Review: ‘Monster Hunter,’ starring Milla Jovovich

December 19, 2020

by Carla Hay

Milla Jovovich and Tony Jaa in “Monster Hunter” (Photo by Coco Van Oppens/Screen Gems)

“Monster Hunter”

Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and in an alternate world, the sci-action flick “Monster Hunter” has a racially diverse cast (white, Asian, African American and Latino) representing the U.S. military and otherworldly warriors.

Culture Clash: Members of the U.S. military find themselves transported to another world, where they have to fight off monsters with other people from that world.

Culture Audience: “Monster Hunter,” which is based on the videogame of the same name, will appeal primarily to people who like simplistic, formulaic action movies with little to no surprises or substance.

Rathalos in “Monster Hunter” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems/Sony Pictures)

The sci-fi/action time waster “Monster Hunter” is a perfect example of why most video games that get made into movies have bad reputations for being dumb, predictable and lacking a compelling storyline. Written and directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (who’s best known for the critically panned “Resident Evil” movie franchise, which is also based on a video game), “Monster Hunter” is based on Capcom’s video game of the same title. At least with the video game, audiences can control the action. With the “Monster Hunter” movie, audiences have to sit through an often-incoherent mess that seems recycled from countless other generic sci-fi/action flicks that have been done before and done much better.

The plot of the movie is as simple as its title. It’s really just a series of battles against giant monsters. Some of the creatures live in desert sand, while others live in caves. The monsters have names like Rathalos, Nerscylla and Black Diablos and resemble everything from giant scorpions to oversized versions of the deadly creatures in “Gremlins.” And just like many other sci-fi movies of this ilk, there’s a mysterious gateway portal that separates Earth from the world where the monsters live.

The beginning of “Monster Hunter” shows a glimpse of the other world, when a ship traveling in treacherous icy waters is attacked by giant monsters. Two of the people on the ship end up playing a pivotal role later on in the story: The ship’s captain named Admiral (played by Ron Perlman, wearing a silly-looking blonde pompadour wig) and Hunter (played by Tony Jaa), a bow-and-arrow slinging warrior who also has the stunt skills of a trained gymnast. It’s also shown that Hunter has a few superpower tricks.

The movie then cuts to an unnamed desert on Earth, where a small squad of U.S. Army soldiers are making their way across the land in jeeps. The squad is led by Capt. Lt. Natalie Artemis (played by Milla Jovovich, also of the “Resident Evil” franchise), who is tough and fearless but also shows a compassionate side and a sense of humor during the course of the story. She might be tough, but she also makes a lot of ludicrously bad decisions.

The soldiers in the squad don’t have much character development in the movie, but they are named Dash (played by Meagan Good); Marshall (played by Diego Boneta); Link (played by Tip “T.I.” Harris); Axe (played by Jin-Au Yeung); and Steeler (played by Josh Helman). Axe and Steeler seem to be good buddies since they have a rapport where they joke around with each other. However, the personalities in this group are fairly interchangeable because they’re so generic.

A tornado-like massive sandstorm with electrical current suddenly appears and overwhelms the squad. They soon find themselves in an even more isolated desert area that they can’t find on their map. Their GPS and communication devices aren’t working. It doesn’t take long for them to discover that they’re not on Earth anymore, because giant monsters (larger than dinosaurs) emerge from the sand and attack the humans. The military firearms and other weapons are no match for these monsters.

Dash is the only one in the group who openly disagrees with Artemis when Artemis tells her squad that they have to fight back against the monsters instead of hiding. Through a series of very predictable events, Artemis ends up meeting Hunter. And there’s the typical long stretch of the movie where Artemis and Hunter clash and don’t know how much they can trust each other.

The visual effects in a movie like “Monster Hunter” should be one of the main attractions, but the quality is uneven. The monsters are convincing in most scenes, but then there are other scenes with cheesy effects, where it’s obvious that the actors were in front of a green screen. One of the main reasons to make a video game into a movie is to have the movie look better than than the video game, but “Monster Hunter” falls short of that intention.

Even worse than the visual effects are scenarios where Artemis sustains injuries that would cripple most people, but she’s later able to demonstrate superhuman strength later on in the story. And let’s not get into the continuity and logic problems, where weapons are used that seem to come out of nowhere. And there are several scenes where Artemis is covered in dirt and grime everywhere except her face.

There are also some scenes that don’t make any sense at all. In one of these moronic scenes, Artemis (who’s already injured, exhausted and getting very dehydrated) is seen on top of a stone structure that’s about as tall as two skyscrapers. It’s a climb that would take several hours, but she’s suddenly shown standing on top, as if she’s some kind of super mountain climber.

Why would Artemis make this long and grueling climb that would deplete her energy and make her even more desperate for water? She did it so she could throw a rock onto the sand to see if any monsters would react. And sure enough, after she throws a rock, a monster emerges from beneath the sand and tries to attack. Keep in mind, this idiotic “test” is well after Artemis barely survived a vicious attack by several monsters that she already knows exist.

Jovovich seems to be doing her best to bring a sense of adventure to her role in “Monster Hunter,” but Artemis is really just a variation of her Alice character in the “Resident Evil” movies. Jaa’s Hunter character isn’t that memorable or unique. And viewers will have a hard time taking Perlman’s Admiral character seriously as a badass leader when he’s wearing a hot mess of a mane that looks like a reject from the Joan Rivers Wig Collection. And let’s not get started on the Meowscular Chef, the humanoid cat character that looks very fake and out of place with the humans.

The script problems, the tacky visual effects and the mediocre acting in “Monster Hunter” might be more tolerable if the action in the movie was truly innovative and suspenseful. But most of the action is very uninspired and at times can be considered quite dull, especially for viewers who’ve seen a lot of action movies. And the movie has an over-used action gimmick of making it look like someone is dead but the person was actually unconscious.

The fight scenes in “Monster Hunter” take a very lazy approach of gunfire, explosions, rinse, repeat. The movie also has a few laughable moments where Artemis believes a hunter-sized knife will be enough to kill these monsters. In one scene, she slices a monster’s skin with the knife, but the result is what would be the equivalent of a paper cut on a human. It’s unfortunate that “Monster Hunter” was made as if the filmmakers think the audience is as stupid as this movie.

Screen Gems released “Monster Hunter” in U.S. cinemas on December 18, 2020.

Review: ‘Greenland,’ starring Gerard Butler

December 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Morena Baccarin, Roger Dale Floyd and Gerard Butler in “Greenland” (Photo courtesy of STX)

“Greenland”

Directed by Ric Roman Waugh

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of North America, the sci-fi action flick “Greenland” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A structural engineer, his wife and their 7-year-old son are selected by the U.S. government to be part of an elite evacuation program during a comet disaster, and this privileged status causes problems for them when they are separated during the chaos.

Culture Audience: “Greenland” will appeal primarily to people who like suspenseful apocalyptic movies that have underlying commentary about society’s conflicts over social classes and privilege.

Gerard Butler in “Greenland” (Photo courtesy of STX)

Out of all the types of apocalyptic disaster stories that can be told, perhaps the most terrifying is some variation of “the sky is falling,” whether it’s from meteors, comets or another deadly force from outer space. In the above-average sci-fi thriller “Greenland” (directed by Ric Roman Waugh and written by Chris Sparling), the threat from outer space is a highly unusual comet that scientists at first think is a natural wonder to behold. But the comet turns out to be the worst kind, because it ends up causing worldwide damage and has the power to wipe out most of Earth’s population. 

It’s a concept that’s been done in movies before, but “Greenland” ramps up the suspense level in realistic ways because it’s not too caught up in trying to scare people with visual effects, which are actually done very well in this film. Instead, “Greenland” focuses on the terror experienced by a family of three who get separated from each other in the chaos of an evacuation. There are added layers of stress because the child in this family is diabetic, and the family is targeted by desperate and envious people who want what this family has: privileged U.S. government clearance to be taken to a secret shelter that was built to withstand the worst disasters and attacks.

Like a lot of disaster movies, “Greenland” starts out with people being blissfully unaware of the catastrophe that’s coming their way. In Florida, structural engineer John Garrity (played by Gerard Butler), who is originally from Scotland, is on the job at a construction site, but he wants to get home as soon as possible because his 7-year-old son Nathan (played by Roger Dale Floyd) is having a party where several people in the neighborhood have been invited. John and his American wife Allison (played by Morena Baccarin), who were separated in the past and are now trying to work on their marriage, are organizing the party.

The big news around the world is that there’s an interstellar comet that is passing by Earth, and it’s expected to be the closest fly-by of a comet in Earth’s history. This highly anticipated sighting is such a big deal that people are having watch parties, and the news has been reporting the latest updates on the comet’s trajectory. The comet is considered so safe that it’s been named Clarke.

However, as soon as John gets home, something strange happens: He gets phone messages by text and by robocalls from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. These messages order John, Allison and Nathan to report to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia, because they have been selected for emergency relocation. The messages demand that no one else can accompany this family of three to the Air Force base.

John doesn’t know if these messages are real or some kind of prank. He tells people at the party about the messages, and they’re not sure if the messages are real either. A few of the adults at the party wonder why they didn’t get these messages too. John doesn’t know why he and his family were selected for this special evacuation.

However, it soon becomes obvious that the messages really are from the U.S. government. While the Garrity family and their party guests are in the living room watching the latest comet news on TV, the first sign that the comet is going to be disastrous comes when it’s reported that a fragment of the comet that was supposed to crash in the ocean near Brazil instead landed in Tampa. The shockwaves caused Tampa to burn, and the inferno blast spread all the way to Orlando.

John and Allison decide to quickly pack up some family belongings and go with Nathan by car to Robins Air Force Base, as instructed. There are some moments of high anxiety when a few of the neighbors beg to go with the Garrity family, but John refuses because he correctly assumes that anyone who doesn’t have government clearance will be turned away. However, he promises that he will contact the neighbors after he finds out more details about what’s going on with the evacuation.

Meanwhile, the Garrity family hears on the car radio that more of the comet’s fragments are wiping out entire parts of the world, including Bogotá, Colombia. Scientists are frantically trying to predict where the fragments might land next, in order to evacuate people from those areas. Anxiety then turns to sheer panic.

Word has gotten out that Robins Air Force Base is one of the designated meeting areas for the evacuees who were selected by the U.S. government. And so, when the Garritys arrive at the Air Force base, they see a terrified and angry mob of people who demand to be let in, even though most of them are not supposed to be there. It’s a foreshadowing of the “haves” and “have nots” conflicts that happen during several scenes in the movie.

Several military personnel are on duty to only allow access to people who are on the government clearance list. And those pre-approved people get yellow wristbands to identify them. There are several Air Force planes waiting to take thousands of people to the same shelter, which is in a classified location that is later revealed to be in Greenland.

The Garrity family makes it safely through the checkpoint, but things take a turn for the worse when they find out that Nathan, who is diabetic, accidentally dropped his insulin in the car when he was looking for a blanket. John finds out that he has only about 15 to 20 minutes before the family’s assigned evacuee plane leaves. He also finds out that all the planes are headed to the same place, so that if he can’t be on the same plane as his wife and son, he’ll hopefully be able to reunite with them at the shelter.

John and Allison hastily make a decision that John will go back to the car to get Nathan’s medicine, while Allison will stay with Nathan and board the plane. However, more complications ensue when Allison speaks to a military guard and tells him about their situation and how they can’t leave without John. And that’s when the guard tells her that because Nathan is diabetic, it’s a health liability, and the Garrity family shouldn’t have been approved for the emergency shelter.

The guard and a colleague then tell Allison and Nathan that they can’t get on the plane after all. Allison and Nathan are then forced to go with the guards to another area, where Allison pleads with another military person to let them on the plane because they don’t want to be separated from John. What happens next are several twists and turns to the story, some of which are unpredictable, while other plot developments are a tad cliché.

All of the cast members give very good performances, even though this movie is not on the type of prestige level where it’s going to get any major awards. The filmmakers avoided the stereotype that a lot of American-made disaster movies have: making the male protagonist/hero someone who was born and raised in the United States. Butler, who is Scottish in real life, keep his native accent in the movie. (Butler is one of the producers of “Greenland,” so that probably had a lot to do with the decision to make John Garrity a Scot too.)

Another non-cliché aspect to “Greenland” is that it doesn’t follow the disaster movie formula of having the hero’s love interest be a passive “damsel in distress.” Allison is no ditz who waits around to be rescued. There are moments where Allison steps up in a big way to help save her family. Baccarin’s portrayal shows a lot of authenticity in how real women would act in the same situation, with all the bravery and vulnerability that comes with it.

John and Allison’s son Nathan is thankfully not written as “too precocious to be true” or a “disease of the week” kid. Floyd capably portrays Nathan’s intelligent sensitivity as a kid who just happens to have diabetes. The movie also makes a point of showing how Nathan’s medical condition quickly changed the status of the Garrity family from “desirable” to “undesirable” candidates for evacuation. It speaks to the prejudice that people could encounter in a similar situation where governments decide who in the population will get preferential treatment in a mass evacuation. 

One of the other memorable characters in “Greenland” is Allison’s widower father Dale (played by Scott Glenn), who somewhat mistrusts John because of the problems in John and Allison’s marriage. And there’s a married couple in the story named Judy Vento (played by Hope Davis) and Ralph Vento (played by David Denman), who play a key role in one of the most nerve-wracking parts of the movie.

Throughout the film, director Waugh never lets up on the frantic pace after the comet disaster strikes. (Waugh and Butler previously worked together on the 2019 action film “Angel Has Fallen.”) And when it comes to characters, “Greenland” wisely takes a “less is more” approach, since the story is focused on this family of three and their perspective for the entire film. It’s a departure from the typical disaster movie that has different storylines for a group of strangers. Simply put: “Greenland” is an apocalyptic movie that isn’t going to change the world, but it largely succeeds in being suspenseful, escapist entertainment.

STX released “Greenland” on VOD on December 18, 2020. The movie will be released on digital on January 26, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on February 9, 2021.

2021 Critics Choice Super Awards: ‘Lovecraft Country,’ ‘Palm Springs’ are the top nominees

November 19, 2020

Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollett and Michael K. Williams in “Lovecraft Country” (Photo by Eli Joshua Ade/HBO)

The following is a press release from The CW:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) announced today the nominees for the inaugural Critics Choice Super Awards, a special event honoring the most popular, fan-obsessed genres across both television and movies, including Superhero, Science Fiction/Fantasy, Horror, Action and Animation. The winners will be revealed in a special television presentation, which will be produced remotely following COVID safety protocols, hosted by writer/director/podcaster Kevin Smith and actress/writer Dani Fernandez. The ceremony will air on The CW Network on Sunday, January 10, 2021 (8:00-10:00pm ET/PT) and will stream the next day for free on The CW App and cwtv.com.

The Critics Choice Association will also present the Legacy Award to the “Star Trek” franchise, recognizing the cultural impact it has had across multiple decades while continuing to appeal to and grow its loyal fanbase with new stories and characters. “Star Trek” icon Patrick Stewart, and “Star Trek: Discovery” trailblazer Sonequa Martin-Green will personally accept this special honor, which comes as the franchise celebrates its 55th anniversary.

Hulu and NEON’s “Palm Springs” leads this year’s film nominees, with a total of five including Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie, Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie for Andy Samberg, Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie and Best Villain in a Movie for J.K. Simmons, and Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie for Cristin Milioti. Several films followed close behind with four nominations including “Birds of Prey” (Warner Bros.), “Freaky” (Universal), “Onward” (Disney+), “Sonic the Hedgehog” (Paramount), “The Hunt” (Universal), “The Old Guard” (Netflix), and “The Willoughbys” (Netflix).

“Lovecraft Country” (HBO) received the most television nominations, with a total of six possible wins, including Best Horror Series, Best Actor in a Horror Series for Jonathan Majors, Best Actor in a Horror Series for Michael K. Williams, Best Actress in a Horror Series for Wunmi Mosaku, Best Actress in a Horror Series for Jurnee Smollett, and Best Villain in a Series for Abbey Lee. Amazon’s “The Boys” received five nominations including Best Superhero Series, Best Actor in a Superhero Series and Best Villain in a Series for Antony Starr, Best Actor in a Superhero Series for Karl Urban, and Best Actress in a Superhero Series for Aya Cash.

Several performers received recognition for both their film and television work. Hilary Swank was nominated for Best Actress in an Action Movie and Best Villain in a Movie for “The Hunt” (Universal), as well as Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series for “Away” (Netflix), making her the most nominated individual. Maya Rudolph was nominated for Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie for “The Willoughbys” (Netflix) as well as Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series for “Big Mouth” (Netflix). Jurnee Smollett was nominated for Actress in a Superhero Movie for “Birds of Prey” (Warner Bros.) and Best Actress in a Horror Series for “Lovecraft Country” (HBO).

“What a celebration this is going to be!” said Critics Choice Association CEO Joey Berlin. “We are so pleased to be spotlighting the brilliant work of so many artists who bring to life some of the most engaging and beloved movies and television series! We are certain that Kevin and Dani will serve as tremendous hosts, who, as fans themselves, will bring energy and enthusiasm to the stage, as we honor these genres that so often go overlooked and underappreciated.”

The inaugural Critics Choice Super Awards show will be produced by Bob Bain Productions. The CCA is represented by Dan Black of Greenberg Traurig.

Follow the Critics Choice Super Awards on Twitter and Instagram @CriticsChoice and on Facebook/CriticsChoiceAwards.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA)

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics and entertainment reporters. It was organized last year with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.

About The CW

The CW Television Network, a joint venture between Warner Bros. and CBS, launched in 2006. The CW is a multiplatform network that broadcasts a six-night 12-hour primetime lineup, Sunday through Friday and streams its ad-supported content, free, without login or authentication on CWTV.com and The CW app which is available on every major OTT platform. In daytime, The CW broadcasts a Monday through Friday afternoon block, and a three-hour Saturday morning kids block. The CW’s digital network, CW Seed, launched in 2013, and offers beloved limited-run series, as well as past seasons of recent fan-favorite television shows. For more information about the network and its programming, visit www.cwtvpr.com.

FILM NOMINATIONS FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

BEST ACTION MOVIE
Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Extraction (Netflix)
Greyhound (Apple TV+)
The Hunt (Universal)
Mulan (Disney+)
The Outpost (Screen Media)
Tenet (Warner Bros.)

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Tom Hanks – Greyhound (Apple TV+)
Chris Hemsworth – Extraction (Netflix)
Caleb Landry Jones – The Outpost (Screen Media)
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Will Smith – Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
John David Washington – Tenet (Warner Bros)

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION MOVIE
Betty Gilpin – The Hunt (Universal)
Yifei Liu – Mulan (Disney+)
Blake Lively – The Rhythm Section (Paramount)
Iliza Shlesinger – Spenser Confidential (Netflix)
Hilary Swank – The Hunt (Universal)

BEST ANIMATED MOVIE
Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Over the Moon (Netflix)
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Netflix)
Soul (Disney+)
The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Wolfwalkers (Apple/GKIDS)

BEST VOICE ACTOR IN AN ANIMATED MOVIE
Jamie Foxx – Soul (Disney+)
Will Forte – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Tom Holland – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
John Krasinski – Animal Crackers (Netflix)
Chris Pratt – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Sam Rockwell – The One and Only Ivan (Disney+)

BEST VOICE ACTRESS IN AN ANIMATED MOVIE
Tina Fey – Soul (Disney+)
Honor Kneafsey – Wolfwalkers (Apple / GKIDS)
Maya Rudolph – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
Phillipa Soo – Over the Moon (Netflix)
Octavia Spencer – Onward (Disney/Pixar)
Eva Whittaker – Wolfwalkers (Apple / GKIDS)

BEST SUPERHERO MOVIE*
Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)
The Old Guard (Netflix)
Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Superman: Man of Tomorrow (Warner Bros. Animation)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPERHERO MOVIE*
Skylar Astin – Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Jim Carrey – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Chiwetel Ejiofor – The Old Guard (Netflix)
Ewan McGregor – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)
Ben Schwartz – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPERHERO MOVIE*
Kiki Layne – The Old Guard (Netflix)
Peyton Elizabeth Lee – Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (Disney+)
Margot Robbie – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros)
Jurnee Smollett – Birds of Prey (Warner Bros)
Charlize Theron – The Old Guard (Netflix)

BEST HORROR MOVIE
Freaky (Universal)
The Invisible Man (Universal)
Relic (IFC Films)
The Rental (IFC Films)
Sputnik (IFC Films)

BEST ACTOR IN A HORROR MOVIE
Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù – His House (Netflix)
Pyotr Fyodorov – Sputnik (IFC Films)
Michiel Huisman – The Other Lamb (IFC Films)
Dan Stevens – The Rental (IFC Films)
Vince Vaughn – Freaky (Universal)

BEST ACTRESS IN A HORROR MOVIE
Haley Bennett – Swallow (IFC Films)
Angela Bettis – 12 Hour Shift (Magnet Releasing)
Elisabeth Moss – The Invisible Man (Universal)
Kathryn Newton – Freaky (Universal)
Sheila Vand – The Rental (IFC Films)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE
Love and Monsters (Paramount)
Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Possessor (Neon)
Synchronic (Well Go USA)
The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)

BEST ACTOR IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE
Christopher Abbott – Possessor (Neon)
Jake Horowitz – The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)
Anthony Mackie – Synchronic (Well Go USA)
Andy Samberg – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY MOVIE
Ally Ioannides – Synchronic (Well Go USA)
Katherine Langford – Spontaneous (Paramount)
Sierra McCormick – The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)
Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Andrea Riseborough – Possessor (Neon)

BEST VILLAIN IN A MOVIE
Jim Carrey – Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
Kathryn Newton – Freaky (Universal)
Martin Short and Jane Krakowski – The Willoughbys (Netflix)
J.K. Simmons – Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon)
Hilary Swank – The Hunt (Universal)

* Superhero categories also include Comic Book and Video Game Inspired Movies


NOMINEES BY FILM FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

12 Hour Shift (Magnet Releasing) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Angela Bettis

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (Netflix) – 1
Best Animated Movie

Animal Crackers (Netflix) – 1
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – John Krasinski

Bad Boys for Life (Sony) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Will Smith

Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Ewan McGregor
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Margot Robbie
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Jurnee Smollett

Da 5 Bloods (Netflix) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Delroy Lindo

Extraction (Netflix) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Chris Hemsworth

Freaky (Universal) – 4
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Vince Vaughn
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Kathryn Newton
Best Villain in a Movie – Kathryn Newton

Greyhound (Apple TV+) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Tom Hanks

His House (Netflix) – 1
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Sope Dìrísù

Love and Monsters (Paramount) – 1
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie

Mulan (Disney+) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Yifei Liu

Onward (Disney/Pixar) – 4
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Tom Holland
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Chris Pratt
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Octavia Spencer

Over the Moon (Netflix) – 2
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Phillipa Soo

Palm Springs (Hulu and Neon) – 5
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Andy Samberg
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – J.K. Simmons
Best Villain in a Movie – J.K. Simmons
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Cristin Milioti

Possessor (Neon) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Christopher Abbott
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Andrea Riseborough

Relic (IFC Films) – 1
Best Horror Movie

Secret Society of Second Born Royals (Disney+) – 3
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Skylar Astin
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Peyton Elizabeth Lee

Sonic The Hedgehog (Paramount) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Jim Carrey
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Ben Schwartz
Best Villain in a Movie – Jim Carrey

Soul (Disney+) – 3
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Jamie Foxx
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Tina Fey
Best Animated Movie

Spenser Confidential (Netflix) – 1
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Iliza Shlesinger

Spontaneous (Paramount) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Katherine Langford

Sputnik (IFC Films) – 2
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Pyotr Fyodorov

Superman: Man of Tomorrow (Warner Bros. Animation) – 1
Best Superhero Movie

Swallow (IFC Films) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Haley Bennett

Synchronic (Well Go USA) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Anthony Mackie
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Ally Ioannides

Tenet (Warner Bros) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – John David Washington

The Hunt (Universal) – 4
Best Action Movie
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Betty Gilpin
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Hilary Swank
Best Villain in a Movie – Hilary Swank

The Invisible Man (Universal) – 2
Best Horror Movie
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Elisabeth Moss

The Old Guard (Netflix) – 4
Best Superhero Movie
Best Actor in a Superhero Movie – Chiwetel Ejiofor
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Kiki Layne
Best Actress in a Superhero Movie – Charlize Theron

The One and Only Ivan (Disney+) – 1
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Sam Rockwell

The Other Lamb (IFC Films) – 1
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Michiel Huisman

The Outpost (Screen Media) – 2
Best Action Movie
Best Actor in an Action Movie – Caleb Landry Jones

The Rental (IFC Films) – 3
Best Horror Movie
Best Actor in a Horror Movie – Dan Stevens
Best Actress in a Horror Movie – Sheila Vand

The Rhythm Section (Paramount) – 1
Best Actress in an Action Movie – Blake Lively

The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Jake Horowitz
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Movie – Sierra McCormick

The Willoughbys (Netflix) – 4
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Movie – Will Forte
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Maya Rudolph
Best Villain in a Movie – Martin Short and Jane Krakowski

Wolfwalkers (Apple/GKIDS) – 3
Best Animated Movie
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Honor Kneafsey
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Movie – Eva Whittaker


TELEVISION NOMINATIONS FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

BEST ACTION MOVIE
9-1-1 (Fox)
Hanna (Amazon)
Hunters (Amazon)
S.W.A.T. (CBS)
Vikings (History)
Warrior (Cinemax)

BEST ACTOR IN AN ACTION SERIES
Daveed Diggs – Snowpiercer (TNT)
Andrew Koji – Warrior (Cinemax)
Logan Lerman – Hunters (Amazon)
Alexander Ludwig – Vikings (History)
Shemar Moore – S.W.A.T. (CBS)
Al Pacino – Hunters (Amazon)

BEST ACTRESS IN AN ACTION SERIES
Angela Bassett – 9-1-1 (Fox)
Jennifer Connelly – Snowpiercer (TNT)
Esme Creed-Miles – Hanna (Amazon)
Mireille Enos – Hanna (Amazon)
Katheryn Winnick – Vikings (History)
Alison Wright – Snowpiercer (TNT)

BEST ANIMATED SERIES
Archer (FXX)
BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Big Mouth (Netflix)
Central Park (Apple TV+)
Harley Quinn (HBO Max)
Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)

BEST VOICE ACTOR IN AN ANIMATED SERIES
Will Arnett – BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
H. Jon Benjamin – Archer (FXX)
Nick Kroll – Big Mouth (Netflix)
John Mulaney – Big Mouth (Netflix)
Jack Quaid – Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)
Justin Roiland – Rick and Morty (Adult Swim)
J.B. Smoove – Harley Quinn (HBO Max)

BEST VOICE ACTRESS IN AN ANIMATED SERIES
Kaley Cuoco – Harley Quinn (HBO Max)
Tawny Newsome – Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access)
Maya Rudolph – Big Mouth (Netflix)
Amy Sedaris – BoJack Horseman (Netflix)
Aisha Tyler – Archer (FXX)
Jessica Walter – Archer (FXX)

BEST SUPERHERO SERIES*
The Boys (Amazon)
DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (The CW)
Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max)
The Flash (The CW)
Lucifer (Netflix)
The Umbrella Academy (Netflix)

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPERHERO SERIES*
Jon Cryer – Supergirl (The CW)
Tom Ellis – Lucifer (Netflix)
Grant Gustin – The Flash (The CW)
Antony Starr – The Boys (Amazon)
Karl Urban – The Boys (Amazon)
Cress Williams – Black Lightning (The CW)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPERHERO SERIES*
Melissa Benoist – Supergirl (The CW)
Aya Cash – The Boys (Amazon)
Diane Guerrero – Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max)
Elizabeth Marvel – Helstrom (Hulu)
Lili Reinhart – Riverdale (The CW)
Cobie Smulders – Stumptown (ABC)

BEST HORROR SERIES
Evil (CBS)
The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Lovecraft Country (HBO)
The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Supernatural (The CW)
The Walking Dead (AMC)

BEST ACTOR IN A HORROR SERIES
Jensen Ackles – Supernatural (The CW)
Mike Colter – Evil (CBS)
Michael Emerson – Evil (CBS)
Jonathan Majors – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Ben Mendelsohn – The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Jared Padalecki – Supernatural (The CW)
Michael K. Williams – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

BEST ACTRESS IN A HORROR SERIES
Natalie Dormer – Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Showtime)
Cynthia Erivo – The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television)
Katja Herbers – Evil (CBS)
T’Nia Miller – The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Wunmi Mosaku – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Victoria Pedretti – The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix)
Jurnee Smollett – Lovecraft Country (HBO)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES
The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Outlander (Starz)
Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)
Upload (Amazon)
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

BEST ACTOR IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES
Robbie Amell – Upload (Amazon)
Travis Fimmel – Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Sam Heughan – Outlander (Starz)
Kayvan Novak – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Pedro Pascal – The Mandalorian (Disney+)
Nick Offerman – Devs (FX on Hulu)
Patrick Stewart – Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access)

BEST ACTRESS IN A SCIENCE FICTION/FANTASY SERIES
Caitriona Balfe – Outlander (Starz)
Amanda Collin – Raised by Wolves (HBO Max)
Natasia Demetriou – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Sonequa Martin-Green – Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)
Thandie Newton – Westworld (HBO)
Hilary Swank – Away (Netflix)
Jodie Whittaker – Doctor Who (BBC America)

BEST VILLAIN IN A SERIES
Tom Ellis – Lucifer (Netflix)
Abbey Lee – Lovecraft Country (HBO)
Samantha Morton – The Walking Dead (AMC)
Sarah Paulson – Ratched (Netflix)
Antony Starr – The Boys (Amazon)
Finn Wittrock – Ratched (Netflix)

* Superhero categories also include Comic Book and Video Game Inspired Series


NOMINEES BY SERIES FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

9-1-1 (Fox) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actress in an Action Series – Angela Bassett

Archer (FXX) – 4
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – H. Jon Benjamin
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Aisha Tyler
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Jessica Walter

Away (Netflix) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Hilary Swank

Big Mouth (Netflix) – 4
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Nick Kroll
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – John Mulaney
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Maya Rudolph

Black Lightning (The CW) – 1
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Cress Williams

BoJack Horseman (Netflix) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Will Arnett
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Amy Sedaris

Central Park (Apple TV+) – 1
Best Animated Series

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow (The CW) – 1
Best Superhero Series

Devs (FX on Hulu) – 1
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Nick Offerman

Doctor Who (BBC America) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Jodie Whittaker

Doom Patrol (DC Universe and HBO Max) – 2
Best Superhero Series
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Diane Guerrero

Evil (CBS) – 4
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Mike Colter
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Michael Emerson
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Katja Herbers

Hanna (Amazon) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actress in an Action Series – Esme Creed-Miles
Best Actress in an Action Series – Mireille Enos

Harley Quinn (HBO Max) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – J.B. Smoove
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Kaley Cuoco

Helstrom (Hulu) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Elizabeth Marvel

Hunters (Amazon) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Logan Lerman
Best Actor in an Action Series – Al Pacino

Lovecraft Country (HBO) – 6
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jonathan Majors
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Michael K. Williams
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Wunmi Mosaku
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Jurnee Smollett
Best Villain in a Series – Abbey Lee

Lucifer (Netflix) – 3
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Tom Ellis
Best Villain in a Series – Tom Ellis

Outlander (Starz) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Sam Heughan
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Caitriona Balfe

Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (Showtime) – 1
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Natalie Dormer

Raised by Wolves (HBO Max) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Travis Fimmel
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Amanda Collin

Ratched (Netflix) – 2
Best Villain in a Series – Sarah Paulson
Best Villain in a Series – Finn Wittrock

Rick and Morty (Adult Swim) – 2
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Justin Rolland

Riverdale (The CW) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Lili Reinhart

S.W.A.T. (CBS) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Shemar Moore

Snowpiercer (TNT) – 3
Best Actor in an Action Series – Daveed Diggs
Best Actress in an Action Series – Jennifer Connelly
Best Actress in an Action Series – Alison Wright

Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Sonequa Martin-Green

Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access) – 3
Best Animated Series
Best Voice Actor in an Animated Series – Jack Quaid
Best Voice Actress in an Animated Series – Tawny Newsome

Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Patrick Stewart

Stumptown (ABC) – 1
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Cobie Smulders

Supergirl (The CW) – 2
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Jon Cryer
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Melissa Benoist

Supernatural (The CW) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jensen Ackles
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Jared Padalecki

The Boys (Amazon) – 5
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Antony Starr
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Karl Urban
Best Actress in a Superhero Series – Aya Cash
Best Villain in a Series – Antony Starr

The Flash (The CW) – 2
Best Superhero Series
Best Actor in a Superhero Series – Grant Gustin

The Haunting of Bly Manor (Netflix) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actress in a Horror Series – T’Nia Miller
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Victoria Pedretti

The Mandalorian (Disney+) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Pedro Pascal

The Outsider (HBO and MRC Television) – 3
Best Horror Series
Best Actor in a Horror Series – Ben Mendelsohn
Best Actress in a Horror Series – Cynthia Erivo

The Umbrella Academy (Netflix) – 1
Best Superhero Series

The Walking Dead (AMC) – 2
Best Horror Series
Best Villain in a Series – Samantha Morton

Upload (Amazon) – 2
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Robbie Amell

Vikings (History) – 3
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Alexander Ludwig
Best Actress in an Action Series – Katheryn Winnick

Warrior (Cinemax) – 2
Best Action Series
Best Actor in an Action Series – Andrew Koji

Westworld (HBO) – 1
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Thandie Newton

What We Do in the Shadows (FX) – 3
Best Science Fiction/Fantasy Series
Best Actor in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Kayvan Novak
Best Actress in a Science Fiction/Fantasy Series – Natasia Demetriou


NOMINEES BY NETWORK/STUDIO FOR THE INAUGURAL CRITICS CHOICE SUPER AWARDS

Netflix – 35
HBO / HBO Max / DC Universe and HBO Max – 18
Amazon / Amazon Studios – 16
Disney+ – 15
CBS / CBS All Access – 13
The CW – 10
Universal – 10
FX / FXX / FX on Hulu – 8
IFC Films – 8
NEON – 8
Paramount – 7
Warner Bros. / Warner Bros. Animation – 7
Apple TV+ / Apple/GKIDS – 6
Hulu – 6
History – 3
MRC Television – 3
Starz – 3
TNT – 3
Well Go USA – 3
Adult Swim – 2
AMC – 2
Cinemax – 2
Fox – 2
Screen Media – 2
Sony / Sony Pictures – 2
ABC – 1
BBC America – 1
Magnet Releasing – 1
Showtime – 1

Review: ‘Mortal,’ starring Nat Wolff and Priyanka Bose

November 8, 2020

by Carla Hay

Iben Akerlie and Nat Wolff in “Mortal” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Mortal”

Directed by André Øvredal

Some language in Norwegian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Norway, the sci-fi thriller “Mortal” features an almost all-white cast of characters (and one Indian) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A mysterious young man is hunted by authorities because he has a lethal ability to conduct energy and electricity through his body.

Culture Audience: “Mortal” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic sci-fi flicks that put more emphasis on visual effects than in crafting a good story.

Priyanka Bose in “Mortal” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Mortal” starts off as a run-of-the-mill sci-fi flick before it turns into a ludicrous off-the-rails story. Even before the plot twist is revealed in the last third of the movie, “Mortal” had too many weak links for it to be strengthened by the “surprise” ending. This plot twist actually makes the movie worse, because the ill-conceived, drastic turn in the story looks very tacked-on and rushed. It’s as if the filmmakers were desperate to come up with an ending to bring “Mortal” out its repetitive rut.

Directed by André Øvredal (who co-wrote the screenplay with Norman Lesperance and Geoff Bussetil), “Mortal” is essentially a sci-fi chase movie that doesn’t really go anywhere. The movie centers on an American man in his mid-20s named Eric Bergland (played by Nat Wolff), who is in Norway looking for his relatives. The details of his family aren’t revealed until toward the end of the movie, because it’s part of the plot twist.

And so, for almost the entire movie, viewers don’t know anything about Eric except that he’s homeless in Norway and he has a very strange and deadly power: He can conduct and transport energy (especially electrical energy) through his body, giving him the ability to start fires and cause electrical storms. In the beginning of the film, Eric is by himself, looking like he’s a dirty and disheveled vagrant who’s trying to hide from the world.

He trespasses into a home to steal some scissors, medicine, bandages and candy. He eats the candy as if he’s been starving for days. He uses the scissors to cut his hair. And he uses the medicine and bandages to treat a festering wound on his leg.

It’s revealed later in the movie that Eric can get burns on his body when he’s at his peak of energy-conducting power. Viewers will have to suspend disbelief that Eric can be burned everywhere on his body except his face, because nothing bad ever happens to his face except for the unfortunate straggly beard that Eric has at the beginning of the film.

At a gas station in the municipality of Odda, Eric catches the attention of four teenagers (three boys and a girl) in a car. A bullying guy named Ole (played by Arthur Hakalahti), who’s the leader of the group, taunts Eric for looking like the dirty transient that he is. The car then happens to follow Eric to an open field.

Ole gets out of the car, while the other teens follow him and Eric into the field. Ole continues to harass Eric, who warns Ole in an ominous voice: “If you touch me, you will burn.” But of course, Ole touches Eric. And when he does, Eric stares at Ole intensely, while Ole appears to be suffocating without Eric touching him. Ole then immediately collapses and dies.

Eric is quickly apprehended by authorities, who don’t find out much about Eric except for these three things: (1) He’s a backpacker from the United States, but he’s of Norwegian heritage; (2) He’s in Norway to look for his relatives; and (3) He was seen at a farmhouse in Årdal, a municipality in Norway’s Vestland county, where three years before, a fire killed five people at the house. Eric is suspected of starting the fire, but he’s not talking to law enforcement about what happened at that house.

The sheriff of Odda is Henrik Jondal (played by Per Frisch), who’s in charge of the investigation into the death of Ole. The police aren’t making any progress in interviewing Eric, because he refuses to say much to them, so Henrik has the idea to call someone who has experience counseling teenagers and other young people. The hope is that this counselor will be able to break through to Eric and get him to open up about the death of Ole.

The counselor’s name is Christine Aas (played by Iben Akerlie), and she looks like she’s approximately the same age as Eric. And as soon as she appears on screen, it’s easy to see that she’s going to be Eric’s love interest because she has the stereotypical physical appearance (young, blonde and pretty) of a love interest in a formulaic movie like this one.

Even though Christine looks young enough to only be a few years out of college, the movie has made her a whiz at diagnosing medical conditions because she figures out very quickly what Alex’s superpower is. Not long after Christine is put in a police interrogation room with Eric to ask him some questions, he goes from being mute to gasping remorsefully about Ole, “I tried to tell him not to touch me.”

Meanwhile, Henrik is in another section of the police station, where he’s dealing with the parents of Ole, who want answers about what caused Ole’s death. Ole’s father Bjørn (played by Per Egil Aske) is very angry because he knows that the police have Eric in custody as a suspect. (The arrest has been all over the news.) Bjørn demands to be in a room alone with Eric, but Henrik refuses. It’s pretty clear at this point that this won’t be the last we see of Bjørn, who might as well have worn a T-shirt that says “Vigilante Justice,” because that seems to be the only purpose for his character in this movie.

Back in the police interrogation room, Eric reaches for a glass of water, and Christine sees that he’s able to lift the water out of the glass, just by putting his hand above the glass. This gives him such electrical energy force throughout his body, that when Eric places his hands on the wooden table, it scorches the table. And then, Eric gets so upset, the entire room lights up with an electrical storm caused by Eric.

Christine tells Eric the obvious: The energy comes out when he’s experiencing negative emotions, such as fear, anger or anxiety. She tells him that he can control the energy if he just breathes and calms down and gets to a relaxed emotional state. Now that Little Miss Expert has diagnosed Eric’s problem in a matter of minutes, you almost expect her to say, “I’ll be right back. Let me get a yoga mat for you so we can do some breathing exercises.”

Henrik rushes in and witnesses the “electrical storm” in the room, and everyone rushes out before more damage can be caused. The authorities sedate Eric with medication. And a U.S. Embassy official named Cora Hathaway (played by Priyanka Bose) is summoned to take Eric by helicopter to a place that isn’t made clear in the movie because this movie’s screenplay is kind of a sloppy mess. However, viewers can assume that he’s going somewhere for scientific tests.

Eric is strapped to a gurney during the helicopter ride. But when he wakes up and sees that he’s essentially being imprisoned against his will, he goes crazy and creates such a big electrical storm that it causes the helicopter to crash into the ocean. Everyone on the plane dies except for Cora (who ends up in a hospital) and Eric, who has temporarily disappeared. Cora eventually gets released from the hospital and makes it her mission to track down Eric so he can be put back into the custody of the government.

Meanwhile, Eric shows up in the outdoor parking lot of the apartment building where Christine just happens to be at that moment. Somehow, in the short time that Christine and Eric have known each other, Eric has managed to find out where Christine lives. Viewers will have to assume that he was able to look up that information in between causing electrical storms, surviving a helicopter crash in the ocean, finding his way back to land, and then showing up at Christine’s place in the hopes that she’ll want to hang out with him while he’s a fugitive.

It turns out that Christine does want to hang out with Eric and help him elude capture by law enforcement. She tells him, “I’m going take you to my friend’s cabin, and we’re going to figure it out.” The rest of the movie is basically Eric and Christine going on the run together. There’s only one moment when Christine doubts her decision to help Eric, but she shows the kind of immediate loyalty to him that makes it obvious she’s romantically attracted to him. Eric and Christine’s inevitable “big moment” kiss comes later in the movie.

Wolff is serviceable in this poorly written role. He tries to infuse a “lost soul” persona into Eric’s character, but the character is so vague that it’s a wasted effort to try to bring gravitas to the role. The problem is that “Mortal” tells almost nothing about Eric and his background until toward the end of the film, which makes it hard for viewers to root for Eric while he tries to evade capture. The other actors in the film are mediocre, while Bose is just plain awful with her emotionless, wooden delivery of her lines.

And speaking of the U.S. Embassy official Cora, it doesn’t make sense that she would be heading up the task force to find Eric. Embassy officials are political diplomats, not law enforcement or part of a government’s military defense. Based on all the destruction that Eric causes in the movie, the Norwegian military would be the ones to take over if a seemingly crazy guy was out there causing electrical storms that are bad enough to burn bridges, roads, buildings and people.

Even though Cora has seen firsthand how dangerous Eric can be, she wears no protective gear the entire time that she’s trying to hunt him down. She’s dressed as if she’s about to go for a nature hike. And the only indication that she survived a traumatic plane crash in the ocean is that she has a small band-aid on her forehead. Yes, this movie is that stupid.

As for Eric’s big “secret” at the end of the movie, it looks like a blatant cash grab to latch on to the popularity of a certain blockbuster movie franchise. It’s too bad that the filmmakers of “Mortal” couldn’t come up with a more original story. The visual effects and cinematography in “Mortal” are fairly good, but because of the moronic way that this story is told, it doesn’t matter how good the movie’s visuals might look if the dialogue and basic storyline are of such low quality that it’s embarrassing. All the electrical storms and fires concocted for this movie still can’t ignite the film’s very dull and unimaginative plot.

Saban Films released “Mortal” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 6, 2020. The movie’s Blu-ray and DVD release date is November 10, 2020.

Review: ‘Black Box’ (2020), starring Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmaine Bingwa and Troy James

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mamoudou Athie and Phylicia Rashad in “Black Box” (Photo by Alan Markfield/Amazon Studios)

“Black Box” (2020)

Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi/horror movie “Black Box” has a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widowed father suffers from amnesia because of the car accident that killed his wife, and he undergoes a radical scientific experiment to try to recover his memories.

Culture Audience: “Black Box” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that blend science fiction with family drama and have unexpected twists.

Amanda Christine and Mamoudou Athie in “Black Box” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Studios)

At first glance, the sci-fi/horror film “Black Box” seems to be a story about how unchecked scientific experiments can wreak havoc on someone’s life. But beneath all the creepy and mind-bending scenes is a story about yearning for chances to start over and renew relationships with loved ones. Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., “Black Box” has some familiar influences (the 1990 film “Total Recall” immediately comes to mind), but the movie has its own unique elements that make it a worthwhile offering for people who like horror movies where a lot of terror can exist in someone’s mind.

“Black Box” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Amazon Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. The movie is the feature-film debut of Osei-Kuffour, who co-wrote the “Black Box” screenplay with Stephen Herman. It’s not a straightforward movie that is supposed to be told chronologically. Instead, viewers have to put the pieces of the puzzle together, just like fragmented memories that could become whole.

In “Black Box,” Nolan Wright (played by Mamoudou Athie) is a 33-year-old photographer and widowed father who is struggling physically, financially and emotionally. He is recovering from a car accident that killed his wife Rachel six months ago and left him in a coma. When he emerged from the coma, he found out that he has amnesia, and he is now coping with feelings for guilt over Rachel’s death and the stress of not remembering a great deal of his life.

Because of his injuries and ongoing recovery, Nolan hasn’t been able to work, and the bills are piling up. There’s a wall in Nolan’s living room that looks like it was punched in anger, and it’s later revealed in the movie that he punched the wall because he got frustrated over being hounded by bill collectors. This type of violence goes against Nolan’s mild-mannered nature. He’s also a kind and attentive father.

Nolan’s lively and very precocious daughter Ava (played by Amanda Christine), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, has become the “lady” of their household. She helps Nolan get ready in the morning, makes meals and helps him remember things, since Nolan as short-term and long-term memory loss. Nolan worries that the big chunks of his life that he doesn’t remember are memories that he’ll never get back.

In the beginning of the movie, Nolan is ready to go back to work at the magazine job he used to have before the car accident. He has a meeting with his former boss Cathy (played by Gretchen Koerner), who also used to be the supervisor for Nolan’s late wife Rachel. But Cathy tells him some bad news: She can’t rehire Nolan because her publisher boss doesn’t think that Nolan’s current work doesn’t reach the same quality level as his past work.

Nolan’s best friend is a doctor named Gary (played by Tosin Morohunfola), who offers to lend Nolan money to help pay Nolan’s bills, but Nolan is politely declines to accept this offer. Nolan tells Gary about being rejected by his former job, and Gary comforts Nolan by telling him, “You don’t need to change your career, Nolan. You just need to remember who you are.”

While Nolan is visiting Gary at the hospital where Gary works, Gary recommends that Nolan try undergoing some of the experimental memory treatments conducted by Dr. Lillian Brooks (played by Phylicia Rashad), who is considered a somewhat controversial visionary because not all of her experiments have been government-approved. And it just so happens that a video of Dr. Brooks giving an instructional lecture to an audience is playing in the waiting room where Nolan is sitting.

Feeling he’s got nothing to lose, Nolan makes an appointment with Dr. Brooks, who knows Nolan’s personal and medical history and decides he’s a good candidate for her Black Box memory recovery experiments. Dr. Brooks tells Nolan that the Black Box converts memories into an “immersive virtual experience, like a dream.” Therefore, when Nolan gets a Black Box treatment, he will have a virtual recreation of his memories.

Dr. Brooks puts Nolan under hypnosis, where he sees himself in a house with different rooms. Before he goes into the trance, Dr. Brooks tells him that the first room he will be in is a “safe room.” There are no safes in this room, but it’s supposed to represent the safest room in the house and the room that Nolan has to be in if he wants to emerge safely from the hypnosis.

Nolan can go from room to room by pushing down on the crown of an imaginary analog watch. However, he cannot open the doors in the safe room. If he wants to leave the safe room, he has to use the watch. And what Nolan sees when he goes under hypnosis would be enough for most people to completely call off the Black Box experiment.

While under hypnosis, Nolan has flashes of memories, but the other people in these memories have their faces blurred out and the rooms are usually very shadowy or dark. One vivid memory that Nolan relives is his wedding ceremony in the church where it took place. But what’s supposed to be happy memory turns into a nightmare.

An unwelcome guest emerges from a church pew. It’s an unknown humanoid creature that can contort limbs at sickening angles. The menacing creature is called Backwards Man (played by Troy James), and every time it moves, you can hear the sound of bones cracking. Just like everyone else in these visions, the face of Backwards Man is obscured. Every time Backwards Man sees Nolan, the creature rushes to attack Nolan, who then has to quickly find a way back to the safe room so that he can come out from the hypnosis.

The first time that Nolan has this terrifying experience, he’s hesitant to go back under hypnosis again. But his desire to recover his memories outweighs any fear that he has, so he goes back under hypnosis again. Another vision that he sees is of a bruised and crying woman in a kitchen. It appears that someone in the home has beaten her and she’s afraid of that person.

Nolan has never seen this woman before, but he later finds out that her name is Miranda (played by Charmaine Bingwa), and she doesn’t live very far from Nolan. He also sees in his visions that Miranda has a crying baby in another room. And once again, Backwards Man suddenly appears to try to attack Nolan.

Nolan begins to wonder if the visions he’s seeing are really memories or delusions. He asks Gary if he’s ever had a history of abusing women. Gary tells Nolan absolutely not and says that Nolan and Rachel were an ideal, loving couple. Gary only remembers bits and pieces of his marriage to Rachel, so he has to take Gary’s word for it. (There’s no mention in the story if Nolan has any other relatives. If he does, he doesn’t communicate with them and vice versa.)

The mysteries of Nolan’s strange Black Box visions are explained by the end of the film. Throughout the movie, “Black Box” writer/director Osei-Kuffour achieves a delicate balance between the Nolan who’s trying to keep things together in the “real world” to be a responsible parent and the Nolan who keeps getting pulled back into the dark and murky world of the Black Box memory experiments. Nolan isn’t quite sure what’s being done to his mind but he’s willing to risk everything just to get back his memories.

But the darker world of these memory experiments spills over into Nolan’s real world, as he has nightmares and blackouts that affect his ability to function as normally as he would like. For example, one day he forgets to pick up Ava from school (it’s not the first time it’s happened), and the concerned teacher who brings Ava home threatens to report Nolan to child protective services if it happens again.

As Nolan, Athie does an admirable job of portraying someone who’s torn between these two worlds, while Christine shows a lot of talent as a child who’s perceptive beyond the level of most children her age. Nolan and Ava’s father/daughter relationship is adorable and realistic. Rashad portrays Dr. Brooks as someone who is passionate about her work, but the movie doesn’t really go into details about other patients whom Dr. Brooks has treated. The only work with patients that Dr. Brooks is shown doing in the movie is her Black Box sessions with Nolan.

The Backwards Man in “Black Box” brings some chills, but this contortionist creature looks too human and familiar for it to become a horror villain that people will be talking about for years. (When the face of Backwards Man is finally revealed, it’s no surprise.) Ultimately, the message of “Black Box” is that no matter how advanced technology becomes and how many material possessions people can have, people’s human connections and memories have intangible value and are treasured the most.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Black Box” on October 6, 2020.

Review: ‘Spontaneous,’ starring Katherine Langford and Charlie Plummer

October 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Charlie Plummer and Katherine Langford in “Spontaneous” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“Spontaneous”

Directed by Brian Duffield

Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional U.S. suburban city called Covington, the sci-fi/horror comedy “Spontaneous” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two opposite teenagers fall in love during a mysterious plague that causes people to spontaneously combust.

Culture Audience: “Spontaneous” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in unconventional teen comedies that have many dark themes and gory moments.

Hayley Law and Katherine Langford in “Spontaneous” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

The poster for the movie “Spontaneous” makes it look like a typical carefree teen romantic comedy. This movie is definitely not carefree or a typical rom-com. In fact, the second half of the film gets so dark and depressing that unsuspecting viewers might wonder if they if they were duped into seeing the wrong movie. “Spontaneous” might not please people who are looking for a more conventional story, but if people are willing to experience a movie that takes some bold risks in the teen-oriented film genre, then “Spontaneous” is worth watching.

Brian Duffield wrote and directed “Spontaneous,” which is based on the novel of the same title by Aaron Starmer. The movie adeptly manages the difficult challenge of blending science fiction, horror and dark comedy. For the most part, it works. And thanks to a brutally sardonic performance by Katherine Langford, “Spontaneous” could very well become a cult classic for teen films.

In “Spontaneous,” Langford portrays Mara Carlyle, who narrates the story as if she’s looking back on her life several years later. When this story takes place, Mara is a senior at Covington High School in a fictional American suburban city called Covington. Mara doesn’t fall into a lot of movie stereotypes of pretty blondes in high school. She’s not a cheerleader, a star student, a popular girl, a stuck-up rich kid, or a girl who sleeps around. In fact, unlike most teen protagonists in movies, Mara doesn’t have any burning ambitions in life, she’s not obsessing over a crush, and she’s not trying to get anyone’s approval in particular, not even the approval of her best friend.

Mara’s best friend since elementary school is Tess McNulty (played by Hayley Law), who is as sensible and cautious as Mara is unpredictable and impulsive. Mara likes to get high on illegal drugs and get drunk, while Tess doesn’t do drugs and occasionally drinks alcohol, but never to the point where she’s vomiting or out of control. (The movie has several scenes where Mara spends a lot of her time intoxicated.)

Tess is a student who takes school seriously and has plans for college. Mara does just enough to get by academically and doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life after she graduates from high school. What these two girls have in common is a mutual respect for each other and a plan to eventually live together in a beach house when they’re old.

The movie gets to the “sci-fi/horror” aspect right away, when a student named Katelyn Ogden (played by Mellany Barros), who’s in one of Mara’s classes, suddenly and spontaneously explodes during a class session. There’s blood everywhere in the classroom, everyone runs out of the school screaming in horror, and people are left wondering why this bizarre death happened. As one of the students says later in describing the incident: “It was like a Cronenberg movie.”

Shortly before this incident, Mara had been getting anonymous text messages from a mystery admirer who told her in the messages that Mara has been a crush of this admirer for the past two years. In response, she texts this mystery person with a message saying, “No dick pics.” The secret admirer then texts her a picture of Richard Nixon, with the message, “Sorry, it’s crooked.”

Mara is intrigued and charmed by this person who seems to share her sarcastic sense of humor. While Tess and Mara hang out at a diner together after the “spontaneous combustion” incident, the secret admirer reveals himself. He asks if he could sit with them, and they say yes. Mara almost instantly guesses he’s the secret admirer from the way that he talks and looks at her.

His name is Dylan Hovemeyer (played by Charlie Plummer), who is also a senior at Covington High School. His personality is almost the opposite of Mara’s. Dylan is shy and awkward, while Mara is brash and confident. And although Dylan has pretty much made it clear that he could fall in love with Mara, she’s resistant to even saying the word “love” out loud and isn’t really looking for a serious relationship.

Mara is the type of person who will use illegal drugs or get drunk to escape from her problems or bad thoughts. Because of the trauma of witnessing the explosion firsthand, she decides to take a lot of psychedelic mushrooms in the tea that she’s drinking at the diner. By the time Dylan comes over to Mara and Tess’ table, Mara is flying high. But because she took so many mushrooms, she knows she’s going to get sick, so she asks Dylan to go with her to the diner’s restroom to hold her hair while she vomits.

Mara tells Dylan that she took a bunch of psychedelic mushrooms, so things might get weird. Sure enough, she tells Dylan that she’s seeing several clones of him in the bathroom. And she ends up vomiting a lot, while Dylan dutifully attends to her. Dylan thinks Mara’s hallucinations are kind of funny, and he’s more than happy to cater to Mara.

Mara decides that Dylan has passed an unofficial test of trust, since he saw her in a vulnerable state of intoxication and he didn’t judge her or take advantage of her, so she decides to hang out with him some more. They find out that they have the same taste in 1980s and 1990s rock music. Mara also likes Dylan’s quirks, such as later in movie when he buys a beat-up old milk-delivery/ice-cream truck and Mara thinks it’s one of the coolest vehicles she’s ever seen. Dylan and Mara, who both have no siblings, consider themselves to be outsiders who aren’t understood by very many people.

It should come as no surprise that Mara and Dylan end up dating each other and falling in love. But Mara is the type of girl who wants some independence, and she initially has a hard time admitting that Dylan is her boyfriend. And then there’s the possibility that Dylan will move away because of college. Dylan and Mara’s relationship begins at a time of the school year before students begin finding out which colleges they’ve applied to have accepted or rejected them. Mara and Dylan decide to just make the best of the time that they have together and figure it out as they go along.

On one of their first dates together, Dylan and Mara go to a football game, where on the field, one of the football players spontaneously explodes, which causes the expected bloody mayhem. And so begins a plague in the city where people randomly explode. It could happen to anyone at any time.

The FBI and other government agents descend on the city to investigate. One of those officials is Agent Rosetti (played by Yvonne Orji), who interviews many of the students at the high school, including Mara and Tess. Agent Rosetti is tough but compassionate as she tries to get to the bottom of this mystery. Every time Mara is questioned or interviewed by an authority figures, she gives snarky, unhelpful answers.

The students who were in the classroom of the first explosion are eventually put into a temporary quarantine together, where they go under intense medical exams. Mara predictably hates being confined, and she takes her resentment out on the authority figures. Here’s an example of Mara’s snide way of talking: During an examination with a doctor, the doctor asks Mara, “What do you want to do in college? Mara replies, “Stay alive.”

As more people start to explode in the city, religious conservatives begin flocking to Covington to hold protests because they believe the city’s residents, particularly the teenagers, are cursed by demons. They hold protests with picket signs that say things like, “The Devil Inside Your Children Has Found His Way Out,” “Covington Is Doomed” and “Repent or Perish.” Mara is not religious, but there comes a time when she, like many of the the other survivors, feels survivors’ guilt.

During all of this turmoil, Dylan and Mara become closer. He tells her that one of the reasons why he finally approached her after two years of admiring her from afar was because he doesn’t know how much longer they might have to live. Dylan also opens up about how the death of his father (who passed away from a heart attack) deeply affected him. Dylan, who used to live on a farm, says that after his father died, he would sometimes go in the barn and dance my himself while listen to his father’s favorite music.

“Spontaneous” has moments of sweet sentimentality, but most of the tone for this comedy is acerbic and occasionally it gets very bleak. The movie includes portrayals of overwhelming depression and substance abuse that get to dangerous levels. And unlike a lot of teen-oriented movies, there aren’t necessarily people coming to the rescue to help set any troubled teens down the right path.

Mara can be rude, selfish and irresponsible, but she also has a vulnerable, caring and loyal side that she shows to only a few special people in her life, including her parents. Mara’s parents Charlie (played by Rob Huebel) and Angela (played by Piper Perabo) want to be “cool” with Angela, so they smoke marijuana with her and they’re reluctant to discipline her. When she stays out past curfew time, they worry, but they don’t really punish her, since she’s almost 18 years old.

Some people watching “Spontaneous” might not warm up to Mara because she’s so flawed and has a “no filter” attitude, where she says what she thinks, even though it might be unpleasant or insensitive. On Halloween, when the students go to school wearing costumes, Mara dresses up as the fictional horror character Carrie (the bullied teen in Stephen King’s novel of the same name), who notoriously had a bucket of pig’s blood poured on her at her school prom.

However, Mara’s “Carrie” prom dress doesn’t have blood on it, because Mara is aware that it would be in bad taste, given the spontaneous bloody explosions that started with fellow student Katelyn Ogdon. When Dylan (who’s dressed as an Amish person) first sees Mara in the costume, he immediately guesses that she’s dressed as the “Carrie” horror character. Mara loves that Dylan instantly knew what her costume was, but she adds that “Katelyn fucked it up,” as in it was Katelyn’s “fault” that Mara couldn’t wear blood on the dress.

The editing of “Spontaneous” could have been improved somewhat in the last third of the story, when some self-destructive things that Mara does get repetitive and tend to drag down the pacing of the movie. However, the tender romance between Mara and Dylan is very easy to like and is by far the best part of the movie. Langford and Plummer’s chemistry together is warm, funny and absolutely enjoyable to watch. They both give very good performances in the movie—not the type that will win major awards, but the type that will be used as examples of how to act in a genre-bending teen comedy.

“Spontaneous” does not skimp on the gore, so people who are easily nauseated by the sight of blood might want to steer clear of watching this movie. Even without the spontaneous combustion and all the bloody scenes, the message of “Spontaneous” is loud and clear: Life can be messy. You can either be afraid or live each day as if it’s your last.

Paramount Pictures released “Spontaneous” in select U.S. cinemas on October 2, 2020, and on digital and VOD on October 6, 2020.

Review: ‘LX 2048,’ starring James D’Arcy, Anna Brewster and Delroy Lindo

October 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Anna Brewster and James D’Arcy in “LX 2048” (Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution)

“LX 2048”

Directed by Guy Moshe

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city in the year 2048, the sci-fi drama “LX 2048” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A terminally ill man, who works as a tech broker, has problems in his marriage and a life-insurance clause where he can be replaced by a clone.

Culture Audience: “LX 2048” will appeal to people who are interested in movies that explore the ethics and concepts of human cloning, but the movie’s main characters are not very easy to like. 

James D’Arcy and Delroy Lindo in “LX 2048” (Photo courtesy of Quiver Distribution)

“LX 2048” takes several familiar sci-fi concepts—a dystopian future, next-level virtual reality, chip-implant technology and human cloning—and mashes them all up together in a movie that ultimately becomes scatter-brained and a hokey melodrama in its last few scenes. Written and directed by Guy Moshe, “LX 2048” is the equivalent of a chef’s meal that has too many ingredients and yet not enough distinctive substance to make it enjoyable. Although the film might have started out with good intentions, ultimately it fails to deliver a cohesive story and characters with memorable personalities.

“LX 2048” is centered on Adam Bird (played by James D’Arcy), a tech broker in his 40s, who has recently been diagnosed with a heart illness. The prognosis is grim: He has less than a year to live. The beginning of the movie shows Adam in the office of his physician Dr. Maple (played by Juliet Aubrey), who tells him this bad news: “You’re not dying yet. Your heart is definitely failing though.”

Dr. Maple tries to look on the bright side, because she reminds Adam that he’s on Premium 3 insurance, which is a life-insurance policy where someone agrees that after death, that person can be brought back as a clone by a loved one. The clones are not immortal, but this cloning gives the dead person’s loved ones the illusion that the dead person is still with them. Many of the “people” in this world of “LX 2048” are actually human clones who don’t have souls but can mimic human emotions. Dr. Maple is one of those clones.

Premium 3 insurance has an “upgrade” where a loved one can request that the human clone can have characteristics that the deceased loved one did not have. In other words, physical features and personality traits can be changed or erased, according to the wishes of the beneficiaries listed in the policy. The insurance agents recommend that beneficiaries do not tell the policy holders while they are still alive what they would change about them.

Adam’s health diagnosis isn’t the only depressing thing about his life. He lives in a world where the ozone layer has become so depleted that sunlight has become a danger to people’s health, so people rarely go outside in the daytime. Those that do go outside during the day, such as Adam, have to hear hazmat suits.

Mental depression has become very common in the world’s population, so the government has required that people take 001LithiumX, which is anti-depressant medication that is nicknamed LX. Adam is a nonconformist who refuses to take LX. He also insists on commuting to an office for his job, while almost all of his colleagues work remotely from their homes.

In addition, at the time that Adam has been told that he doesn’t have much longer to live, his marriage has fallen apart. He is separated from his wife Reena (played Anna Brewster), who lives with their three underage sons: Kenny (played by Dylan Pierce), who’s about 13 or 14 years old; Joshua (played by Ronin Zaki Moshe), who’s about 9 or 10 years old; and Nate, who’s about 6 or 7 years old (Majus Motiejus Prokopas). The Birds are a rare family, because in this world where the future is bleak, having three kids is considered a large brood.

For whatever reason, Adam and Reena have held off on signing their divorce papers. However, the movie has a flashback of Adam and Reena in happier times, when they were a couple and when both signed up for Premium 3 insurance. They have separate policies, where each spouse is the beneficiary of the other one’s policy. Whether or not an “upgrade” option is chosen has a lot to do with that happens later in the movie.

When Adam calls Reena to tell her that he’s dying and that he wants to arrange visitation with their children, viewers don’t hear what Reena says on the other line, but it angers Adam to the point where he curses at her and yells that all she cares about is paperwork. It’s later revealed in the story that Reena as a restraining order against Adam. “Fuck you!” he shouts at Reena before he hangs up phone on her.

It isn’t the first time that Adam shows that he has a bad temper. In a virtual-reality meeting with the board of directors at the company he works for, Adam (who is shown wearing virtual-reality goggles as he sits alone in a conference room) yells at the other people in the meeting. It’s because they won’t listen to his advice to divest from virtual reality and invest more in technology chips that can be implanted in people. Adam strongly believes that chip implants and chip installations are the future of technology.

“Bye bye, goggles,” Adam says at one point when he’s by himself. “Sooner or later, I’m going to be out a job.” The company that Adam works for is already struggling financially, and he worries that if the board members don’t follow his advice, the company will go bankrupt or go out of business. And that would put his Premium 3 life insurance policy, which he has through the company, in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, Reena grants Adam’s wish to see their kids, but the children are often unavailable to him because they’re “connected” to their devices. While Adam stays in a guest room, he begins having sex with a sex doll that is connected to a virtual-reality program that he uses. Reena catches him in the act and walks out of the room disgusted. Adam tries to apologize to Reena, but they get into an argument. Reena is very upset because the door was unlocked when she walked in, and she thinks it’s disrespectful that Adam would have sex in a way where any of the kids could possibly see him.

As the movie’s story unfolds, it turns out this other sex life that Adam has in his virtual-reality world is one of the main reasons why his marriage to Reena failed. Reena believes that Adam’s sexual “flings” in this virtual-reality world are infidelity in their marriage. Adam disagrees. And this disagreement reached a point where Reena demanded that Adam “disconnect” from this virtual sex life permanently, or else their marriage would be over.

Adam chose not to disconnect from virtual sex with other women. His current virtual-reality girlfriend Maria (played by Gabrielle Cassi) is about 20 years younger than Adam, and she looks like a typical fantasy blonde. Of course, because Adam has essentially created Maria in this virtual-reality world, she tells him everything he wants to hear to boost his ego and make him feel wanted. But there’s one big problem: Her emotions aren’t real. Adam hates to be reminded of this fact.

Meanwhile, the movie goes on another tangent where Adam tracks down a disgraced scientist named Donald Stein (played by Delroy Lindo), who has been “hiding” in a retirement home under the new name Jeremy Fisher. Dr. Stein has gone into hiding because he was ousted from his government job for making a clone of his virtual-reality lover. Adam idolizes Dr. Stein, whom Adam calls the “godfather of human cloning,”

The reason why Adam wants to meet with Dr. Stein is to tell the scientist that he found out that the skin of clones doesn’t get burned by sunlight because clones’ skin has “augmented pigmentation.” Adam wants to team up with Dr. Stein to figure out a way to transfer this type of skin protection to humans through chip technology, in order to make it safe for humans to go outside in daylight again, without having to wear hazmat suits. Dr. Stein is somewhat intrigued, but he’s reluctant to start doing scientific work again because he’s on some kind of government watch list. Dr. Stein suggests that Adam focus on getting a new heart.

One of the many plot holes of “LX 2048” is it never explains (probably because it’s so hard to believe) that Adam is the only person in this world who has figured out that clones’ skin doesn’t burn. It’s something that would’ve been discovered by many people and many clones already, based on how many clones have been living among humans in this world. And certainly, if Dr. Stein is so “brilliant” and the “godfather of human cloning,” he would have been one of the first people to know that clones’ skin could not get burned by sunlight. Dr. Stein wouldn’t need some random tech worker to tell him that, years after human clones were invented.

A more critical problem with “LX 2048” is that it overstuffs the movie with too many plots going on at the same time. There’s Adam’s terminal illness. There’s his marital discord. There’s his obsession with chip technology. There’s his quest to get Dr. Stein to work with him. And there’s a constant reference to this dystopian world having a serious addiction problem with people who are hooked on LX.

It’s a lot to try to pack in a 103-minute movie, unless the screenplay is well-written. Unfortunately, “LX 2048” isn’t a well-written movie, and it often loses its focus by trying to cover all of these plots. As a result, character development suffers. Adam, the main character, isn’t very likable or even a strongly unlikable anti-hero. He’s just mainly forgettable.

It seems as if writer/director Guy Moshe wants to make Adam sympathetic and heartbroken over Adam’s failed marriage, but Adam’s decision to choose virtual reality (in other words, fake relationships) over his own marriage with his real wife automatically will turn a lot off a lot of viewers from Adam. People aren’t going to be on Adam’s self-pity party train just because he’s been diagnosed with a terminal disease, when his actions show that he can be extremely self-centered and prone to temper tantrums that are bad enough that his estranged wife has a restraining order against him.

It’s also problematic the way that women are written in this movie. Reena is the only human woman in the story with a significant speaking role. The rest of the women with dialogue in the movie are either clones or are virtual-reality creations—in other words, they have no souls. If you were to believe what this movie presents as what a futuristic world looks like, only men are the leaders when it comes to science and new technology, and women have made no important contributions in these areas.

And even though Adam isn’t a great husband, Reena isn’t a great spouse either. She’s a bit of a shrew who seems money-hungry over Adam’s life-insurance policy and what Adam’s death would mean for her household income, since she’s a homemaker who doesn’t want any other job. To her credit, Reena seems to be more caring than Adam when it comes to protecting their children from the mean-spirited arguments that she and Adam have. However, Reena doesn’t seem very concerned that their kids are so addicted to technology that she doesn’t tell them to “disconnect” so they can spend quality time with their father when he comes to visit.

Dr. Stein isn’t in the movie very long, Adam doesn’t seem to work with any people outside of virtual reality, he doesn’t have any friends, and so viewers are stuck with mainly Adam and Reena (two unpleasant people) for most of the movie. After a while, viewers won’t really care much about what happens to Adam, Reena or this ex-couple’s miserable relationship. “LX 2048” has some interesting visual effects and set designs to depict this futuristic world, but nothing in this movie will be nominated for any major awards.

D’Arcy gives it his all in trying to portray Adam as a complex and flawed character. But unfortunately, the last few scenes in the movie are played in such an over-the-top manner, so that what started out as a serious sci-fi drama devolves into a soap opera. Sometimes, a movie’s plot holes can be forgiven if the characters are charismatic enough and the story is engaging enough for viewers to feel some kind of emotional connection. Unfortunately, “LX 2048” is so concerned with trying to dazzle the audience with sci-fi concepts that the people in the movie are as emotionally hollow as the human clones.

Quiver Distribution released “LX 2048” on digital and VOD on September 25, 2020.

Review: ‘Possessor Uncut,’ starring Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Bean, Tuppence Middleton and Rossif Sutherland

October 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

Andrea Riseborough in “Possessor Uncut” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Possessor Uncut”

Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the sci-fi horror film “Possessor Uncut” features a predominantly white cast (with some black, Asian and Latino people) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An elite assassin, who carries out murders by having her mind possess the bodies of other people, finds herself trapped in the body of someone who could threaten to destroy her. 

Culture Audience: “Possessor Uncut” will appeal primarily to people who like sci-fi horror with a lot of disturbing visuals and concepts.

Christopher Abbott in “Possessor Uncut” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

What happens when an assassin’s target turns on the assassin? It’s a concept that writer/director Brandon Cronenberg depicts in the harrowing sci-fi horror film “Possessor Uncut,” but there’s a twist: The assassin’s mind is trapped in a man’s body that she has possessed to carry out her assigned murder spree. When she tries to get her mind back into her real body, the man she has possessed won’t let her go.

“Possessor Uncut” doesn’t get to this crucial part of the story until the last third of the film. Before then, the movie spends a lot of time showing the audience the personal backgrounds and circumstances that lead to this assassination assignment that goes horribly wrong for the assassin. Tasya Vos (played by Andrea Riseborough) is an elite assassin who works for a mysterious Canadian company that’s in the business of murdering powerful people.

The company’s name and city are not mentioned in the movie, but the company’s wealthy clients are enemies of the murder victims. In the movie’s opening scene, a lounge hostess named Holly Bergman (played Gabrielle Graham), who works at an upscale place called the Blue Light Sky Lounge, has viciously stabbed to a death a rich and powerful man named Elio Mazza (played by Matthew Garlick), in full view of several people who are in the crowded lounge.

After she commits the murder, Holly utters, “Pull me out.” She then takes a gun and appears to get ready to place it in her mouth to commit suicide. But for whatever reason, she can’t do it. The police arrive, she shoots the gun at them, and the police fire their guns at Holly and kill her. Instead of shooting herself,  Holly has decided to commit “suicide by cop.”

It turns out that Holly’s mind had been “possessed” by the mind of Tasya, whose real body is lying in what looks like a compression chamber. When Holly said, “Pull me out,” it was Tasya telling the company’s employees overseeing her mind transference to pull her mind out of Holly’s body and back into Tasya’s real body. It’s a routine that Tasya has been trained to take every time her mind possesses the body of someone who commits the assassination that Tasya has been assigned to complete.

The company that Tasya works for has a certain procedure that Tasya is supposed to follow: After the murder or murders for the assignment have occurred, the person whose body Tasya has inhabited is supposed to commit suicide. Right before that suicide happens, Tasya has to request to “pull me out,” so the company can pull Tasya’s mind back into her real body.

After the assassination, the next step is that Tasya has to undergo an evaluation by a supervisor named Girder (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), who’s usually in the room when Tasya’s mind is transported back to her real body. The evaluation includes a test of Tasya’s memories, to see if her own personal memories are intact and not mixed up and with or “charred by” the mind she previously inhabited. Tasya is shown a series of objects from her childhood (such as her father’s pipe and a framed butterfly) and asked to identify them and describe her memories of them.

The assassination of Elio Mazza was completed, and Tasya’s post-assassination evaluation yielded “normal results.” Girder is pleased that Tasya’s evaluation showed no problems. Girder comments, “Our next assignment is almost finalized. I can’t have our star performer falling apart on me.”

But the murder of Elio Mazza didn’t go exactly according to the company’s plan. The murder was supposed to be committed by shooting, but the murder was instead committed by stabbing. And after the murder, Holly did not immediately shoot herself but instead waited to be shot by police. Girder asks Tasya, “Why stab Elio Mazza? We provided you with a pistol.” Tasya can’t really answer the question.

Despite these discrepancies in Tasya not following these instructions, Girder wants to go ahead and give Tasya a very lucrative assignment. One of Girder’s colleagues expresses concern to Girder that Tasya didn’t follow the suicide instructions according to plan, and he wonders if Tasya will also not follow the instructions during the next assignment. However, Girder dismisses her colleague’s concerns and tells Tasya about her next assignment.

The company wants Tasya’s mind to inhabit the body of Colin Tate (played by Christopher Abbott), who started out as the cocaine dealer for a spoiled heiress named Ava Parse (played by Tuppence Middleton) and ended up becoming her lover and is now engaged to be married to her. Colin and Ava are both in their 30s. Ava’s rich and powerful father is John Parse (played by Sean Bean), a tech mogul who owns a company that makes devices similar to Apple Inc.’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. Tasya is supposed to possess the body of Colin for three days.

The company has decided that Ava’s fiancé Colin is the best person to commit the murder, since he has a sketchy background as a drug dealer and it will be framed to look like he had insecurity issues over his life being controlled by a wealthy family. Colin works for John’s company, but Colin is in a low-level position that is probably emasculating for Colin.

Girder explains to Tasya that John’s stepson Reid Parse (played by Christopher Jacot) wants an assassin to murder John and Ava, so that Reid can inherit the family fortune. John is divorced from Ava’s mother and Reid’s mother, so these two women presumably aren’t in John’s will. (Neither woman is seen in the movie, although later in the story, John makes a bitter comment to Ava about Ava’s mother leaving him years ago.) Because Reid has John’s last name, it’s inferred that John adopted Reid when John was married to Reid’s mother.

As is the company’s usual procedure, the plan is for Colin (the possessed assassin) to commit suicide immediately after the murders of John and Ava. Rather than have the police look for a stranger assassin, the case will be closed because investigators will conclude that it was a murder-suicide committed by Colin. A sizeable chunk of the fortune that Reid wants to inherit will go to the company that employs Tasya and Girder. Girder also mentions to Tasya that the assassin company will essentially “control” Reid, because it’s implied that the assassin company has so much dirt on Reid (including his murder-for-hire scheme) that the company could easily get more money out of him by blackmailing him.

As a star employee of this assassin company, Tasya’s work life might be going well, but her home life is not going well at all. She’s separated from her husband Michael Vos (played by Rossif Sutherland), who is living with their son Ira (played by Gage Graham-Arbuthnot), who’s about 7 or 8 years old. Michael and Ira don’t know what Tasya does for a living. Throughout the story, it’s implied that because Tasya has such a secretive job that requires her to spend long periods of time away from home, it’s taken a toll on her marriage to Michael.

Although Tasya is officially separated from Michael, she still goes back and forth between her home (where she lives by herself) and the home where Michael and Ira live. It seems that Tasya can’t quite make up her mind if she wants to get back together with Michael or go through with a divorce. During one of those times that she’s back with Michael and sleeping with him, she has nightmares about the stabbing of Elio Mazza. 

The marketing materials of “Possessor Uncut” prominently feature star Riseborough as the main character, but she is really only in half of this movie. Abbott gets a lot of screen time as Colin, and he could easily be considered a co-lead actor for this film. In the movie, Tasya is seen spying on Colin and Ava in their home by telescope (apparently Tasya has rented a place near the home), so that she can study Colin’s speech patterns, mannerisms and home routines. It’s her preparation before Tasya’s mind will inhabit Colin’s body.

One of the plot holes in “Possessor” is that it never fully explains how the person who’s supposed to be possessed gets into a situation where the mind transfer can be completed without their full knowledge. There’s some vague imagery of the mind transfer happening to Colin while he’s asleep. Tasya has to be hooked up to machine for the mind transfer, but the body she possesses apparently doesn’t have to be hooked up to a machine when the mind transfer happens. This is a science-fiction film, so viewers will just have to go with this murky explanation for how the mind transfer happens.

As part of her training, Tasya has been warned that although her mind can possess someone else’s body, the original mind of that person can still exist in the body. The trick is for Tasya’s mind to dominate the other person’s mind and then leave no trace of her mind when she leaves the person’s body. The danger comes when the other mind is conscious of being possessed by Tasya and attempts to take back control.

This twisty concept of “Possessor Uncut” might be too confusing to some viewers, because it’s all explained in bits and pieces and not in a completely straightforward manner. This is a movie that can be fully appreciated if it’s watched without other distractions going on. There are many details that need to be paid attention to when watching this movie, in order to get the full picture of what’s happening and the subtle indications of what’s going to happen.

About halfway through the movie, when Andrea’s mind possesses Colin’s body, the movie pivots to showing Colin’s life. At John’s company, Colin works at a job that barely pays minimum wage. He works as some kind of surveillance monitor (he wears virtual-reality goggles as part of his job), for the Siri/Alexa-type devices that are in people’s homes, to make sure that the devices are working properly.

It’s really just a legal way to spy on people in their homes, since people who buy these devices have waived certain rights to privacy as part of the user agreement. Therefore, a lot of this company’s employees can watch many intimate things that go on in people’s homes, including people having sex. It’s what Colin does in one of the movie’s scenes. And it’s writer/director Cronenberg’s way of showing viewers that this part of the movie isn’t really science fiction, because devices like Siri and Alexa have embedded audio and video components that can be monitored by employees of the companies that make these devices.

Colin has a smarmy co-worker named Eddie (played by Raoul Bhaneja), who gets off on watching people have sex without them knowing it. Eddie considers the sexual voyeurism one of the perks of the job, because it happens so often, and he tries to compare “spying” stories with Colin. Colin doesn’t really engage in these conversations because he just sees this spying activity as part of a job, not as a way to feel power over people. However, Colin is curious enough to keep watching when he does see people having sex.

Colin’s relationship with Ava is still fueled by cocaine, which he supplies for them since he has the connections. However, now that he is engaged to Ava and can live off her money, it’s implied that he just buys cocaine and has stopped selling it. Ava seems to be in love with him but it’s not clear how Colin really feels about her because the movie mainly shows Colin when he’s possessed by Tasya’s mind.

During a scene in Ava and Colin’s home where they’re having a small party with their friends, one of the friends named Reeta (played by Kaniehtiio “Tiio” Horn), who works at John’s company, hints that Ava has some “daddy issues.” Ava has a history of dating men who don’t get the approval of Ava’s father John, who then finds ways to humiliate these boyfriends. In Colin’s case, John’s way of humiliating Colin is to give him a very low-paying job at the company. It’s never fully explained why Colin doesn’t just work somewhere else, but it’s implied that Colin wants to do whatever it takes to get in this rich family’s good graces.

Under the orders of Girder, Tasya is told that while Tasya’s mind is in possession of Colin’s body, Colin is supposed to stage a big public fight with John, to give investigators a motive for the murders. The opportunity comes at a lavish party that John has, where many of his business colleagues are in attendance. But all does not go according to plan.

And there were signs that things would go wrong, because Tasya’s memories and thoughts were being in “invaded” by Colin’s memories and thoughts. The movie has some very striking and sometimes unsettling visuals depicting this messy melding and the eventual mind battle that takes place in Colin’s body. All of these visual effects have a very “scary psychedelic trip” look to them that will definitely make people remember this movie.

Riseborough is the top-billed star of “Possessor Uncut,” and she does a good job in her role, but the Tasya character remains a mystery throughout the entire film. The movie shows more of Colin’s personal life than it shows of Tasya’s personal life. Perhaps writer/director Cronenberg wanted to keep Tasya an enigma, so that it would be easier for viewers to see her as a chameleon who could inhabit other people’s bodies.

Abbott has the more difficult performance in conveying a person whose body is being possessed and fought over by two different people. It’s a very convincing performance that takes “Possessor Uncut” to a higher-quality level than the average “body possession” horror movie. The movie’s storyline is sometimes a bit choppy, but if people can handle the film’s dark themes and uniquely horrifying imagery, then “Possessor Uncut” is worth watching for some unnerving depictions of mind power and control.

Neon and Well Go USA released “Possessor Uncut” in select U.S. cinemas on October 2, 2020.

Review: ‘Save Yourselves!,’ starring Sunita Mani and John Reynolds

October 2, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sunita Mani and John Reynolds in “Save Yourselves!” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Save Yourselves!”

Directed by Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and Crawford, New York’s Pine Bush area, the sci-fi horror comedy “Save Yourselves!” features a predominantly white cast (with a few people of Indian heritage and one African American) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: During a getaway trip in a remote area, a hipster couple in their 30s find out that the world is being invaded by strange, fuzzy alien creatures. 

Culture Audience: “Save Yourselves!” will appeal primarily who like quirky comedies that poke fun at “hipster culture” and people’s addictions to technology.

Sunita Mani and John Reynolds in “Save Yourselves!” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

What’s scarier: Going a week without plugging into any technology or having strange, fuzzy creatures suddenly invade the world? The live-in couple at the center of the sci-f-/horror comedy “Save Yourselves!” find out when they go on a getaway trip to a remote cabin to “unplug” from technology, only to discover that the world is being invaded by creatures from outer space. The offbeat humor works for most of the movie, even though the story might end too abruptly for many people’s tastes.

Written and directed by real-life couple Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, “Save Yourselves!” shines best when it realistically portrays the everyday ebbs and flows of a relatively happy couple’s relationship, even when they’re in the midst of some absurd chaos. Su (played by Sunita Mani) and Jack (played by John Reynolds) live together in New York City’s Brooklyn borough, and they’ve reached a crossroads in their relationship.

Su, who is 30, is thinking about starting a family with Jack. Jack, who is 34, tells Su that he’s not ready to become a parent yet because he often still feels like a kid himself. They both work in technology-related jobs and look and act like “hipsters”—young people who want to be socially conscious and trendy at the same time. They are also very connected to technology, since they’re constantly on their phones and they use tech devices like Alexa and Siri.

It’s not made clear in the movie how long Su and Jack have been dating each other, but Su wants to take their relationship to the next level by becoming parents. During an argument over this issue, Su yells at Jack, “My mom had three kids by the time she was my age! You’re 34. What are you doing?” It’s the kind of cutting remark that she seems to regret almost immediately as she says it.

Su is the person in the relationship who wants more order, stability and a planned-out way of doing things. Jack is more of a “go with the flow” type of person who is doesn’t get as upset as Su does if things don’t go according to plan. In the movie’s opening scene, Su and Jack have a minor squabble because Jack and used her laptop and erased all the tabs that she had set on the laptop.

After some back-and-forth bickering, he admits that he deleted the tabs, but not intentionally. He tells Su, “In this world, there are so many things that are more important.” He then apologizes: “I’m sorry for all the things you want me apologize for.”

But that isn’t good enough for Su, who demands that Jack verbally list all of the things he need to apologize for until Su is satisfied with what he says. It’s pretty clear from this scene that Su has the more dominant personality in the relationship. She’s not mean-spirited. She would just rather have things done her way.

Later that evening, Su and Jack attend a bachelor party for their gay friend Blake (played by John Early), who is seen briefly in the movie. At the party, Jack talks with the bartender named Raph, pronounced “raff” (played by Ben Sinclair), who tells Jack that he used to be an investment banker, but he gave it all up to travel around the world and work in a less-stressful job.

Raph also gives John a rock crystal that Raph says he got from Patagonia. According to Raph, the rock will help ease anger and stress. Raph also mentions that he has a cabin in upstate New York (in the city of Crawford’s Pine Bush area) that he uses as a getaway. Raph invites Jack to use the cabin whenever he feels like it.

This conversation with Raph idea sparks an idea in Jack to go on a getaway trip with Su and completely unplug from technology for a week. He thinks it would be an ideal way to connect with each other on a deeper emotional level as a couple, since they won’t be distracted by technology and their jobs. Su is willing to try the idea when Jack mentions that Raph’s cabin in the woods would be the perfect place to stay during their trip.

Shortly after Su and Jack call their respective workplaces to let them know that they will be gone for a week, Su’s job sends her a message to let her know that she’s been fired. Apparently, taking that amount of time off from work on short notice was not acceptable to the company. After Su gets over her initial shock, she comments to Jack about getting fired: “This is a good thing.”

Later, after it sinks in how her job loss will affect her financial security, Su starts to worry, but she still decides to go ahead with the getaway trip. Su is in constant contact with her demanding mother, who calls Su frequently and is never seen in the movie. (Zenobia Shroff is the voice of Su’s mother over the phone.) Su dreads telling her mother that she lost her job, so she decides she won’t tell her mother until after Su gets back from the trip.

Before they take their road trip to the cabin, Su and Jack both change their outgoing voice mail greetings to tell callers that Su and Jack will be gone for a week (from June 2 to June 9) and they will be completely disconnected from technology and won’t be checking or returning messages for the entire week. Jack and Su bring their phones with them, in case of an emergency, but they make a promise to each other not to look at their phones during the trip.

When they arrive at the large modern cabin, Su and Jack see a brown shaggy fuzz ball that’s the size of a bowling ball on the kitchen floor. They don’t touch the fuzz ball, but they assume it’s some kind of kitschy decoration, and they call the sphere object a “poof.” (Not the British slang term for a gay man but the term that people use for a poof ball.)

Because the main reason for the trip is to work on their relationship, Su and Jack do some self-help, couples-therapy emotional exercises, where they ask each other questions that are supposed to elicit deep or intimate answers. Jack is initially annoyed when Su admits that she got some of these self-help instructions from the Internet before they left for the trip, because he thinks that defeats the purpose of it being a trip that’s truly free of technology. But Su placates him by saying that she wrote down the self-help instructions by hand instead of printing them out.

Su has a big secret during this trip: She can’t resist checking messages on her phone. She finds out that her mother has called multiple times to talk about creatures that have been sighted all over New York City. Her mother says that some people initially thought the creatures were rats but the creatures are actually something else. Su doesn’t think anything of the messages and doesn’t say anything to Jack about what she heard from her mother.

Soon after their arrival, Su and Jack notice something strange: A bottle of vodka and a jar of alcohol in the kitchen that were full the night before are now empty, with a sticky substance on the outside of the containers. Su and Jack both know that they didn’t empty the containers. Who or what did empty those containers?

Su and Jack soon find out that the “poof” that they thought was harmless is one of several creatures from outer space that have invaded the world. The creatures consume ethanol, which explains the missing liquor. And these creatures attack by secreting a long, red umbilical cord-like appendage that can attach itself to objects and strangle or subdue people.

Jack and Su (who eventually tells Jack that she’s secretly checked messages on her phone) then try to find out what’s going on and attempt to escape from their environment when they find more “poofs” on the property. There are several mishaps (hint: gasoline contains ethanol) and some other desperate fleeing people whom Jack and Su encounter along the way.

“Save Yourselves!” takes some unexpected and wonderfully weird twists. It’s not a typical sci-fi movie because many of the scenarios are so original and because the movie blends so many other genres in the story, such as comedy, horror and even a little bit of drama. Viewers who dislike all things “hipster” should know that Su and Jack are not as annoying as you think they would be. Except for things such as they live in Brooklyn and they think a crystal rock is a cool gift, Su and Jack are very much like a lot of yuppie couples in romantic comedies.

Because the majority of the screen time shows Su and Jack alone together, Mani and Reynolds carry this movie with a lot of authentic charm. Their chemistry as a couple is very believable. Even in Jack and Su’s quiet moments together before the alien invasion (such as reading their phones on a sofa together or spending time in the kitchen together) look very naturalistic and ring very true. In this movie’s very small-numbered cast, Mani stands out with her wonderfully expressive face that conveys all the emotions that Su is feeling, while Reynolds shows a lot of talent in the scenes that involved slapstick comedy.

The madcap parts of the movie, when Su and Jack are trying to escape from the deadly aliens, are obviously meant to be funny. But “Save Yourselves!” also incorporates elements of tragicomedy very effectively. There’s a scene where Jack and Su check their messages and react with a mixture of dread and guilt when they find out that New York City has been evacuated and they were unaware how much their loved ones were in danger while Jack and Su had been relaxing at the cabin. (The voice of Jack’s mother is played by Amy Sedaris.)

“Save Yourselves!” starts out as a couple trying to survive their relationship and end up just trying to survive. A lot of strange and unexpected things happen along the way, but the story never gets so bizarre that most people can’t relate to it. Thanks to memorable performances by Mani and Reynolds, this movie is a ride worth taking as long as viewers don’t expect a conventional ending.

Bleecker Street released “Save Yourselves!” in select U.S. cinemas on October 2, 2020. The movie’s digital and VOD release date is October 6, 2020.

Review: ‘Bloodshot’ (2020), starring Vin Diesel

March 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Vin Diesel in “Bloodshot” (Photo by Graham Bartholomew)

“Bloodshot” (2020)

Directed by David S. F. Wilson

Culture Representation: Taking place in various cities around the world, the sci-fi/action flick “Bloodshot” has a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) and a story that revolves around a U.S. military soldier who’s brought back from the dead, as well as the current and former members of a secret high-tech organization that’s experimenting on him to make him into an easily manipulated killing machine.

Culture Clash: Certain characters in the story have ethical dilemmas about using technology to train assassins.

Culture Audience: “Bloodshot” will appeal primarily to fans of star Vin Diesel and the comic-book series on which the movie is based, but the movie’s formulaic tropes will have little interest to people who aren’t die-hard fans of action movies.

Guy Pearce and Vin Diesel in “Bloodshot” (Photo by Graham Bartholomew)

Vin Diesel is best known for starring in the wildly successful car-racing “Fast and Furious” franchise since 2001, when the first “The Fast and the Furious” movie made him famous. Ever since then, he’s starred in multiple action movies that were clearly made with the hopes that they too would become blockbuster franchises with a series of several movies, but none outside of “The Fast and the Furious” and “XXX” (pronounced “triple X”) has panned out to be that way.

The sci-fi/action flick “Bloodshot” (based on the Valiant Comics series) is another attempt by Diesel (who’s one of the movie’s producers) to try and create a movie-franchise vehicle for himself, and this attempt will also fail. Although “Bloodshot” is a passably enjoyable film, the movie doesn’t have the charisma to make it the type of film where audiences will demand any sequels. This personality deficit in the movie has largely do with the fact that Diesel is a very robotic actor, which is no surprise to anyone who’s seen most of his films.

“Bloodshot” begins with a montage of Diesel’s Ray Garrison character on active duty as a U.S. Marines soldier. He saves a man from a hostage situation and ends up at Ariano Air Force Base in Italy, where he gets praise for his rescue mission. All of this globetrotting away from home has put a strain on his marriage to his British wife Gina (played by Talulah Riley), who’s an action-flick cliché of being the hero’s modelesque love interest who (of course) gets half-naked in the movie. Gina comments to Ray about his soldier duties, “At some point, your body can’t do this forever,” in what is supposed to pass as deep, meaningful insight in her dialogue.

Sure enough, Ray does get killed. But how he gets killed might or might not have happened in the way people might think it happened, since the movie plays tricks on characters’ minds about what’s real and what isn’t. What does happen on screen is that Ray is ambushed and kidnapped by two men in his bathroom. The next thing Ray knows, he’s tied to a chair in a slaughterhouse, where he undergoes a brutal interrogation about information that he swears that he doesn’t know.

Ray’s tormenter/interrogator in this kidnapping is Martin Axe (played by Toby Kebbell), who’s clearly unhinged because he starts dancing to the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” before showing that Gina has been kidnapped and tied up too. And then Gina gets murdered in front of Ray.

As viewers soon see, the entire tragic scene was an elaborate virtual-reality manipulation that later will be used on Ray, who is dead in real life and being experimented on by a secret American high-tech organization called Rising Spirit Technologies (RST), led by the overly ambitious mad scientist Dr. Emil Harting (played by Guy Pearce). Harting wants to perfect a technology that can resurrect soldiers from the dead and train them to be assassins with superpowers. He plans to sell this technology to the highest bidder, and he expects to make billions. (This isn’t a spoiler, since this concept of reanimating Ray from the dead is in the movie’s trailer and it’s the origin story in the “Bloodshot” comics.)

Ray finds out that he’s been brought back from the dead when Harting shows Ray how he’s undergone a blood transfusion that has replaced his blood with a plasma-like liquid filled with molecular creatures that can quickly rebuild his body in any way after getting injuries or wounds, thereby making Ray virtually indestructible. (The visual effects for “Bloodshot” are actually quite good, but they won’t be winning any awards.)

Ray is the first person that RST has been able to bring back to life, according to what Harting says. Harting also says that no family members claimed Ray after Ray’s death, so that’s why Ray’s body ended up at RST. Ray’s memory has been erased, so he has no way to know if Harting is telling him the truth, and he’s trapped in the facility anyway. In order to ease Ray’s fears, Harting puts a positive spin on the situation by telling Ray that Ray now has a second chance at life. What he doesn’t tell Ray is that Ray is being used by RST to see if Ray can be turned into an easily programmable killing machine.

At RST, Ray meets three people who are also part of RST’s experiments: Katie, nicknamed KT (played by Eiza González), is someone whose respiratory system has been restored into something high-tech that can be controlled by Harting. Jimmy Dalton (played by Sam Heughan) is Harting’s most loyal foot soldier (literally), since his legs have been replaced by super-speedy mechanical limbs. Jimmy has other high-tech abilities that are revealed later in the story. Tibbs (played by Alex Hernandez), the quietest of the three, has ocular prosthetics that give him a superhuman ability to see.

What viewers see but what Ray doesn’t is that RST can create virtual worlds in Ray’s mind and erase his memories to start over and implant other ideas in his mind whenever they want. And what Harting wants to do in this phase of the experiment is to see if he can get Ray to complete a series of assassinations around the world, by tricking Ray into thinking that each of the men he assassinates is the same man who murdered Gina in front of Ray.

In order to do that, RST has to erase Ray’s memories every time he completes an assassination and start over by replacing Gina’s murder re-enactment with a different image of each man as the murderer, who will then be the target of Ray’s revenge assassination. And who are these men that Ray is supposed to kill? And why does Harting want them killed? Those details are revealed in the movie.

Meanwhile, KT gets a little closer to Ray, and there are hints that she’s attracted to him and wants a better life than the one she’s trapped in at RST. There’s also a fast-talking coding whiz named Wilfred Wigans (played by Lamorne Morris), a Brit who’s the comic relief in the movie. Wigans has a self-deprecating sense of humor that shows he’s aware that he’s a nerd who gets disrespected, but he’s determined to have the last laugh. Wigans is the only character in the movie who seems to have a personality that goes beyond two dimensions.

Most people who want to see “Bloodshot” will be interested in the action sequences. And some of these scenes are thrilling, particularly the movie’s best action scene, which takes place on a skyscraper. But the assassination scenes are very formulaic, especially since there are video games that have upped the ante and people’s expectations for this type of action.

In this age of Marvel Studios’ domination of superhero flicks, movie audiences are now expecting a lot more from superhero movies than what “Bloodshot” delivers, because the movie version of “Bloodshot” is a story that’s on the same quality level as a video game. “Bloodshot” director David S. F. Wilson (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Eric Heisserer) should have kept in mind while making this film that today’s movie audiences want genuine and relatable character development in superhero movies, not just impressive visual effects. Wilson, who makes his feature-film directorial debut with “Bloodshot,” has a visual-effects background in mostly video games, including several “Star Wars” video game titles.

As the ruthless and greedy Dr. Harting, Pearce does a reasonably good job with his character, but he’s already played a memorable mad scientist in a superhero movie before—Aldrich Killian in 2013’s “Iron Man 3.” Since “Iron Man 3” was a much better movie than “Bloodshot,” the latter movie seems like an inferior retread for Pearce, and the Harting character doesn’t have the wounded emotional depth that Killian had.

And in the role of KT, González does a serviceable performance that, quite frankly, could have been played by any number of actresses. Huegan’s soulless Jimmy Dalton character is strictly a one-dimensional role where he has single-minded loyalty to RST and some jealousy toward Ray, who’s being groomed as RST’s alpha male experiment. And as the quiet Tibbs, Hernandez doesn’t have much to do with this character, who’s basically there to just follow Jimmy’s lead.

In order for a superhero movie to go from a one-picture deal to a series franchise, audiences have to want to come back for more because of the personalities of the main characters. In that respect, “Bloodshot” falls woefully short, because as the center of the story and as the titular superhero, Diesel’s acting is almost as artificially lifeless as Ray Garrison/Bloodshot.

Columbia Pictures released “Bloodshot” in U.S. cinemas on March 13, 2020. 

UPDATE: Because of the widespread coronavirus-related closures of movie theaters worldwide, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has moved up the digital and VOD release of “Bloodshot” to March 24, 2020.