Review: ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru,’ starring the voices of Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Alan Arkin, Taraji P. Henson, Danny Trejo, Lucy Lawless and Michelle Yeoh

June 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Kevin, Otto, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), Stuart and Bob in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (Photo courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Minions: The Rise of Gru”

Directed by Kyle Balda

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1979, in San Francisco and in the fictional U.S. city of Springfield, California, the animated film “Minions: The Rise of Gru” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In this origin story of “Despicable Me” supervillain Gru, he is an 11-year-old child who gets into conflicts with the Vicious 6, a gang of criminals that Gru admires.

Culture Audience: “Minions: The Rise of Gru” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Despicable Me” and “Minions” films, but others might be less charmed by the scattershot and uninspired plot of “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Stronghold (voiced by Danny Trejo), Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), Jean Clawed (voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme), Sevengeance (voiced by Dolph Lungren) and Nun-Chuck (voiced by Lucy Lawless) in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (Photo courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is an unfortunate example of how a villain origin story loses its edge when it’s about the villain’s childhood. This formulaic cartoon is nothing more than a hyper mishmash of uninspired scenes with stale jokes and very little suspense. The best movie villains are those who keep people guessing on what they’re going to do next. That’s not the case with any of the villains in “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Gru (voice by Steve Carell) is now just a predictable grouch, where all he really does to show his villainous side in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is get annoyed with the Minions, the cutesy yellow mini-creatures that don’t talk like humans but spew noises that sound like a combination of chirping and computer blips. Pierre Coffin is the voice of the Minions in “Minions: The Rise of Gru.” Just as the name suggestions, the Minions are at the beck and call of Gru.

Gru (an easily agitated, on-again/off-again villain) was first seen in the 2010 animated film “Despicable Me,” which spawned the sequels “Despicable Me 2” (released in 2013), “Despicable Me 3” (released in 2017) and the spinoff-prequel “Minions,” which was released in 2015. “Despicable Me 4” is expected to be released in 2024. In all of the “Despicable Me” movies, Gru is an adult who is an ex-supervillain who doesn’t particularly like people. In “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (directed by Kyle Balda and written by Matthew Fogel), Gru (still voiced by Carell) is an 11-year-old brat. Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val co-directed “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” has a simple plot, but it’s so cluttered with disjointed scenes that it just becomes a hodgepodge of characters running around, sometimes while they’re being chased and occasionally cracking some very unfunny jokes. The child version of Gru is not someone who has any cunning wit or hilarious barbs that define who Gru is as an adult. He’s just a basic annoying kid that has been seen in numerous types of animated and non-animated movies aimed at families.

The essential plot of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is that Gru steals something from a famous gang he wants to join, lot of chases ensue, and you can predict the end. Gru, who is an only child, lives with his unnamed single mother (voiced by Julie Andrews) in the fictional city of Springfield, California. People know that Springfield is in California because much of the action in the movie takes in San Francisco. The time period is circa 1979, based on the movie soundtrack’s overload of disco songs that were released in or a few years before 1979.

Don’t expect Gru’s mother to be big part of the story. She’s only in a few scenes, such as an early scene where Gru coms home to find his mother in a yoga session with a physically fit, young male yoga instructor. Later, when Gru gets kidnapped, he tells his abductors that it will be a waste of time to demand a ransom. “My mom will probably pay you to keep me.” It’s one of few barely funny lines in the movie.

Gru hangs out with lots of Minions, of course. The ones that get most screen time are named Otto, Kevin, Stuart and Bob. Otto, who wears teeth braces, is a people-pleasing new character introduced in this movie. Because Gru is such an unpleasant child, he has no friends. The Minions are the only beings that keep him company. Gru spends most of his time being bossy to the Minions.

Gru is a big fan of a famous criminal gang called the Vicious 6. They are led by a Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), a cantankerous senior citizen who is known for his fighting skills in several athletic disciplines, such as karate, boxing and jiu jitsu. The other members of the group have their own ways of fighting.

Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson) has a chain belt that she can make into a deadly disco ball of mace. Stronghold (voiced by Danny Trejo) has metal fists. Jean Clawed (voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme) has a lobster claw for one of his hands. Sevengeance (voiced by Dolph Lungren) is a roller skating champ who uses his spiked skates as a weapon. Nun-Chuck (voiced by Lucy Lawless) is dressed as a traditional nun, which allows her to hide her signature weapon of nunchucks.

Through a series of events, Gru meets the Vicious 6 and asks to join their group. He’s emotionally crushed when they essentially dismiss Gru. Belle Bottom tells Gru during this rejection: “Evil is for adults, not tubby little punks who should be at school.”

Gru steals the Vicious 6’s most valuable possessions: the Zodiac Stone. Otto replaces it with a Pet Rock. And you know what that means: The Vicious 6 is out to get Gru and his Minions crew. Wild Knuckles is then ousted from the Vicious 6, which is just a lazy way for the movie to have two factions of villains instead of just one. And since Wild Knuckles is the Vicious 6 villain whom Gru admires the most, get ready for the predictable “grandfather figure to Gru” story arc that you can see coming long before it starts.

Along the way, the Minions end up in San Francisco to get karate lessons from a former karate champ named Master Chow (voiced by Michelle Yeoh), which lead to mildly entertaining but entirely formulaic scenes. An unnamed motorcycle rider (voiced by RZA) and a young Nefario (voiced by Russell Brand) have brief appearances that are mostly forgettable. Nefario is an evil inventor who is an elderly man in the “Despicable Me” movie, but his origin story is “Minions: The Rise of Gru” so weak and underdeveloped, Nefario might as well have not been in the movie.

There’s nothing wrong with any of the visuals or voice acting in this movie. The screenplay and overall direction just make everything so mind-numbingly trite. “Minions: The Rise of Gru” will make a lot of “Despicable Me” franchise fans want the adult Gru back. This child Gru needs to back to his room. Gru’s bratty pouting and whining are just one giant bore, making “Minions: The Rise of Gru” a step down for the “Despicable Me”/”Minions” series.

Universal Pictures will release “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022. The movie was first released in several other countries, beginning in Australia, on June 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Clean’ (2022), starring Adrien Brody

February 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Adrien Brody in “Clean” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Clean” (2022)

Directed by Paul Solet

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramatic film “Clean” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A man with a shady past tries to be an upstanding person, and he finds himself lured back into a criminal lifestyle to save a teenage girl he has befriended.

Culture Audience: “Clean” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Adrien Brody and to anyone who doesn’t mind watching a monotonous crime drama that’s plagued with too many predictable clichés, some of which are borderline racially offensive.

Adrien Brody in “Clean” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Clean” is the title of this dreadful crime drama, but it’s not how to describe this movie’s messy and clunky story that’s a weird mix of low-quality and pretentious. It’s a misguided Adrien Brody vanity project that wants to have a lot of social commentary, but in fact says and does nothing that’s innovative or meaningful. And to top it all off, “Clean” is a very boring movie, where the actors just go through the motions, and everything is directed in a lackluster and generic way.

Brody not only stars in “Clean,” but he also co-wrote the movie’s screenplay (with director Paul Solet) and composed the movie’s musical score. Brody and Solet are two of the producers of “Clean,” which means they sunk money into this embarrassing dud of a movie. There’s a tone-deafness to how “Clean” seems to want to make an important statement about urban decay, but then the movie wallows in the same old tired stereotypes of hollow and forgettable gangsters getting into power struggle fights.

“Clean” is also racially condescending in how it depicts African Americans who live in financially deprived urban areas as being in need of saving by white people, with the movie presenting the “chief savior” as a white man. But to try and make the movie look “edgy,” this “white savior” has a shady past and is a supposedly reformed criminal who’s trying to get his life back on track when he becomes a vigilante. This movie is so on-the-nose cringeworthy that the name of this anti-hero who wants to clean up the neighborhood is named Clean, the character portrayed by Brody. No one ever says if Clean is this character’s first or last name.

In the production notes for “Clean,” Brody makes this statement: “I grew up in New York City. From a young age I was struck by the impact of poverty, drugs and violence afflicting those around me. Although the city has changed, I am still troubled by the prevalence of these problems today that plague our outer boroughs, our upstate rural communities and small towns, as well as many other parts of our country.”

Brody’s statement continues, “As an artist, my work has been shaped by this awareness. I long to tell stories that represent those who are striving to overcome the world’s brutality. ‘Clean’ came about as a tribute to the fearlessness of those, who, in spite of pain, loss and regret, fight to hold on to their humanity and transcend the obstacles they face.”

Apparently, the “Clean” filmmakers’ idea of a “tribute” means doing a dull movie that basically just shows gang violence and the chief villain being a white racist gang leader, who’s headed for a showdown with the movie’s anti-hero, who’s trying to be a vigilante. That’s essentially what “Clean” is about, with a lot of filler showing a brooding Clean attempting to be a father figure to an African American teenage girl and then inserting himself into the violence or causing the violence in formulaic fight scenes. It’s all so lazy and trite.

You know you’re in for a horrendous slog from the movie’s opening scene, where Clean gives a monologue in voiceover as he wanders through the depressing-looking streets of his town in whatever vehicle he happens to be driving. (The movie takes place in an unnamed U.S. city. “Clean” was actually filmed in upstate New York.) Here’s what Clean says in this self-pitying rant: “I’m still looking for answers. I don’t know what the answers are anymore. I just know there’s too much out there. A sea of filth. An endless onslaught of ugliness.”

Clean than goes on to ramble about “sheep shit clogging up our minds, clogging the drains, poisoning our water, turning us to shit. Where does it all go? I’ve got blood on my hands. I’m stained. I’m dirty. No matter how hard I try, I can’t wash away the past.” Get used to more of this tripe, because the movie is full of it.

The movie soon shows that Clean is a recovering drug addict. He goes to support group meetings that include his sponsor Travis (played by Mykelti Williamson), who describes himself as a “pill addict.” Travis also happens to be Clean’s barber and the closest person whom Clean (who’s a loner) can consider to be a friend/confidant. You know where this movie is going as soon as Clean says in one of his voiceover monologues: “A rush of violence is better than dope.”

Clean works in sanitation as a garbage collector, but he makes some money on the side selling items at a pawn shop. An early scene in the movie shows him going into a pawn shop to sell a somewhat rare Electrolux vacuum cleaner, which is in good working condition. There’s really no purpose to these brief pawn-shop scenes except to show that the movie has rapper/actor/filmmaker RZA (of Wu-Tang Clan fame) in a cameo role, as Kurtis, the pawn shop’s owner or manager.

In Clean’s spare time, he paints over graffiti in the neighborhood, so he can look like a model citizen. He also looks out for an African American student named Dianda (played by Chandler DuPont, also known as Chandler Ari DuPont), who’s about 14 or 15 years old. An early scene in the shows Clean driving by Dianda’s house, when he sees her sitting on the porch in the snowy cold. Dianda tells Clean that she accidentally left her keys inside and no one is home. Clean offers her a fish sandwich to eat, and her treats her to a meal at a diner.

In a racially condescending movie filled with negative stereotypes of African Americans, it should come as no surprise that “Clean” has made Dianda a girl who’s “at-risk” (as in “at risk of going into a life of crime”) because she lives in a single-parent, working-class household with no father figure. Her guardian is her single grandmother Ethel (played by Michelle Wilson), because Dianda’s parents died in a car accident. Ethel and Dianda live in a crime-ridden area with run-down houses, because a racially insulting movie like “Clean” doesn’t want to show any African Americans in significant speaking roles unless they represent poverty, crime or drugs.

Even though Clean is financially struggling, the idea that he has to bring food to Dianda is the movie’s not-so-subtle way of showing that Clean must think that Dianda isn’t getting properly fed on a regular basis. He brings her food or takes her out for meals, as if she’s some kind of charity case. Ethel tells Clean, “We don’t need anyone to save us,” and he replies, “I’m just trying to save myself,” but he still tries to be the family’s “white savior” anyway.

It’s not as simple as Clean just wanting to be a “nice guy.” He’s haunted by the death of his own biracial/African American daughter Rheya (played in flashback scenes by Victory Brinker), who died when she was about 5 or 6 years old. The movie shows Clean having dreams about Rheya, where he wakes up distressed because he knows why she’s dead. There’s some selfish motivation for Clean’s interest in Dianda: He’s using Dianda as some kind of therapeutic way to ease his guilt over Rheya’s death.

The movie eventually reveals why Rheya died. Why she died is exactly what you think, considering that Clean keeps talking about his criminal past in his self-indulgent monologues. Predictably, since the movie only cares about Clean’s thoughts and feelings, there’s no real importance given to Rheya’s mother or other family members who might have been affected by the tragic death of this child.

One of the more unrealistic aspects of “Clean” is how the movie—which rolls around in a lot of muck about gangster violence and people being “street smart”—doesn’t show anyone being concerned that Clean (a man in his 40s) wants to hang out so much with a teenage girl who’s not related to him. The movie never mentions how long Clean has known Dianda. It’s all very creepy. But if anyone raised those red flags, it would ruin the filmmakers’ narrative of Clean being the “hero” and “savior” of the story.

The negative stereotypes about African Americans continue. There are some African American gangsters who cross paths with Dianda. And because she’s an “at-risk” young person, the movie makes it look like she could be recruited for the gang’s crimes. It should come as no surprise that at some point in the movie, Dianda ends up in a gangster house of drug activity, and she’s about to be raped. But guess who comes to the rescue, just in the nick of time? (It’s not spoiler information because it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

At another point in the movie, Clean takes on a white crime lord named Michael (played by Glen Fleshler), who’s a drug smuggler. Michael owns a business in town called Kossuth Fish Market, which is really a front for his drug trade. Michael and his henchmen smuggle drugs in fish that go through the market.

Michael’s only child is a son named Mikey (played by Richie Merritt), who’s in his late teens or early 20s. Michael is grooming his son to be a gangster and to eventually take over the drug smuggling business. Viewers first see Mikey when he’s gotten out of prison for an unnamed crime. Michael and some of his thugs are waiting outside in a car to give Mikey a ride home, since Mikey still lives with his parents.

Instead of having a happy family reunion, Michael is furious because when Mikey exits the prison gates, Mikey is greeted by two African American friends, who are involved in a local gang. Mikey and these two pals seem to have a close relationship. And that doesn’t sit well with Michael, who’s a hardcore racist.

In case it isn’t clear that Michael is a racist, he uses the “n” word to describe black people. Not surprisingly, Mikey catches hell from Michael just because Mikey has friends who aren’t white. It bothers Michael more that his son has friends of another race than the fact these these friends are involved in criminal activities too.

Later in the movie, Michael and his goons give a vicious beatdown to some Chinese middlemen who are Michael’s connections in smuggling heroin into the fish market. The reason for this assault is that these middlemen (who import heroin from Asia) are suspected of stealing five bags of heroin that have gone missing.

These accused cohorts also operate a business called Ho Bros. Seafood, as a front for their drug dealing. Not everyone makes it out alive during this assault, which happens in broad daylight in front of Kossuth Fish Market, which is on a street lined with other businesses. It’s as if the “Clean” filmmakers think that the audience wouldn’t notice how dumb it is to commit this crime where there could be plenty of witnesses.

For reasons shown in the movie (but won’t be revealed in this review), the worlds of Clean, the African American gang and the white gang all collide. And you know what that means: mindless shootouts and fight scenes, with Clean being an army of one against his enemies. And don’t think that Dianda and her grandmother Ethel remain unscathed, because they get dragged into this mess. Viewers of “Clean” will feel like they got dragged into a horrific cinematic mess if they watch this junkpile movie until the very idiotic end.

IFC Films released “Clean” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 28, 2022.

Review: ‘Hard Luck Love Song,’ starring Michael Dorman, Sophia Bush, Dermot Mulroney, RZA, Brian Sacca, Melora Walters and Eric Roberts

October 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Sophia Bush and Michael Dorman in “Hard Luck Love Song” (Photo by Andrea Giacomini/Roadside Attractions)

“Hard Luck Love Song”

Directed by Justin Corsbie

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Texas city, the dramatic film “Hard Luck Love Song” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos, one African American and one person of Indian heritage) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An aspiring singer/songwriter, who is also a drug-addicted drifter, hustles for money by playing pool and has a volatile reunion with an ex-girlfriend. 

Culture Audience: “Hard Luck Love Song” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Sophia Bush (even though she isn’t in most of the movie) and to viewers who don’t mind watching unremarkable movies about self-destructive drifters with broken dreams.

Dermot Mulroney in “Hard Luck Love Song” (Photo by Jas Shelton/Roadside Attractions)

“Hard Luck Love Song” wants viewers to believe it’s a gritty and realistic portrait of an American drifter, but the movie falls apart in the last 30 minutes, with one unrealistic scenario after another. Sophia Bush, who shares top billing in the movie, doesn’t even appear on screen in “Hard Luck Love Song” until 44 minutes into this 104-minute film. Expect to see a lot of pointless footage of aimless main character Jesse Richardson (played by Michael Dorman), as he lives out of a motel and tries to figures out a way to get easy cash.

This is a movie that would’ve been better as a short film. Maybe that’s because “Hard Luck Love Song” (the feature-film directorial debut of Justin Corsbie) was inspired by a song: 2006’s “Just Like Old Times” by Americana singer/songwriter Todd Snider. It’s an interesting but somewhat gimmicky story for how this movie was conceived. Unfortunately, the “Hard Luck Love Song” screenplay (written by Corsbie and Craig Ugoretz) doesn’t live up to the potential of being a compelling tale of people who don’t have much hope in their lives while living on the fringes of society.

Jesse (who is in his late 30s) is one of those people who seems to be down on their luck, but the movie slowly reveals that his “bad luck” is actually the culmination of his bad decisions in life. A native of Texas, Jesse has been struggling with addictions to drugs and alcohol for years. Jesse has also been trying for years to make it in the music business as a singer/songwriter (he performs country-ish Americana music), but he remains unknown and broke. And now, Jesse is homeless and trying to find ways to make enough cash to get through any given week.

The movie (which takes place in an unnamed Texas city) opens with Jesse driving in his car and heading to wherever he can find a cheap place to stay and a job that doesn’t care about doing background checks. (Jesse has a prison record.) Jesse checks into a motel and peruses the want ads in a newspaper. He ends up driving to a bunch of seedy-looking bars in the area and applies for jobs where they’re looking to hire people.

In the meantime, Jesse needs cash fast. Luckily for him, he has other skills besides playing the guitar and writing songs, since he can’t find work as a musician. Jesse is also a very talented pool player. And so, the first hour of the movie is about Jesse winning money in pool games at one dive bar after another. (He wins more than he loses.)

During one of these pool games, Jesse finds out about an informal pool tournament that happens every first Saturday of the month at a bar called Broadway Social. At this tournament, Jesse excels and wins $3,000 as the grand prize. However, one of the people he defeated in the tournament takes the loss very hard and decides he’s going to get his money back from Jesse any way that he can.

This sore loser is a thug named Rollo (played by Dermot Mulroney), who has two sidekick goons: a short, weaselly character named Pete (played by Zac Badasci) and a hulking brute named Bump (played by Randal Reedner), who no doubt got his nickname because he likes to snort “bumps” of cocaine. Rollo, Pete and Bump surround Jesse and pressure him to play another game of pool with Rollo, with the obvious intention of getting the prize money from Jesse.

Jesse has enough street smarts to know that this forced pool game will not end well for him. And so, there’s a somewhat suspenseful sequence showing how Jesse deals with this situation. One of the movie’s flaws is that it seems like it wants to be two different stories about the same character. One story is about Jesse’s struggles to get money. That story then gets abandoned and segues to the other story, which is about Jesse’s drama-filled reunion with an ex-girlfriend.

The first 60% of the movie is about Jesse and his search for ways to make some easy cash. He’s never seen working at an actual job. It seems to be a longtime pattern for him that he’s incapable of keeping steady employment. This part of the movie is just scene after scene of chain-smoking Jesse wandering from bar to bar and playing pool.

When he’s in his motel alone, Jesse plays his guitar and chain smokes some more. Dorman does his own singing in the movie, including an original song (“I’ll Be Your Honky Tonk”) that the wrote. He’s a good singer, but not great.

After winning the $3,000 in the pool tournament, Jesse’s first action indicates that he’d rather spend the money on some indulgences instead of saving the money or spending it on necessary expenses. One of the first things he does is look in a local rag newspaper’s back pages, where escorts are advertising their services. (Jesse is so broke, he doesn’t seem to have a smartphone, which explans why he relies on printed newspapers to read ads.)

Jesse calls one of the women who’s in these escort ads. Her alias is Cottontail, but her real name is Carla (played by Bush). When Jesse calls her, she seems to be surprised to hear from him. He invites Carla over for drinks. At first she’s reluctant, but then she agrees. While he talks to her on the phone, tears roll down his face. And that’s the first big clue that Jesse and Carla have some unfinished business.

At a nearby convenience store, Jesse has made the acquaintance of a store clerk named Benny (played by Taylor Gray), who notices that Jesse seems to be in a very good mood when Jesse comes up to the cash register to buy liquor. Benny can tell that Jesse likes to party, so Benny asks Jesse if he wants to be hooked up with something stronger than alcohol. Jesse says yes. And after Jesse assures Benny that he wasn’t a cop wearing any surveillance equipment (Jesse lifts up his shirt as proof), Benny sells Jesse some cocaine.

Jesse’s plan is to party with Carla by drinking and doing cocaine with her. And when she shows up at the motel, it’s obvious that this type of partying is familiar activity for both of them, even though they haven’t seen each other in years. Carla is initially reluctant to do cocaine with Jesse, but eventually she does.

What’s the story with Carla? She is Jesse’s ex-girlfriend from high school. They’ve known each other since before they were in high school. And they’ve had a dysfunctional, on-again/off-again relationship for years. Lately, because of Jesse’s drug problems and prison time, the relationship has been most definitely “off.”

However, Carla showed up for this rendezvous for a reason. Does she want to get back together with Jesse, or is she just paying him a visit out of curiosity? And is she a prostitute? Jesse wants answers to those questions and he gets them, even though he isn’t completely honest with Carla at first.

Jess lies to Carla by saying he’s an in-demand songwriter. He flashes her some of the cash he won and tells her it’s some of the payment he’s gotten for songwriting. Carla is no fool though, because she can see that the dumpy motel where Jesse is staying is an obvious sign that he’s struggling financially. At first Carla and Jesse’s reunion is filled with awkward tension, but they loosen up a lot when they get drunk and high together.

During this night of partying, Carla takes Jesse to a bar where she says that she works. It’s here that Jesse meets Carla’s bar boss Skip (played by Eric Roberts), who tells Jesse that he’s very protective of Carla because she’s a good person. Carla’s best friend at the bar is named Gypsy Sally (played by Melora Walters), who knows about Carla’s turbulent history with Jesse and warns her to be careful about getting involved with him again.

The main problem with “Hard Luck Love Song” is that at several points in the movie, viewers will ask themselves, “Where is this story going?” There’s a rambling style to the film that’s filled with a lot of generic dialogue. Dorman and Bush are perfectly adequate in their roles (Jesse and Carla are both emotionally damaged in their own ways), but these actors’ performances aren’t enough to make this plodding story more compelling.

“Hard Luck Love Song” goes from mediocre to bad with the mishandling of two particular characters. One is a cop named Officer Zach (played by Brian Sacca), who shows up at Jesse’s motel room when Carla is there. (Carla and Jesse predictably scramble to hide the cocaine.) Officer Zach is there in response to noise complaints because apparently Jesse and Carla were being too loud in playing music and laughing during their coke-and-alcohol-fueled party.

The first clue that Officer Zach is unrealistically written is that he shows up with no cop partner for backup. It might be excused if this is a small town with a small police force, but it’s still unrealistic. And then, Officer Zach tells Jesse that he wouldn’t mind partying with Jesse if he could, but he can’t because he’s on duty. What kind of cop on duty says that to a stranger he just met in response to a noise complaint? It’s possible but still far-fetched.

It gets worse with the other badly written character. When Carla arrived at the motel, Jesse looked out the window and saw a man lurking and watching Carla as she went to Jesse’s room. Jesse eventually finds out that this stranger’s name is Louis (played by RZA), and Jesse’s first impression of Louis is that Louis is Carla’s pimp. Without giving away any spoiler information, it’s enough to say that Louis does know Carla. The nature of their relationship is revealed in the last 15 minutes of the movie.

One of the worst things about “Hard Luck Love Song” is that it has some negative racial stereotyping that could be considered offensive to African Americans. The reason why is because there’s only one black person with a noticeable speaking role in this movie, and it’s a role that is problematic and filled with terrible clichés. There’s a racially tinged conflict in the story which has someone showing up out of the blue in an “only in a movie” moment that will have viewers rolling their eyes or cringing at how stupid this scene is.

After having a “slice of life” tone for most of the movie, the tone abruptly shifts to melodrama and moronically staged violence toward the end of the movie. It’s a very clumsy transition, even though this violence is foreshadowed with a brief flash in the beginning of the film. The aftermath of some gun violence in the movie is handled in a completely ludicrous way. And the movie’s last scene is jarringly out-of-touch and phony, compared to the rest of the film. How everything ends feels tacked-on and completely dilutes the edginess that the movie intended to convey throughout most of the story.

“Hard Luck Love Song” is not a movie with much purpose, except to show the main characters trying to forget about all their bad decisions while they make more bad decisions. Just because Jesse sheds tears of regret doesn’t mean that viewers will have a lot of sympathy for him. Because the pivotal character of Carla arrives so late in the film, “Hard Luck Love Song” is mostly a tedious slog showing a loner whose life is on a wasted repeat loop. This movie’s lack of substance isn’t too surprising because it’s a 104-minute film based on a four-minute song. And the song is better than this movie.

Roadside Attractions released “Hard Luck Love Song” in U.S. cinemas on October 15, 2021. The movie’s premium video on demand (PVOD) release date is November 9, 2021. Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release “Hard Luck Love Song” on digital and VOD on December 21, 2021.

Review: ‘Nobody’ (2021), starring Bob Odenkirk, Connie Nielsen, RZA, Alexey Serebryakov and Christopher Lloyd

March 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

RZA, Bob Odenkirk and Christopher Lloyd in “Nobody” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures)

“Nobody” (2021) 

Directed by Ilya Naishuller

Some language in Russian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the action film “Nobody” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A seemingly mild-mannered husband and father becomes an angry, gun-toting vigilante who has Russian mobsters out to get him.

Culture Audience: “Nobody” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching movies filled with over-the-top fight scenes and deliberately satirical comedy.

Paisley Cadorath, Gage Munroe and Connie Nielsen in “Nobody” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Universal Pictures)

In a world filed with action films that take themselves too seriously, the cartoonishly violent “Nobody” wants to be like a court jester, by poking fun at the movie’s characters and the action genre overall. It’s a film that takes pleasure in having audiences witness an “everyday,” seemingly “normal” person transform into an ass-kicking heroic type who protects the vulnerable and the downtrodden. It’s definitely not a superhero movie, but it’s more like a vigilante dark comedy with messages about the dangers of underestimating people who look harmless.

“Nobody” might get some comparisons to the 2014 action film “John Wick” because it starts off with a home invasion that triggers the story’s protagonist on a path of violent revenge. There’s a cute pet in the story (a puppy in “John Wick” and a kitten in “Nobody”), and both movies have David Leitch as a producer. “Nobody” writer Kolstad is a writer for the “John Wick” movies. But that’s where the similarities end.

“Nobody” and “John Wick” have styles and characters that are very different from each other. And cute pets aren’t killed in “Nobody.” John Wick (played by Keanu Reeves) is a mysterious loner without a family, while “Nobody” protagonist Hutch Mansell (played by Bob Odenkirk) is a husband and father. “John Wick” movies have a more sinister tone than “Nobody,” and the John Wick character has a more typical image of someone who’s ready for physical combat.

Directed by Ilya Naishuller and written by Derek Kolstad, “Nobody” actually taps into a similar mentality that Michael Douglas’ protagonist character had in the 1993 crime thriller “Falling Down.” Just like in “Falling Down,” the premise of “Nobody” is about an apparently law-abiding citizen whose pent-up anger at being underappreciated and ignored eventually explodes into a violent rampage against people he thinks are being bullies. “Nobody” takes a much more comedic route than “Falling Down,” but both films are commentaries on how seemingly respectable American men can be pushed over the edge and use self-defense or vigilantism as justification for their violence.

“Nobody” opens with a scene of Hutch sitting at a table in an interrogation room. Seated across from him are two unnamed law enforcement detectives (played by Kristen Harris and Erik Athavale). Hutch is bloodied, bruised and shows signs of other physical injuries. He’s smoking a cigarette, and he brings out a kitten out from underneath his jacket.

The female detective looks at Hutch and asks him suspiciously, “Who the fuck are you?” And then the screen cuts to the title of the movie “Nobody.” How did Hutch end up in this interrogation room? The rest of the film is a flashback showing what happened.

It all started when Hutch and his family became victims of a home invasion robbery, late one night. The robbers are husband and wife Luis Martin (played by Edsson Morales) and Lupita Martin (played by Humberly González), who wear masks and have guns while committing the crime. It’s never revealed why they targeted the Mansell household, but Hutch is the first to notice the burglars in the house, which is an unnamed U.S. city. (“Nobody” was actually filmed in the Canadian city of Winnipeg.)

Hutch lives in the home with his wife Rebecca, nicknamed Becca (played by Connie Nielsen), who’s a successful real-estate agent; their son Blake (played by Gage Munroe), who’s about 13 or 14 years old; and their daughter Abby (played by Paisley Cadorath), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Blake also hears the intruders, but he lets his father go out in the living room to investigate. Hutch brings a golf club with him for protection.

Sure enough, Hutch is confronted by the robbers. Lupita sees some cash and loose change in a bowl in the living room and scolds Hutch for not having more cash in the house. Hutch replies, “I use a debit card.” She then demands that Hutch give her the watch that he’s wearing.

Just as she’s about to take Hutch’s wedding ring, Blake leaps from upstairs and tackles Luis. Blake and Luis get into a fight, while Hutch is about to hit Luis with the golf club. But Lupita aims the gun toward Blake, and Hutch tells Blake to back off of the robbers. Just then, Becca sees the commotion from the top of the stairs and tells the robbers to take anything they want.

But the robbers have had enough of this bungled home invasion and they run away. They’ve stolen about $20 in cash and Abby’s kitty-cat bracelet that were in the bowl in the living room. And they’ve also stolen the family’s sense of trust and safety in their own home.

When the police arrive to investigate, the cop asking the questions expresses surprised disappointment that Hutch didn’t do enough to stop the robbers. Blake shows some resentment toward Hutch because Blake feels that he and Hutch would’ve won in the fight against the criminals. And the end result is that Hutch is made to feel like he was a wimp who made the wrong decisions during the home invasion.

During the attack, Hutch noticed some big clues that might be helpful to the investigation. The female robber had a distinctive tattoo of a bird on her wrist. And her gun was an old Smith & Wesson .38 special. And when the shock of the home invasion wears off, Hutch remembers that this robber’s gun was actually empty. And knowing this makes Hutch feel even more like he wasn’t man enough to protect his family.

The next day, a neighbor named Jim (played by Paul Essiembre), who lives next door to the Mansells, tells Hutch: “I heard you had some excitement last night. Man, I wish they [the robbers] could’ve picked my place. I could’ve used the exercise.”

Jim then shows off the 1972 Dodge Challenger that he inherited from his dead father. The car is in tip-top shape. And it’s at this point in the movie that you know that this car is going to be in a chase scene.

The early parts of “Nobody” have a series repetitive montages to show that Hutch’s monotonous “daily grind” life has made him bored and unhappy. He works as an accountant at a dull office job at Williams Manufacturing Ltd., which is owned by his father-in-law Eddie Williams (played by Michael Ironside), who is preparing to retire sometime in the near future. Hutch has offered to buy the business, but Eddie has said no because he tells Hutch that Hutch’s monetary offer isn’t good enough.

Instead, Eddie said he’ll probably pass on the business to Eddie’s son Charlie (Billy MacLellan), a boorish lunkhead who taunts Eddie about the home invasion by pointing a gun to Eddie’s head when they’re at work together. Charlie then gives the gun to Hutch and tells him in a condescending voice, “Keep my sister safe, bro.” Hutch reluctantly takes the gun.

When Hutch exercises outside, he can see his wife Becca’s enlarged image in her real-estate ad at a nearby bus stop. Because of this ad, she literally overshadows him while Hutch works out. And it’s not said out loud in the movie, but it’s implied that Becca makes more money than Hutch does. It’s shown later in the movie that Hutch and Becca’s marriage has lost its passion and romance.

And when Blake says he has to do a school report on a military veteran, he asks Hutch if he could interview him for the assignment. Hutch replies that he was an auditor in the military, so he was “kind of a nobody. That makes for a pretty dry story.” Becca suggest that Blake interview her brother Charlie instead, since Charlie was “a real soldier.”

As soon as Becca says that she apologizes to Hutch, who looks like he’s used to these backhanded insults. Hutch then suggests that Blake interview Hutch’s father, “who saw some real [combat] action.” Hutch’s father David (played by Christopher Lloyd) is currently living in a nursing home.

With Hutch feeling powerless and emasculated in his own home, the only person he can turn to for advice is someone named Harry (played by RZA), who is in hiding for reasons that are explained later in the movie. It’s also revealed later why Harry and Hutch know each other. Until Harry appears in person (it’s not spoiler information, since it’s in the movie’s trailer), Harry is just a voice that Hutch communicates with over a stereo radio.

Harry can sense that this home invasion has triggered something dangerous in Hutch. Harry advises Hutch: “I know what you’re thinking about. Don’t do nothing stupid. You hear me?”

But it’s too late. Through a series of events, Hutch finds out the identities of the two home invasion robbers. It sets off several violent encounters, as Hutch goes into full vigilante mode. One such incident is when he’s on a city bus and notices that five young thugs have surrounded a teenage girl, with the intent to harass her.

They are the only passengers on the bus. Hutch calmly makes the driver stay outside the bus, and then he completely goes off the thugs in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes. It’s the type of fight scene that’s completely unrealistic, but it’s entertaining for people who like watching outlandish stunts.

Throughout the movie, Hutch experiences the type of injuries that would land people in a hospital emergency room, but he’s able to walk away with just some grimaces and some heavy limping. Because this movie is intended to be a dark comedy, these far-fetched fight scenes are very slapstick. However, viewers need to have a high tolerance for bloody violence to enjoy this movie.

One of the thugs who gets badly injured by Hutch during the bus battle is named Teddy Kuznetsovj (played by Aleksandr Pal), whose injuries include brain damage and possible permanent paralysis. Teddy just happens to be the younger brother of a demented Russian mobster named Yulian Kuznetsov (played by Alexey Serebryakov), so you know what that means. Yulian finds out that Hutch s responsible for Teddy’s near-fatal injuries and vows to get revenge.

Yulian provides security for a Russian organization called Obshak, which houses a fortune worth millions. So there’s big money at stake in this crime saga. Yulian’s has several goons helping him track down Hutch. Among these accomplices is Yulian’s half-Russian, half-Ethiopian right-hand man Pavel (played by Araya Mengesha), whom Yulian viciously defends when some racist gangsters try to degrade Pavel for not being white.

As an example of some of the goofy quirks in this movie, Yulian likes getting on stage and performing to corny dance-pop music. There’s a scene of Yulian at his favorite nightclub Malina, which is the type of gaudy and tacky nightspot where you might see wannabe Eurovision Song Contest performers. Yulian leaps on stage with one of the singers and starts dancing as if he’s the star of the show.

Another sight gag in the film is during a big shootout at Williams Manufacturing Ltd., Hutch is near a wall sign that that reads, “This department has worked 204 days without lost time accident. The best previous record was 91 days. Do your part.” The number 204 is on a part of the sign that is erasable. In the middle of the melee, Hutch takes his elbow and erases the number 204, to indicate that the office isn’t a safe space anymore.

Even with these touches of comedy, the main attraction for “Nobody” remains the action. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t let up on its adrenaline pace. And the filmmakers understand that the spectacle of Hutch being a one-man combat machine isn’t enough, so there are more people who eventually join Hutch in his fight against Yulian and his thugs. The choreography and stunts in the fight scenes are much better than the movie’s visual effects. (For example, there’s a scene with a massive fire where the flames look very fake.)

Odenkirk carries the movie with an entertaining flair as Hutch, who never really loses his humanity underneath all of his rage. If viewers are wondering how Hutch is able to have such masterful fighting skills, it’s explained in the movie. The explanation isn’t surprising in the least, since there were many clues that Hutch isn’t as “average” as he first appears to be. The ending of “Nobody” is a clear indication that the filmmakers want this movie’s story to continue. And based on all the crowd-pleasing aspects of this movie, there’s a high likelihood that “Nobody” won’t be the last time that viewers will see Hutch Mansell.

Universal Pictures released “Nobody” in U.S. cinemas on March 26, 2021. The movie’s VOD release date is April 16, 2021.

Stan Lee ‘Excelsior’ tribute in Los Angeles will feature Kevin Smith, Mark Hamill, RZA and other celebrities

January 24, 2019

Stan Lee
Stan Lee (Photo courtesy of Tinseltown Shutterstock)

The following is a press release from Legion M:

Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible & Uncanny Life of Stan Lee,” will be attended by Mark Hamill, RZA, Clark Gregg, Felicia Day, Bill Duke, cast members from Marvel’s “The Runaways,” cast members from FX’s “Legion,” and Fox’s “The Gifted,” among many other luminaries from the entertainment world.

Fans wishing to attend “Excelsior! A Stan Lee Celebration” can get a limited number of tickets at legionm.com/stantribute. All net proceeds from the event’s ticket sales will go to the non-profit organization The Hero Initiative, a charity supporting comic book creators, artists and writers in need.

The tribute event on Wednesday, January 30, will begin at 4 p.m. PT with a section of the TCL Chinese Theatre forecourt transformed into a fan experience of Stan Lee’s life and career. There will be a memorial centered around his cement imprint which will be displayed next to the speaker’s podium. Ticketed fans will be allowed to leave flowers, candles and sign a book of condolences.

Photos, artwork, Stan’s classic comic books and memorabilia will be on exhibit in the forecourt along with a special preview of pop-culture artist Rob Prior’s upcoming gallery show “The Legacy Collection of Stan Lee.” Prior will do a live painting in the forecourt during the opening portion of the tribute. Artist Jennifer Contini will also have her series “This Love Lives On” featuring images of Stan Lee on display. The White Castle Crave Mobile will be serving sliders, one of Stan’s favorite snacks, for all the fans.

Producers of the event, Legion M’s David Baxter and Terri Lubaroff, Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment’s Bob Sabouni and Agents of Mayhem Darren Passarello will greet fans and introduce several public speakers before Kevin Smith arrives and assembles an honor guard of world class cosplayers representing many of Stan’s co-creations, including Avengers, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and more to pay their respects and lead the crowd in a final salute to this legendary pop culture icon accompanied by a police band of pipes and drums.

On the red carpet, a group of veterans from Veterans in Media & Entertainment and The American Legion of Hollywood Post 43 will honor Stan for his service during World War II, and Chief Paul Cell, President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, will recognize Stan’s contributions for his work supporting law enforcement and creating safer communities.

Family from the other co-creators of the Marvel Universe will attend to pay their respects and join in the celebration, including Tracy and Jeremy Kirby, grandchildren of Jack Kirby, Mark and Stephen Ditko, nephews of Steve Ditko, and Jenna Parker, daughter of Sol Brodsky, all of whom were part of the original Marvel Bullpen.

After red-carpet arrivals, the tribute will commence in the TCL Chinese IMAX Theatre where Kevin Smith will moderate conversations with celebrity speakers from the entertainment industry including Mark Hamill, Rob Liefeld (Co-Creator of Deadpool), Michael Uslan (Executive Producer, “The Dark Knight”), RZA, and Tom DeSanto (Executive Producer, “X-Men”).

The evening will also include discussions with stars from the comics world and Stan’s personal friends, including Marv Wolfman (Blade creator), Marvel’s Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada and Executive VP, Head of Television Jeph Loeb, artist Bill Sienkiewicz (Elektra: Assassin), and Stan’s business partner at Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment, Gill Champion.

Members of the creative team behind the Academy Award®-nominated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” including writer/producer Phil Lord and producers Chris Miller, Avi Arad and Amy Pascal will also be on stage to honor Stan. Producers Lauren Shuler Donner and Derek Hoffman round off the evening’s panels as they speak to and celebrate the modern impact of Stan’s characters through two decades of X-Men in film and television.

The evening will be complete with video tributes from stars who are unable to attend as well as live celebrity performances of Stan’s favorite music and poetry.

The tribute event is being produced by fan-owned entertainment company Legion M, which is revolutionizing the way entertainment is made in Hollywood by uniting a growing fan community of 50,000+ members, including more than 10,000 fan-owners. In addition to producing film and television projects, Legion M organized Stan Lee’s hand and foot imprint ceremony at the TCL Chinese Theatre in 2017. Legion M is producing the tribute with the production and consulting company Agents of Mayhem whose founder Darren Passarello worked for Stan for several years.

Both companies are working with Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment, the multimedia company founded in 2001 by Stan with his friend and business partner Gill Champion, its president. Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment is the sole owner of the Stan Lee name and all new original content he created since 2001.

Under the leadership of CEO Scott D. Williams and Gill Champion, the company has been and will continue to be the guardian of Stan Lee’s legacy and is excited to roll out new projects and new adventures Stan had been working on. On behalf of Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment, Chief Marketing Officer Bob Sabouni will be overseeing and guiding the tribute day alongside the other event partners.Producers of the tribute event will continue to announce additional details for the event via social media feeds. Details of specific speakers, performers and other activities will be shared on the social channels for Kevin Smith, Legion M, Agents of Mayhem, and Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment. (@TheRealStanLee, @ThatKevinSmith, @LegionMOfficial, @AgentsofMayhem).

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About Kevin Smith

Starting with CLERKS, Kevin Smith has been making movies, TV, live shows and podcasts for 25 years now. He almost died recently but it was only a passing thing.

About Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment

POW! Entertainment Inc. is a multimedia company founded in 2001 by the iconic comic book creator Stan Lee  with his friend and business partner Gill Champion, who is the President today, to create and license intellectual properties for entertainment media, including: feature length films, television, merchandising, branded content and other related ancillary markets as well as exclusively maintain and protect the ownership of his name, likeness, voice, trademarks and publicity rights throughout the world. POW! Entertainment was acquired by Hong Kong-based Camsing International Holding Limited, one of China’s leading brand licensing, entertainment, marketing and promotion companies, in 2017. Under new leadership, another original founder and industry veterans from Marvel and MGM, POW! is working with top writers, artists, animators, filmmakers and actors to extend the legacy of the greatest storyteller of our time.

About Legion M

Legion M is the world’s first fan-owned entertainment company that is revolutionizing the way entertainment is made in Hollywood by uniting a growing fan community of 50,000+ members, including more than 10,000 fan-owners.  Through its Fan-Owned business model, Legion M invests in a diverse slate of original projects in various stages of development, including the feature film and comic book “Girl With No Name”; multiple original television series including “Evermor,” “Airship Cowboys,” and “Malice;” as well as interactive and VR-based projects, including “ICONS: Face to Face” starring Stan Lee and Kevin Smith.  Legion M also invests in partner productions, including the critically acclaimed Colossal, starring Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, the cult hit “Mandy” starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Panos Cosmatos, and “Bad Samaritan” starring David Tennant and directed and produced by Dean Devlin.  Legion M and its fan community has produced high-profile events honoring some of the industry’s biggest names, including the Stan Lee hand and footprint ceremony at Hollywood’s TCL Chinese Theatre in 2017.  To learn more about Legion M and become a member of the Legion for free, visit www.legionm.com.

About Agents of Mayhem™

A production and consulting company founded by a dynamic force within the entertainment industry with over 16+ years’ experience working with the world’s biggest brands. A.O.M’s mission is to create exceptional and original content, through its creative studio arm New Yorkie Studios™ which serves as an incubator for content, by showcasing talent, skills, and passion of celebrity and non-celebrity creators. A.O.M focuses on development, content strategy, creative consulting, and distribution. (www.AgentsofMayhem.com)

About The Hero Initiative

The Hero Initiative is the first-ever federally chartered not-for-profit corporation dedicated strictly to helping comic book creators in need. Hero creates a financial safety net for yesterday’s creators who may

emergency medical aid, financial support for essentials of life, and an avenue back into paying work. It’s a chance for all of us to give back something to the people who have given us so much enjoyment.

Since its inception, The Hero Initiative has had the good fortune to grant over $1 million to the comic book veterans who have paved the way for those in the industry today. For more information, visit www.heroinitiative.org or call 626-676-6354.

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