Review: ‘The Pope’s Exorcist,’ starring Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto, Alex Essoe and Franco Nero

April 13, 2023

by Carla Hay

Daniel Zovatto and Russell Crowe in “The Pope’s Exorcist” (Photo by Jonathan Hession/Screen Gems)

“The Pope’s Exorcist”

Directed by Julius Avery

Some language in Italian, Spanish and Latin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1987, in Italy and in Spain, the horror film “The Pope’s Exorcist” (based on a real person) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Catholic priest Gabriele Amorth defies a cardinal’s orders not to perform exorcisms, and the priest is sent by the Pope to do an exorcism on a boy at an abbey in Spain that has a connection to the priest’s past. 

Culture Audience: “The Pope’s Exorcist” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Russell Crowe and exorcism horror movies, but the movie’s frequently ludicrous plot and oddly placed comedy make it a substandard horror flick.

Pictured clockwise, from upper left: Peter DeSouza-Feighoney, Russell Crowe, Daniel Zovatto and Alex Essoe in “The Pope’s Exorcist” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems)

In “The Pope’s Exorcist,” Russell Crowe hams it up as an Italian priest who performs exorcisms. But the jokes aren’t funny enough to make “The Pope’s Exorcist” a comedy, and the exorcisms aren’t scary enough to make it an effective horror movie. It’s just a loud and incoherent mess. The demon-fighting, alcohol-guzzling priest portrayed by Crowe comes across more like a drunk who’s a failed stand-up comedian than a formidable clergy person who is skilled at exorcism.

Directed by Julius Avery, “The Pope’s Exorcist” clearly wanted to make the movie’s title chararacter someone who isn’t a typical exorcist. But all the mediocre and often-cheesy jokes in the film just undermine the scenes that are supposed to be deadly serious. It’s a movie that tries to be amusing and terrifying and ultimately fails at being either or both. Michael Petroni and Evan Spiliotopoulos wrote the disjointed screenplay for “The Pope’s Exorcist.” The screenplay is based on 1990’s “An Exorcist Tells His Story” and 1992’s “An Exorcist: More Stories,” two of the memoirs of real-life controversial Catholic priest Gabriel Amorthe, who was the official exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, from 1986 to 2016. Amorthe died in 2016, at the age of 91.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” opens with a scene taking place in June 1987, when Father Gabriele Amorth (played by Crowe) visits a family at a farmhouse in Tropea, Italy, in order to perform an exorcism. (“The Pope’s Exorcist” was actually filmed in Ireland.) Father Amorth is accompanied by an assistant named Father Gianni (played by Alessandro Gruttadauria), who mostly just stands by while Father Amorth does the talking and exorcism rituals. The family has a son in his late teens named Enzo (played by River Hawkins), whom they think is possessed by the devil.

When Father Amorth and Father Gianni arrive at the farmhouse, Father Amorth saunters in and takes his time before he gets around to attending to the hissing and convulsing Enzo, who’s in a nearby bedroom. Father Amorth barely says anything to terrified parents Carlos (played by Jordi Collet) and Adella (played by Carrie Munro), who don’t say much to him either. Instead, Father Amorth zeroes in on the couple’s unnamed daughter (played by Laila Barwick), who’s about 7 or 8 years old.

Father Amorth asks the girl if she knows any prayers. She says she knows the Lord’s Prayer. Father Amorth tells her that she needs to keep repeating the Lord’s Prayer during the exorcism. The first thing that might go through some viewers’ minds is, “Why would a priest require a child this young to be involved in something this disturbing and possibly dangerous?” Most parents also wouldn’t want to put their child through the trauma of watching an exorcism.

But “The Pope’s Exorcist” wouldn’t exist if people acted realisitically in the movie. Even in the movie’s context of religious faith being more important than facts, too many people do things that look mindless and illogical. At any rate, the exorcism of Enzo looks like an unintentional parody of exorcisms, with the usual snarls and body contortions that are always seen in these types of movies. The expected “demon voice” is heard also coming from the possessed teen.

When Father Amorth asks the demon what its name is, demon replies: “I am Legion. I am Satan.” (The acting in this scene is horrendous.) Father Amorth than taunts the demon by saying if the demon is so powerful, the demon should be able to possess anyone in the room.

And what does the demon choose to do? The demon takes possession of an unlucky wild boar that’s in the room. Carlos quickly shoots the boar. The demon miraculously goes away. Enzo is no longer possessed. And that’s the end of that exorcism. Father Amorth is satisfied that he has completed another successful exorcism.

But not so fast. Father Amorth is later seen going to a stern meeting before a panel of five Catholic clergymen in July 1987. It’s a formal hearing in Rome, where Father Amorth is being reprimanded for performing that exorcism of Enzo in Tropea, because the exorcism was not officially authorized by the Vatican. Father Amorth also has to answer for other unauthorized exorcisms that he performed.

Father Amorth is a wisecracking “rebel” who tries to use prickly jokes and sarcasm to get himself out of contentious situations. He explains to the panel that 98% of the exorcisms he’s called to do aren’t real exorcisms. “They just need a little conversation … and a little theater.” Father Amorth says that 98% of the people he is told are possessed by the devil are people he refers to psychiatrists.

And what about the remaining 2% of those people? Father Amorth dodges answering that question. Most of the panel doesn’t say anything while Father Amorth defends himself. The person who does the most talking on the panel is Cardinal Sullivan (played by Ryan O’Grady), who is in his late 20s and is openly hostile to Father Amorth.

Father Amorth’s only real ally on the panel is Bishop Lumumba (played by Cornell John), who defends Father Amorth. Days before this meeting, Bishop Lumumba told Father Amorth in a private conversation: “Don’t worry, I will defend your faith.” Father Amorth replied, “My faith does not need defending.”

Cardinal Sullivan announces with a smirk that the Catholic Church will formally vacate the position of exorcist. In other words, Cardinal Sullivan is telling Father Amorth that he’s being fired as the Catholic Church’s chief exorcist for Rome. Father Amorth doesn’t accept that decision. Before the meeting is over, Father Amorth gets up and defiantly tells the panel, “If you have a problem with me, you talk to my boss.” Father Amorth then storms out of the room in a huff.

Meanwhile, an American family of three are driving to a dilapidated abbey in Castilleja, Spain. Julia Vasquez (played Alex Essoe) is a widow who inherited the abbey from her late husband Roberto Vasquez IV (played by Santi Bayón, briefly seen in a flashback), who died in a car accident a year ago. The abbey had been in Roberto’s family for years. In the car with Julia are her two children: rebellious daughter Amy Vasquez (played by Laurel Marsden) is about 15 or 16 years old, while obedient son Henry Vasquez (played by Peter DeSouza-Feighoney) is about 11 or 12 years old.

Conversations in the movie reveal that Julia is financially broke and has no income. The only thing that Roberto left for her in his will was the abbey. Julia has decided to relocate herself and the kids to Spain to refurbish the abbey and sell it, hopefully at a profit. It’s a move that Amy sulks and complains about in the movie, as Amy does things to annoy her mother, such as smoke a cigarette inside the church, flirt with the construction workers, and climb up on unsafe places in the abbey.

Julia is apparently so broke, she can’t afford to stay at a hotel, so she is staying with the kids in the priests’ living quarters at the abbey. It doesn’t take long for spooky things to start happening in the abbey, especially at night. A construction worker is severely burned by lighting a flare near a gas valve. (That’s not supernatural. That’s just stupidity.) This injury is enough for the foreman to have his construction crew quit working on the abbey.

And then the inevitable happens: One of the kids gets possessed by a demon. The unfortunate victim is mild-mannered Henry, who has been mute, ever since his father Roberto died. Henry was in the car during this fatal accident, and he witnessed his father get impaled.

But as soon as the demon possesses Henry, the boy begins to talk. And after being silent for a year, the first words out of Henry’s mouth are: “You’re all going to die.” And then he drags his fingernails hard on his face, leaving deep and bloody scratch marks.

Henry is possessed by a foul-mouthed and lecherous demon. While Henry is possessed, not only are his rants filled with curse words and threats, but he also sexually attacks his mother Julia, by grabbing and fondling her breasts without her consent. The demon yells through Henry: “This baby is hungry, you fat cow! You never breastfed me!”

The demon also demands, “Bring me the priest!” When a priest is brought to the possessed Henry, the priest is thrown across the room, as possessed Henry snarls: “Wrong fucking priest!” We all know which priest this demon wants for a showdown.

Somehow, the Pope (played by Franco Nero) finds out about this demon possession. And before you can say, “silly exorcism movie,” Father Amorth is seen having a one-on-one meeting at the Vatican with the Pope. (In 1987, Pope John Paul II was the leader of the Catholic Church. The Pope in “The Pope’s Exorcist” doesn’t act or sound like Pope John Paul II and has only a slight physical resemblance.)

In this private meeting, the Pope sends Father Amorth to the abbey in Spain to investigate this report of a boy being possessed. The Pope warns Father Amorth that this particular abbey has been problematic in the past for the Catholic Church. “Be careful,” the Pope tells Father Amorth. “This demon sounds dangerous.”

In Spain, Father Amorth meets the family and the young local priest who has been asked to help: Father Esquibel (played by Daniel Zovatto), who appears to be very pious and well-respected. Father Amorth sees for himself that Henry is indeed possessed. When Father Amorth asks the demon what its name is, the demon snarls, “My name is Blasphemy. My name is Nightmare.” Father Amorth quips, “My nightmare is France winning the World Cup.”

Father Amorth does a lot of zipping around on motor scooters, as if he’s some kind “on the go” exorcism delivery boy. Father Amorth is seen driving his Lambretto scooter for the trip from Italy to Spain. Apparently, the Catholic Church apparently doesn’t want to spend money on planes and trains for Father Amorth’s exorcism business trips. And when he’s not on his motor scooter, Father Amorth is gulping down drinks from his ever-present flask of alcohol.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” attempts to give the story some depth by showing that Father Amorth has a dark past that includes the death of a young woman named Rosaria (played by Bianca Bardoe), who is a sore subject for Father Amorth. The Rosaria character is in the movie, just to show another “supernatural force” on the attack against Father Amorth. As shown in flashbacks, there are other things that haunt this unconventional priest, including his experiences when he was in military combat as a young soldier in World War II.

Most of the action scenes in “The Pope’s Exorcist” are poorly staged and sloppily edited. Priests get thrown around and fall from tall heights in satanic brawls, but these priests emerge with no fractures or broken bones, which would surely happen in fights that are this violent. “The Pope’s Exorcist” is overly enamored with its adequate visual effects as being enough to make this movie terrifying. But it’s difficult to feel any terror when the exorcist is walking around cracking jokes.

“The Pope’s Exorcist” also seems to be making up exorcism rules as it goes along. Father Amorth says that he tells jokes because “The devil doesn’t like jokes.” In another part of the movie, he says the only way to get rid of a demon is to find out its real name. But that contradicts the earlier exorcism scene of Enzo being “cured” of demon possession because the demon possessed a boar that was quickly shot to death. And that exorcism doesn’t make sense either, because the demon spirit could still escape from a dead body and possess something or someone else nearby.

As the sardonic Father Amorth, Crowe seems fully game to lean into the wisecracking tone of “The Pope’s Exorcist.” The problem is that the rest of the cast members act like they’re in a life-or-death, grim horror film. Some of the supporting actors over-act and are just not believable in many of their scenes. “The Pope’s Exorcist” might give audiences some chuckles, but it’s the type of absurd horror movie that’s so bad, viewers are more likely to be laughing at it than laughing with it.

Screen Gems will release “The Pope’s Exorcist” in U.S. cinemas on April 14, 2023.

Review: ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe and Natalie Portman

July 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder”

Directed by Taika Waititi

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and other parts of the universe (including the fictional location of New Asgard), the superhero action film “Thor: Love and Thunder” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Nordic superhero Thor Odinson, also known as the God of Thunder, teams up with allies in a battle against the revengeful villain Gorr the God Butcher, while Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Porter has her own personal battle with Stage 4 cancer. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Thor: Love and Thunder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and action movies that skillfully blend drama and comedy.

Christian Bale in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder” could also be called “Thor: Grief and Comedy,” because how of this superhero movie sequel balances these two themes with some results that are better than others. The movie goes big on showing bittersweet romance and the power of true friendships. Some of the movie’s subplots clutter up the movie, and any sense of terrifying danger is constantly undercut by all the wisecracking, but “Thor: Love and Thunder” gleefully leans into the idea that a superhero leader can be a formidable warrior, as well as a big goofball and a sentimental romantic.

Directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is also a commercial showcase for Guns N’Roses music. It’s the first Marvel Studios movie to blatantly shill for a rock band to the point where not only are four of the band’s hits prominently used in major scenes in the movie, but there’s also a character in the movie who wants to change his first name to be the same as the first name of the band’s lead singer. The music is well-placed, in terms of conveying the intended emotions, but viewers’ reactions to this movie’s fan worship of Guns N’Roses will vary, depending on how people feel about the band and its music. The Guns N’Roses songs “Welcome the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “November Rain” are all in pivotal scenes in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

“Thor: Love and Thunder” picks up where 2019’s blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame” concluded. What’s great about “Thor: Love and Thunder” (which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) is that the filmmakers didn’t assume that everyone watching the movie is an aficionado of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), nor did they assume that everyone watching “Thor: Love and Thunder” will know a lot about the Nordic superhero Thor Odinson (played by Chris Hemsworth) before seeing the movie. Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a montage summary (narrated cheerfully by Waititi’s Korg character, a rock-like humanoid who is one of Thor’s loyal allies) that shows the entire MCU history of Thor up until what’s about to happen in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The movie’s opening scene isn’t quite so upbeat, because it gets right into showing that grief will be one of the film’s biggest themes. In a very barren desert, a man and his daughter (who’s about 8 or 9 years old, played by India Rose Hemsworth) are deyhdrated, starving, and close to dying. The girl doesn’t survive, and the man is shown grieving at the place where he has buried her. Viewers soon find out that this man is Gorr the God Butcher (played by Christian Bale), who is the story’s chief villain. But he didn’t start out as a villain.

After the death of his daughter, a ravenously hungry Gorr ends up a tropical-looking, plant-filled area, where he devours some fruit. Suddenly, a male god appears before Gorr, who is pious and grateful for being in this god’s presence. Gorr tells the god: “I am Gorr, the last of your disciples. We never lost our faith in you.”

The god scoffs at Gorr’s devotion and says, “There’s no eternal reward for you. There’ll be more followers to replace you.” Feeling betrayed, Gorr replies, “You are no god! I renounce you!” The god points to a slain warrior on the ground and tells Gorr that the warrior was killed for the Necrosword, a magical sword that can kill gods and celestials. The Necrosword levitates off of the ground and gravitates toward Gorr.

The god tells Gorr: “The sword chose you. You are now cursed.” Gorr replies, “It doesn’t feel like a curse. It feels like a promise. So this is my vow: All gods will die!” And you know what that means: Gorr kills the god in front of him, and Thor will be one of Gorr’s targets.

Meanwhile, Thor is seen coming to the rescue of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who need his help in battling some villains on a generic-looking planet in outer space. All of the Guardians are there (except for Gamora, who died at the end of “Avengers: Endgame”), and they see Thor as a powerful ally. However, the Guardians are worried that Thor has lost a lot of his emotional vitality. Thor (who hails from Asgar) is grieving over the loss his entire family to death and destruction.

Thor is also still heartbroken over the end of his romantic relationship with brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), who was in 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World.” Viewers will find out in a “Thor: Love and Thunder” flashback montage what really happened that caused the end of this relationship. Jane and Thor are considered soul mates, but their devotion to their respective work resulted in Thor and Jane drifting apart.

Guardians of the Galaxy leader Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), tries to give Thor a pep talk, because Star-Lord can relate to losing the love of his life (Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana), but the main difference is that Thor has a chance to see Jane again because she’s still alive. As shown in the trailer for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Jane will soon come back into Thor’s life in an unexpected way, when she gains possession of Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir, and she reinvents herself as the Mighty Thor. As an example of some of the movie’s offbeat comedy, Korg keeps getting Jane Foster’s name wrong, by sometimes calling her Jane Fonda or Jodie Foster.

The Guardians of the Galaxy section of “Thor: Love and Thunder” almost feels like a completely separate short film that was dropped into the movie. After an intriguing opening scene with Gorr, viewers are left wondering when Gorr is going to show up again. Instead, there’s a fairly long stretch of the movie with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy

After spending a lot of meditative time lounging around in a robe, Thor literally throws off the robe for the battle scene with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, as the Guns N’Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle” blares on the soundtrack. After the battle is over (it’s easy to predict who the victors are), Thor’s confident ego seems to have come roaring back. He exclaims with a huge grin: “What a classic Thor adventure! Hurrah!”

As a gift for this victory, Thor gets two superpowered goats, which have the strength to pull space vessels and whose goat screaming becomes a running gag in the movie. The visual effects in “Thor: Love and Thunder” get the job done well enough for a superhero movie. But are these visual effects groundbreaking or outstanding? No.

The Guardians’ personalities are all the same: Star-Lord is still cocky on the outside but deeply insecure on the inside. Drax (played by Dave Bautista) is still simple-minded. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) is still sarcastic. Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff) is still sweetly earnest. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) still only has three words in his vocabulary: “I am Groot.”

Nebula (voiced by Karen Gillan), who is Garmora’s hot-tempered adopted sister and a longtime Guardians frenemy, is now an ally of the Guardians. Guardians associate Kraglin Obfonteri (played by Sean Gunn) makes a brief appearance to announce that he’s gotten married to an Indigarrian woman named Glenda (played by Brenda Satchwell), who is one of his growing number of his wives. It’s mentioned in a joking manner that Kraglin has a tendency to marry someone at every planet he visits.

With his confidence renewed as the God of Thunder, Thor decides he’s ready to end his “retirement” and go back into being a superhero. He says goodbye to the Guardians, who fly off in their spaceship and wish him well. Little does Thor know what he’s going to see someone from his past (Jane), whom he hasn’t seen in a long time.

Sif (played by Jaimie Alexander), an Asgardian warrior who was in the first “Thor” movie and in “Thor: The Dark World,” re-appears in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but she now has a missing left arm and has to learn to re-adjust her fighting skills. Sif’s presence in this movie isn’t entirely unexpected. It’s a welcome return, but some viewers might think that Sif doesn’t get enough screen time.

Meanwhile, as shown in “Avengers: Endgame,” Thor gave up his King of New Asgard title to his longtime associate Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson), who’s finding out that being the leader of New Asgard isn’t quite as enjoyable as she thought it would be. She’d rather do battle alongside her buddy Thor instead of having to do things like attend dull council meetings or cut ribbons at opening ceremonies. New Asgard is a fishing village that has become a tourist destination that plays up its connection to Thor and his history.

The stage play recreation of Thor’s story was used as a comedic gag in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (also directed and written by Waititi), and that gag is used again in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” as this play is staged in New Asgard, but with an update to include what happened in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Making uncredited cameos as these stage play actors in “Thor: Love and Thunder” are Matt Damon as stage play Loki (Thor’s mischievous adopted brother), Luke Hemsworth as stage play Thor, Melissa McCarthy as stage play Hela (Thor’s villainous older sister) and Sam Neill as stage play Odin (Thor’s father). This comedic bit about a “Thor” stage play isn’t as fresh as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok,” but it’s still amusing.

One of the New Asgard citizens is a lively child of about 13 or 14 years old. His name is Astrid, and he announces that he wants to change his first name to Axl, in tribute to Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’Roses. Axl (played by Kieron L. Dyer) is the son of Heimdall (played by Idris Elba), the Asgardian gatekeeper who was killed by supervillain Thanos in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” As fans of superhero movies know, just because a character is killed on screen doesn’t mean that that character will never be seen again. And let’s just say that “Thor: Love and Thunder” makes it clear that people have not seen the last of Heimdall.

Jane has a poignant storyline because she has Stage 4 cancer, which is something that she’s in deep denial about since she wants to act as if she still has the same physical strength as she did before her cancer reached this stage. Jane’s concerned and loyal assistant Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings) makes a brief appearance to essentially advise Jane to slow down Jane’s workload. Jane refuses to take this advice.

The way that Jane gets Thor’s hammer isn’t very innovative, but she finds out that the hammer gives her godlike strength and makes her look healthy. It’s no wonder she wants to explore life as the Mighty Thor. (Her transformation also includes going from being a brunette as Jane to being a blonde as the Mighty Thor.)

And where exactly is Gorr? He now looks like a powder-white Nosferatu-like villain, as he ends up wreaking havoc by going on a killing spree of the universe’s gods. And it’s only a matter of time before Gorr reaches New Asgard. With the help of shadow monsters, Gorr ends up kidnapping the children of New Asgard (including Axl) and imprisoning them in an underground area. Guess who’s teaming up to come to the rescue?

After the mass kidnapping happens, there’s a comedic segment where Thor ends up in the kingdom of Greek god Zeus (played by Russell Crowe), a toga-wearing hedonist who says things like, “Where are we going to have this year’s orgy?” Zeus is Thor’s idol, but Thor gets a rude awakening about Zeus. Thor experiences some humiliation that involves Thor getting completely naked in Zeus’ public court. Crowe’s questionable Greek accent (which often sounds more Italian than Greek) is part of his deliberately campy performance as Zeus.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” packs in a lot of issues and switches tones so many times, it might be a turnoff to some viewers who just want to see a straightforward, uncomplicated and conventional superhero story. However, people who saw and enjoyed “Thor: Ragnarok” will be better-prepared for his mashup of styles that Waititi continues in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which has that same spirit. “Thor: Love and Thunder” tackles much heavier issues though, such as terminal illness and crushing heartbreak.

The movie’s cancer storyline with Jane could have been mishandled, but it’s written in a way that has an emotional authenticity among the fantastical superhero shenanigans. “Thor: Love and Thunder” also goes does fairly deep in exposing the toll that superhero duties can take on these superheroes’ love lives. Thor and Jane have to come to terms with certain decisions they made that affected their relationship.

The movie also provides a glimpse into the personal lives of supporting characters Korg and Valkyrie. In a memorable scene, Valkyrie and Korg are alone together in an area of Thor’s Viking ship, and they have a heart-to-heart talk about not finding their true loves yet. They are lovelorn cynics but still show some glimmers of optimism that maybe they will be lucky in love. It’s in this scene where Korg mentions that he was raised by two fathers, and Valkyrie briefly mentions having an ex-girlfriend. A scene later in the movie shows that Korg is open having a same-sex romance.

All of the cast members do well in their roles, but Hemsworth and Portman have the performances and storyline that people will be talking about the most for “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The ups and downs of Thor and Jane’s on-again/off-again romance are not only about what true love can mean in this relationship but also touch on issues of power, control, trust and gender dynamics. It’s a movie that acknowledges that two people might be right for each other, but the timing also has to be right for the relationship to thrive.

Bale does a very solid job as Gorr, but some viewers might be disappointed that Gorr isn’t in the movie as much as expected. That’s because the first third of “Thor: Love and Thunder” is taken up by a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy interactions with Thor. In other words, Gorr’s villain presence in “Thor: Love and Thunder” is not particularly encompassing, as Hela’s villain presence was in “Thor: Ragnarok.”

The movie’s final battle scene might also be somewhat divisive with viewers because one member of Thor’s team is not part of this battle, due to this character being injured in a previous fight and being stuck at a hospital. Fans of this character will no doubt feel a huge letdown that this character is sidelined in a crucial final battle. Leaving this character out of this battle is one of the flaws of “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The mid-credits scene and end-credits scene in Thor: Love and Thunder” show characters who are supposed to be dead. The mid-credits scene also introduces the family member of one of the movie’s characters, while the end-credits scene teases the return of other characters who exist in another realm. Neither of these scenes is mind-blowing. However, they’re worth watching for MCU completists and anyone who likes watching all of a movie’s credits at the end.

What “Thor: Love and Thunder” gets right is that it shows more concern than many other MCU movies about how insecurities and isolation outside the glory of superhero battles can have a profound effect on these heroes. Saving the universe can come at a heavy emotional price, especially when loved ones die. Whether the love is for family members, romantic partners or friends, “Thor: Love and Thunder” acknowledges that love can result in grief that isn’t easy to overcome, but the healing process is helped with loyal support and some welcome laughter.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Thor: Love and Thunder” in U.S. cinemas on July 8, 2022.

Review: ‘Unhinged’ (2020) starring Russell Crowe

August 21, 2020

by Carla Hay

Russell Crowe in “Unhinged” (Photo by Skip Bolden/Solstice Studios)

“Unhinged” (2020) 

Directed by Derrick Borte

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic action film “Unhinged” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash:  A woman becomes the stalking target of a stranger who wants deadly revenge after they were involved in a road rage incident.

Culture Audience: “Unhinged” appeals primarily to people who like formulaic “stalking” movies that often have unrealistic and illogical scenes.

Caren Pistorius in “Unhinged” (Photo by Skip Bolden/Solstice Studios)

The dramatic action film “Unhinged” is the type of movie that wants people to turn off their logic and common sense and just go along for the chaotic and often-ludicrous ride of this story’s demented stalking. “Unhinged” could be considered a horror film, but the tone is more about being suspenseful than being scary. The way that “Unhinged” was made is as if it’s a Lifetime drama movie made for people who want manic, testosterone-fueled action with cars.

Directed by Derrick Borte and written by Carl Ellsworth, “Unhinged” shows right from the opening scene that the movie’s title describes the story’s villain. This deranged antagonist doesn’t have a name in the movie (although he uses the alias Tom Cooper later in the story), and he’s played by Russell Crowe, an Oscar-winning actor who should be doing higher-quality movies than this awful dreck. For the purposes of this review, we’ll call the villain Unhinged Man.

The movie begins with Unhinged Man parked outside a house on a quiet residential street on a rainy night in an unnamed U.S. city. (“Unhinged” was actually filmed in the New Orleans area.) He’s sitting in his pickup truck, he pops a pill, and then lights a match before the match extinguishes. He then takes a hammer, goes up to the house he’s been watching, and uses the hammer to break down the front door.

He then viciously murders a man and woman inside the house with the hammer while the house’s door is open. The murder victims can be heard screaming as they’re being attacked. After he kills them, he sets the house on fire before calmly driving away.

All of this loud mayhem would definitely get the neighbors’ attention in real life, but as Unhinged Man drives away, there are no signs of neighbors even knowing what just took place. No lights go on in the surrounding houses, no neighbors go outside or peek through their windows to see what’s happening. It’s the first sign that this movie is going to have some dumb scenes set up so that Unhinged Man can brazenly commit murder in front of numerous potential witnesses and get away with it for as long as possible.

During the movie’s opening credits, there’s a montage showing TV news footage or viral videos about how angry people are in America and how that rage is turning into random acts of violence. This montage is intended to get viewers in the state of mind that Unhinged Man is one of those people who will violently lash out at strangers, so whoever becomes his next target better watch out.

As for the people he murdered in that house, the movie never reveals who they are and why they were murdered. It’s one of many loose ends and plot holes in “Unhinged.” The identities of these murder victims seem to be kept deliberately anonymous as a metaphor for how anyone could be a target for Unhinged Man, and he can have very petty reasons for wanting to murder.

So who will be his next unlucky victim? It’s hair stylist Rachel (played by Caren Pistorius), who’s about to have a very bad day. (Most of the action in “Unhinged” takes place during a 24-hour period.) Rachel, who is in her 30s, is also going through some tough times. She’s in the middle of a contentious divorce that has reached a point where her estranged husband now wants to have the house where she lives with their son Kyle (played by Gabriel Bateman), who’s about 13 or 14 years old.

Also living in the house is Rachel’s younger brother Fred (played by Austin P. McKenzie), who’s in his early 20s and unemployed, but he says he has some great business ideas. In other words, he’s a freeloader. Fred has a girlfriend named Mary (played by Juliene Joyner), who might or might not live there too. The movie doesn’t make it clear where Mary lives, but she has a serious-enough relationship with Fred that she’s often at the house.

Rachel’s divorce lawyer Andy (played by Jimmi Simpson) happens to be her best friend, as he’s described later in the movie. One morning, before Rachel is about to drive Kyle to school, Andy calls to tell Rachel the bad news that her soon-to-be ex-husband Richard (who’s never seen on camera) is going to put up a big fight to get the house. Rachel is already running late for an appointment with her most important client Deborah Haskell (played by Anne Leighton), and she’s also in a rush to get Kyle to school.

Before they drive off, Rachel and Kyle debate on which route she should take to get him to school: Should they take the freeway or surface streets? Either way, they’re going to be in rush-hour traffic but they have to guess which might be the faster way. They take the freeway and run into a traffic jam, so Rachel decides to get off the freeway and drive on the streets.

These driving scenes have increasing tension, because during this car trip, Rachel gets two phone calls with bad news. Richard calls to let Kyle know that he has to cancel their upcoming father/son get-together for a sports game, because Richard just started a new job that is requiring him to do some work that conflicts with the game schedule. And then, Deborah calls Rachel in frustration over Rachel’s tardiness. Deborah tells Rachel that not only is she canceling the appointment but she’s also firing Rachel.

It’s during this phone call that Deborah mentions another setback that Rachel went through not too long ago: Rachel used to own her own hair salon, but she lost that business. The movie doesn’t reveal exactly when or why Rachel lost the salon, but this business failure is brought up as another example of how Rachel is under tremendous financial pressure. Losing her most important client has just made things worse.

Therefore, by the time Rachel encounters Unhinged Man, she’s feeling very stressed-out and anxious. While waiting at an intersection at a stoplight, she notices that the pickup truck in front of her won’t move after the light turns green. She loudly honks her horn, but the driver still won’t move. Finally, she decides to pass the truck and gives the driver a dirty look as she passes. The driver is Unhinged Man, of course.

Rachel hits another traffic jam on the streets, where she notices that Unhinged Man has followed her. He eventually drives up next to Rachel’s car, where Kyle (who’s in the back seat) has the window next to him rolled down. Fearing that she could be dealing with a nutjob, Rachel tells Kyle not to talk to the stranger. And it just so happens that when Kyle tries to close the window with the automatic button, there’s a malfunction and the window is stuck.

Unhinged Man has his window rolled down. He starts a conversation where he asks Rachel why she had to lean hard on her car horn instead of giving it a polite tap. She tells him that it was justified because he wouldn’t move while the light was green. Rachel also says that she’s in a hurry and she’s having a bad day. Unhinged Man then apologizes and asks Rachel to apologize too, but she refuses.

His demeanor then becomes menacing as he tells Rachel, “I don’t think you even know what a bad day is. But you’re going to find out. You’re going to fucking learn.”

And this heated exchange sets off the stalking and chase scenes in the movie, which includes numerous car crashes and some more people who end up murdered. The worst things about the movie are how many unrealistic things happen and how Rachel is written as a dimwit who makes horrible decisions.

For example, there’s a scene in the movie where Unhinged Man is chasing after Rachel while they’re in their cars. Rachel finds out that her phone is missing (for reasons that are shown in the movie), and she frantically tries to go through her purse to look for her phone while she’s driving. When she sees that her phone isn’t there, instead of going somewhere to get help and use a phone, she keeps driving.

There’s another scene where Unhinged Man goes after Rachel and he traps her in a packed fleet of cars that are locked in a traffic jam. Unhinged Man then acts like he’s at a monster truck derby and starts ramming cars. And yet, there’s no sign of people in any of the cars getting on their phones to call 911.

Unhinged Man also causes mayhem at a diner in another unrealistic scene. Unhinged Man just casually does what he does and stays too long in places where he knows that the cops are going to show up any minute. Let’s just say that the police take too long to arrive in many scenes in this movie.

And there’s another scene where after the cops show up, the people who were brutally attacked by Unhinged Man aren’t even taken to a hospital. The cops just take the report and then leave. The movie’s sloppy screenwriting also includes Rachel coming up with an illogical and unnecessary idea to lure Unhinged Man to the nursing home where her mother lives. Whether or not she goes through with the idea is shown in the movie.

But the biggest illogical thing about the movie is how, during all of this madness, Rachel doesn’t go to a police station. Instead, she wastes a lot of time making stupid decisions while she’s being chased by Unhinged Man. Crowe’s performance is almost campy, because there are some scenes where he literally growls as he gets angry. The rest of the cast don’t do anything particularly noteworthy in their roles, because their characters are written as fairly generic.

There are hints that Unhinged Man is someone with a troubled past. It’s revealed that he has problems holding on to a steady job (he was fired after just a month on his most recent job) and it’s implied that he went through a painful divorce. Based on how he reacts when he finds out that Rachel is in the middle of a divorce, it seems as if Unhinged Man felt he was the “victim” in his own divorce and he’s extremely bitter about it.

“Unhinged” essentially takes a trope that’s common for a Lifetime movie (a woman in peril) but with male rage given more weight in the story. The high-octane chase scenes and car crashes are meant to appeal to people who like “bang ’em up” action and don’t really care about the reasons for why this destruction is happening. Don’t expect to get a lot of insight into why these characters behave as illogically as they do. Viewers who get to the end of this movie will feel like they were trapped in a badly structured video game where only the chase scenes matter and the characters are as hollow and mindless as they can be.

Solstice Studios released “Unhinged” in U.S. cinemas on August 21, 2020.

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