and Ved Sapru in “India Sweets and Spices” (Photo courtesy of SK Global Entertainment/Bleecker Street)

“India Sweets and Spices”

Directed by Geeta Malik

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional city of Ruby Hill, New Jersey, and briefly in Los Angeles, the comedy/drama film “India Sweets and Spices” features a cast of characters of Indian heritage representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While on a summer break after her first year in college, a young upper-middle-class woman has some clashes with her parents, including her parents not approving of her working-class boyfriend, and how she’s affected when she finds out her parents’ biggest secrets. 

Culture Audience: “India Sweets and Spices” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching appealing but not particularly outstanding movies about Indian American culture.

Manisha Koirala in “India Sweets and Spices” (Photo courtesy of SK Global Entertainment/Bleecker Street)

As a blend of a romantic comedy and a family drama, “India Sweets and Spices” can be somewhat erratic in its tone and pacing. The second half of the movie is much better than the first half. It’s ultimately a charming story about a young woman finding her identity and coming to terms with how family baggage and family traditions affect her life. Written and directed by Geeta Malik, “India Sweets and Spices” benefits from having an engaging cast that can hold viewers’ interest, even when certain parts of the movie start to drag into a predictable formula.

Fortunately, there are some surprises in “India Sweets and Spices,” but they don’t come until the last half of the movie. The first half of the film gives the impression that’s it’s going to be a typical romantic comedy about a young woman who defies her parents’ wishes, by dating someone from a family that’s looked down on by her parents. In the second half of the movie, her parents’ secrets lead to the more dramatic parts of the story, which at times resembles a soap opera. “India Sweets and Spices” had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

In the beginning of “India Sweets and Spices,” Alia Kapur (played by Sophia Ali) has just completed her freshman year at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and is about to go on a summer break. Her last party on campus before her vacation is a “social justice social,” which is the type of party she’s been going to on a regular basis. Alia gets drunk at the party and impulsively cuts her long hair into a mid-length bob.

Alia has already declared biology has her major. It seems that she’s planning to be a scientist or medical doctor, which would be a profession that her parents would approve of, since her father Ranjit Kapur (played by Adil Hussain) is a heart surgeon. Alia’s mother Sheila Kapur (played by Manisha Koirala) is a traditional homemaker. Alia has two siblings: sister Jiya Kapur (played by Rhea Patil) is about 13 or 14 years old, while brother Sahil Kapur (Ansh Nayak) is about 10 or 11 years old. Alia and her siblings were born in the United States, while their parents were born in India and immigrated to the U.S. not long after they got married.

The Kapur family lives in an upper-middle-class home in the fictional city of Ruby Hill, New Jersey. (“India Sweets and Spices” was actually filmed in Atlanta.) Alia is spending her vacation at her parents’ home. She’s looking forward to a summer of being free from school and hanging out with her childhood best friend Neha Bhatia (played by Anita Kalathara), who is a loyal and cheerful pal. However, since Alia and Neha follow their family traditions, they know they have to spend a lot of time at their parents’ social gatherings. These parties often take place at the Kapur family home.

Only other upper-middle-class or wealthy Indians in the area are invited to these parties. It soon becomes clear in the movie that these soirees are excuses for many of the party attendees to show off, brag about their lives, and gossip. Alia’s parents are extremely status-conscious and love to give the impression that they’re highly intellectual and cultured. As an example of their pretentiousness, there’s a scene later in the movie where Alia and her love interest are in the library of the Kapur family home, and she shows him that some of the “intellectual” books on the bookshelves are really just empty façades.

Alia’s love interest is Varun Dutta (played by Rish Shah), who works in his parents’ local convenience store that carries a lot of Southeast Asian food. The name of the store is India Sweets and Spices. Alia happens to go in the store one day to buy some biscuits for her family’s upcoming house party. The movie has a rom-com contrivance of Alia seeing Varun and being so instantly attracted him, she gets flustered and buys more biscuits than she needs.

Alia and Varun have their “meet cute” moment when they lock eyes and they strike up a flirty conversation. (In a self-deprecating nod to predictable “meet cute” moments in romantic comedies, the movie even has a wind-flowing-through-hair effect and angel sounds when Alia first sees Varun.) Alia tells Varun that she’s on a summer break from UCLA. And what a coincidence: Varun mentions that he’s completed community college and will be transferring to UCLA later that year when school starts again in the fall.

During this conversation, Alia also meets Varun’s parents—father Kamlesh Dutta (played by Kamran Shaikh) and mother Bhairavi “Peru” Dutta (played by Deepti Gupta)—and Varun’s sister Puja Dutta (played by Jia Patel), who’s about 12 or 13, and who helps out in the family store. Alia finds out that the Dutta family recently moved to the area. The entire family is friendly, so Alia impulsively invites Varun and his parents to her family’s house party. They happily accept the invitation.

Not everyone is happy about this invitation. Alia’s mother Sheila, who is a very uptight snob, is annoyed that this working-class family was invited to the party without Sheila being consulted first. And sure enough, when the Dutta family arrives, Sheila and her husband Ranjit treat the Duttas somewhat dismissively. And so do many other people at party, when they find out that the Duttas make their living by owning a convenience store.

The Duttas graciously brought food to the party as a gift, but Sheila turns her nose up that too, because the food is in a plastic Tupperware container instead of a more upscale container. Sheila is also somewhat annoyed by the gift because she sees herself as a socialite who doesn’t host parties where guests don’t need to bring their own food and drinks. As Alia tells Varun later, Sheila is the type of person who looks down on anyone who isn’t wearing designer clothes. When Alia and Varun go upstairs to an empty room to make out with each other, they see something that turns Alia’s world upside down. It’s her father’s big secret.

Alia’s parents make it clear to Alia that they think it’s more appropriate that she date someone who can afford to pay for the privileged lifestyle in which Alia has been raised. The parents think an ideal match would be Rahul Singh (played by Ved Sapru), the son of their longtime friends Gurvinder Singh (played by Raj Kala) and Uma Singh (played by Priya Deva), who apparently have more money than the Kapur family. Alia and Rahul have known each other since childhood, but there aren’t any real romantic sparks between them. Rahul, who’s a student at Duke University, can be conceited and arrogant, but he’s not a complete jerk.

Even though Alia’s parents think that the Dutta family isn’t good enough to be in their social circle, Alia has a mind of her own and starts dating Varun anyway. As Varun and Alia get to know each other, and their feelings for each other grow stronger, they find out that their parents had very different courtships. Alia’s parents had an arranged marriage, while Varun’s parents married for love and of their own free will.

The differences between these two sets of parents cause tensions between the two families, mainly because Alia’s parents treat Varun and his family as if they’re second-class citizens. It’s not quite a “Romeo and Juliet” story, because there are other complications besides family disapproval of a romance. It turns out that when Varun’s mother Bhairavi saw Alia’s mother Sheila at the party, Bhairavi immediately recognized Sheila as a former friend she knew when they were students at Delhi University. Bhairavi hugged Sheila, who responded in a standoffish way and pretended not to know Bhairavi.

Eventually, Sheila admits that she and Bhairavi knew each other, but Sheila says she’s a different person now. How different? When she was in college, Sheila was a progressive feminist who formed a women’s rights activist group with some other female students. Bhairavi was one of those students. (This isn’t spoiler information because it’s already revealed in the movie’s trailer.)

Alia, who considers herself to be a liberal feminist, is shocked to find out that her mother used to be a liberal feminist too when Sheila was Alia’s age. Sheila has completely opposite beliefs now. What happened to make Sheila change so drastically? That’s the secret that Sheila doesn’t want a lot of people to know.

“India Sweets and Spices” is by no means a boring movie, but it seems like writer/director Malik tried to cram in too many ideas that sometimes don’t flow too well together. The first half of the movie is almost like a breezy, lightweight comedy about Alia and Kapur’s budding romance, but the second half takes a very different and much more serious tone as Sheila has to deal with the secrets that she finds out about both of her parents. Both of these secrets will have negative effects on their parents’ reputations if these secrets are revealed to the people in their stuck-up and judgmental social circle.

The movie takes an interesting look at how upwardly mobile immigrant families in the United States can act to assimilate into American culture and achieve the American Dream. Alia’s family represents the toxicity of what can happen when any family puts too much emphasis on appearances and wealth and not on being genuine and compassionate human beings. Alia thinks she’s not like her image-conscious and materialistic parents, but there’s some friction in her relationship with Varun when he points out to Alia the ways in which she behaves like an elitist snob.

All of the cast members are convincing in their roles, but Ali as Alia and Koirala as Sheila are the ones who get to show the most acting range. That’s because Alia and Sheila are the ones who have the most depth to their personalities in this movie. Even though “India Sweets and Spices” does have a boyfriend-girlfriend romance as a big part of the story, the mother-daughter relationship is ultimately the one that has the most impact and will be remembered by viewers the most.

Bleecker Street released “India Sweets and Spices” in select U.S. cinemas on November 19, 2021, and on digital and VOD on December 7, 2021.

Review: ‘A Hero,’ starring Amir Jadidi, Mohsen Tanabandeh, Sahar Goldoust, Saleh Karimaei, Alireza Jahandideh, Maryam Shahdaei and Farrokh Nourbakht

January 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mohsen Tanabandeh, Saleh Karimai and Amir Jadidi in “A Hero” (Photo by Amir Hossein Shojaei/Amazon Content Services)

“A Hero”

Directed by Asghar Farhadi

In Persian (Farsi) with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Shiraz, Iran, the dramatic film “A Hero” features an all-Middle-Eastern cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: While on a brief leave of absence from his prison sentence, a man with a history of being a chronic liar returns a lost purse filled with valuable coins, and he’s praised as a hero, but then he finds himself involved in a web of lies and mistrust.

Culture Audience: “A Hero” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of writer/director Asghar Farhadi and movies that have incisive commentaries on how media and public opinions can play influential roles in people’s images and reputations.

Sahar Goldoust in “A Hero” (Photo by Amir Hossein Shojaei/Amazon Content Services)

Can someone with a reputation of being unreliable and dishonest be redeemed by doing a single act of kindness? That’s a question posed throughout the suspenseful drama “A Hero,” which has very realistic depictions of themes exploring how media and public opinions can shape how someone in the public eye can be perceived. Written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, the movie takes place in Shiraz, Iran, in a culture that places an extremely high value on honor that individuals can bring to themselves and their families. That’s why the stakes are so high for the troubled protagonist who finds his attempt to clean up his reputation go awry after he does what he thinks is a good dead that will redeem him.

“A Hero” had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix Prize. The movie was selected as Iran’s entry for the Best International Feature Film category for the 2022 Academy Awards. “A Hero,” which clocks in at 127 minutes, starts off a little slowly, but then it picks up its pace and becomes more intriguing about 45 minutes into the movie. It goes from being a drama about a prisoner in a family feud into a mystery thriller involving several members of the community.

The movie’s protagonist is Rahim Soltani (played by Amir Jadidi), a divorced father who’s been sentenced to prison for an unpaid debt of 150,000 tomans, which would be about $17,000 in U.S. dollars in the early 2020s, when this story takes place. Rahim owes the money to a businessman named Bahram (played by Mohsen Tanabandeh), who happens to be the brother-in-law of Rahim’s ex-wife. The ex-wife is never seen in the movie, and her name is never mentioned, although she is occasionally talked about by the people in the story.

Rahim, who has lived in Shiraz his entire life, has a prison sentence that allows him to leave the facility for a few days at a time, as long as he reports back to the prison to complete his sentence. The movie opens with Rahim going on an authorized two-day leave from the prison. What happens during those two days causes a chain of events that creates even more chaos in his life.

At first, Rahim seems to be in good spirits when he leaves the prison. He carries himself with the air of a good-looking charmer, who’s quick to dazzle people with his friendly ways and charismatic smile. But as time goes on, there are signs that Rahim has a dark side that’s he’s been trying to leave behind—or at least make people think he’s turned his life around into being a responsible and honest person.

The first person whom Rahim visits during this prison leave is Hossein (played by Alireza Jahandideh), Rahim’s friendly brother-in-law, who is married to Rahim’s sister Malileh (played by Maryam Shahdaei), a nurturing homemaker who has some health problems, such as neck pain and arthritis. Hossein works at a construction site that is renovating the Tomb of Xerxes. Rahim has enlisted Hossein’s help in trying to work out a payment plan with Bahram to erase the debt.

Rahim’s occupation before he went to prison and why he owes 150,000 tomans aren’t revealed until nearly halfway through the movie. He used to be a sign painter and a calligrapher, but business in those areas declined with the rise of do-it-yourself online graphic design. Rahim borrowed the money from Bahram to start his own business.

Rahim confidently tells Hossein how he can start paying off the debt, “I can have 75,000 tomans. Someone will give it to me. It’s not a loan.” Rahim will only say that he’s getting the money from “a friend,” but he won’t say who that friend is.

That’s where Rahim’s very loyal girlfriend Farkhondeh (played by Sahar Goldoust) comes into the picture. After leaving the construction site, Rahim goes to pick up Farkhondeh in his truck. Farkhondeh, who is elated to see Rahim, has a black purse containing some gold coins, which she and Rahim try to sell at a pawn shop. However, the shop dealer makes a calculation offer that Rahim and Farkhondeh know is too low for the types of coins that they have, so they leave the shop without making a sale.

Before Rahim and Hossein discuss this possible payment plan with Bahram, they stop off at the home of Hossein and Malileh, where Rahim will be staying before he goes back to prison. Malileh and Hossein live in the home with their two children—daughter Negar (who’s about 10 or 11 years old) and son Nima (who’s about 7 or 8 years old)—and Rahim’s son Siavesh (played by Saleh Karimaei), who’s about 12 or 13 years old. The movie doesn’t clearly explain the custody arrangement that Rahim has with his ex-wife for Siavesh, who is Rahim’s only child. However, the the movie implies that the ex-wife still has contact with Siavesh, because he told Negar that his mother recently accepted a marriage proposal.

In the beginning of the movie, Rahim’s relationship with Siavesh is strained and distant. Siavesh is the only one in the household who doesn’t seems happy to see Rahim during this brief visit. Siavesh has a speech impediment that causes him to stutter and makes it difficult for him to articulate words. It’s also mentioned that Siavesh has recently gotten into a fight at school. It’s easy to speculate that Siavesh, who is quiet and emotionally withdrawn, could be bullied at school because of his speech impediment.

The lack of good communication between Rahim and Siavesh isn’t really about Siavesh’s speech impediment. It has more to do with Siavesh’s lack of trust in Rahim. Through various conversations, it’s revealed that Rahim has constantly let down the people who are closest to him. Later in the movie, when Rahim is asked about why he got divorced, he’s purposely vague and says that he and his ex-wife just didn’t get along with each other. However, Rahim’s unpaid debt to Bahram certainly didn’t help matters, since it’s caused bad blood between Rahim and his ex-wife’s side of the family.

Rahim says he’s trying to make things right by paying off the debt, which is why he wants to work out a payment plan with Bahram, who was the one who pressed charges to have Rahim arrested for non-payment of the debt. Bahram owns a copy/print shop in the area that is managed by his bachelorette daughter Nazanin (played by Sarina Farhadi), who doesn’t look pleased to see Rahim and Hossein when they show up unannounced to try to talk to Bahram. At one point in the movie, Bahram bitterly says that he had to use Nazanin’s dowry to cover the money he lost in the loan to Rahim.

Bahram isn’t at the shop, so Hossein (who acts as a mediator) insists that Nazanin get Bahram on the phone. During this phone conversation, Hossein tells Bahram that Rahim is willing to immediately pay 70,000 tomans as down payment for the debt. Bahram is extremely skeptical that Rahim has the money. “The jerk is lying,” Bahram angrily says. “Why should you expect me to trust him? He let down his family. He deserves no favor.”

After some arguing back and forth, Bahram reluctantly agrees to a tentative payment plan where Hossein will give Bahram bond checks, and Rahim will then play 7,500 tomans a month until the debt is paid off. Rahim insists he really can get about 70,000 tomans in cash. Where is he going to get the money?

It’s eventually revealed that Farkhondeh doesn’t actually own the purse with the gold coins. Farkhondeh found the purse and coins on the street, she told Rahim about this discovery, and Rahim concocted a plan to sell the coins to get some easy cash to start paying off his debt. Farkhondeh and Rahim are very much in love, and he plans to marry her someday. But for now, Rahim will be unemployed and without his own place to live when he gets out of prison. He seems to want to turn his life around and prove that he can be a responsible provider before he commits to another marriage.

With a failed attempt to sell the coins and time running out before he has to report back to prison, Rahim then comes up with the idea to come forward and report that the purse was found, with the hope that the owner will offer a reward. He goes to the bank that is near where Farkhondeh found the purse, to ask if anyone was looking for the purse at the bank. However, the bank officials say that no one inquired about the purse, but they suggest they he make flyers advertising the found purse.

The bank officials let Rahim use their copy supplies to make the flyers, which he posts in various locations around the area. Rahim doesn’t have his own cell phone. Instead of putting his sister’s phone number on the flyers, he puts the phone number of the prison. It’s a choice that he will later regret.

When his leave time ends, Rahim reports back to prison, where he and some other prisoners are given the task of wallpapering a room. His supervisor on the job is Mrs. Marvasti (played by Parisa Khajehdehi), who gets a call from a woman claiming to be the owner of the purse, and the woman asks to speak to Rahim. Rahim explains to Mrs. Marvasti what happened and that he put the prison phone number on the flyers. Mrs. Marvasti is very annoyed and tells him never to give out the prison phone number to anyone again.

Rahim is allowed to take the call from the mystery woman, who correctly answers his questions about the contents of the purse. Rahim explains that he’s in prison but that he left the purse and its contents with his sister and brother-in-law. He gives the woman the address and his sister’s phone number.

The woman (played by Fatemeh Tavakoli) who shows up to claim the purse and coins is tearful and expresses gratitude that her purse was found and that all its contents returned to her. Her visit is during the day, when Malileh and Siavesh are the only ones at home. (It’s implied that Siavesh isn’t in school because of his recent fight.)

The woman explains that she found out she lost the purse in between bus stops, and that she doesn’t want her husband to know that she lost the coins. The woman insists on giving a small cash reward for the return of the purse and coins. Malileh repeatedly declines the offer and finally accepts it when the woman says she’s giving the reward money to Siavesh.

The prison officials find out from Mrs. Marvasti about Rahim’s act of kindness in having the purse and gold coins returned to the woman who came forward and claimed these items. They ask Rahim for more information, and it’s enough for them to want to take the story to the media. Two prison officials in particular—prison warden Mr. Salehpoor (played by Mohammad Aghebati) and prison chief of cultural activities Salehi Taheri (played by Farrokh Nourbakht)—immediately arrange for a newspaper and a national TV network to interview Rahim.

Salehi has a closer relationship to Rahim than Mr. Salehpoor does, so Rahim confides in Salehi that he didn’t actually find the purse and coins but his girlfriend did. Rahim also says that, for personal reasons, he would rather not reveal his girlfriend’s identity because some people in his family don’t know yet that he’s dating her. Salehi says it doesn’t matter who found the purse and coins because Rahim was the one who distributed the flyers and arranged for purse and coins to be returned to the rightful owner. Salehi tells Rahim that it will be okay for Rahim to take all the credit without mentioning his girlfriend.

It isn’t long before Rahim becomes a local celebrity because of the media coverage. He’s praised for being a hero and treated like a hero by many people, ranging from his immediate family to complete strangers. In his interviews, he admits that he originally planned to sell the coins, but he changed his mind when he prayed about it. He says that the botched sale attempt was a sign from God that selling the coins wasn’t the right thing to do.

A local woman named Mrs. Radmehr (played by Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy) heads the Mehrpooyan Charity Association, a religious group that helps prisoners in need. She arranges a ceremony where Rahim is honored and where she announces that a local council has offered Rahim a job in its administration when his prison sentence ends. In addition, the charity launches a fundraising initiative to help Rahim pay off his debt. The fundraising immediately gets about 30,000 tomans in donations, with more money pouring in from the public.

Not everyone is impressed with Rahim’s new “hero” status. A hostile prisoner (played by Amir Amiri) outright accuses Rahim of colluding with prison officials to fabricate the story, so that the prison could get some good publicity after the recent scandal of a prisoner committing suicide. Rahim denies that the story is a lie, and he refuses the other prisoner’s challenge to get in a physical fight over it. However, the prison is so pleased with all the good PR that the story has generated, Rahim is allowed another prison leave so that he can arrange to pay off his debt with the money that was raised for him, as well as interview for the job that was offered to him.

Bahram is very skeptical that Rahim’s story is true, and he openly expresses his doubt in a meeting with Rahim, Hossein, Mrs. Radmehr and other charity officials, who try to get Bahram to accept the fundraising money to pay off Rahim’s debt. Bahram tells everyone who will listen that Rahim is a habitual liar. Bahram thinks that Rahim doesn’t deserve the charity money that was raised for Rahim because Bahram says that Rahim shouldn’t be rewarded with money for doing what any decent human being would do.

But the biggest stumbling block for Rahim in his road to redemption is when he goes to interview for the job at the local council. The human resources director Mr. Nadeali (played by Ehsan Goodarzi) says the job won’t be offered until Rahim’s story checks out as true. He asks Rahim to have the woman who claimed the purse and coins to come to the office to verify that she’s the rightful owner. The problem is that Rahim doesn’t know her name, and neither does Malileh or Siavish, who didn’t ask for the woman’s name or contact information when she went to the home.

Meanwhile, rumors are being spread on social media that Rahim made up the entire story. The rest of the movie is a rollercoaster ride as Rahim tries to find the mystery woman and prove that he’s not involved in a con game. Rahim ends up having to be his own private investigator in a race against time before has to spend his last few days in prison. He gets some help from Farkhondeh, his family members and other members of the community, but will that be enough? Not all of the questions posed in the movie are answered.

Although “A Hero” has plenty of tension and very good acting performances, the movie does suffer a bit from some plot holes. First, with all the media coverage of Rahim’s story, it’s highly unlikely that journalists wouldn’t first try to find the woman who claimed to be the owner of the purse and coins, before making Rahim into a hero. Most journalists covering the story would at least need her name, in order for the story to check out and be reported accurately. In other words, the movie kind of gets it wrong about the fact checking needed before a story like this could be reported as real by legitimate media.

Second, during his investigation, Rahim is able to obtain a surveillance camera photo of the mystery woman, but he doesn’t use any media coverage (on social media or traditional media) to try and find her. He just shows the picture to some people in the area, who say they don’t recognize her. It’s a pretty big plot hole, considering that media coverage is a major part of the movie, in terms of how Rahim’s reputation is being handled.

Third, everyone puts the burden and blame on Rahim for not getting this woman’s name, when he wasn’t the one who gave the items back to her, and he wasn’t the one who sought media attention for this good deed. The media failed to do due diligence in checking out the story, and so did the prison officials who eagerly took the story to the media. The pile-on of shame that Rahim gets in the movie seems overly contrived for the sake of drama, when any viewer can see he didn’t plan the media coverage that he ended up getting.

Still, there are some aspects about the story that make the movie very compelling to watch. Because of the clues that Rahim uncovers, he starts to believe that this mystery woman was involved in some kind of set-ap against Rahim, and she doesn’t want to be found. For example, there was no ID in the purse, and she purposely used strangers’ cell phones to make her calls about the purse.

The movie drops some big hints over who could have been behind this set-up. But does this conspiracy theory turn out to be true, and does anyone get caught for it? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out. “A Hero” doesn’t portray Rahim as a totally innocent victim, because he makes decisions that are foolish, dishonest and self-destructive. Even though he has a charming side, Rahim also has a nasty temper that can turn violent.

One of the things that’s very noticeable about “A Hero” is that this “hero” actually needs rescuing more than a few times by his girlfriend. Without going into too many details, it’s enough to say that Farkhondeh does whatever it takes to help Rahim, whom she describes as the love of her life and the only person who makes her happy. And exactly who is Farkhondeh?

The movie gives some context over why Farkhondeh, who is 37, is willing to risk everything in her life for Rahim. In a patriarchal nation where a never-married, 37-year-old woman with no kids is considered a hopeless “old maid,” Farkhondeh is living with this societal stigma. She doesn’t have a home of her own. If she has a job, it’s never mentioned in the movie. The only times that Farkhondeh is shown in the movie is in the context of her relationship with Rahim.

Farkhondeh lives with her very domineering brother Morteza (played by Mohammad Jamalledini) and his wife. Farkhondeh has to ask for his permission for Rahim to meet Morteza, who doesn’t approve of Rahim being a divorced, unemployed father with a prison record. Morteza changes his mind about Rahim being a loser when he sees the media coverage of Rahim’s “good deed.”

Still, Morteza warns Farkhondeh not to come crying to him when Rahim breaks her heart. And when Rahim’s credibility about the “good deed” begins to be publicly doubted, Morteza begins to think that his first thoughts about Rahim being a con artist just might be true. Despite getting a lot of criticism from Morteza about her choice in Rahim as a partner, Farkhondeh has a feisty streak that doesn’t put up with any insults that Morteza throws her way.

Another interesting aspect of “A Hero” is how the relationship evolves between Rahim and his son Siavesh. In the beginning of the movie, Rahim almost treats Saivesh like an embarrassment to the family, while Siavesh treats Rahim like a deadbeat dad. When Rahim becomes a public “hero,” Siavesh begins to respect Rahim, and they become closer.

But the true test of their relationship is when Rahim gets some public backlash after his story is doubted. That’s when Rahim begins to understand what Siavesh must feel like to be treated like a misunderstood outsider. In the last third of the movie, there’s a very powerful scene where Rahim’s protective side as a father comes out when he sees how Siavesh is being mistreated by someone.

The relationships that Rahim has with Siavesh and with Farkhondeh are the emotional centers of the movie. And that’s why, as riveting as Jadidi’s performance is as Rahim, it’s made all the more poignant because of the convincing performances of Karimaei as Siavesh and Goldoust as Farkhondeh. Without them, Rahim’s motives would appear to be entirely selfish in fighting for his integrity and reputation.

“A Hero” also has some nuanced storytelling about society’s tendency to make people sudden stars and then want to tear them down just as quickly. There’s a level of unrealistic “perfection” that many people in the public eye are expected to have. Any signs of flaws or mistakes made as a “celebrity” can result in public shaming and attempts to “cancel” the person and relegate that person back to obscurity.

The movie leaves open-ended questions for audiences to ponder, such as: “Who is worthy of this type of accelerated vaulting into ‘hero’ status? How should they be vetted? And what types of mistakes or misdeeds of these public heroes should be forgiven and when?” Despite some flaws in the plot of “A Hero,” writer/director Farhadi skillfully weaves these questions into the story in a way that will have audiences thinking about these questions long after the movie is over.

Amazon Studios released “A Hero” in select U.S. cinemas on January 7, 2022. Prime Video will premiere the movie on January 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Memoria’ (2021), starring Tilda Swinton

January 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tilda Swinton in “Memoria” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Memoria” (2021)

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Some language in Spanish and Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Colombia, the dramatic film “Memoria” features a predominantly white and Latino cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A Scottish woman, who’s visiting her sister in Bogotá, Colombia, tries to find out why she is hearing mysterious “sonic boom” sounds that no one else seems to hear.

Culture Audience: “Memoria” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, star Tilda Swinton and abstract movies about memories.

Tilda Swinton and Juan Pablo Urrego in “Memoria” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

Here’s some advice to anyone who watches “Memoria,” written and directed by writer/director Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Watch this movie if you think there’s no chance that you’ll fall asleep. Weerasethakul is known for his slow-paced and meditative films that aren’t traditionally structured in three acts. Instead, his movies flow in a dream-like pace that might bore viewers looking for a more straightforward and obvious approach to storytelling. “Memoria,” which screened at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival (where it won the Jury Prize) and 2021 New York Film Festival, is Weerasethakul’s first movie that’s not in the Thai language.

Despite having a pace that can induce drowsiness, “Memoria” is worth a look for anyone interested in a densely layered story about how memories affect the way that people live their lives. There’s also a sci-fi/mystery element that adds a level of intrigue to the movie. With a total running time of 136 minutes, “Memoria” requires patience and a certain amount of curiosity to see how the movie is going to end. “Memoria” was selected as Colombia’s Best International Feature Film category entry for the 2022 Academy Awards, but the movie didn’t make the shortlist.

The central character in “Memoria” is Scottish botanist Jessica Holland, whose specialty is orchids. Jessica lives in Medellín, Colombia, and has gone to Bogotá, Colombia, to visit her sister Karen Holland (played by Agnes Brekke), who is in a hospital because of an unnamed respiratory illness. During one of Jessica’s visits to Karen in the hospital, Karen confides to Jessica that she’s been having dreams about a dog that she rescued that’s in Karen’s home. Karen says half-jokingly, “The dog has put a curse on me.”

Jessica asks Karen if Karen wants Jessica to check on the dog. It’s somewhat of an odd question to ask, because Karen has two people who live with her: Her partner Juan Ospina (played by Daniel Giménez Cacho), who’s a college professor, and their son Mateo Ospina (played by Jerónimo Barón), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Eventually, Karen recovers from her illness and is released from the hospital.

The movie’s opening scene shows that strange things are happening around Jessica. She wakes up suddenly in a dark room, as if she was startled by a nightmare. Outside a run-down building that’s a billiards hall, several cars parked outside have their alarms start to operate at the same time. And then, when Jessica arrives in Bogotá, she hears a loud thumping noise, similar to a brief sonic boom, at random times and in random places.

Hearing this mysterious noise has caused Jessica to have trouble sleeping. It becomes so disruptive to her life that she becomes consumed with finding out what is causing the noise, which no one else around her seems to hear. Is Jessica mentally ill or does this noise really exist outside of her mind?

Jessica’s quest to solve this mystery leads her to a variety of people and places. Some of these encounters appear to be more random than others. The movie doesn’t show it in obvious ways, but all these encounters are somehow connected.

Through a mutual friend, Jessica is put in touch with a sound engineer named Hernán Bedoya (played by Juan Pablo Urrego), who is asked to try to find the sound that Jessica keeps hearing. Jessica visits Hernán at his studio, where he has a library of sounds and sound effects that he plays for Jessica to find the sound that best matches the sonic thump that she keeps hearing. At one point during these sessions, Jessica describes this mystery sound as “like a rumble from the core of the earth.”

Jessica’s encounters also include a meeting with an archeologist named Agnes Cerkinsky (played by Jeanne Balibar), who shows Jessica some bones in a science lab. Agnes tells Jessica that the bones are about 6,000 years old, and she asks Jessica to guess the gender of the person whose bones are on the table. Jessica incorrectly guesses that it was a man. Agnes tells Jessica that the bones are actually of a young girl, whose skull has a hole drilled into it to it, which was probably an ancient ritual to release evil spirits.

Jessica also ends up in a jungle spending time with a middle-aged man named Hernán (played by Elkin Díaz), who is scaling a fish when they first meet. Somehow, Jessica gives him some of her Xanax pills. Hernán passes out and appears to be dead. But then, Hernán regains consciousness. Jessica asks him how heaven is. He says, “Fine.” Jessica tells Hernán that she’s sorry for giving him the pills.

And it gets weirder. There’s a dream sequence of Jessica hiding underneath a bed with other people. She describes the dream later by saying, “They searched for us all night.” Later, the Hernán from the jungle tells Jessica that he can read memories, and he makes this comment: “I’m like a hard disk. She’s like an antenna.”

“Memoria” has several scenes meant to confuse viewers on whether or not Jessica is delusional. When she goes back to sound engineer Hernán’s studio after her first visit, she’s told that no one of that name and description has ever worked at the studio. Observant viewers will remember that sound engineer Hernán told Jessica in their conversation that he’s in a band called the Death of Delusion Ensemble.

Another scene where Jessica appears to be delusional is when she has dinner with Agnes, Mateo and Juan. During the dinner conversation, Jessica mentions someone whom she says died the previous year. However, Agnes and Mateo insist that Jessica is wrong and the person she’s talking about is still alive. Jessica reacts with disbelief because she’s sure she’s correct.

Jessica also visits a psychologist named Dr. Constanza (played by Constanza Gutiérrez) to tell him about her problem with this mysterious noise. Dr. Constanza advises her that in high elevations, people sometimes can hear a “pop”-sounding noise. “It’s not a pop,” Jessica says to Dr. Constanza about the sound that she keeps hearing.

“Memoria” is not the type of movie that will be remembered for its acting. The cast members give capable performances, but this movie doesn’t really have any big personalities and snappy banter where the cast members can flex their acting talent. The main attraction in “Memoria” is to try to figure out what the movie is trying to say with this mystery of the thumping noise.

“Memoria” eventually reveals why Jessica keeps hearing this noise and how it’s connected to the overall story. There are clues along the way, but they are often subtle or obscure. If there are viewers who prefer movies that reveal clues in more obvious and literal ways, then those viewers probably won’t like “Memoria” very much. But for anyone who’s up for the challenge of watching a surreal and slow-paced mystery with some observations of humanity and Colombian history, then “Memoria” might be an interesting and unique viewing experience.

Neon is releasing “Memoria” in the U.S. in one movie theater per city in a cinema tour of the movie, beginning in New York City on December 26, 2021. Sovereign Films released “Memoria” in several cinemas in the United Kingdom and Ireland on January 14, 2022. The filmmakers have announced that “Memoria” is being released only in cinemas.

Review: ‘Lair,’ starring Corey Johnson, Alexandra Gilbreath, Aislinn De’Ath, Alana Wallace, Anya Newall, Kashif O’Connor and Lara Mount

January 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Corey Johnson in “Lair” (Photo by Laura Radford/1091 Pictures)

“Lair”

Directed by Adam Ethan Crow

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, the horror film “Lair” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A mysterious doll seems to wreak havoc on whichever place the doll is kept.

Culture Audience: “Lair” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching rambling and poorly made horror movies that aren’t very scary.

Anya Newall and Lara Mount in “Lair” (Photo by Laura Radford/1091 Pictures)

“Lair” is a disjointed mess of a horror film that takes too long to get to anything that could be described as “scary.” The movie has a lot of scenes that don’t fit well with the story. Instead of ramping up the suspense, the movie struggles to hold viewer interest because it gets sidetracked with dull scenes. And the movie’s main character is stupid and obnoxious.

Written and directed by Adam Ethan Crow, “Lair” (which takes place in London) begins with a scene of a boy named Sean Dollarhyde (played by Rauri Kusumakar) hiding in a closet while his mother Carol Dollarhyde (played by Tara Dowd) sits on the stairs and screams. There’s some horrible editing where Sean appears to be locked in a room, and then the scene abruptly cuts to him in the hallway, where he sees his mother being dropped by someone from the second floor onto the first floor. Just as Sean tries to escape out the front door, a man’s hand grabs him from behind and pulls Sean back into the house.

Viewers soon find out that Sean and Carol were murdered by Carol’s husband/Sean’s father Ben Dollarhyde (played by Oded Fehr), who is now sitting in a jail cell for these murders as he awaits his trial, since he plans to plead not guilty. Ben insists that he didn’t commit the murders, but that something, possibly an evil spirit, possessed him. While in jail, Ben gets a visit from Steven Caramore (played by Corey Johnson), Ben’s former partner in a paranormal hunting business that was really a con game. Ben and Steven are both American.

Steven is upset because of Ben’s arrest, Steven has lost his work partner, who now thinks that demons and evil spirits are real. Steven yells at Ben, “We never believed that bullshit!” Ben has undergone a religious transformation and replies by quoting a line from the Bible: “I was blind but now I see.” Steven is an atheist and calls the Bible a “comic book.”

Ben then starts to ramble: “I could taste the soul from her open veins in the back of my mouth.” He also claims that whatever possessed him, “I fought it, whatever it was … I tried to stop her suffering … I slaughtered my son. You brought that thing into my house!”

Ben’s defense attorney Wendy Coulson (played by Alexandra Gilbreath) wants to use demonic possession as a defense in Ben’s case. Steven thinks it’s a crazy defense. Steven tells Wendy, “Lady, your case has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese at a hooker convention.” Get used to awful dialogue like this in “Lair,” because the movie is full of it.

Needless to say, Steven and Wendy have an intense dislike for each other. Wendy says to Steven: “I can’t stand the sight of you.” Steven says to Wendy: “You must go to the gym a lot to be lugging around the grudge that you’re carrying for me.” If “Lair” weren’t a horror movie, this silly banter would look like a set-up in a cheesy romantic comedy.

Now that Steven and Ben’s sham paranormal hunting business has gone kaput, Steven has to find a new way to make money. A muscular Haitian man named Ola (played by Kashif O’Connor) has worked with Steven for the past 10 years in the paranormal hunting business. Ola seems to have the role of carrying out physical tasks that Steven can’t handle. Steven tells Ola that he wants to keep Ola as an employee in some capacity.

To get some quick money, Steven decides to rent an apartment that he inherited from his late father. Steven wants to operate the apartment like an Airbnb place, by renting to visitors who will be staying temporarily. Steven ends up renting the apartment to four British travelers who are tourists in London: queer couple Maria “Ria” Engles (played by Aislinn De’Ath) and Carly Cortes (played Alana Wallace), who are on this trip with Maria’s two children: 16-year-old daughter Joey “Jo” Engles (played by Anya Newall) and Lilith “Lilly” Engles (played by Lara Mount), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

Upon arrival, Lilly finds a creepy girl doll in her room. Lilly names the doll Amy. It should come as no surprise to viewers that this doll has a sinister history. It’s called the Devil Doll, and legend has it that it was owned by a young woman who murdered all of her housemates. There’s also a black figurine of the Virgin Mary/Madonna that also plays a role in the story.

You’d think that “Lair” would then explore more of this Devil Doll history. Instead, the movie goes off on a long and boring tangent that has lowlife Steven spying on his new tenants by a hidden camera set-up that he controls from a secret room in the apartment. Steven wants to see if he can catch any paranormal activities on camera. But he really just acts like a Peeping Tom because he enjoys watching Maria and Carly have sex.

“Lair,” which is Crow’s feature-film debut, also wastes a lot of time with relationship drama between Maria and Carly, who haven’t been dating each other for very long. Maria’s kids are having a hard time accepting Carly as part of the family. Not much is said about the father of Maria’s kids except that it’s implied that Maria broke up with him because she fell in love with Carly.

“Lair” takes such a long time to get to any real horror (it doesn’t happen until the last 20 minutes of this 96-minute film), but even then, everything in the horror scenes is hopelessly cliché and not very frightening at all. With “The Conjuring” and “Annabelle” movies existing in the world, another horror movie about a demonic doll really has to do something clever and original, but “Lair” comes up short.

The performances from the cast members are either mediocre or awful. It doesn’t help that Steven, who’s supposed to be the central character, is relentlessly annoying. The movie also badly mishandles the subplot about Ben and his attorney Wendy. It’s a part of the story that’s forgotten for most of the movie, and then rushed back in toward the end. Unfortunately, there’s nothing special about “Lair,” which is just one in a long list of subpar horror movies that keep getting churned out by filmmakers who can’t come up with anything unique in a horror story.

1091 Pictures released “Lair” on digital and VOD on November 9, 2021.