Review: ‘The Phantom of the Open,’ starring Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins and Rhys Ifans

June 2, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mark Rylance in “The Phantom of the Open” (Photo by Nick Wall/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Phantom of the Open”

Directed by Craig Roberts

Culture Representation: Taking place from the 1970s the mid-1980s, in various parts of England and briefly in the United States, the comedy/drama film “The Phantom of the Open” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Based on a true story, middle-aged golf enthusiast Maurice Flitcroft, who’s not very good at playing golf, cons his way into playing in various golf tournaments, often under various alias and disguises. 

Culture Audience: “The Phantom of the Open” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Mark Rylance; British movies that blend comedy and drama; and well-done movies about underdog sports stories.

Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins, Christian Lees and Jonah Lees in “The Phantom of the Open” (Photo by Nick Wall/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Phantom of the Open” tells the real-life story of British golf rogue Maurice Flitcroft with a charming mix of droll comedy and heartwarming drama. It’s not really an “against all odds” story but more of an “against elitist institutions” story. That’s because Flitcroft (who was not a talented golf player, by his own admission) knew he was unlikely to win any of the tournaments that he entered. He just wanted to prove that someone like himself deserved a chance of getting into these tournaments in the first place.

Directed by Craig Roberts and written by Simon Farnaby, “The Phantom of the Open” is a “root for the underdog” movie that’s led by a thoroughly entertaining performance by Mark Rylance as working-class Flitcroft, who schemed up different ways to enter golf tournaments, even when he was banned from them. The movie’s screenplay is based on the 2010 nonfiction book “The Phantom of the Open: Maurice Flitcroft, the World’s Worst Golfer,” written by Scott Murray and Farnaby. “The Phantom of the Open” movie touches on issues of social classes and the barriers involved in becoming a professional golfer. However, the story is mostly about the lengths that some people will go to if they’re very determined to pursue their dreams, and they come up against a system that wants to exclude them.

“The Phantom of the Open” takes place from the 1970s to the mid-1980s, an era before the Internet as we know it existed. It’s one of the reasons why Flitcroft was able to get away with a lot of his shenanigans when he disguised himself and used various aliases to enter golf tournaments where he was banned. It would be hard to imagine anyone being able to get away with the same things at professional golf tournaments now, when computer technology and information on the Internet can be used to verify people’s identities.

And that’s why the movie has a quaint tone to it, because it’s very much a story of a bygone era. “The Phantom of the Open,” which has voiceover narration from the Maurice Flitcroft character, begins by showing a brief introduction of his first claim to fame: He entered the British Open in 1976, and became notorious for being one of the worst-scoring players ever in that tournament.

The movie then segues into Maurice, who has an uncomplicated and soft-spoken personality, talking about his background in his hometown of Barrow-in-Furness, England. (He was born on November 23, 1929, and he died at the age of 77 on March 24, 2007.) At the time of Maurice’s golf antics, he worked as a crane operator/driver at a shipyard. Maurice says that he was raised to believe that working in the shipyard was his main job option, because it’s the same type of job that employed his father and Maurice’s paternal grandfather.

Maurice’s teenage years were interrupted during World War II, when he was sent to live with relatives in Scotland, because Maurice’s parents thought it would be safer for him to live in Scotland instead of England. (Tommy Fallon portrays an underage Maurice in these flashbacks.) After World War II ended, Maurice moved back to Barrow-in-Furness and started working as “shipyard fodder,” which he thought was his destiny.

While visiting an employment agency, Maurice met an agency employee named Jean Patterson (played by Sally Hawkins), a mild-mannered romantic, who eventually became his wife. The movie breezes through their sweet and simple whirlwind courtship, where Maurice tells single mother Jean that he is happy to raise her son Michael as his own son. At the time Maurice and Jean began dating and got married, Michael (played by Austin Griffin) was about 6 or 7 years old.

Jean is grateful for this acceptance because she’s often been shamed by other members of society for having a child out of wedlock. Jean tells Maurice that the teachers at Michael’s school would often call Michael a “bastard” and describe Jean as a “whore.” Michael’s biological father (who is not named in the movie) is described as a deadbeat dad who abandoned Jean and Michael and is no longer in their lives. Maurice and Jean get married and have two biological children together: identical twins named Gene and James. In her spare time, Jean runs a theater group for wayward and underprivileged children.

The movie then fast-forwards to 1975. Maurice is now 45 years old. Michael (played by Jake Davies) is now in his 20s. Twin brothers Gene (played by Christian Lees) and James (played by Jonah Lees) are in their late teens. Michael has a college degree and is working as a manager at the shipyard. Gene and James have become obsessed with disco dancing and are determined to win as many disco dancing contests as possible.

Maurice will soon have his own obsession: golf. While watching Tom Watson win the 1975 Open Championship on TV, Maurice becomes fascinated by the game. It’s Watson’s first major golf title. And it’s a transformative experience for Maurice, who soon begins to have fantasies of being a professional golfer. These dreams inspire Maurice to set a goal of winning the 1976 British Open.

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that Maurice starts thinking about becoming a golfer when he hears that there will be layoffs at the shipyard because the shipyard will becoming nationalized under the British government. Because of his age, Maurice assumes that he will be one of the laid-off employees who will be considered “redundant”—and not even having a son as a shipyard manager can save Maurice’s job. While bracing himself for possibly losing his shipyard job, Maurice becomes more and more fixated on becoming a professional golfer.

Jean has this to say to Maurice about his golf dreams: “I know you made sacrifices for us, Maurice. It’s your turn now.” Maurice asks her, “For what?” Jean answers, “It’s up to you now. I can’t think of everything.” Jean also encourages Gene and James to pursue their dreams of becoming world champion disco dancers.

A major problem for Maurice is that he needs to be sponsored by a certified golfing membership club in order to be eligible for a tournament. And all the golfing clubs have fees that he can’t afford. He also can’t afford a coach, so Maurice decides to teach himself golf. When Maurice tries to practice at the Cumbria Country Golf Course, he’s essentially kicked out by the members who don’t want him there and because what Maurice is doing is considered trespassing.

Maurice might be quiet, but he has a steely determination of going back to places where he’s not welcome and finding a way to do what he wants. It’s a personality characteristic that defines Maurice’s repeated pattern of sneaking into golf tournaments as a player. Maurice gets help from Gene, James and a shipyard co-worker friend named Cliff (played by Mark Lewis Jones), who all act as Maurice’s caddies at various times. However, as Gene and James get more involved in competitive disco dancing (and the twins win quite a few contests and go on tour), they have to travel and become less involved in Maurice’s golfing activities.

At the 1976 British Open, Maurice has a spectacularly bad performance at this tournament that gets him a lot of media attention. After his losing scores eliminate him from the tournament, Maurice, Jean and the twins have a house party with Maurice’s friends, to celebrate that Maurice made it to the British Open. But the party is marred by bad news when Michael shows up to inform Maurice that Maurice has been laid off from the shipyard.

People start to look into how Maurice got into the British Open in the first place, including Lloyd Donavan (played by Ash Tandon), a reporter from The Sun who interviews Maurice for a big story. And that’s how it’s discovered that Maurice lied on his British Open application by saying he’s a professional golfer. This lie is enough to get Maurice banned from other golf tournaments.

Predictably, there’s a chief antagonist who wants to make sure that Maurice remains permanently banned. This nemesis is Keith MacKenzie (played by Rys Ifans), secretary of the Royal and Ancient Golf Society, who is a golf judging official at several tournaments in England. Keith has a like-minded colleague named John Pegg (played by Tim Steed), who is also a golf judging official.

During the 1976 British Open, Keith saw how badly Maurice was failing and urged him to quit the tournament, but Maurice refused. As far as Keith is concerned, Maurice is making a mockery of professional golf and is an embarrassment to the sport. However, Maurice becomes somewhat of a folk hero with the general public, and this notoriety fuels his desire to keep entering these golf tournaments.

“The Phantom of the Open” then shows Maurice’s antics when he enters these golf tournaments under different alias and disguises. His laughably bad wigs, moustaches and fake accents are jokes unto themselves. He inevitably gives himself away by continuing to score badly in these tournaments. The movie gets a little messy and unfocused when it goes into a subplot of how the twins’ dancing competitions are almost parallel to Maurice’s golf misadventures.

What’s more interesting and handled in a more touching way than the twins’ disco dancing is the increasingly fractured relationship that Maurice and Michael have because of Maurice’s golf hijinks. Michael wants to move up the business ladder in his shipyard management position, so he’s embarrassed by what Maurice is doing. Michael also seems to be ashamed of his working-class family, since he downplays or tries to hide his working-class roots when he’s in the company of the shipyard executives who come from more privileged backgrounds. At times, Michael also denies that he’s related to Maurice, even though Flitcroft is a very uncommon surname.

Whether or not Maurice and Michael are able to mend their relationship is shown in the movie. All of the cast members give admirable performances, but the supporting characters essentially are written to react to whatever Maurice is doing. And because Rylance gives a compelling and engaging performance, most of what makes “The Phantom of the Open” watchable has to do with him. It’s not a movie that’s going to change the world, but it’s a story that provides amusing and uplifting entertainment in telling this story of a very unique person.

Sony Pictures Classics will release “The Phantom of the Open” in select U.S. cinemas on June 3, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on March 18, 2022. “The Phantom of the Open” will be released on digital and VOD on July 8, 2022. The movie is set for release on Blu-ray and DVD on August 30, 2022.

Review: ‘The King’s Man,’ starring Ralph Fiennes, Gemma Arterton, Rhys Ifans, Harris Dickinson and Djimon Hounsou

December 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Harris Dickinson and Ralph Fiennes in “The King’s Man” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“The King’s Man”

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the United Kingdom and Russia from 1902 to the late 1910s, the action film “The King’s Man” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: Orlando Oxford (a British former military man also known as the Duke of Oxford) and some allies, including his son Conrad, battle villains led by evil Russian monk Grigori Rasputin.

Culture Audience: “The King’s Man” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Ralph Fiennes, the “Kingsman” movies and poorly written action flicks.

Ralph Fiennes, Djimon Hounsou, Harris Dickinson and Gemma Arterton in “The King’s Man” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“The King’s Man” is a charmless prequel that’s messier than the unkempt beard and head of hair on Rasputin, the movie’s flashiest villain. Even with a talented cast, this origin story to the “Kingsman” movies gets bogged down in a jumbled plot and cringeworthy dialogue. And for an action movie, much of “The King’s Man” is downright dull.

“The King’s Man” is the precursor story of 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and 2017’s inferior sequel “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” which are all about a secret spy agency led by Brits. Matthew Vaughn directed and co-wrote all three movies, which are all based on the comic book series “The Secret Service” by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbon.

Audiences don’t have to see “Kingsman: The Secret Service” or “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” to understand “The King’s Man.” In fact, seeing “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” will just prove how “The King’s Man” is such a witless disappointment in comparison. If you only care about explosions and fight scenes that are too choreographed to be believable, then you might find “The King’s Man” entertaining. But if you care about having an interesting storyline and engaging characters along with thrilling action, then “The King’s Man” will leave you bored or annoyed.

Vaughn and Jane Goldman co-wrote “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” For “The King’s Man” screenplay, Vaughn teamed up with Karl Gajdusek, which might explain why the quality of “The King’s Man” is worse than the movies that Vaughn wrote with Goldman. Gajdusek’s other movie screenplay credits includes stinkers such as 2011’s “Trespass” and 2020’s “The Last Days of American Crime.” The screenplay for “The King’s Man” is definitely the worst part of the movie.

“The King’s Man” tries to disguise how weak the plot is by tangling it up with more subplots and by introducing useless characters. “The King’s Man” also tries to look smarter than it really is by throwing in real-life historical figures into the mix. But all of these gimmicks cannot hide the gross stupidity of so many aspects of “The King’s Man,” which is nothing but a bloated over-indulgence in period set pieces and big-budget stunts that are just smoke and mirrors for a lackluster story.

The basic story, which takes place from 1902 to the late 1910s, is that wealthy nobleman Orlando Oxford (played by Ralph Fiennes), also known as the Duke of Oxford, is a military-officer-turned-pacifist, who finds himself caught up in a lot of violence and political machinations leading up to World War I. To make matters worse for Orlando, his young adult son Conrad (played by Harris Dickinson) wants to enlist as a soldier to fight during the war, much to Orlando’s objections.

The movie opens during the Boer War in 1902, when Orlando (who’s representing the Red Cross) is visiting a concentration camp in South Africa with other military officials. Traveling with him in the car are Orlando’s wife Emily Oxford (played by Alexandra Maria Lara) and Conrad at about 8 or 9 years old (played by Alexander Shaw), who wait in the car while Orlando goes to meet with the people in charge of the concentration camp.

The movie is so badly written, it never explains why Orlando brought his family into this dangerous situation. During the ride to this concentration camp, Emily tells Conrad about the legendary Knights of the Round Table. She also talks about how privileged people must share their power and that the knights’ round table equals equality.

When you visit a concentration camp and you bring your spouse and underage child with you, don’t expect good things to happen. And sure enough, there’s a shootout that results in Emily getting shot and killed in front of Orlando and Conrad. Orlando’s loyal bodyguard Shola (played by Djimon Hounsou) stabs and kills the shooter, but it’s too late to save Emily. Emily’s dying words to Orlando are: “Protect our son. Promise he’ll never see war again.”

Two other military men were also caught up in this tragic shootout: Lord Kitchener (played by Charles Dance) and his right-hand man Maximillian Morton (played by Matthew Goode), who is a trusted soldier. Lord Kitchener gets shot but not killed. Unlike Orlando, Lord Kitchener does not become a pacifist after this incident. (The Lord Kitchener character is based on the real-life Herbert Kitchener, the British Army officer who later became the U.K.’s secretary of state for war.)

The movie then fast-forwards about 12 years later. Orlando has left the military and is an over-protective father to Conrad, who has led a very sheltered life. As a young man, Conrad is getting restless. Conrad wants to experience life outside of the confines of his family’s lavish estate, but Orlando is reluctant to let Conad experience the real world, and Orlando constantly fears for Conrad’s safety. Conrad has gotten an invitation from his cousin Felix Yusupov (played by Aaron Vodovoz) to visit Felix in Russia, but Orlando won’t allow Conrad to go.

The United Kingdom is on the verge of getting involved in World War I, and Orlando is firm on being an outspoken pacificist. When he takes Conrad to the Kingsman Tailor Shop on London’s Savile Row to get fitted for a new suit, Orlando tells Conrad that he wants the both of them to lead very different lives from their ancestors. Orlando describes their forebears as “tough and ruthless” brutes, who conquered and pillaged their way to power.

Orlando and Conrad have a sassy housekeeper named Polly Watkins (played by Gemma Arterton), who says things to Orlando such as: “I’ll play by your rules, if you play by mine.” “The King’s Man” is yet another action movie where the people who get top billing are several men and one token woman. And the movie has the sexist trope that this token female character can’t be around these men unless she’s a love interest of one of the men.

Therefore, you know where this is going when “The King’s Man” makes it obvious that Polly’s snappy remarks to Orlando are just her way of flirting with him and testing how he’ll react to her. It takes a while for Orlando to catch on to Polly’s romantic interest in him. And there’s a formulaic soap opera subplot when this would-be romance hits a very big snag.

Of course, there would be no “King’s Man” movie if Orlando and Conrad led a peaceful and tranquil life. Orlando, Conrad, Shola and Polly get caught up in a series of events where they become a four-person combat team fighting off various villains, many of whom are real-life historical figures.

These rogues have meetings around a table in a dark, dungeon-type of room, where Russian monk Grigori Rasputin (played by Rhys Ifans) leads the discussions. But there’s a mysterious mastermind who’s seen in the shadows during these meetings. And this person is the one who’s really calling the shots. (The movie eventually reveals who this mastermind is.) Also part of this rogue’s gallery are Dutch spy Mata Hari (played by Valerie Pachner) and Austrian con artist Erik Jan Hanussen (played by Daniel Brühl).

One of the movie’s few highlights is in how it pokes fun at real-life rivalries of royal cousins King George of Great Britain, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany and Tsar Nicholas of Russia. All three roles are played by Tom Hollander, who does a very good job at balancing comedy and drama in his performances. However, the movie’s attempts at having high-minded “history lessons” are just drowned in an avalanche of silly conversations and convoluted plot twists that aren’t very clever.

The movie also goes off on a weird and unnecessary tangent when it fixates on Rasputin’s reputation of being a hedonistic libertine. At first, Rasputin’s insults are mild. When he first meets Orlando and Conrad, he asks them, based on how Orlando and Conrad are dressed: “Are you waiters or Englishmen?”

Later, Rasputin ramps up the sex talk by saying, “I only make a decision when my belly is full and my balls are empty.” And then he says to Orlando, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think your son is trying to fuck me.” Orlando replies, “Knowing your reputation, I’d think you’re trying to fuck him.”

And the homoerotic innuendos continue. After Orlando gets a leg wound, Rasputin says to him, “Let me lick your wounds.” Rasputin then flicks his tongue on Orlando’s leg wound in a sexually suggestive manner. The filmmakers go overboard in making their point that Rasputin is supposed to be some kind of sexual predator.

But really, it’s all just a badly written and awkward-looking attempt at making audiences laugh at the idea that a straight guy like Orlando is supposed to be uncomfortable at male sexuality that isn’t heterosexual. And why is it that the only possibly queer character in this movie has to be a villain? It’s really just homophobic filmmaking that’s incredibly tone-deaf and outdated, much like many other aspects of his dumb film.

“The King’s Man” fails in much of its comedy, but the dramatic scenes aren’t much better. That leaves the action to possibly salvage the film, but the movie falls short in that area too. There are obvious stunt doubles and distracting CGI effects in too many of the action scenes.

The movie’s production design and costume design are actually two things that make “The King’s Man” enjoyable to look at on a superficial level. However, the movie’s tone veers from having slapstick-type goofy comedy to trying to be an intense and serious spy thriller. Ultimately, “The King’s Man” is a movie prequel that makes the “Kingsman” franchise look stuck in an unimaginative rut that’s in desperate need of fresh and new ideas.

20th Century Studios released “The King’s Man” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei

December 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Directed by Jon Watts

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the superhero action film “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After 17-year-old Peter Parker has been exposed as the alter ego of Spider-Man, he enlists the help of mystical superhero Doctor Strange to make people forget this secret identity, but Doctor Strange’s spell brings several allies and enemies back from various dimensions of the Spider-Verse. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will appeal primarily to people who like nostalgia-filled superhero movies and who are fans of this movie’s star-studded cast.

Tom Holland and Alfred Molina) in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Just like an artist’s greatest-hits box set offered to fans who already own every album by the artist, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is best appreciated by people who’ve already seen all the previous “Spider-Man” movies. It’s filled with insider jokes that will either delight or annoy viewers, depending on how familiar they are with the cinematic Spider-Verse. Simply put: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is an epic superhero feast for fans, but it should not be the first “Spider-Man” movie that people should see. There are too many references to other Spider-Man movies that came before “Spider-Man: No Way Home” that just won’t connect very well with people who have not seen enough of the previous “Spider-Man” movies.

Fortunately for the blockbuster “Spider-Man” movie franchise (which launched with 2002’s “Spider-Man,” starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man), most people who watch “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will have already seen at least one previous “Spider-Man” movie. Maguire also starred in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” and 2007’s “Spider-Man 3.” Andrew Garfield starred as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in two of the reboot movies: 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Another “Spider-Man” movie reboot series began with Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, starting with 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and continuing with 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the third “Spider-Man” movie directed by Jon Watts and co-written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, the same writer/director team behind 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” There were six screenwriters (including Watts, McKenna and Sommers) for 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which was also directed by Watts. The trio of Watts, McKenna and Sommers for three consecutive “Spider-Man” movies has been beneficial to the quality of the filmmaking.

Each “Spider-Man” film that this trio has worked on truly does feel connected to each other, compared to other franchise films where different directors and writers often change the tone of the sequels, and therefore the sequels feel disconnected. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” also makes several references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which Spider-Man/Peter Parker (as portrayed by Holland) was a big part of, in his alliance with the Avengers. It’s another reason why it’s better to see previous Marvel-related movies with Spider-Man in it before seeing “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Because Spider-Man is Marvel Comics’ most popular character, you’d have to be completely shut off from pop culture to not at least know a few things about Spider-Man, such as he got his agility superpowers by accidentally being bit by a radioactive spider. Just like many superheroes, Peter is an orphan: His parents died in a plane crash, so he was raised by an aunt and an uncle. Even with knowledge of these basic facts about Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it really is best to see all or most of the previous “Spider-Man” films, because the jokes will be funnier, and the surprises will be sweeter.

Speaking of surprises, the vast majority of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has spoiler information. However, it’s enough to give a summary of what to expect in the first 30 minutes of this 148-minute film without revealing any surprises. The beginning of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” picks up right where “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left off: Peter Parker—an intelligent and compassionate 17-year-old student who lives in New York City’s Queens borough—has been exposed as the secret alter ego of superhero Spider-Man. The culprit who exposed him was the villain Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s seen briefly in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in the opening scene that shows the aftermath of this exposé.

All hell breaks loose, because Mysterio has twisted things to make it look like Spider-Man is a villain, not a hero. Peter and his girlfriend MJ (played by Zendaya) are caught in the middle of a crowded New York City street when Peter’s Spider-Man identity is exposed. And the backlash is immediate. Before getting into any harmful physical danger, Spider-Man puts his superhero skills to good use by whisking himself and MJ to safety.

However, the Department of Damage Control quickly detains Peter, MJ, Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds (played by Jacob Batalon) and Peter’s aunt May Parker (played by Marisa Tomei) for questioning. And who shows up to give some legal advice? Attorney/blind superhero Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox), who makes a very brief cameo. Matt says, “I don’t think any of the charges will stick. Things will get even worse. There’s still the court of public opinion.”

There’s not enough evidence to hold Peter and his loved ones in the interrogation rooms, so they go back home and ponder their next move. But how long can they stay safe, when people know where Peter lives and where he goes to school? Spider-Man has been branded as a troublemaker by certain people, such as fear-mongering journalist-turned-conspiracy theorist J. Jonah Jameson (played by J.K. Simmons), who no longer works as the editor of the Daily Planet newspaper. Jameson is now anchoring TheDailyPlanet.net, a 24-hour news streaming service.

However, Spider-Man is still a hero or an anti-hero to many more people. When Peter goes back to school the next day, he’s treated like a celebrity. Students surround him to take photos and videos with their phones. Faculty members fawn over him. Conceited and bullying student Flash Thompson (played by Tony Revolori), one of Peter’s nuisances at school, tries to latch on to Peter’s newfound fame by now claiming to be Peter’s best friend. Flash has already written a tell-all memoir to cash in on Peter’s celebrity status.

Peter, MJ (whose real name is Michelle Jones) and Ned are in their last year at Midtown School of Science and Technology. They have plans to go to the prestigious Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT) together after they graduate from high school. But due to their high-profile brush with the law, the three pals are worried about their chances of getting into MIT.

This hoped-for MIT enrollment becomes the motivation for Peter to go to fellow New York City-based superhero Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to ask for his help. Peter wants Doctor Strange to cast a spell so that people will forget that Peter is really Spider-Man. Doctor Strange is reluctant, but he gives in to Peter’s pleading. As Doctor Strange is casting his Spell of Forgetting, Peter interrupts several times to tell Doctor Strange to exempt some of Peter’s loved ones (such as MJ, Ned and May) from the spell.

Doctor Strange is extremely annoyed, so he cuts the spell short and is able to contain the spell’s powers in a cube-sized box. But some damage has already been done: The spell has opened the multi-verse where anyone who knows who Peter Parker can be summoned and go to the dimension where Peter is. And some of these individuals are villains from past “Spider-Man” movies. Doctor Strange gives Peter/Spider-Man the task of capturing these villains to imprison them in Doctor Strange’s dungeon that looks like a combination of a high-tech jail and a mystical crypt.

The return of some of these villains has already been announced through official publicity and marketing materials released for “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” so it’s not spoiler information. These villains are:

  • Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe), from 2002’s “Spider-Man”
  • Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, also known as Doc Ock (played by Alfred Molina), from 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”
  • Flint Marko/Sandman (played by Thomas Haden Church), from 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”
  • Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (played by Rhys Ifans), from 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”
  • Max Dillon/Electro (played by Jamie Foxx), from 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some other surprises, some of which have already been leaked to the public, but won’t be revealed in this review. A few other non-surprise characters in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” include Doctor Strange’s portal-traveling sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong), as well as Harold “Happy” Hogan (played by Jon Favreau), Tony Stark/Iron Man’s loyal driver who is now taken on minder duties for Peter. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Happy and May had a fling that ended. Happy fell in love with May and wanted a more serious romance with her, so he is still nursing a broken heart about it in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The movie’s action sequences are among the most memorable in “Spider-Man” movie history, in large part because of the return of so many characters from the past. A lengthy part of the movie that takes place on the Statue of Liberty will be talked about by fans for years. Because so much of “Spider-Man” relies heavily on people knowing the history of this movie franchise to fully understand the plot developments and a lot of the dialogue, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will probably be a “love it or hate it” film.

The movie’s mid-credits scene directly correlates to the mid-credits scene for 2021’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” And the end-credits scene for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a glimpse into the world of Doctor Strange. People should know by now that movies with Marvel characters have mid-credits scenes and/or end-credits scenes that are essentially teasers for an upcoming Marvel superhero movie or TV series.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some wisecracking that seems a little too self-congratulatory, but those smug moments are balanced out with some heartfelt emotional scenes. And all the jumping around from one universe dimension to the next might be a little too confusing to viewers who are new to the Spider-Verse. Some people might accuse “Spider-Man: No Way Home” of overstuffing the movie with too much nostalgic stunt casting as gimmicks. However, die-hard fans of the franchise will be utterly thrilled by seeing these familiar characters and will be fully engaged in finding out what happens to them in this very entertaining superhero adventure.

Columbia Pictures will release “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021.

Review: ‘Misbehaviour,’ starring Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Greg Kinnear, Lesley Manville, Rhys Ifans and Keeley Hawes

September 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Keira Knightley (second from left) and Jessie Buckley (center) in “Misbehaviour” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Factory)

“Misbehaviour”

Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in London in 1970, the dramatic film “Misbehaviour” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A group of young British feminists stage protests against the Miss World pageant for exploiting the female contestants. 

Culture Audience: “Misbehaviour” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about the feminist movement in the 1970s.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (front row center) in “Misbehaviour” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Factory)

If misbehaving means disrupting and not always being polite, then activists will always be labeled as “misbehaving” by people who want to keep the status quo, even if the status quo is oppressing other people. The people who aren’t afraid to protest and “disrupt” are the heroes of “Misbehaviour,” which takes place in London in 1970, at the beginning of the decade’s women’s rights movement. “Misbehaviour” has many familiar hallmarks of movies that are based on true stories of people who fight against the system. However, the film rises above mediocrity, thanks in large part to well-paced direction and a very talented cast.

The main character of “Misbehaviour” is Sally Alexander (played by Keira Knightley), who evolves from being an introverted college student to a passionate leader of a protest movement. Although Sally’s perspective is the driving force of the movie, in many ways, “Misbehaviour” (directed by Philippa Lowthorpe) tells parallel stories of the lives of the feminists and the lives of women in the story who want more traditional lives for themselves.

In the beginning of “Misbehaviour” (written by Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe), Sally is nervously waiting at the University College London, where she is interviewed by an all-male panel of admissions administrators for a graduate program. Her interview is cleverly intercut with scenes of legendary comedian/actor Bob Hope (played with equal parts sleaze and style by Greg Kinnear) hosting an outdoor show for American and British military men in Vietnam.

As Sally lists her accomplishments to explain why she should be admitted into the university, the movie cuts back and forth to Hope introducing Miss World 1969, Eva Rueber-Staier of Austria (played by Kajsa Mohammar), to a leering and cheering audience of soldiers. While Sally hopes to be judged on her intelligence, Eva is paraded on stage as someone who is there just to be judged as a sex symbol to the audience. It’s a scene that has both contrasts and similarities.

Although Sally and Eva are both in their 20s, they both want different things in their lives. One woman has entered a competitive situation (college admissions) where her mind is valued, while the other has entered a competitive situation (a beauty pageant) where her body is valued. What these two scenarios have in common is that men are running the show, calling the shots and determining who gets to be rewarded.

Even during Sally’s interview, she is judged on her physical appearance, as two of the admissions officers scribble on their notepads and show each other what they think of Sally’s looks on a scale of one to 10. Who really knows if this happened in real life? The point is that even on a college admissions panel, a woman can be judged by how “appealing” she looks in ways that men are not judged.

In the college admissions interview, Sally is asked to give a summary of her life up until that point. She says that she left school at 15, but she ended up completing her undergraduate degree at Rustin College. She enrolled in drama school, only because her mother thought it sounded better than going to secretarial school. Sally says that she wasn’t very good at acting, partly because she dislikes it when people look at her.

Sally also tells the panel that she’s divorced with a 6-year-old daughter. Her marital and parenting status raises some eyebrows of the men on the panel. One of them comments to Sally, “You have a child, Ms. Alexander. Studying here is a big commitment.”

Sally then replies that she completed her undergraduate degree while her daughter was a baby. Sally adds, “The man I live with shares child care.” And that raises even more eyebrows with the men on the panel, since unmarried couples living together is considered taboo by many conservative people, especially in previous decades such as the 1970s.

Two months later, Sally is at home with her live-in boyfriend Gareth (played by John Heffernan); her daughter Abi (played by Maya Kelly); and Sally’s widowed mother Evelyn (played by Phyllis Logan). Sally thinks that she bombed in her University College London interview and expects to get bad news that the university has rejected her. Sally’s pessimism turns to enthusiasm when she gets a letter in the mail informing her that she has been admitted into the university, where she will be studying history.

Gareth is a very supportive boyfriend who does things like cook for the family. Evelyn, who has very traditional views of gender roles, thinks that it’s emasculating for Gareth to cook meals and shop for groceries. Many people might consider Gareth a “beta male” because he’s very happy to let other people, like Sally, be more dominant in his presence. Evelyn isn’t shy about telling her opinions to Sally, who often dismisses them as old-fashioned and sexist.

It’s hinted at but not stated outright that Sally was unhappy in her marriage because she felt oppressed by her ex-husband, who is not seen or heard in this movie. Whatever caused her feminist awakening, Sally is now appalled at beauty pageants that Evelyn and Abi like to watch on television. It bothers Sally so much that she will turn off the television if she’s in the same room while they’re watching a pageant. And she objects when Evelyn plays “pageant dress-up” with Abi.

Evelyn expresses dismay that Sally is against beauty pageants, which Sally feels are “degrading” and “sexist” events that exploit women and treat them as human cattle. Evelyn reminds Sally that Sally used to love watching pageants when Sally was a child. Sally responds by saying that she used to eat her own snot as a child too.

Meanwhile, a feminist from a working-class background is seen spray painting this slogan on a billboard: “Down With Penis Envy.” Her name is Jo Robinson (played by Jessie Buckley), and she’s seen doing this kind of graffiti mischief several times in the movie. In one scene, Sally catches her in the act and tells her to stop because some police officers are nearby.

Sure enough, the police see Sally and Jo and the graffiti and chase after them, but Sally and Jo are able to dodge them by hiding in an alley. (It’s a very stereotypical chase scene.) Sally and Jo get to talking and find out that they’re both feminists, but they have very different attitudes about achieving their feminist goals.

Sally is more about being organized and doing things by-the-book. Jo (who is a former art student) is more radical and prefers anarchist ways that would involve breaking the law. Jo tells Sally, “I don’t really do organized.” Sally tells Jo, “I don’t really do illegal.” When Jo invites Sally to her weekly feminist meeting that week, Jo politely declines because she says that she will be busy helping women who work as cleaning ladies to join a union.

But it should come as no surprise that Sally does eventually go to one of Jo’s meetings. They have ongoing disagreements, but they eventually find common ground and are able to work together for the same cause. Eventually, Sally, Jo and the other women in the group decide to stage protests against the 1970 Miss World Pageant.

“Misbehaviour” also takes a look at the major players behind this particular pageant. Married couple Eric Morley (played by Rhys Ifans) and Julia Morley (played by Keeley Hawes) are Brits who own the annual Miss World Pageant, which began in 1951, and by the early 1970s could attract a worldwide TV audience of more than 100 million people. (Eric died in 2000. Julia Morley is still head of the Miss World Pageant.)

The way the Morleys are portrayed in “Misbehaviour,” Eric is the forceful leader, while Julia is the opinionated follower. Eric is an egotistical TV host who isn’t shy about expressing his sexist views of women. He thinks that the contestants’ physical appearances are the only things that really matter in deciding who will win. And he openly makes crude comments about contestants’ body parts. Julia strongly believes that contestants’ personalities should have equal standing in how they are judged in the pageant.

There’s a subplot in the movie about Hollywood comedian/actor Bob Hope, who is portrayed as a serial cheater on his long-suffering wife Dolores Hope (played by Lesley Manville), who knows about his infidelity and openly talks about it to Bob, who tries his charm his way of it. Dolores also talks about the infidelity to Bob’s young lackey Laurence (played by Samuel Blenkin), who helps write Bob’s jokes. Laurence listens sympathetically, but it’s clear that he’s uncomfortable with this type of conversation and will always side with Bob.

Bob has recently hired an eager, young female personal assistant named Joan Billings (played by Eileen O’Higgins), who takes a call from the Morleys, who have asked Bob to host the Miss World Pageant. Bob says yes. It’s implied, but not shown, that Bob will eventually sexually harass Joan, based on how Bob ogles her and sizes her up on her first day on the job.

The Miss World Pageant is a sore spot for Dolores, since Bob had a torrid affair with one of the contestants the last time he hosted the show about 10 years prior. The mistress ended up moving to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career, because Bob promised to help her become an actress, but her affair with Bob eventually fizzled. Dolores is understandably not thrilled that Bob will be hosting the Miss World Pageant again.

And within the behind-the-scenes drama of the Miss World Pageant is Eric Morley’s attempt to deal with the increasing criticism that the pageant is getting because no woman of color has been a winner at the pageant yet. In order to deflect the accusations of racism, he decides to let South Africa (then under apartheid rule) send a black contestant, who is hastily given the title Miss Africa South, because Miss South Africa (who is white) has already been chosen.

And the Miss World Pageant’s nine-person judging panel that year also attempted to diversify. Most of the judges were still white men, including American singer Glen Campbell. But there were some women and people of color who were judges that year, such as British actress Joan Collins, Danish singer/actress Nina, Roesmin Nurjadin (who was ambassador of Indonesia to Great Britain) and Eric Gairy, who was the first prime minister of Grenada.

The four Miss World contestants who get the most screen time and dialogue in the movie are Miss Grenada Jennifer Hosten (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who would become the first woman of color to win the Miss World title; Miss Africa South Pearl Jansen (played by Loreece Harrison), who has an immediate bond with Jennifer; Miss United States Sandra Wolsfeld (played by Suki Waterhouse), who likes being the center of attention; and Miss Sweden Maj Johansson (played by Clara Rosager), who was widely predicted as the top contender going into the pageant. Miss South Africa Jillian Jessup (played by Emma Corrin) is essentially a cameo in the movie.

In addition to the issues of gender discrimination and feminism that are at the forefront of the movie, “Misbehaviour” addresses racism and “white privilege” in beauty pageants. In one scene, Miss Sweden complains to Miss Grenada about how she’s not used to people ordering her around the way that the Miss World pageant officials order the contestants around. Miss Grenada replies, “You’re lucky if you think this is being treated badly.”

In another scene, Miss Africa South almost breaks down and cries when she tells Miss Grenada that she was told by her country’s government to be careful about what she says to other contestants and the media. She says that the government threatened to revoke her passport if she said the wrong things and she wouldn’t be allowed back into South Africa, where her entire family is. The implication is that because she is the first black contestant representing South Africa in the Miss World contestant, she better not speak out against apartheid.

However, the pageant contestants are really supporting characters to the feminists in the movie. There are a few scenes where the feminists tell people that they are not protesting against the contestants but are protesting against a very patriarchal system of pageantry that reduces women’s value to their scantily clad body parts. Their protests leading up to the pageant get a lot of media attention, and Sally finds herself reluctantly and then willingly becoming the spokesperson for the group.

Pageants realistically won’t be banned, but the protesters want less exploitation of women’s bodies and more emphasis on viewing the contestants as well-rounded people. Easier said than done. Because there has to be some suspense in a movie like this, the last third of the movie involves Sally and the rest of the feminists hatching a plot to infiltrate audience at the Miss World Pageant ceremony and disrupting the show on live television.

“Misbehaviour” is not an Oscar-worthy film because there’s not much originality in how this story is told. However, Knightley, Buckley, Mbatha-Raw, Kinnear and Manville all do very good performances in their roles. The vibrant costume design and production design for the movie are also admirably on point.

And even though “Misbehaviour” has multiple storylines going on—the feminist group, the beauty pageant, Bob Hope’s marriage problems, Sally’s clashes with her mother—it doesn’t feel overstuffed, because the screenplay ties them all together cohesively. If people are in the mood for a feel-good feminist drama and more insight into the 1970 Miss World Pageant controversies, then “Misbehaviour” strikes the right balance of being entertaining and informative.

Shout! Factory released “Misbehaviour” on digital and VOD on September 25, 2020.

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