Review: ‘Jiu Jitsu,’ starring Alain Moussi, Frank Grillo, JuJu Chan, Tony Jaa and Nicolas Cage

April 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Nicolas Cage and Alain Moussi in “Jiu Jitsu” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue Entertainment)

“Jiu Jitsu”

Directed by Dimitri Logothetis

Culture Representation: Taking place in Burma, the sci-fi action film “Jiu Jitsu” features a cast of white and Asian characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, mercenaries and U.S. military officials.

Culture Clash: Several human beings battle a death warrior from outer space who comes to Earth every six years from comet-created space portal. 

Culture Audience: “Jiu Jitsu” will appeal primarily to people interested in sci-fi action movies that are interior imitations of “The Predator” movie franchise.

JuJu Chan in “Jiu Jitsu” (Photo courtesy of The Avenue Entertainment)

“Jiu Jitsu” has nothing to do with the martial arts craft of jiu jitsu, just like this movie has nothing to do with high-quality entertainment. It’s just a messy parade of sci-fi action schlock with tacky visual effects. It also blatantly rips off elements of “The Predator” movie franchise.

Dimitri Logothetis, a filmmaker of hack action movies, directed the mind-numbing “Jiu Jitsu,” which really is nothing but corny fight scenes strung together with abysmal dialogue, all lumbering along until the very predictable ending. Logothetis co-wrote the horrific screenplay with James “Jim” McGrath. “Jiu Jitsu” could have easily been a short film, but it’s dragged out to tedious levels because of repetitive battle scenes.

The gist of the flimsy story is that a mysterious, muscle-bound American man named Jake (played by Alain Moussi) finds himself at the center of an intergalactic battle that has been taking place on Earth for centuries. Every six years, a comet opens up a portal on Earth. A death warrior named Brax emerges from the portal to fight a group of humans who call themselves Jiu Jitsus. Their Jiu Jitsu leader is “the chosen one” who must fight Brax, or else everyone and everything on Earth will be killed.

Jake is first seen in “Jiu Jitsu” running frantically in a forest in Burma, as if something is chasing him. (“Jiu Jitsu” was actually filmed in Cyprus.) Jake falls over a cliff and plunges into a large body of water. A middle-aged fisherman (played by Raymond Pinharry) and his wife (played by Mary Makariou), who don’t have names in the movie, rescue Jake and gives some medical attention to his wounds.

It’s soon apparent that Jake has amnesia. The fisherman’s wife takes him to a nearby U.S. Army camp. The commanding officer in charge is a stern and impatient leader named Captain Hickman (played by played by John Hickman), who orders a buffoonish subordinate named Tex (played by Eddie Steeples) to act as a translator. Tex isn’t very fluent in Burmese, so he predictably botches some of the translating.

That’s when the fisherman’s wife tells them about the cosmic portal and the outer-space death warrior, whom she calls Dat Daw Taung. These Army guys think is just a bunch of rambling gibberish from a superstitious person. Of course, there would be no “Jiu Jitsu” movie if what she was saying didn’t turn out to be true.

Soon, Jake finds himself being interrogated by an Army intelligence officer named Mya (played by Marie Avgeropoulos), a no-nonsense type who doesn’t know what to believe when Rick says that he has no idea who he is and what he’s doing there, but later he has a vague recollection: “I’m here to do a job.” Mya thinks that Jake might be some type of spy. He’s held captive until the Army figures out what to do with him.

While Jake is in captivity, another captive breaks free from the prison compound. His name is Kueng (played by Tony Jaa), and he insists that Jake go with him. They run off into a field together. And lo and behold, emerging from the field, like beanstalks suddenly spurting upward from the grass, are three other “warriors”: tough-talking Harrigan (played by Frank Grillo), quiet Forbes (played by Marrese Crump) and courageous Carmen (played by JuJu Chan), who not surprisingly ends up in a thrown-together romance with Jake.

And so, off these five “warriors” go as they kick, punch and wield weapons (such as swords, guns and knives), with an Army leader named Captain Sand (played by Rick Yune) in hot pursuit. The five renegades inevitably encounter Brax (played by Ryan Tarran), who quickly heals from any wounds, thereby making him hard to kill.

Brax is dressed in scaly armor and has a full-sized helmet that shows light blue space where a face should be. Occasionally, outlines of eyes and other facial features show up in this blue space, using cheap-looking visual effects. Brax’s point of view is shown a few times as X-ray vision that looks like it’s bathed in a heat glow. It’s a direct ripoff of Predator’s vision from the “Predator” movies.

Nicolas Cage shows up 39 minutes into the 102-minute “Jiu Jitsu,” which is just another B-movie where he plays yet another unhinged, eccentric character. In “Jiu Jitsu,” Cage is a wilderness-dwelling loner named Wylie, who ends up joining Jake and his team. Wylie seems to know quite a bit about Brax and gives advice, much of it unsolicited and sometimes unheeded. In his spare time, Wylie likes to make triangular hats out of newspapers. These hats are not the cone-shaped head coverings that used to be called “dunce caps” in the old days, although “dunce caps” would not be out of place in this dimwitted movie.

Cage’s total screen time in “Jiu Jitsu” is only about 15 to 20 minutes, but he does have one battle scene with Drax that seems to be the main reason why Cage was hired for this movie. Cage gives a deliberately hammy performance that’s meant to show he knows he’s in a stinker of a movie. However, his comedic self-awareness just seems out of place in a movie where all the other cast members act like they’re in a serious action film. If Cage is openly smirking, it might be because “Jiu Jitsu” was an easy multimillion-dollar salary for him. The joke is on the “Jiu Jitsu” producers who forked over the money for a rehashed and unoriginal performance that Cage has done in dozens of his forgettable action flicks.

Sometimes, when an action movie doesn’t care about having a good story, intriguing characters or memorable dialogue, the movie makes up for this lack of appeal with dazzling action scenes. That’s not the case with “Jiu Jitsu,” which is filled with nothing but unimaginative fight sequences. None of the movie’s characters has an interesting story, although “Jiu Jitsu” tries to throw in a “plot twist/reveal” about the background of one of the characters. This “plot twist/reveal,” which is toward the end of the movie, is not surprising at all. The only thing surprising about “Jiu Jitsu” is that filmmakers actually thought that this abominable garbage wouldn’t be such a flop.

The Avenue Entertainment released “Jiu Jitsu” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 20, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment released the movie on DVD on December 22, 2020. “Jiu Jitsu” is also available on Netflix.

Review: ‘Ultrasound,’ starring Vincent Kartheiser, Chelsea Lopez, Breeda Wool, Tunde Adebimpe, Rainey Qualley and Bob Stephenson

April 14, 2022

by Carla Hay

Breeda Wool and Vincent Kartheiser in “Ultrasound” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Ultrasound”

Directed by Rob Schroeder

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi drama film “Ultrasound” features a group of almost all white people (with one African America and one Asian person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An unsuspecting man becomes part of a secretive scientific experiment that involves two separate pregnancies by two different women 

Culture Audience: “Ultrasound” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the “Generous Bosom” comic book series and people who enjoy mind-bending sci-fi mysteries.

Rainey Qualley and Chris Gartin in “Ultrasound” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Ultrasound” falters with some erratic storytelling, but the cast members’ commendable performances and the movie’s willingness to take chances make it worth watching for people interested in unconventional sci-fi movies. Ultimately, “Ultrasound” is best appreciated by people who don’t mind movies that play tricks on what this story is really about, because the movie’s plot is a mystery that takes its time to reveal its true purpose. Viewers also have to suspend some disbelief when some of the movie’s characters make decisions that are outside the norm of what most people are expected to do.

Directed by Rob Schroeder, “Ultrasound” is based on Conor Stechschulte’s “Generous Bosom” comic book series, which Stechschulte adapted into the “Ultrasound” screenplay. “Ultrasound,” which is Schroeder’s feature-film directorial debut, had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. It’s a movie where a lot of strange things happen that aren’t supposed to make much sense until the final third of the movie where secrets are revealed.

“Ultrasound,” which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, opens with a scene of a bachelor in his early 40s named Glen (played by Vincent Kartheiser), whose car has broken down in a remote area at night. Glen goes to the nearest house, where a married couple named Arthur “Art” Thomas (played by Bob Stephenson) and Cyndi Thomas (played by Chelsea Lopez) live, so that he can find out where is the closest place to get auto repairs. Glen doesn’t use his phone to get that information.

Upon arriving at Art and Cyndi’s house, Glen meets them for the first time and sees that these two spouses have a very awkward, tension-filled dynamic between them. Art is very talkative and extremely friendly, while Cyndi is quiet and withdrawn. Art tells Glen that the nearest auto repair shop is currently closed. Glen tells Art that Glen has AAA insurance, but Art says that AAA will just tow Glen’s car to Pickton, a city that is 30 miles away. Pickton is also where the nearest motel is, according to Art.

Art is so open and inviting to this total stranger, he immediately offers a room in the house as a place for Glen to stay for the night. Art doesn’t just offer. He insists that Glen stay overnight at the house. Cyndi tells Glen that Art is on anti-depressant medication because he’s had depression for years. Art cheerfully admits to it and says that he always feels better after taking his medication.

And then, things get weird. Art tells Glen that the room where Glen will be staying is the same room where Cyndi sleeps, and that Glen will have to share the bed with her. Art says that is Glen’s only option if he wants to sleep over at the house. Glen is extremely uncomfortable about it, but he doesn’t want to be rude, so he doesn’t exactly get up and leave, which is what a lot of people would do. Apparently, Glen would rather not sleep in his car for the night.

Instead, Glen stays in the room with Cyndi, and they both strike up a conversation that starts off awkwardly. Slowly but surely, it becomes apparent why Glen wasn’t completely opposed to this bedroom arrangement: He’s attracted to Cyndi, who’s a little bit flirtatious with him. In continuing her pattern of divulging too much information to a stranger, Cyndi tells Glen that she’s unhappily married to Art.

Cyndi also mentions that the couple’s big age difference (Art is about 15 to 20 years older than Cyndi) is one of the reasons why their marriage has become unbearable to her. Art and Cyndi met when she was 17, and Art used to be one of her high school teachers. Art and Cyndi got married when she was 19. Cyndi tells Glen that she says she now regrets marrying Art.

Cyndi sadly mentions that if she could go back in time, she would tell her younger self before marrying Art: “What the fuck are you doing, throwing your life away, you fucking moron!” Cyndi adds, “But there’s an energy when people throw away things that people think are important … When you’re done, that energy drains out of you.”

Now that Cyndi has essentially announced to Glen that she’s a lonely and needy wife, the stage has been set for Glen to decide if he’s going to act on his attraction to Cyndi and have sex with her. This sexual one-night stand seems to be something that Art and Cyndi are expecting will happen. At first, Glen thinks that Art and Cyndi are a swinger couple, and it’s a setup so that Art can watch Glen have sex with Cyndi. When he asks Cyndi about it, she denies that Art will be watching whatever happens between her and Glen.

Cyndi and Glen end up having sex, but it’s not shown in the movie. The next time that viewers see Glen, he’s at his home (where he lives alone), and his car has long since been repaired. He found out that the car broke down because it had flat tires that were punctured by what objects that appeared to be nails. And then something unexpected happens to Glen: He gets an unannounced visit from Art.

Glen is so caught off-guard by seeing Art, he refuses to let Art in the house. Glen is suspicious because he doesn’t know how Art got his home address. Art is vague and won’t say how he found out where Glen lives, but Art insists on coming into the house because he tells Glen that he has something important to show Glen. Eventually, Glen lets Art into his home because he can see that Art won’t go away until Art gets what he wants from this unwelcome visit.

Inside the house, Art shows Glen a video on Art’s phone of a baby ultrasound. Art tells Glen that Cyndi is pregnant, and that this ultrasound is of the baby growing inside of Cyndi. And then, Art drops a bombshell: He says that Glen is the father of this baby. At first Glen denies it, but Art says that Glen is the only person who could be the father because Glen is the only man who had sex with Cyndi in the time period where the baby was conceived. Art says that he and Cyndi are willing to do DNA tests to prove Glen’s paternity.

After Glen gets the news that he’s going to be a father, he reconnects with Cyndi, who seems very happy about the pregnancy. Glen tells Cyndi that he wants to be involved with raising this child, even though Glen still feels mistrust and resentment (mostly toward Art) because Glen thinks he was “tricked” into getting Cyndi pregnant. He should’ve thought of that before he had unprotected sex with a stranger.

Meanwhile, another pregnancy issue is shown in “Ultrasound.” Katie (played by Rainey Qualley) is the pregnant, younger mistress of a married politician named Alex Harris (played by Chris Gartin), who is currently up for re-election for an unnamed political office. Katie and Alex’s affair and the pregnancy are both secrets.

Alex has paid for Katie to move to the city where he lives, but he’s been mostly ignoring her. Alex insists that Katie not venture out much from the apartment that he’s renting for her. This semi-confinement is starting to make Katie feel restless and disrespected. “Ultrasound” has a series of phone calls and encounters between Katie and Alex to show what happens in their relationship.

The rest of “Ultrasound” has a lot of spoiler information, but it’s enough to say that Glen and Cyndi end up in a mysterious scientific research lab, where they are forced to undergo experiments and interrogations. Glen is also injured and has to use a wheelchair. The leader of this “research study” is a determined scientist named Dr. Conners (played by Tunde Adebimpe), who is adamant that all of his subordinates follow his rules.

In this “research study,” the two female subordinates who work the most with Dr. Conners are named Shannon (played by Breeda Wool) and Julie (played by Porter Duong), who have very different approaches to their job. Julie is very obedient and never questions what Dr. Conners has to say. Shannon, who does a lot of the research interviews of Glen and Chelsea, has her doubts about the ethics of this “research study,” and she sometimes openly defies Dr. Conners’ orders.

“Ultrasound” takes viewers down a proverbial rabbit hole, where the story has some twists and turns—some of which are more unpredictable than others. Schroeder’s direction maintains a tense level of viewer anticipation and curiosity to see what will happen next. However, enough bizarre things happen where confused viewers of “Ultrasound” might not want to stick around until the end of the movie to find out what it all means.

All of the cast members are convincing in their performances, but Kartheiser and Wool stand out because their characters are the ones who say and do the things that are the most interesting. Glen and Shannon have aspects of their personalities that show they’re independent-minded and are willing to ask questions if things around them start to look suspicious. The ending of “Ultrasound” is a bit jumbled and messy, but it least answers a lot of questions about what these characters have experienced and what might happen to them next.

Magnet Releasing released “Ultrasound” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 11, 2022.

Review: ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once,’ starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel and Jenny Slate

March 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Photo by Allyson Riggs/A24)

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

Some language in Mandarin and Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed cities and various dimensions, the sci-fi action film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” features a cast of Asian and white characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A laundromat owner, who has troubled relationships with her husband and young adult daughter, finds out that she and other people she knows have different lives in other dimensions. 

Culture Audience: “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching very unique and sometimes deliberately confusing movies with a time-travel component.

Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh and James Hong in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Photo by Allyson Riggs/A24)

The frenetic, genre-blurring “Everything Everywhere All at Once” sometimes tries too hard to be eccentric, but this highly innovative film stands out for refusing to play it safe. Get ready for a bumpy and bizarre ride. There’s so much hyperactive editing in the movie that speeds though different times and spaces, viewers might feel like they just went through the cinematic version of a psychedelic experiment after the movie is over.

Daniel “Dan” Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (also known as filmmaking duo Daniels) wrote and directed “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which takes leaps and bounds across different genres, from to sci-fi to action in a mash-up of a comedic tone and a dramatic tone. At the core is the story of a family that is falling apart in the beginning of the film, and the family members find themselves gaining new perspectives when they discover what their lives would be like as other beings in different times and places. It’s not a film for people who want conventional structures in the movie. Underneath all the craziness in the movie is a story with a heartfelt message of love and acceptance.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” starts off looking like it’s going to be a typical family drama. Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh) is a domineering and stern matriarch who is trying to keep her family’s laundromat business afloat in the midst of some personal turmoil: Evelyn and her mild-mannered husband Waymond Wang (played by Ke Huy Quon) are at a breaking point in their marriage. Divorce papers have been drawn up, and the movie eventually reveals who was the one who filed for divorce.

Evelyn and Waymond live above the laundromat together. Evelyn’s father Gong Gong (played by James Hong), who has traditional Chinese views on life, has been staying with them for a visit. Evelyn and Waymond have a daughter in her early 20s named Diedre “Joy” Wang, who is an out-of-the-closet lesbian or queer woman. Joy (who tends to get easily irritated by her mother) has been happily dating laid-back Becky Sregor (played by Tallie Medel), who is accepted by Joy’s parents, even though Evelyn is afraid to tell Gong Gong that Becky is Joy’s girlfriend.

When Evelyn introduces Becky to Gong Gong, she describes Becky as Joy’s “good friend,” which upsets Joy. However, Joy doesn’t correct her mother about misleading Gong Gong about the true nature of Joy and Becky’s relationship. Evelyn and Joy have been having tensions over Joy thinking that Evelyn doesn’t completely accept who Joy is. And who can blame Joy for feeling this way? Evelyn is the type of mother who tells Joy: “You have to eat healthier. You’re getting fat.”

One day, the four members of the Wang family visit an IRS agent named Deirdre Beaubeirdra (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) in an audit meeting about their tax returns. Deirdre is a frumpy and grumpy accountant who becomes a little impatient at how the family doesn’t have some of the documents that she needs to complete her work. Evelyn is preoccupied with an upcoming party that she wants to have for the laundromat’s customers. One of the invited customers is someone whom Evelyn only calls Big Nose (played by Jenny Slate), who has a Pomeranian dog as her constant companion.

It’s at this IRS office that things start to get weird. Waymond takes Evelyn aside and tells her that he’s not really her husband but a being from another dimension who needs her help to save his world. Things happen with an umbrella, ear buds where people pick up various audio frequencies, giant black circles, and a slew of flat, plastic eyes (similar to rag doll eyes) that all take the story through various twists and turns. The being who says he’s not Waymond calls himself Alpha Waymond, and he comes from the Alphaverse.

Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that some of the various incarnations of the characters in the movie include two people who are live-in lovers and have hot dogs for fingers, so they have to do a lot of things with their feet; two people who become rocks and have silent conversations with each other; and a chef named Chad (played by Harry Shum Jr.), who has a raccoon living under his chef’s hat. There are fights involving martial arts, gun shoot-outs and some very strange rituals that might make some people squirm and/or laugh.

All of the cast members fully commit to the full range of wildly different characters that they have to portray in the film. Yeoh is the obvious standout because of Evelyn’s central story arc in the movie. Even for people with short attention spans, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” might be too much of a spectacle overload. But if you’re prepared for a unique cinematic experience and have the curiosity to absorb it all, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” might make you further appreciate filmmaking that takes bold risks.

A24 will release “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in select U.S. cinemas on March 25, 2022. A special one-night-only fan event will take place at select IMAX theaters in the U.S. (with cast members appearing in person at select locations) on March 30, 2022. The movie’s release expands to more U.S. cinemas on April 8. 2022.

Review: ‘After Yang,’ starring Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja, Justin H. Min and Haley Lu Richardson

March 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja and Justin H. Min in “After Yang” (Photo courtesy of A24)

“After Yang”

Directed by Kogonada

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi dramatic film “After Yang” has a racially diverse cast of characters (white, black, Latino and Asian) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After a family’s android malfunctions and appears to be unfixable, the family’s patriarch goes on a quest to find out the origins of this robot.

Culture Audience: “After Yang” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching introspective movies about what life could be like in the future.

Justin H. Min and Haley Lu Richardson in “After Yang” (Photo courtesy of A24)

What happens when a family robot breaks down and apparently can’t be fixed? And what if that robot was such an integral part of this family, the family might be broken too if the robot can no longer be in their lives? Those are the questions posed in the thoughtful sci-fi drama “After Yang,” written and directed by Kogonada. The movie might be too slow-paced for some viewers, but it’s worth viewing for a contemplative story about how the need for emotional connections won’t change, no matter how much technology advances.

“After Yang” opens with a “selfie” family portrait in the home backyard of the Fleming family: Jake (played by Colin Farrell), Jake’s wife Kyra (played by Jodie Turner-Smith), their daughter Mika (played by Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) and their human-looking android Yang (played by Justin H. Min), who operates the camera before getting into the group photo. It seems like a happy family gathering, based on the smiles in the photo, but Jake and Kyra have grown emotionally distant from each other in their marriage.

Mika, who’s about 6 or 7 years old, seems oblivious to the tension in her parents’ relationship. Jake and Kyra adopted Mika as a baby from China. Yang is described as a “techno-sapien.” He was purchased to be a companion to Mika and so he could teach her about Chinese history and culture. Yang, who has a kind and patient personality, has known Mika since she was a baby. Yang is treated like a nanny and a family member.

“After Yang” takes place in an unnamed U.S. city in an unspecified future, when human-looking androids and human clones are fairly common. (“After Yang” was filmed primarily in New York state’s Rockland County.) All of the actors in “After Yang” keep their native accents, so the movie has a very cosmopolitan tone to it. Most of the cast members are American, but Farrell is Irish, Turner-Smith is British, and there are some other non-Americans who are in the cast.

Jake owns a tea shop, while Kyra works at an office job in an unnamed industry. The passion seems to have left their marriage, but Jake and Kyra are not on the verge of splitting up. These two spouses don’t have big arguments, but they just seem to barely tolerate each other.

Through various conversations between Jake and Kyra, viewers find out that her main complaint about him is that she doesn’t think he spends enough time with the family. Kyra tells Jake during one of their tension-filled conversations: “I just want us to be a team, a family.” An early scene in the movie shows Mika and Kyra at home eating dinner. Mika asks where Jake is, and Kyra tells her that he has to work late. However, Kyra puts a positive spin on Jake’s absence by saying that Jake being busy with customers means that his business is doing well.

Jake obliges Kyra’s request to spend more time with family, by participating with Kyra, Mika and Yang in a worldwide virtual dance-off competition that happens once a month. The dance-offs are based on the number of people in each group. For example, groups of four compete against each other, groups of three compete against each other, etc. Because this is a virtual competition, thousands of people can compete at the same time.

In this dance-off, groups go online and dance to the same song and are monitored by judges. The objective is for everyone in the group to dance in sync. Any group that has a member who dances out of sync is eliminated.

The movie’s opening credits play over a memorable montage sequence of the Fleming family and other four-member groups dancing in this contest. Some of the people in the other groups end up being supporting characters in this movie. Despite the Fleming family’s best efforts, someone in their group dances out of sync (Jake gets the blame), and they’re eliminated, but they seemed to have fun bonding over this shared activity.

Not long after the family participated in this dance-off, Yang malfunctions and shuts down. Because his exterior is made of human-like flesh, there’s a limited time to fix him before he will start decomposing. Jake and Kyra have different reactions to Yang’s shutdown. Jake wants to do everything he can to save Yang, because he knows how emotionally attached Mika is to Yang. Kyra is more reluctant to fix Yang, because of the expenses involved and because she thinks that Mika needs to learn about death.

Kyra also gripes to Jake that he should’ve bought Yang as a new android from a company called Brothers and Sisters, which is the main company that has the authority to sell new androids. Instead, Yang was purchased as a used android from a company called Second Siblings, a company that’s considered to be inferior to Brothers and Sisters. The place where Yang was purchased affects the ability to repair him quickly, because Yang’s warranty is with Second Siblings, not with Brothers and Sisters.

The Fleming family has a next-door neighbor named George (played by Clifton Collins Jr.), whom Jake thinks is a little weird and annoying. George notices that Jake is carrying Yang, so Jake tells George that Yang malfunctioned the night before. George mentions to Jake that he has a friend named Russ who does android repairs for a reasonable price. George advises Jake on what to do about Yang: “I wouldn’t take him back to Brothers and Sisters. They’re just going to try to get you to recycle him for a new model.”

When Jake goes to the place where he remembers Second Siblings was located, he’s dismayed to find out that the business has closed, and a fish aquarium store is now in its place. Mika is with him on this trip and is afraid of what will happen to Yang. To placate Mika’s worries, Jake buys her a pet fish from the shop.

Jake then goes to a repair shop called Quick Fix, where a repair consultant named Aaron (played by Brett Dier) tells Jake that he has two options: (1) recycle Yang and get a $1,000 discount toward a new android, or (2) turn Yang’s head and voice box into a virtual assistant, and the family can keep the rest of Yang’s salvaged parts. Jake decides to take neither option.

With Mika growing increasingly anxious about losing Yang, Jake decides to go to George’s friend Russ (played by Ritchie Coster) as a last resort. Russ tells Jake that he needs Jake’s permission to open Yang’s interior core. Opening this interior core is is an illegal thing to do, but Russ insists it’s the only way to figure out how Yang can be fixed. Yang is left at Russ’ repair shop for the time being.

Back at home, Jake and Kyra continue to disagree over what to do about Yang. Kyra also tells Jake: “Yang has been wonderful, and we’d miss him terribly, but we’ve been over-reliant on him. We bought Yang to connect [Mika] to her Chinese heritage, not to raise her.” Jake replies, “Yeah, but we spent a lot of money on Yang.”

Kyra says, “If we can’t fix Yang, we’re not going to buy another sibling for Mika. We can’t afford it anyway.” Kyra also says that she and Jake, not an android, should be responsible for teaching Mika about her Chinese heritage. Jake remains undeterred. His determination to save Yang leads him down unexpected paths and eventually on a quest to find out Yang’s origins.

Along the way, some other people play important roles in this story, including a Museum of Technology curator named Cleo (played by Sarita Choudhury) and a young female clone named Ada (played by Haley Lu Richardson), who has a connection to Yang. It’s enough to say that through a series of circumstances, Jake can access Yang’s memories by putting on special sunglasses. What Jake finds out changes his outlook on many things in life.

“After Yang” takes its time in unpeeling some of the layers in this story. There are several scenes of people staring off into space, as if they’re in deep thought. And although Jake is seen occasionally at work, he doesn’t seem to have any employees at his tea shop. It will make viewers wonder who’s operating Jake’s tea shop while he’s going around investigating the mystery of Yang, while Mika is sometimes along for the ride.

One of the biggest flaws in the movie is how Kyra is such an underdeveloped character. It will be hard for a lot of viewers to emotionally connect to Kyra, who comes across as cold and completely boring. Yang might be a robot, but he has more personality than Kyra does. And for all of Kyra’s complaining about Jake not spending enough time with the family, Jake is the one who ends up spending more time with Mika than Kyra does during the course of this story.

Only when Jake accesses Yang’s memories do viewers get to see a brief glimpse of Jake and Kyra in happier times, when they look like a real married couple. But for the vast majority of “After Yang,” there’s little to no chemistry between Farrell and Turner-Smith as these spouses. Even though they are portraying a married couple drifting apart, there’s nothing in the movie that shows why Jake and Kyra fell in love with each other in the first place.

“After Yang” also could have used more of the story to explore family issues when an adopted child is of a race that’s different from the adoptive parents. The only reference to any realistic challenges of interracial adoptions is a flashback scene where Mika confides in Yang about how some kids at her school told her that Jake and Kyra are not her real parents and asking him what it means to be Asian. Mika knows that she’s adopted, but she still seems a little hurt and confused over people thinking that Jake and Kyra aren’t her “real parents.” Yang then tells Mika about tree grafting as an analogy to adoption. It’s a very trite and simplistic way to deal with this issue.

Later in the movie, Kyra calls Jake while she’s at her job to ask Jake to pick up Mika from school because Mika got into a physical fight with another student. Mika was sent to the school principal’s office over this altercation, but the movie never shows Jake and/or Kyra interacting with anyone at the school about this problem or talking to Mika about it. It would be easy to assume that Mika might have gotten into the fight because of the adoption issue, but the movie never explains how Jake and Mika tried to resolve this problem.

Tjandrawidjaja is very good in the role of Mika, but her character was basically written to be just a cute and somewhat precocious kid. Instead, “After Yang” puts most of the emphasis on Jake as the person whose thoughts and feelings have the most importance in the story, since he’s the one who’s the most involved with and affected by finding out Yang’s origins. Farrell handles the character of Jake with a lot of care, but some viewers might grow tired of so many people in the movie having pained expressions on their faces without much action happening in the story.

The rest of the supporting cast members are perfectly fine in their roles. Min and Richardson do the best that they can with their Yang and Ada characters in the limited screen time that these characters have. When viewers see the connection between Yang and Ada, it will make a lot of people wish that there could’ve been an entire movie centered on Yang and Ada.

Kogonada brings a futuristic, dream-like style to the flashback sequences of Yang’s memories. These striking visuals are among the best aspects of “After Yang.” If viewers have the patience to watch this movie, the last third is the best and most meaningful part of the film. “After Yang” isn’t a groundbreaking sci-fi movie, but it offers a unique perspective of humanity when human clones and androids that look like humans co-exist with people.

A24 released “After Yang” in select U.S. cinemas on March 4, 2022, the same date that the move premiered on Showtime.

Review: ‘The Batman,’ starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell and John Turturro

February 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zoë Kravitz and Robert Pattinson in “The Batman” (Photo by Jonathan Olley/DC Comics/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Batman”

Directed by Matt Reeves

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Gotham City, the superhero action flick “The Batman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Vigilante superhero Batman—the secret alter ego of orphaned billionaire Bruce Wayne—battles several villains (some more obvious than others) in a race against time to stop psychopath The Riddler, who is intent on destroying Gotham City.

Culture Audience: “The Batman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in superhero movies with a dark and brooding tone that’s similar to director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman/The Dark Knight” movies.

Robert Pattinson in “The Batman” (Photo by Jonathan Olley/DC Comics/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Richly layered in dark intrigue and life’s shades of gray, “The Batman” takes viewers deeper into Batman/Bruce Wayne’s mind than previous “Batman” films have ever ventured. This top-notch superhero film makes pointed social commentaries about greed, corruption and responsibilities of the wealthy, in addition to delivering plenty of stunning action sequences. The movie’s total running of time of 175 minutes doesn’t make the movie feel too bloated, although at times the filmmakers’ ambitions to make “The Batman” an epic superhero film seem forced into the story a little too much, in order to justify this nearly three-hour movie.

Directed by Matt Reeves, “The Batman” is not an origin story, such as director Christopher Nolan’s 2005 movie “Batman Begins,” which was the first in Nolan’s Batman movie trilogy that continued with 2008’s “The Dark Knight” and 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” Reeves co-wrote “The Batman” screenplay with Peter Craig, with the movie based on DC Comics characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

In the beginning of “The Batman,” billionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Robert Pattinson), whose secret alter ego is vigilante superhero Batman, has been fighting crime as this caped crusader for two years, mostly at night. And it’s drained his finances to the point where his trusted butler Alfred Pennyworth (played by Andy Serkis) warns Bruce that if Bruce keeps doing what he’s doing as Batman, he’ll have no more money left, and that Bruce is doing a disservice to his family’s legacy. “Alfred, stop,” Bruce says with impatience at Alfred’s worrying lecture. “You’re not my father.” Alfred replies grimly with a hint of sadness, “I’m well aware.”

As Batman fans already know, Bruce lives in the fictional U.S. city of Gotham City (also known as Gotham), which is designed to look a lot like New York City. (“The Batman” was actually filmed in the United Kingdom and Chicago.) In the movie version of the Batman saga, Bruce’s parents—billionaire philanthropists Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne—were gunned down in front of him by an unidentified man when Bruce was 8 years old. The killer has not been caught, and his parents’ murders have haunted Bruce ever since. Thomas (played by Luke Roberts) and Martha (played by Stella Stocker) are seen in brief flashbacks in “The Batman.”

The murders of Bruce’s parents motivated Bruce to become a secret crimefighter as an adult. Finding out who killed his parents is never far from Bruce’s mind. He’s been investigating with the help of Alfred. However, Batman’s other crimefighting duties often get in the way of this investigation. In addition to being a philanthropist, Thomas Wayne was a medical doctor and a politician. He was a mayoral candidate for Gotham when he and his wife were murdered.

Bruce has no superpowers, but his wealth has allowed him to have highly sophisticated and top-level resources, weapons and equipment, including his famous Batsuit and Batmobile. In “The Batman,” Bruce also has special contact lenses, which act as hidden cameras. Gotham police summon Batman for his help, by sending out a lighted signal of distress called the Bat-Signal, which is the Batman logo that can be seen in the sky.

Out of all of the movie incarnations of Batman, “The Batman” has a tone that most closely adheres to Nolan’s “Batman/Dark Knight” trilogy, with some noticeable differences. Compared to all previous “Batman” movies, “The Batman” is much more immersive in the psychology of Bruce Wayne/Batman—so much so, that viewers can hear Bruce’s/Batman’s inner thoughts in voiceovers throughout the movie. It’s a filmmaker choice that might annoy some viewers, but in the context of “The Batman,” it works very well.

The movie’s opening scene takes viewers right into Bruce’s/Batman’s state of mind, as heard in a voiceover that says: “Two years of nights have turned me into a nocturnal animal. I must choose my targets carefully. It’s a big city. They don’t know where I am. The signal that lights up the sky is not just a call. It’s a warning to them. Fear is a tool. They think I’m lying in the shadows, but I am the shadows.”

This version of Batman has a type of inner turmoil and rage that hasn’t been seen in previous “Batman” movies. Batman famously has a personal policy to not kill people unless it’s justifiable self-defense. But in “The Batman,” this caped superhero unleashes some vicious beatings that go beyond what would be necessary to defeat an opponent. There’s a scene in the movie where Batman has to be physically stopped by law enforcement during one of these near-fatal assaults. It’s one of the reasons why Batman is feared and mistrusted by certain people who think he’s an out-of-control vigilante.

Previous “Batman” movies also made it very clear who the heroes and villains are. “The Batman” effectively blurs those lines, as secrets are revealed about several characters’ backgrounds. However, there’s no question that the chief villain of “The Batman” is a mysterious psychopath named The Riddler (played by Paul Dano), whose real name is Edward Nashton. “The Batman” reveals only a few other things about The Riddler’s personal background, since he operates and is seen mostly in the shadows.

However, there’s no doubt about The Riddler’s motives. He leaves notes and clues around Gotham to announce that his murder victims are being targeted because they are corrupt leaders who have betrayed the citizens of Gotham and beyond. The first murder is shown early on in the movie, which opens on Halloween night in Gotham.

This murder takes place 20 years (to the week) after the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The target of this Halloween-night murder is “tough on crime” Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (played by Rupert Penry-Jones), who is brutally tied up and assaulted in his own home, as he is watching himself in a pre-recorded televised candidate debate for Gotham’s next mayoral election. The incumbent mayor is home alone because his wife (played by Kosha Engler) and son (played by Archie Barnes), who do not have names in the movie, are somewhere else celebrating Halloween.

Is The Riddler acting alone, or does he have any cronies? One of the best aspects of “The Batman” is that the movie plays guessing games about where loyalties lie and whom Batman/Bruce can really trust. Bruce also finds out certain things that make him question his own motives and ethics, as well as how well he thought he knew his parents before they died. Throughout the movie, Bruce/Batman is a trusted ally of James Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright), a lieutenant of the Gotham City Police Department, who includes Batman in the investigations and at each scene of The Riddler’s crimes.

In previous “Batman” movies, Bruce was an obvious playboy. In “The Batman,” Bruce is still a brooding eligible bachelor, but he isn’t dating anyone. However, when he meets Selina Kyle (played by Zoë Kravitz), also known as Catwoman, there’s a mutual attraction between them that sparks a little bit of romance. (They kiss each other in the movie.) Selina works as a bar server at warehouse-styled nightspot called the Iceberg Lounge, owned by shady and slippery business mogul Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (played by Colin Farrell), also known as The Penguin.

Selina is an emotionally damaged soul whose Catwoman alter ego is a skilled and clever thief. Selina also “collects” stray cats and takes care of several of these cats in her home. In “The Batman,” Selina and Bruce cross paths because she’s investigating the disappearance of her Russian immigrant roommate Annika Kosolov (played by Hana Hrzic), whom Selina thinks has been kidnapped because Annika knew too much about a powerful man whom Annika was dating. The reasons for Annika’s disappearance (and how they all connect to a larger story) are eventually revealed in “The Batman.”

Even though Selina describes Annika to people as her “friend,” the movie hints that Annika was also Selina’s lover. Before Annika disappeared, Selina is shown comforting a distressed and fearful Annika in their apartment. Annika won’t tell Selina what’s wrong, and Selina keeps calling her “baby” and touching Annika in the way that someone would touch a lover. The movie leaves Selina’s sexuality open to interpretation because it seems the intention is that Selina is the type of person who doesn’t want to put a label on her own sexuality. Whatever the nature of Selina’s relationship is with Annika, it’s a departure from previous movie/TV characterizations of Selina, who is usually depicted as a social outcast who lives alone.

The potential romance between Batman and Catwoman is fraught with trust issues and the taboo of Batman dating someone he knows breaks the law. However, their emotional connection is powerful. Bruce and Selina both know the pain of growing up without parents and having a parent murdered. Selina’s single mother Maria (who is not seen in the movie) was strangled when Selina was 7 years old. Bruce and Selina also have the shared characteristic of having secret identities that are often misunderstood to the point where certain people don’t know if Batman and Catwoman are heroes or villains.

During the course of the movie, these other characters come into the orbit of Bruce/Batman: Carmine Falcone (played by John Turturro), a ruthless mob boss who has The Penguin as his “right-hand man”; Gil Colson (played by Peter Sarsgaard), Gotham’s district attorney who’s at the center of one of the most suspenseful scenes in the movie; Pete Savage (played by Alex Ferns), the Gotham City Police Department commissioner who doesn’t trust Batman as much as Lieutenant Gordon does; Gotham City Police Department chief Mackenzie Bock (played by Con O’Neill), who also has mistrust of Batman; and Bella Reál (played by Jayme Lawson), the young and progressive mayoral candidate who was Don Mitchell Jr.’s opponent in the mayoral race, and she is elected mayor after his death.

During all of this murder and mayhem in Gotham, Bruce finds out that he’s the target of The Riddler because The Riddler thinks that Bruce is corrupt too. Does The Riddler knows Batman’s real identity? The answer to that question is shown in the movie. There’s also some intrigue around the Wayne Foundation Renewal Fund, a charitable venture launched by Bruce’s father and is worth millions.

And in “The Batman,” the Iceberg Lounge has a “club within a club” that’s exactly what you might think it is for a nightclub that attracts a lot of powerful figures involved in criminal activities. The movie has several references to an opioid-like liquid drug called “drops,” because people take the drug through eyedrops, and addicts are called “dropheads.” Years before this story takes place, a crime lord named Salvatore Morrone (who’s never seen in the movie) was a major dealer of drops, and he got busted while Don Mitchell Jr. was mayor of Gotham. This drug bust has had long-lasting repercussions.

“The Batman” offers some biting views on how rich people throwing money at society’s problems doesn’t necessarily erase those problems if systemic inequalities still remain. Catwoman shows she has a side to her that’s about disrupting or challenging society’s institutions that are constructed to keep corrupt, privileged people in power. She’s not really an activist, but more like a social anarchist. And, for the first time in a “Batman” movie, Bruce is really taken to task by certain people for being perceived as a spoiled, wealthy heir who hasn’t really done much to help underprivileged people.

It’s not really “social justice preaching,” but it somewhat shocks Bruce to see that people seem to resent that he appears to have an “ivory tower” mindset while people are suffering around him. And to be fair, this Bruce is such a depressed recluse in “The Batman,” he’s not exactly hobnobbing at charity events as much as Bruce did in previous “Batman” movies. Alfred has to practically beg Bruce to go to a high-society fundraiser, so that Wayne Family charities can continue to operate.

As well-written as “The Batman” screenplay is, it’s hard to go wrong with such a talented group of cast members, who embody their roles as if they were born to play these characters. Pattinson has already demonstrated in plenty of his independent films that he’s got the gravitas and empathy to personify the dual roles of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Kravitz is all kinetic grace and seductive street smarts as Selina Kyle.

Farrell (who’s unrecognizable underneath exceptional prosthetic makeup) does one of the best supporting-role performances of his career as The Penguin, a menacing and sarcastic thug who isn’t in the movie as much as “The Batman” movie trailers would suggest, but he still makes an undeniable impact. Dano is chilling and unnerving as The Riddler, who’s a combination of a calculating mastermind and a loose cannon. This is not a fun-loving, impish and giggling Riddler, as seen in other “Batman” movies or TV shows. This Riddler is genuinely an infuriated and deeply disturbed villain. The cast members in the other supporting roles do their jobs well in characters that are less complex.

In the 2010s, “The Batman” director Reeves helmed two stellar “Planet of the Apes” movies: 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” With the “The Batman,” Reeves raises the bar considerably for all other “Batman” films to come. “The Batman” excels in numerous areas of filmmaking to make this superhero movie true visual art. The captivating cinematography (by Greig Fraser) is bathed in hues of black, dark gold and crimson red to bring viewers into a very specific and fascinating world. In addition to the cinematography, the movie’s costume design (led by Jacqueline Durran), production design (led by James Chinlund), musical score (by Michael Giacchino), makeup, sound, visual effects and stunts are all worthy of awards attention.

The musical choices in “The Batman” are particularly effective. For example, Batman’s theme in this movie, which is a nod to composer John Williams’ Darth Vader theme in 1977’s “Star Wars,” is quite possibly the most memorable Batman movie theme to come along in years. It’s a stirring musical signature that evokes the despair and determination that weigh heavily on Batman/Bruce Wayne’s soul. The musical interludes in “The Batman” also include Nirvana’s melancholy song “Something in the Way,” which is woven into the story in such a distinctive manner, viewers will get this song stuck in their heads long after seeing this movie.

But one of the ways that “The Batman” truly stands out from other superhero movies is that it doesn’t necessarily follow the predictable formula of all the villains defeated at the very end. (And “The Batman” has are no mid-credits scenes or end-credits scenes.) The movie takes on some heavy issues, including how society places a stigma on mental illness, and how this stigma has serious repercussions on people’s lives.

“The Batman” also has a few twists and turns that might surprise audiences. (For example, people will be talking about Barry Keoghan’s cameo as a “mystery character” near the end of the movie.) Most of all, “The Batman” accomplishes what many other superhero films don’t: The movie shows the vulnerabilities of a troubled superhero protagonist, who doesn’t have bunch of superhero friends to back him up, and who is at war with himself as much as he is at war against crime.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Batman” on March 4, 2022, with official sneak-preview screenings on March 1 and March 2, 2022. The movie is set to premiere on HBO Max and will be released on digital and VOD on April 18, 2022. HBO will premiere “The Batman” on April 23, 2022. “The Batman” will be released on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on May 24, 2022.

Review: ‘Moonfall’ (2022), starring Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Wenwen Yu and Donald Sutherland

January 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Halle Berry and Patrick Wilson in “Moonfall” (Photo by Reiner Bajo/Lionsgate)

“Moonfall” (2022)

Directed by Roland Emmerich

Culture Representation: Taking place in Washington, D.C.; New York City; Los Angeles; Colorado and outer space, the sci-fi/action film “Moonfall” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A high-ranking NASA astronaut, a former NASA astronaut and a science conspiracy theorist all team up and sometimes disagree on how to handle an impending apocalypse where the moon is on a path of destruction to Earth.

Culture Audience: “Moonfall” will appeal mainly to people who don’t mind watching silly sci-fi films with ridiculous scenarios and cringeworthy dialogue.

John Bradley in “Moonfall” (Photo by Reiner Bajo/Lionsgate)

How do you make an apocalypse film so idiotic that the movie is its own kind of disaster? “Moonfall” can answer that question. This sloppy sci-fi flick has more holes in its plot than craters on the moon. It’s not even a “so bad it’s good” movie. The filmmaking in “Moonfall” is so lazy, with generic characters and a story that’s absolutely cringeworthy. Slick but not-very-impressive visual effects are thrown into the movie as a weak attempt to distract viewers from a nonsensical story that makes an atrocious mockery of NASA.

“Moonfall” was directed by Roland Emmerich, who’s known for helming a lot of “end of the world” or “monsters attack” disaster movies, but the terrible ones he’s made far outnumber the good ones. “Moonfall” is one of his worst. Emmerich co-wrote the abominable “Moonfall” screenplay with Spenser Cohen and Harald Kloser. Although there are some talented people in the “Moonfall” cast, they’re stuck in a horrendous movie where they have to embarrass themselves.

The movie opens with an ill-fated NASA spaceship mission with three astronauts on board: Jocinda “Jo” Fowler (played by Halle Berry), Brian Harper (played by Patrick Wilson) and Alan Marcus (played by Frank Fiola)—a tight-knit trio of co-workers who respect each other. Something goes terribly wrong in space, as a massive dark force resembling a cosmic storm comes out of nowhere and seems to attack the ship.

Debris flies everywhere, causing the ship to bounce around and almost capsize. Brian is able to steer the ship back in the correct position, but Alan doesn’t make it out alive. Back on Earth, Brian insists that there’s a deadly force out in space that deliberately caused the attack. However, NASA officials say that’s a crazy idea and declare this fatal space trip to be a fluke accident.

The movie then shows Brian’s 8-year-old son Sonny (played by Azriel Dalman) sadly looking at the TV news, which is reporting that Brian, who has been fired from NASA, is suing NASA for wrongful termination. In court testimony, Brian reiterates that there’s something terrible out in space that must be investigated and stopped. NASA has labeled Brian as a mentally unstable former astronaut who has no credibility.

Sonny is unhappy not just because of what happened to his father. He’s also upset because he and his mother Brenda (played by Carolina Bartczak) are moving to New Jersey without Brian. Not only has Brian’s career fallen apart, his marriage to Brenda has also deteriorated, and they eventually divorce. Brian is also bitter because Jo, who still works for NASA, testified in NASA’s defense, and it’s ruined their friendship.

“Moonfall” then cuts to 10 years later. Brian is unemployed with a drinking problem and a bad temper. Sonny (played by Charlie Plummer) is now a troubled rebel who’s a student at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Sonny lives with his mother Brenda and her current husband Tom Lopez (played by Michael Peña), who owns a successful car dealership. Also in the household are Tom’s two daughters from a previous marriage: Nikki Lopez (played by Ava Weiss), who’s about 13 or 14, and Lauren Lopez (played by Hazel Nugent), who’s about 10 or 11. The family also has a vacation home in Aspen, Colorado. (“Moonfall” was actually filmed in Montreal and Los Angeles.)

An unnecessary scene in the movie shows Sonny getting arrested with a friend during a high-speed chase with police that was on live television. Illegal drugs were found in the car, but Sonny swears that the drugs belong to the friend. Sonny’s arrest just leads to another time-wasting scene of Brian showing up for Sonny’s arraignment in court and making a complete ass of himself, by yelling at the judge that Sonny is innocent. It’s Brian’s way of trying to make up for being an absentee father, but Brian’s courtroom outbursts make things worse, and the judge rules for Sonny to be held without bail until Sonny’s next courtroom hearing.

Meanwhile, level-headed Jo has risen through the ranks at NASA, where she reports to NASA director Albert Hutchings (played by Stephen Bogaert), an arrogant boss who is very condescending and dismissive of Jo. Just like Brian, Jo is also a divorced parent. Her ex-husband is General Doug Davidson (played by Eme Ikwuakor), a hard-edged military official who hangs out a lot at NASA headquarters. Jo and Doug have a son named Jimmy (played by Zayn Maloney), who’s about 8 or 9 years old. Jo has hired a college student named Michelle (played by Wenwen Yu) to be a live-in nanny who can help take care of Jimmy.

Someone will eventually cross paths with Jo and Brian and team up with them for the movie’s mind-numbing “we have to save the world” part of the movie. His name is K.C. Houseman (played by John Bradley), and he’s a fast-talking Brit who’s a conspiracy theorist and a wannabe scientist. K.C. works as a janitor at a university, where he makes secret and illegal phone calls and computer log-ins, by impersonating one of the university’s professors when everyone has left the office for the day.

K.C. is a bachelor loner who is obsessed with moon travel and how the moon can affect Earth. How obsessed is he with moon travel? He named his cat Fuzz Aldrin, as a tribute to famed Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. K.C.’s widowed mother, who uses a wheelchair and lives in a nursing home, has dementia. K.C. visits her, but she sometimes forgets who he is.

When he’s not working as a janitor who impersonates scientist professors and hacks into their computers, K.C. works in the drive-through window at a fast-food restaurant. In his spare time, K.C. has been working on proving a theory that the moon’s orbit is about to radically shift. One evening at the fast-food place, K.C. gets a message on his phone from one of the people he conned into thinking that he’s a scientist. The message has some information that indicates that K.C.’s “moon orbit shift” theory could become a reality. The theory spreads like wildfire on the Internet.

K.C. sees a newspaper report that it’s Astronaut Day at Griffith Park Observatory, where Brian is scheduled to make a speaking appearance in front of some school kids. This movie is so badly written, it doesn’t explain why a disgraced and former NASA astronaut would be invited to make this type of speaking appearance. It’s all a poorly conceived contrivance for K.C. to show up before Brian does, so that K.C. can start giving his own “astronaut” lecture to the children.

When Brian arrives (he’s late because he overslept, probably because of his drinking problem), he’s irritated to see that K.C. has taken over the lecture. Brian doesn’t know who K.C. is, but Brian can easily see that K.C. is some kind of fake scientist, even though K.C. insists that he’s a “doctor.” K.C. tells Brian that he believes Brian about there being a mysterious force that’s in the universe and that it could be why the moon’s orbit will shift. K.C. still doesn’t make a good impression on Brian, who summons security personnel to have K.C. thrown out of the building.

Meanwhile, Jo is at NASA declaring to anyone who’ll listen: “We have to go back to the moon! We have to see what’s going on up there!” Some astronauts are quickly sent back to the moon, as if this type of space trip is as easy as booking a plane flight. But this expedition to the moon ends badly. It’s the first time that NASA officials see the “mysterious force,” which now has octopus-like tentacles than can kill.

It isn’t long before all hell breaks loose. Earth gets hit with tidal waves of floods everywhere. It’s at the same time that K.C. and Brian have met up again in a diner, because at this point, K.C. is the only person who will believe Brian. The flooding destroys the diner, right in the middle of K.C. and Brian’s conversation. It’s one of the unintentionally hilarious parts of the movie.

K.C. thinks that the mysterious force in the universe has caused the moon to veer off course and triggered disastrous weather on Earth. In addition to floods, there are massive earthquakes and storms. People start panicking, and there’s widespread looting. Military officials, including a stereotypical “nuke ’em all” type named General Jenkins (played by Frank Schorpion), argue about whether or not the moon should be attacked with nuclear weapons.

Jo and her boss Albert are at NASA headquarters when she somberly says the obvious to him: “Everything we knew about the universe is out the window. We’re not prepared for this.” There’s so much mass chaos that Albert abruptly quits his job as director of NASA and says that Jo can be in charge and have the job. He gives his NASA badge to her as “clearance.” Yes, the movie really is this stupid.

Guess who’s going into space to save the world? Brian, K.C. and Jo make the trip under a series of jumbled and preposterous circumstances. Meanwhile, there’s a subplot where Sonny, Brenda, Tom, Lauren, Nikki, Jimmy and Michelle all end up together, as they fight for their lives in the snowy mountains of Colorado, in an attempt to get to a safety bunker. Somehow during this life-or-death situation, Sonny and Michelle find time to make goo-goo eyes at each other and act like they want to date each other when this pesky apocalypse is all over.

Why are they in the Colorado mountains? There’s some nonsense in the movie that the higher the elevation where people can be, the less likely they will be killed. Apparently, the “Moonfall” filmmakers want viewers to forget that this “safety precaution” is pointless if you’re trapped on a mountain where you could be buried in a snowy avalanche caused by earthquakes that are happening all over the world.

It gets worse. If you dare to subject yourself to this time-wasting trash movie, it might be hard for you not to laugh at the big “reveal” of why this “mysterious force” exists in the universe. The answer is supposed to make the movie look “deep,” but it’s just a pathetic attempt to rip off “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

At certain parts of the movie, “Moonfall” co-stars Berry and Wilson look like they’re trying their best to convincingly deliver some of the moronic dialogue that they have to spout, but it’s a hopeless effort. Bradley’s K.C. character is relentlessly annoying. Donald Sutherland has a cameo as a scientist named Holdenfield, who does what a Donald Sutherland cameo character usually does in a movie: He briefly shows up to act like he knows more than anyone else in the room.

Peña, who’s usually typecast as a wisecracking character, is given some lackluster and awkwardly placed “jokes” in this movie’s failed comic relief. Worst of all, “Moonfall” takes itself way too seriously to be considered a campy bad movie. You’re more likely to be grimacing than laughing if you end up watching “Moonfall,” a horrible misfire that crashes and burns in more ways than one.

Lionsgate will release “Moonfall” in U.S. cinemas on February 4, 2022.

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

January 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

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

“Memoria” (2021)

Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Some language in Spanish and Italian with subtitles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: ‘Needle in a Timestack,’ starring Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Orlando Bloom and Freida Pinto

January 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr. in “Needle in a Timestack” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Needle in a Timestack”

Directed by John Ridley

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the sci-fi drama “Needle in a Timestack” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In this time-bending story, two men and two women experience their lives differently when the men and women pair off as couples at different points in their lives. 

Culture Audience: “Needle in a Timstack” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a convoluted, poorly written and extremely dull movie.

Orlando Bloom and Freida Pinto in “Needle in a Timestack” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Looking for a needle in a haystack is more fun than watching “Needle in a Timestack.” This excruciatingly dull movie tries to have a “musical chairs” approach to romance, but it’s ultimately a time-wasting bore with nothing to say. Unfortunately, this misguided movie doesn’t do much with its talented cast except give them snooze-inducing dialogue and scenarios that are just too ill-conceived to take.

“Needle in a Timestack” is based on Robert Silverberg’s 1966 collection of sci-fi short stories the same name. It’s easy to see how “Needle in a Timestack” screenwriter/director John Ridley thought that the intriguing concept of time-traveling changing the course of people’s romances that should be made into a movie. But this concept just turns into a haphazard mishmash of tedious scenes where the actors look almost as confused as viewers will be if they try to wade through this cinematic muck.

“Needle in a Timestack” is about two men and two women who have intertwined romances, but the main couple that audiences are supposed to be rooting for are spouses Nick Mikkelsen (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) and Janine Mikkelsen (played by Cynthia Erivo), who are the couple who gets the most screen time. Nick works in real-estate development for an architectural firm called Randall Corp. Janine is a photographer. Nick and Janine have been married for five years. (“Needle in a Timestack” takes place in the U.S., but the movie was actually filmed in British Columbia.)

The other two people in this quasi-love quadrangle are business mogul Tommy Hambleton (played by Orlando Bloom) and Alex Leslie (played by Freida Pinto), who are presented as possible threats to Nick and Janine’s love for each other. At various points in the movie, these couplings are shown: Nick and Janine; Tommy and Janine; Nick and Alex; and Tommy and Alex. The movie then plays a lot of tricks over which scene might be a flashback, an altered reality, or possibly a figment of someone’s imagination.

At first, Nick and Janine seem like a blissful married couple in love. When they’re at a house party together, Nick looks adoringly at Janine and says to her, “Sometimes, when you’re not looking, I watch you from across the room. And I ask myself, ‘If I didn’t know you, would I still fall in love with you?'”

The beginning of the movie shows that Janine has made a sad video of herself where tears are rolling down her cheeks. Janine says wistfully as she looks into the camera: “Love is drawn in the form of a circle. No one knows where it begins, and it never really ends. You and I, we are forever and always and all ways.”

Why is Janine so upset? And why is she talking like a cheesy Valentine’s Day card? The movie comes back to this video as a placemark to show viewers that Janine might know something that some of the other characters might not know. That’s because in this movie, memories and versions of reality can be erased by people who have the money to time travel and alter the fates of themselves and loved ones. Messing with fate in this way results in a “time shift,” which can usually be detected when people get nosebleeds.

Nick experiences a series of unsettling time shifts that are so alarming to him that he tells Janine that he suspects someone is trying to “erase” their marriage and possibly their memories of each other. Nick eventually figures out that Janine’s wealthy and jealous ex-husband Tommy is causing these time traveling manipulations because Janine broke up with Tommy, and Tommy is still bitter about it. When Nick confronts Tommy (who’s in charge of a company called Hambleton Solutions) about his suspicions, Tommy smugly replies by saying, “No one can really change the past. Just clean up the present a little.”

Nick is so sure that Tommy is going to erase Nick’s memories, Nick gets help from a company that sells Past Protect, which is described as a cloud service for storage of memories. People upload their photos and files on Past Protect to preserve memories. There’s some very manufactured and predictable drama about the Past Protect part of the story.

The rest of “Needle in a Timestack” sluggishly goes back and forth in different “realities” that show the four different couplings that happen between Nick, Janine, Tommy and Alex. None of these pairings is the least bit interesting or sexy, although the movie tries its hardest to make it look like Nick and Janine are the most “passionate” of the four pairings. The personalities of all these characters are so bland, it’ll be hard for viewers to remember much about the movie’s characters.

Odom and Erivo seem to be doing their best to play a convincing married couple, but their acting just seems a bit too forced in their love scenes. Bloom and Pinto look like they’re just going through the motions and reciting their lines. It doesn’t help that almost all of the dialogue in the film is awkward and stilted. (Trivia note: Odom and Pinto also portrayed a couple in the 2020 post-apocalyptic drama “Only,” which isn’t a very good movie but at least it’s much more interesting than “Needle in a Timestack.”)

“Needle in a Timestack” also has a time-wasting subplot about Nick’s neurotic younger sister Zoe Mikkelsen (played by Jadyn Wong), who’s a self-admitted commitment-phobe when it comes to romance. There are several tiresome scenes in the movie showing Nick and Zoe having phone conversations where Zoe constantly talks about her best friend Sibila (played by Laysla De Oliveira), who’s originally from Portugal.

Zoe invites Nick to go rock climbing with her and Sibila, but Nick declines the offer because he thinks rock climbing is too dangerous. And in a movie where people try to change something in the past that they didn’t want to happen, it’s very easy to guess what happens during this rock climbing trip and what someone wants to do to change it. However, this subplot didn’t need to be in the story and just seems like the filmmakers’ way of stretching the already thin plot even more.

It’s not as if Ridley is new to making movies from adapted screenplays. He won an adapted screenplay Oscar for writing the 2013 drama “12 Years a Slave,” a movie where he was also an executive producer. “Needle in a Timestack” tries to look like a movie that’s a mind-bending puzzle, but it’s really a series of scenes that are patched together like different people’s hazy memories. Much of the story becomes unfocused to the point where viewers might be wondering why this movie was even made. “Needle in a Timestack” can easily put viewers to sleep, so at least the movie is good for the purpose of curing insomnia.

Lionsgate released “Needle in a Timestack” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 15, 2021. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 19, 2021.

Review: ‘Swan Song’ (2021), starring Mahershala Ali

January 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mahershala Ali in “Swan Song” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“Swan Song” (2021)

Directed by Benjamin Cleary

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi drama film “Swan Song” features a predominantly black cast of characters (with a some white people, Asians and one Native American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A graphic designer, who is dying from an unnamed illness, keeps it a secret from his family and secretly arranges for a clone to replace him. 

Culture Audience: “Swan Song” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Mahershala Ali and will appeal to people who are interested in to seeing well-acted, emotionally heavy movies about how people might prepare for death.

Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris in “Swan Song” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

The sci-fi drama “Swan Song” is a somber and slow-paced film that viewers have to be in the right frame of mind to see. It’s a very well-acted film that handles its subject matter with sensitivity, but it should be avoided if you’re not in the mood to see a movie about terminal illness and death. The second half of the movie is much better than the first half, which has some pacing issues and takes a little long to get to the heart of the story. “Swan Song” viewers also must have patience with movies that tell stories in a non-linear, non-chronological way.

Written and directed by Benjamin Cleary, “Swan Song” does a lot with the relatively small number of people in the cast. The movie is set in an unspecified year in the future, in an unnamed U.S. city. A graphic designer named Cameron has recently found out that he’s dying from an illness, which is also not named in the movie. The only clue to what this illness might be is that it causes deterioration of the brain.

Cameron is married to a loving and loyal wife named Poppy (played by Naomie Harris), a British immigrant who works as a school teacher for children with learning disabilities. Poppy uses music therapy for her students and composes and sings a lot of the music for this therapy. Cameron and Poppy have a bright and energetic son named Cory (played by Dax Rey), who is 8 years old.

Cameron is the more introverted spouse in the marriage, while Poppy is more of an extrovert. These personality differences are reflected in what Cameron and Poppy chose for their respective careers. When the movie does show Cameron do anything related to his graphic designer job, he’s by himself, with any outside communication done electronically.

Because a great deal of “Swan Song” is shown in flashbacks (including the movie’s opening scene), this is not a movie that people should watch while being distracted by other things. There are subtle clues that can be picked up when people watch this movie with their full attention. These nuances can lead to greater appreciation of “Swan Song,” which might bore some viewers who are expecting more action.

Cameron hasn’t told his family that he doesn’t have much longer to live. That’s because he’s secretly decided to sign up for a relatively new scientific experiment from a company called Arra, which lets terminally ill people agree to have replacement clones made of themselves. (In this story, a human clone is sometimes called a “regeneration.”) As part of the contract with Arra, the terminally ill people who agree to be replaced by clones have to keep this decision a secret from everyone they know except for Arra employees.

Cameron’s clone is temporarily named Jack (also played by Ali), who not only has a replica of Cameron’s DNA but he also has a full transfer of Cameron’s memories, including subconscious memories. The only physical difference between Cameron and his clone is that the clone is given a small mole on the inside of his hand, so that the Arra staffers can tell the difference between the real Cameron and his clone. Clones are able to mimic human emotions, based on the clone’s implanted memories.

There’s a transition period when the terminally ill person and the assigned clone get to know each other. After this transition period, the clone officially replaces the terminally ill person when the clone starts to live its replacement’s life, and the clone’s memory of being a clone is permanently erased. The terminally ill person than lives at Arra headquarters until death comes.

“Swan Song” goes back and forth between Cameron’s ambivalence over wanting a clone to take over his life and flashbacks to what Cameron’s life was like before he knew that he was dying. In order to prepare for the clone to take over his life, Cameron has to spend time at Arra’s headquarters, which are designed to look like an upscale retreat. Cameron tells Poppy that he’s away on business to explain his absence from home.

Dr. Jo Scott (played by Glenn Close) leads Arra’s cloning project, and she’s determined to make it a success. She has only two human subordinates working with her: a technician named Rafa (played by Lee Shorten) and a psychologist/head technician named Dalton (played by Adam Beach). As Dr. Scott explains to Cameron, the rest of the staffing duties are done by artificial intelligence technology that she says can do the work of abut 50 humans.

Dr. Scott also tells Cameron, when he asks, that he’s only the third human who’s going through Arra’s clone replacement process. She has no ethical qualms about human cloning. “It’ll be as common as heart transplants, in a few years,” Dr. Scott confidently predicts to Cameron. Dr. Scott also keeps a tight reign on Arra’s secret cloning. When Cameron says he wants to tell his family about it, she’s quick to remind him that he signed a contract and that he will “lose the opportunity” if he tells anyone that he arranged to have a replacement clone.

During his stay at Arra headquarters, Cameron meets another terminally ill person named Kate (played by Awkwafina), whose clone has been out in the world for about 42 days when Cameron and Kate first meet. Dr. Scott says that Cameron should also meet Kate’s clone, so that Cameron can see how it’s nearly impossible to tell a clone from a real human being. Cameron goes to Kate’s job (she’s a real estate agent), where he meets Kate’s clone and Kate’s daughter Sammy (played by Mikayla Lagman), who’s about 10 or 11 years old. Sammy has no idea that Kate has been replaced by a clone. The experience of meeting a clone in the real world somewhat unnerves Cameron, who starts to doubt if he made the right decision.

Kate also has mixed emotions about seeing how her family and other loved ones were easily fooled into believing the clone is the real Kate. On the one hand, Kate says that “my guilt faded pretty quick” after she saw how her family wouldn’t have to worry if they knew the truth about Kate being terminally ill. On the other hand, it’s unsettling and sad for Kate to see a clone take over her life while Kate is still alive. Cameron will also go through the same mixed feelings, which Ali conveys with as much skill as a great actor can have when depicting an introvert.

There are additional reasons for why Cameron wants to keep his cloning decision a secret from his loved ones. Poppy is two months pregnant with their second child. And a few years earlier, Poppy’s twin brother Andre (played by Nyasha Hatendi) died in a motorcycle accident. Poppy went into a deep depression, where she could barely leave the house “for a better part of a year,” as Cameron tells Kate.

Poppy is in therapy over her grief. By contrast, Cameron has never been in therapy. Cameron doesn’t want to add to Poppy’s grief by telling her that he’s dying. Cameron also doesn’t want their unborn child and Cory to grow up without a father. Cameron’s own family history is barely mentioned, except when he tells Dr. Scott that his parents divorced when he was 5 years old, and he was raised by his mother. It might explain any extra motivation that Cameron has to make sure that his children have a father in their lives.

Before Cameron found out that he was terminally ill, he and Poppy hit somewhat of a rough patch in their marriage, where they seemed to be drifting apart. In a private conversation between Poppy and Cameron, she tells him that’s she convinced that her unexpected pregnancy with their second child is a sign that the child will be good for their marriage. Cameron seems to agree, but his terminal illness diagnosis has permanently altered those plans, because it’s very likely that Cameron won’t live to see the birth of this child.

Flashbacks show how Cameron and Poppy met: They were both commuter train passengers sharing the same table. They both ordered the same chocolate bar, but when Poppy started eating the chocolate, Cameron mistakenly thought that she was eating his chocolate bar, but they ended up sharing it anyway. It became an endearing joke between them.

Other flashbacks show their courtship, marriage, parenthood, and how Andre was a close member of their family. (Ace LeVere portrays Cory at age 2. Aiden Adejuwon plays Cory at age 5.) One of these flashbacks is of a conversation between Cameron, Poppy and Andre, where Andre talks about the news that human cloning experiments were happening. Cameron seems turned-off by the idea and says that he wouldn’t want a human clone of himself. He obviously changed his mind after getting diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Ali and Harris, who co-starred in the Oscar-winning 2016 film “Moonlight,” have good chemistry together and make a believable couple. Some viewers might feel that not enough of Cameron and Poppy’s relationship is shown, since the vast majority of the relationship is presented in flashback snippets. Harris’ role as Poppy does feel a little underwritten, since she’s mostly depicted as a cheerful and upbeat wife. The depression she had over Andre’s death is not really shown, even though this depression no doubt caused some of strain in her marriage to Cameron.

“Swan Song” is also a little uneven in explaining Arra’s cloning procedures. There are some questionable decisions in the process that no self-respecting psychologist/psychiatrist would recommend. For example, terminally ill humans are allowed to see how their clones interact with loved ones as the humans’ replacements. The clones are equipped with contact lenses that are linked to live video monitors that can be watched at Arra headquarters by the scientists and the human who’s being replaced. If there are no problems in the trial run, the clone’s memory is then erased about being a clone, and the clone will then move on to living life as the human’s replacement.

“Swan Song” doesn’t do a very adequate job of explaining why these scientists would want terminally ill people to see clones completely replacing these humans without the humans’ loved ones knowing, when the psychological effects would be too risky. Some terminally ill people might feel comforted at seeing their replacement clones take over their lives. However, most terminally ill people would probably feel disturbed by seeing a clone living the life that the humans want to have.

After Jack the clone (before he officially becomes Cameron) is sent to live with Poppy and Cory for this trial run, Cameron sees how Jack is interacting with his family. Cameron reacts exactly how you would expect him to react. It leads to a certain confrontation that affects Cameron’s decisions for the rest of the story.

“Swan Song” (whose futuristic cinematography is awash in a lot of gray and blue) doesn’t hit its best stride until the last 20 minutes of the movie, when Cameron makes a pivotal decision that affects his journey. Ali has his most impactful “Swan Song” scenes in this last part of the movie. Cameron is not a naturally expressive person, so he keeps a lot of his emotions bottled inside until he can no longer ignore his feelings. “Swan Song” might be set in the future, but it effectively shows how issues about humanity and the fragility of life are timeless.

Apple TV+ released “Swan Song” in select U.S. cinemas and on Apple TV+ on December 17, 2021.

Review: ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and Jada Pinkett Smith

December 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Matrix Resurrections”

Directed by Lana Wachowski

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, Tokyo and various parts of the universe, the sci-fi action flick “The Matrix Resurrections” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Thomas Anderson, also known as universe-saving hero Neo, gets pulled out of his “normal” life and back into the Matrix, as he strives to reunite with his long-lost love Trinity.

Culture Audience: “The Matrix Revolutions” will appeal primarily to people who are die-hard fans of “The Matrix” franchise and star Keanu Reeves, because everyone else will be easily lose interest in the movie’s jumbled and monotonous plot.

Jessica Henwick, Keanu Reeves and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

If you’re not familiar with any of the previous “Matrix” movies, then “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t care about you. The visual effects and stunts are dazzling, but this sci-fi/action movie’s plot is convoluted and duller than it should have been. Many people who’ve seen the previous Matrix movies will get confused or bored. You really need encyclopedic “Matrix” knowledge and an excellent memory to keep track of all the references to the previous “Matrix” movies that “The Matrix Resurrections” keeps dumping in the story without a proper explanation or much context.

Even if you prepare to watch “The Matrix Resurrections” by watching or re-watching the previous “Matrix” movies, you’ll notice that “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t do anything clever or innovative with the story. It’s just a tangled and tedious retelling of a basic adventure concept of a male hero going to a lot of trouble to impress and save the woman he loves.

In “The Matrix Resurrections,” which is the fourth movie in “The Matrix” film series, Lana Wachowski returns as a solo director, after co-directing the previous three “Matrix” films with her younger sister, Lilly Wachowski. The three previous films are 1999’s “The Matrix” (still the best one in the series), 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded” and 2003’s “The Matrix Revolutions.” The first “Matrix” movie earned four well-deserved Academy Awards: Best Visual Efects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Lana Wachowski co-wrote “The Matrix Resurrections” with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. These screenwriters have a clear disregard for the possibility that “The Matrix Resurrections” might be the first “Matrix” movie that some people will ever see. There is almost no attempt in “The Matrix Resurrections” to clearly explain what happened in the previous “Matrix” movies. When familiar characters appear in “The Matrix Resurrections,” viewers who are new to the franchise will not have an understanding of how these characters are relevant to the story, unless viewers know what these characters did in the previous “Matrix” movies.

There are some flashback scenes in “The Matrix Resurrections,” but they do little or nothing to explain the purpose of the characters who are shown in the flashbacks. Pity anyone who watches “The Matrix Resurrections” without this basic knowledge: Thomas Anderson, also known as Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), is the chosen hero, who is called The One, in an ongoing battle over control of humans and other beings in the universe. There’s an alternate world called the Matrix, where people are under the delusion that the world they live in is reality, but the Matrix is in fact a simulated reality.

In the first “Matrix” movie, Neo had a mentor named Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), who gave Neo the choice between taking a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill would ensure that Neo would continue to live a blissful but delusional existence. The red pill would open Neo’s eyes to the truth. Neo took the red pill.

During Neo’s battle to save the universe in the first “Matrix” movie, Neo met another warrior named Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), and they fell in love. Neo and Trinity are soul mates and the biggest love of each other’s life. Their biggest nemesis was Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving), who had the ability to shapeshift and morph into other people or clones of himself. This is an essential detail to have some understanding of “The Matrix Resurrections,” because when Agent Smith’s name is first uttered in the movie and he appears in disguise, viewers need to know why this character is such a big deal.

At the beginning of “The Matrix Reurrections,” which does a lot of time-jumping and traveling between various realities, Neo/Thomas is “retired” from his “saving the universe” legacy. He’s living and working in San Francisco as an award-winning, legendary video game designer at a company he co-founded called Deus Machina, where he works with people who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Thomas is famous because he designed a blockbuster video game series called “The Matrix” that’s based on his own experiences.

Even though Thomas has achieved the pinnacle of success in this industry, he remains humble and low-key. His ambitious and greedy business partner Smith (played by Jonathan Groff) has coaxed a reluctant Thomas to do a fourth installment of “The Matrix” video game series. Smith mentions that Deus Machina’s parent company is Warner Bros., which is the movie’s way of referencing “The Matrix” movie franchise distributor Warner Bros. Pictures. There’s a self-deprecating “wink wink, nudge nudge” tone to the number of times that “The Matrix Resurrections” refers to this fourth installment (of Thomas’s video game series and this movie) as being a cash grab, until the joke is repeated so many times that it gets very old.

As for business partner Smith, the significance of the name is so obvious, when a big reveal about this character arrives, it’s actually no big surprise. (This reveal is already in one of the movie’s trailers.) He’s slick and has some high-octane fight scenes, but he’s not a particularly interesting adversary when he gets into conflicts with Thomas/Neo. Much like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Smith in this movie is very superficial and flashy with not much substance.

Thomas/Neo has been having nightmares or hallucinations, so he’s in therapy. And if he seems like a heartbroken loner, that’s because he is. He’s still pining for Trinity. But he’ll get his chance to reunite with her, because that’s essentially the main goal in this muddled film that takes too long (two hours and 28 minutes) to tell a story that could’ve been told in two hours or less.

Whenever “The Matrix Resurrections” gets stuck in a plot rut (and it happens a lot), it shows Thomas waking up from a “hallucination,” and he’s in the therapist office of his unnamed analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris), who seems to know everything about Thomas. There’s a scene in the movie where Thomas/Neo looks in a mirror and finds out that his physical appearance is not what he thinks it is: He looks like an elderly man (played by Steven Roy) to many people.

The movie keeps people guessing on what’s reality and what’s not reality for Thomas/Neo, until it reaches a point when a lot of viewers won’t care much anymore. “The Matrix Resurrections” has too many gimmicks that are meant to deliberately confuse viewers. After a while, all these gimmicks are a turnoff. A big reveal toward the end the movie is not surprising because the movie telegraphs it many times.

Thomas’ identity as Neo has long been dormant, because most people think Neo is dead. However, a young computer hacker named Bugs (played by Jessica Henwick) has discovered that Neo is alive and well. In flashbacks, Bugs tells people how she found out: She works as a skyscraper window washer and saw Neo disguised as another man as he was about to jump off a nearby high-rise building. Bugs saw Neo jump off of the building and survive, so Bugs has been on a quest to find Neo ever since.

Of course, in a movie like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Bugs is no ordinary window washer/computer hacker. She has combat skills on the level of a super-soldier in a video game. Bugs has a computer hacking sidekick named Sequoia (played by Toby Onwumere), who’s mostly a virtual reality operator telling her what’s going on in alternate realities. Don’t expect a logical explanation for many of the identities of the new characters introduced in “The Matrix Resurrections.” It just seems like the filmmakers just made up things as they went along.

Bugs finds Neo, of course, and she takes it upon herself to be his “protector” when things go awry. Another person who finds Neo is the young-man version of Morpheus (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who predictably brings out that red pill and blue pill again for Neo to choose which path Neo’s life will take. However, anyone who’s seen any of the previous “Matrix” movies knows that Neo’s life was pre-ordained anyway.

One day, Thomas/Neo is hanging out at a coffee shop with a Deus Machina co-worker named Jude Gallagher (played by Andrew Lewis Caldwell), when Thomas/Neo sees Trinity, and Jude notices that Thomas/Neo seems attracted to her. However, Thomas/Neo pretends to Jude that he’s never met Trinity before. Thomas/Neo is too shy to approach her, so Jude (who tells Thomas/Neo that he thinks she’s a “MILF”) approaches Trinity on behalf of Thomas/Neo and makes the introduction.

Thomas/Neo is dismayed to find out that Trinity’s memory appears to have been blocked or erased, because she doesn’t know him when he starts talking to her. She’s now living as a woman named Tiffany, who builds and repairs motorcycles for a living. She’s also married to a guy named Chad (played by “John Wick” series director Chad Stahelski) and they have three underage kids together. At the coffee shop, Neo briefly meets Chad and two of the kids.

Later in the movie, Thomas/Neo and Trinity/Tiffany meet again at the same coffee shop, where she tells him that she thinks that she looks like Trinity in “The Matrix” video games. Trinity/Tiffany also says that when she mentioned the physical resemblance to her husband, he just laughed at her. It’s the first sign that Trinity/Tiffany might have a glimmer of recognition that maybe she had another life with Neo that has long been buried.

It’s enough to convince Neo to want to save Trinity from her blocked memory and get her back in his life. Along the way, he gets in numerous fights with people, creatures and machines that want to stop him in this quest. Bugs and Morpheus are also in most of these fight scenes with Neo. Also along for the ride to help Neo are young, good-looking combat warriors Lexy (played by Eréndira Ibarra) and Berg (played by Brian J. Smith), who look like they came from a modeling agency assembly line.

If you don’t know the purpose of Agents and Sentinels in the “Matrix” movies, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you have no idea who Niobe (played by Jada Pinkett Smith) and Sati (played as an adult by Priyanka Chopra Jonas) are and why they’re important to “The Matrix” saga, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you don’t care about the differences between the battle ships Nebuchadnezzar, the Hammer, and the Logos, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.”

Simply put: “The Matrix Resurrections” can be extremely alienating to anyone who isn’t a die-hard, obsessive “Matrix” fan. Sometimes, people just to turn their brain off and watch an action-filled sci-fi movie. But most viewers don’t want to watch a movie sequel where their brains have to work overtime trying to figure out what’s going on and who certain characters are. And some of the characters didn’t need to be in the movie at all, such as Deus Machina executive Gwyn de Vere (played by Christina Ricci), which is a small, inconsequential role that’s a waste of Ricci’s talent.

If viewers get confused over what’s going in “The Matrix Resurrections,” it’s because “The Matrix Resurrections” filmmakers made the arrogant assumption that everyone watching should have seen all the previous “Matrix” movies. Therefore, a lot of “inside jokes” in “The Matrix Resurrections” are not as impactful as they could’ve been if the previous three “Matrix” movies had been better explained in “The Matrix Resurrections.” However, the screenplay and editing still make the movie very difficult to follow for people who’ve seen the previous “Matrix” movies but have hazy memories about them.

In between the action scenes of “The Matrix Resurrections” are characters standing around or sitting in meetings that are quite boring. A great deal of what they discuss is shared history that will be meaningless to viewers who don’t know anything about this shared history because they haven’t seen the previous “Matrix” movies. It’s like going to a class reunion when you never even went to the school.

Although the visual effects and stunts are the best things of “The Matrix Resurrections,” they’re not enough to make the movie feel like a relatable human saga. All of the acting is mediocre or just plain awful. The dialogue isn’t much better.

The movie’s attempts at comedy usually fall flat, including the silly and useless end-credits scene. Throughout the movie, Reeves seems like he’s sleepwalking through some of his lines of dialogue. That’s not what you want for a protagonist in what’s supposed to be a high-energy action flick.

“The Matrix Resurrections” seems so enamored with its parade of sci-fi and technological tricks, it fails to bring enough in the story that will make viewers feel connected to the characters in a relatable way. Unfortunately, “The Matrix Resurrections” leaves new viewers of the franchise in the dark about essential, interpersonal histories about many of the characters. Other viewers who know all about familiar “Matrix” characters before seeing “The Matrix Resurrections” might still end up feeling disconnected and disappointed that they haven’t learned anything fascinating at all.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Matrix Resurrections” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021.

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