Review: ‘Jurassic World Dominion,’ starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise and Mamoudou Athie

June 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Isabella Sermon and DeWanda Wise in “Jurassic World Dominion” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Jurassic World Dominion”

Directed by Colin Trevorrow

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States and briefly in Malta, the sci-fi/action film “Jurassic World Dominion” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people, Latinos and Asians) portraying scientists, business people and animal advocates involved in some way with the interaction of the dinosaur population that was first seen in 1993’s “Jurassic Park.”

Culture Clash: As dinosaurs and humans co-exist on Earth, swarms of giant locusts are eating crops and killing off Earth’s population, while a group of scientists and other people race against time to save the world. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Jurassic” franchise fans, “Jurassic World Dominion” will appeal to fans of the stars of the movie, as well as viewers who will tolerate a mediocre and jumbled story to see some familiar faces.

Beta and Blue in “Jurassic World Dominion” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Bloated and with a scatterbrained plot, “Jurassic World Dominion” is a disappointing, overstuffed mess with too many awkward jokes and not enough dinosaur action. Bringing back original “Jurassic Park” cast members will just remind viewers how superior the first “Jurassic Park” movie is to this “Jurassic World” sequel. Colin Trevorrow directed and co-wrote 2015’s “Jurassic World,” a spinoff to the “Jurassic Park” series that began with 1993’s “Jurassic Park.”

Trevorrow was set to direct 2018’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” but he was replaced by J.A. Bayona, although Trevorrow co-wrote the “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” screenplay. Trevorrow returned as a director of the “Jurassic” franchise by helming “Jurassic World Dominion,” which he co-wrote with Emily Carmichael. Unfortunately, it seems like the “Jurassic World Dominion” filmmakers couldn’t stick to an uncomplicated plot, because the movie (which is too long, at 146 minutes) goes off on some distracting and unwelcome tangents.

“Jurassic World Dominion” picks up four years after the destruction of the Central American island of Isla Nublar, the sanctuary-like domain of dinosaurs. Dinosaurs co-exist with humans all over the world—a prediction come true by Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum), who was shown at the end of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” testifying before the U.S. Senate that Earth would have dinosaurs and humans being able co-exist peacefully. But there would be no “Jurassic World Dominion” if things ended that simply.

The main cause of all of Earth’s problems in “Jurassic World Dominion” (as with most of the other “Jurassic” movies) comes down to one thing: human greed. And there’s yet another evil businessman who’s at the root of it. One of the more frustrating things about “Jurassic World Dominion” is that it lazily recycles and copies too many other things from previous “Jurassic” movies.

The beginning of “Jurassic Dominion” features a news report explaining that, once again, a black market has emerged for captured dinosaurs. As a result, the U.S. government has awarded the global rights to collect the world’s dinosaurs to a biotech company called Biosyn, which is located in the Dolomite Mountains valley. Not only is Biosyn now in charge of collecting all the dinosaurs on Earth but this mysterious company is also in the business of trying to eradicate world hunger by creating crops immune to pests and diseases.

Try not to laugh at the idea that one company has been given control over the world’s dinosaurs and possibly the world’s food supply chain. (The movie makes no mention whatsoever of what the United Nations would have to say about it, because apparently, the United States makes decisions for the entire world.) But “Jurassic Park Dominion” viewers are supposed to believe this flimsy premise, because it’s the basis of all of the conflicts in this movie.

With one company having this much power, corruption is inevitable. And the movie reveals early on who the chief villain is, which should surprise no one: Biosyn CEO Lewis Dodgson (played by Campbell Scott), who has several subordinates, but he’s really presented unrealistically as the only villain mastermind. Meanwhile, there’s a whole slew of heroes who zigzag around the world and eventually join forces for the predictable “we have save the world” part of the story.

“Jurassic World Dominion” is so disjointed and so caught up in introducing a new subplot every 20 minutes, it ends up being too jumbled for its own good. The beginning of the movie re-introduces former Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) and dinosaur rescue advocate Claire Dearing (played Bryce Dallas Howard), who are now officially a couple, after trying to deny that they wanted to be a couple for the previous two “Jurassic World” movies.

Owen and Claire are living in isolation the Sierra Nevada Mountains and raising 15-year-old Maisie Lockwood (played Isabella Sermon), the orphaned daughter of Benjamin Lockwood (played by James Cromwell), the co-founder of Jurassic Park. Benjamin’s fate is show in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” which is why Owen and Claire are now Maisie’s guardians. As shown in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (mild spoiler alert) Benjamin’s daughter Charlotte died an untimely death, so in his grief, he controversially used Charlotte’s DNA to clone another daughter, who is Maisie, whom Benjamin presented to the world as his granddaughter.

This “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” plot reveal is talked about multiple times in “Jurassic World Dominion,” because Maisie knows she was cloned from her dead mother Charlotte’s DNA. Maisie is now in hiding with Owen and Claire, who both don’t want her to be captured by the U.S. government for experiments. This is all information that viewers need to know within the first 15 minutes of watching “Jurassic World Dominion.” It’s an example of how badly the movie is written for people who might not know anything about “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”

An early scene in “Jurassic World Dominion” shows that Claire (who is part of the Dinosaur Protection Group) has been fanatically rescuing dinosaurs from illegal breeders. The scene depicts one such recue at an illegal breeding farm in Nevada. Two of Claire’s dinosaur rescue colleagues—systems analyst Franklin Webb (played by Justice Smith) and paleo-veterinarian Dr. Zia Rodriguez (played by Daniella Pineda)—are with her on this successful mission, but they start to question Claire’s recklessness in putting them in increasing danger. Franklin’s and Zia’s appearances in the movie are really just filler.

Owen and Claire refuse to let Maisie interact with any other people except Owen and Claire. And now, teenage Maisie is starting to resent this control and is beginning to rebel. Expect to see several scenes of Maisie shouting, pouting and being resentful to Owen and Claire. But before Owen and Claire have much time to deal with Maisie wanting more freedom, this family has another more pressing problem: a dinosaur kidnapping.

One of the stars of the previous two “Jurassic World” movies was a female Velociraptor named Blue, who was rescued and adopted by Owen and Claire. Blue (one of the last-known Velociraptors on Earth) conceived a child on her own and gave birth to this child, which is named Beta. And now, Beta has been stolen by poachers, led by a shaggy-haired lowlife named Rainn Delacourt (played by Scott Haze), who works for the most obvious person possible. And then, Maisie gets kidnapped too. A sassy former U.S. Air Force pilot named Kayla Watts (played by DeWanda Wise) has been hired to transport Maisie by private plane during this kidnapping.

But wait, there’s more: Swarms of giant locusts have been causing terror on Earth, by killing people and eating essential food crops. And these giant locusts, which are rapidly spreading across the world, are only eating food crops that were not engineered by Biosyn. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that it’s not a coincidence. But apparently, only a few people on Earth have figured out that it’s not a coincidence. And in this idiotic movie, that small group of people will to have to be the ones to save the world.

Meanwhile, original “Jurassic Park” characters Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (played by Laura Dern) are shoehorned into a clumsy plot where they reunite with Ian, who now works for Biosyn. Before that happens, paleobotanist Ellie meets up with paleontologist Alan, who is now living in Utah and making money offering paleontological digs for tourists. It’s a reunion scene that should be entertaining to watch, but it just looks so forced and uncomfortably written.

Alan has had a crush on Ellie for years—so much so, that he has a photo of her on his wall. He quickly hides the photo when Ellie suddenly shows up to visit him. Ellie is now divorced with college-age children. Alan is a bachelor who’s happy to hear Ellie is now single and available. And you know what that means later in the movie.

Ian has invited Ellie and Alan to Biosyn, where he is now the company’s in-house philosopher. It’s just an excuse for the movie to have Ian act like a New Age eccentric. Later in the movie, Ian makes this creepy statement: “I had a dog once. It humped my leg so much, I got a callous on my shin bone.” That’s an example of the awful dialogue in “Jurassic World Dominion.”

Biosyn’s head of communications Ramsay Cole (played by Mamoudou Athie) is open about his hero worship of Ian. Ramsay also professes his loyalty to Rasmay’s Biosyn CEO boss Lewis. Ramsay becomes the official Biosyn tour guide for visitors Ellie and Alan, who are both suspicious of Lewis. “Jurassic” movie franchise recurring character Dr. Henry Wu (played by BD Wong), who works for Biosyn as a genetic engineer, is in the movie for less than 15 minutes, where he spends most of his screen time looking stressed-out and worried.

With the reunion of old characters and the introduction of new characters, “Jurassic World Dominion” keeps throwing different subplots into the mix to separate the characters and then eventually bring them back together. There’s an unnecessary detour to Malta, featuring a cameo from Barry Sembène (played by Omar Sy), who was a dinosaur trainer in 2015’s “Jurassic World” movie. Barry’s only purpose in “Jurassic World Dominion” is to tell people that Malta is a gateway for people involved in illegal dinosaur trafficking, and so he can show Claire and Owen what an underground dinosaur fight club looks like.

And what about the dinosaurs in this story? They’re not in the movie as much as some viewers might expect. The dinosaur action scenes are not very terrifying at all. You never feel like the “heroes” are in any real danger. And when you see the lack of serious injuries at the end of the film, considering all the physical attacks that the characters experienced, it all just adds to the movie’s phoniness.

None of the acting in “Jurassic World Dominion” is special, because the cast members are just going through the motions reciting the often-silly dialogue that they have to say. (Expect to see plenty of cringeworthy comments from Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm character. ) “Jurassic World Dominion” is ultimately a “Jurassic” movie where the dinosaurs have lost a lot of edge, and the human drama is entirely toothless.

Universal Pictures will release “Jurassic World: Dominion” in U.S. cinemas on June 10, 2022. The movie was released in other countries first, beginning June 1 in Mexico and South Korea, and June 2 in Argentina, Brazil and Peru.

Review: ‘Old Henry’ (2021), starring Tim Blake Nelson, Scott Haze, Gavin Lewis, Trace Adkins and Stephen Dorff

January 3, 2022

by Carla Hay

Tim Blake Nelson in “Old Henry” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

“Old Henry” (2021)

Directed by Potsy Ponciroli

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1906 in the Oklahoma territory of the United States, the Western drama film “Old Henry” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widower farmer and his teenage son find themselves in a violent standoff in their home, after they take in a mysterious, wounded stranger, who is accused of being a bank robber on the run. 

Culture Audience: “Old Henry” will appeal primarily to fans of Westerns that have good acting and suspenseful twists to the story.

Stephen Dorff in “Old Henry” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

At first glance, “Old Henry” seems to be another Western about a bank robbers and gun shootouts. However, the movie has different layers and a few twists that are eventually revealed in this suspenseful and intriguing story. Led by a memorable performance by Tim Blake Nelson, “Old Henry” is also a family drama that tackles issues of father-son relationships and how a family can shape someone’s identity.

“Old Henry” (written and directed by Potsy Ponciroli) takes place over a few days in 1906, in the territory of Oklahoma. (The movie was actually filmed in Waterton, Tennessee.) Henry McCarty (played by Nelson) is a widower who lives on a farm with his son Wyatt McCarty (played by Gavin Lewis), who is about 16 or 17 and is reluctant to follow in his father’s footsteps of being a farmer. Henry’s wife/Wyatt’s mother, Marie Hobbs McCarty, died of tuberculosis in 1896, at the age of 35. Marie’s brother Al Hobbs (played by Trace Adkins) regularly visits the farm to help out when he’s needed.

Henry is a stern and strict taskmaster who’s not very talkative, and he doesn’t express deep emotions very easily. However, there are things in his past that haunt him. These memories are shown in flashback scenes that are like pieces in a puzzle that eventually reveal the answer to a mystery. Henry and Wyatt are also grieving over the death of Marie, but they have the type of household where these feelings are not openly discussed.

What Henry does talk about to Wyatt is how he made something of himself after a life of hard knocks. Henry tells his son that he was born in New York. By the time he was 3 years old, Henry and his family had moved to Kansas, then Arizona, and then New Mexico.

“Finally,” Henry says, “I settled on the life of a farmer, which is what I am.” Wyatt says skeptically, “I still can’t believe that’s what you wanted.” Henry replies, “There are worse arrangements.” If Henry wanted to do something else with his life besides being a farmer, he’s not about to tell Wyatt in this conversation.

One day, a mare wanders onto an open field on Henry’s farm. The mare has a bloody saddle and no rider. Henry goes to investigate and finds an armed man nearby with a bullet hole in his chest and a knapsack full of cash. The man is barely alive. Henry doesn’t seem to want to take the cash at first, but he soon changes his mind and takes the knapsack and the man’s gun.

Meanwhile, Henry brings the mystery man back to Henry’s house to give him medical attention. Because Henry doesn’t know anything about this stranger, as a safety precaution, Henry ties the man’s hands and feet to a bed while Henry and Wyatt look after him. Eventually, the man regains consciousness and tells Henry that his name is Curry (played by Scott Haze), and that he’s a lawman who was shot by bank robbers.

Henry is immediately skeptical of the story, but he has no proof that Curry is lying or telling the truth. Not long after Curry is found, three men on horseback arrive at the farm. Their leader introduces himself as a sheriff named Sam Ketchum (played by Stephen Dorff), and the two men with him are named Dugan (played by Richard Speight Jr.) and Stilwell (played by Max Arciniega). The movie’s opening scene shows how far Ketchum and his men are willing to go to get what they want.

Ketchum tells Henry that he and his cronies are looking for a bank robber who got away with a lot of cash. Ketchum’s description of the man fits the description of Curry. However, Henry doesn’t quite trust these three strangers either, so Henry lies and says that he hasn’t see anyone fitting that description. Meanwhile, Curry tells Henry that Ketchum is lying and that the sheriff’s uniform and badge that Ketchum is wearing were actually stolen in the shootout that wounded Curry.

When Ketchum asks to look around the property, Henry gets hostile and says no, so this reaction arouses Ketchum’s suspicions that Henry might be hiding something. What follows is a tension-filled battle where viewers have to guess who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. And because “Old Henry” is a Western, there are inevitable gun shootouts that take up a great deal of the action. Henry and Wyatt also have their trust in each other tested in this life-or-death situation.

“Old Henry” is a great example of a movie that does a lot with a low budget, a relatively small number of people in the cast and only a few locations. Because the movie doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, Henry’s personality is shown through his actions and facial expressions, thanks to the admirable acting talent of Nelson. “Old Henry” is a taut mystery thriller wrapped in the genre of a Western that effectively shows the lure of America’s Old West as a place for new beginnings and wild endings.

Shout! Studios released “Old Henry” in select U.S. cinemas on October 1, 2021, and on digital and VOD on October 8, 2021.

Review: ‘Antlers’ (2021), starring Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy T. Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane and Amy Madigan

October 29, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jeremy T. Thomas and Keri Russell in “Antlers” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“Antlers” (2021)

Directed by Scott Cooper

Culture Representation: Taking place in Cispus Falls, Oregon, the horror film “Antlers” feature a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few Native Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A schoolteacher finds out that a 12-year-old student in her class is hiding a horrible secret.

Culture Audience: “Antlers” will appeal primarily to people interested in horror movies that are about how damage to Earth’s environment can have terrifying consequences.

Jesse Plemmons, Jeremy T. Thomas and Keri Russell in “Antlers” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

More than the typical “creature on the loose” horror movie, “Antlers” tells a haunting yet somewhat sluggish story about how a decaying environment can wreak havoc if the problem is ignored. The dangers of this denial of also run deep in the movie’s human relationships that are plagued by abuse and neglect. The movie falls into some very predictable and repetitive traps, but there’s enough suspense in “Antlers” to hold most people’s interest.

Scott Cooper, a filmmaker known for his outlaw-inspired movies about troubled loners (such as 2009’s “Crazy Heart,” and 2015’s “Black Mass”) directed “Antlers” and co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Henry Chaisson and Nick Antosca. The screenplay is based on Antosca’s 2019 short story “The Quiet Boy.” Guillermo del Toro is one of the producers of “Antlers,” so you know it’s going to be some kind of story involving a mysterious creature hiding among humans. Cooper is also one of the producers of “Antlers.”

The reason why this movie is called “Antlers” is revealed about halfway through the film, which takes place in the small town of Cispus Falls, Oregon. And once this information is disclosed to viewers, the movie just becomes a countdown to when certain people in this small town will find out the secret that a mysterious killer beast is living among them. The fact that “Antlers” is about some kind of deadly monster is part of this movie’s marketing, which includes movie trailers that already showed flashes of this creature. What’s revealed when watching the movie is how the monster ended up this way, why the creature is in this small town, and how this beast has been able to hide.

Fortunately, “Antlers” doesn’t take a stereotypical “slasher flick” route of of just being scene after scene of generic people getting killed. The movie takes its time to let viewers know the main characters of the story. “Antlers” has some not-so-subtle messages about the dangers of polluting the environment. But the movie also has depressing observations about how easily children can be neglected and/or abused, as well as how that trauma can be passed down through generations.

“Antlers” opens with a scene of two grungy-looking men in an abandoned mine shaft. Their names are Frank Weaver (played by Scott Haze) and Kenny Glass (played by Michael Eklund), and they have the type of dirty and disheveled appearance of people who’ve haven’t slept or cleaned themselves in at least a few days. Frank has left his 7-year-old son Aiden Weaver (played by Sawyer Jones) in Frank’s truck outside and ordered Aiden to stay there. He tells Aiden that he has to do some work and that it’s no place for kids.

If this sounds like Frank and Kenny are involved in drugs, it’s because they are. They’re both using the mine shaft as their meth lab. But their meth cooking is about to be interrupted by a mysterious creature that attacks them. After some time has passed, Aiden becomes restless and curious to find out what’s taking his father so long. He goes into the mine shaft and then movie abruptly cuts to the next scene.

Julia Meadows (played by Keri Russell), a bachelorette in her 40s, has recently moved back into the area (Cispus Falls is her hometown) after living in California for 15 years. She works as a teacher at the local middle school. Her younger brother Paul Meadows (played by Jesse Plemons), who is in his 30s, is the sheriff of Cispus Falls. Just like his sister Julia, Paul is single with no children.

It’s eventually revealed in the movie that Paul and Julia have had a somewhat strained relationship because she abruptly moved away from this hometown. Paul felt abandoned by his older sister. And there are still bitter feelings between both siblings for why they became estranged.

In one scene, Paul and Julia have a brief heart-to-heart talk about it. Julia tells Paul about her feelings of guilt about this long exit from his life: “Just know that I have spent my entire life trying to deal with leaving you.” Julia also says that she would understand if Paul still resents her, but she couldn’t stay in their family household anymore.

Paul seems to understand but he also wants it known how Julia’s departure hurt him. “I spent my entire praying that you’d come back,” he tells her. What caused this family rift? It’s shown in nightmares that Julia has that she and Paul had an abusive father (played by Andy Thompson), who is now deceased. One of the flashbacks (with Katelyn Peterson as an adolescent Julia) makes it clear without showing anything too explicit that Julia’s father was a deeply troubled man who sexually abused her. The mother of Paul and Julia is also dead, and it’s unknown how much she knew about this abuse.

In her classroom, Julia is frustrated because her students don’t seem to be connecting with her. The kids seem bored or unimpressed with her style of teaching. At this point in the cirriculum, she is teaching them about folklore and fables. Julia asks for the students to volunteer what they know about these types of stories that can be centuries old.

Eventually, Julia finds out that a quiet and shy 12-year-old boy in her class named Lucas Weaver (played by Jeremy T. Thomas) has been drawing some disturbing images in his notebook. The illustrations include demon-like animal figures in the woods. Does one of the creatures have antlers? Of course it does.

One day, Julia asks Lucas to tell her and the classroom of students what’s the story behind one of the drawings. Lucas then tells a creepy tale of a little bear that lives with a big bear and a small bear that are different because the big bear and small bear are always hungry. Based on the reactions by the other students in the class, Lucas is now perceived as even more of a “freak” who is a social outcast at the school.

Even before Lucas told this story, he was being bullied at school by some other boys. The leader of the bullies is a mean-spirited brat named Clint Owens (played by Cody Davis), who gets his comeuppance when Lucas puts dog excrement in Clint’s backpack for revenge. It sets off a feud between the Clint and Lucas. And if you know how horror stories like this usually go, things will not end well for one of these boys.

In the meantime, Julie notices that Lucas looks pale and undernourished. She gently and tactfully tries to find out from Lucas what his home life is like. The only thing that Lucas will tell her is that his mother is dead, and that his 7-year-old bother Aiden is homeschooled. Lucas resists Julie’s attempts to befriend him. Julie feels like she can relate to Lucas, because they are both treated like outsiders at the school.

Julie takes her concerns about Lucas to her boss, Principal Ellen Booth (played by Amy Madigan), who seems distracted and very reluctant to get involved. Principal Booth tells Julie that after Lucas’ mother died of a drug overdose, child protective services investigated suspicions that the Weaver household was abusive, but CPS didn’t find enough evidence to warrant taking the children away from the home. And so, Frank Weaver was allowed to keep custody of Aiden and Lucas. Principal Booth promises Julie that she will stop by the Weaver household in the near future to check up on the children.

Cispus Falls has been on an economic decline for years. And it’s been made worse by the opioid crisis and meth epidemic that have ravaged Cispus Falls and its surrounding areas. However, the drug-related crimes that have been plaguing the community somewhat pale in comparison to the murders that have suddenly begun to happen in Cispus Falls: Mutilated bodies, including one of the meth lab men from the opening scene, are being discovered in the town’s wooded area.

Paul and his small team of police officers begin to suspect that a people-killing wild animal is on the loose. But there are many signs that this is no ordinary animal. Footprints indicate that this creature can walk upright. And the bite marks are unlike anything that the local forensic pathologist has ever seen.

There are some supporting characters in “Antlers” that are quite formulaic. Rory Cochrane portrays Daniel Lecroy, one of the cops on the Cispus Falls police force. Grahame Greene is Warren Stokes, a stereotypical elder resident of the town who seems to know everyone’s business and the town’s history. Warren is also the one who talks about the Native American folk tales that offer clues into the mystery behind the creature.

Between the disturbing drawings made by Lucas and the discovery of the mutilated bodies, it doesn’t ake a genius to figure out what’s going on. Julie does her own investigating, and Paul eventually finds out what she’s learned. Therefore, the main suspense in the story comes from wondering who’s going to die and who’s going to survive.

The bond that Julia tries to form with Lucas runs almost parallel to her trying to heal her fractured relationship with her brother Paul. There’s an underlying message of how children with dysfunctional or absentee parents can often find strength and support with each other if they don’t put up too many emotional barriers. Lucas’ plight becomes very personal to Julia. She feels like she wants to “save” Lucas because she knows what it’s like to be a kid who needed help but no one was there to save or protect her.

As expected, the creature’s full physical appearance is eventually shown in the movie. These scenes with the monster attacks should bring enough chills to horror audiences, but “Antlers” ultimately does nothing groundbreaking with how this creature looks or acts. (Dorian Kingi portrays the antlered monster.) The movie doesn’t over-rely on CGI visual effects for gimmicks, but it does rely on a suspension of disbelief that all the mayhem the creature causes wouldn’t eventually be noticed by more people and would eventually make big news. For example, if this situation happened in real life, it would need more than a small-town police department to handle it.

An argument could be made that “Antlers” should have been a short film. And there’s some validity to the argument, since the movie tends to drag for long stretches to an inevitable conclusion. However, the principal cast members’ performances serve the story in a competent way. No one is a bad actor here, but no one is outstanding either.

One of the big issues that “Antler” doesn’t address adequately is how Lucas has been able to keep his big secret for as long as he has without raising suspicions sooner. However, it might be the movie’s way of showing how abuse and neglect of children can happen in plain sight and nothing is really done about it. People (such as Principal Booth) who should be mindful of the warning signs sometimes prefer to deny that there’s a problem and make any excuse they can to avoid getting involved. In that respect, you don’t need an antlered monster to know that these real-life tragedies are their own horror stories.

Searchlight Pictures released “Antlers” in U.S. cinemas on October 29, 2021.

Review: ‘Wild Indian,’ starring Michael Greyeyes, Chaske Spencer, Kate Bosworth and Jesse Eisenberg

October 5, 2021

by Carla Hay

Michael Greyeyes in “Wild Indian” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Wild Indian” 

Directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.

Culture Representation: Taking place in a California and in an unnamed U.S. state, the dramatic film “Wild Indian” features a Native American and white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two male cousins of Ojibwe Indian heritage have conflicts with each other over a murder they covered up when they were teenagers more than 30 years earlier.

Culture Audience: “Wild Indian” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching dramatic thrillers about sociopaths where the stories don’t offer easy answers.

Phoenix Wilson (pictured at right) in “Wild Indian” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Wild Indian” isn’t going to win any awards for groundbreaking portrayals of Native Americans. However, it’s a suspenseful drama about how two cousins in their 40s have very different views of how to handle the murder cover-up that they participated in when they were teenagers. Taking into account that there are very few American-made feature films with Native Americans comprising at least half of the principal cast members (including the lead actor), “Wild Indian” is notable for having this representation on screen.

The movie won’t satisfy people who are looking for a more definitive ending to the story. However, “Wild Indian” is an astute observation of how race and class play roles in how people are treated by the criminal justice system. This observation might be too realistic for some people’s comfort.

Written and directed by Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr., “Wild Indian” tells the story of two Native American cousins from the Ojibwe tribe and how their lives took two very different paths after they decided to keep a dark secret: When they were teenagers, one of the cousins shot and killed another teenage boy in a cold-blooded manner, and he convinced his cousin to help him cover up the crime. The cousin who became an accomplice to murder has been wracked with guilt ever since. The cousin who pulled the trigger has no guilt and would do anything to keep this crime a secret.

If viewers have a problem with Native Americans being portrayed as criminals in this movie, it’s worth noting that “Wild Indian” writer/director Corbine is also from the Ojibwe tribe. “Wild Indian” is his feature-film directorial debut. Corbine’s “Wild Indian” depiction of Native American culture is less about negative stereotypes and more about socioeconomic effects on Native Americans. The movie confronts the very real issues of how Native Americans are treated by American society can depend largely on how well a Native American assimilates into places dominated by white people.

“Wild Indian” shows two parts of the lives of cousins Makwa Giizheg and Teddo: when they are in their early teens in 1985, and when they are in their late-40s in 2019. The actors portraying the two cousins are Phoenix Wilson as young Makwa, Julian Gopal as young Teddo, Michael Greyeyes as adult Makwa and Michael Chaske as adult Teddo. The movie is told from Makwa’s perspective.

As children, Makwa and Teddo (who are about 13 or 14 years old in 1985) live in the same unnamed city in an unnamed U.S. state. (“Wild Indian” was actually filmed in Oklahoma and California.) Makwa, who is an only child, goes to a Catholic school, where he is doing well academically, but he’s an introverted loner. His life at home is very troubled: His mechanic father Darren Giizheg (played by Elisha Pratt) is an alcoholic who is verbally and physically abusive to Makwa. Makwa’s mother Ivy (played by Happy Frejo), who also has a drinking problem, doesn’t do anything to stop the abuse.

Makwa and Teddo go to the same school, where Teddo has a secret crush on a fellow student named Alyse (played by Lauren Newsham), who is pretty and popular. Makwa is too shy to approach Alyse not just because he feels like a social outcast who comes from a troubled family, but also because of underlying, unspoken issues about race. Alyse is white, and so is James Wolf (played by Colton Knaus), the student who has started dating Alyse.

Not surprisingly, Makwa is jealous of James, but Makwa keeps those feelings to himself. At home, Makwa has to try to avoid getting beaten up by his father, who will fly into rages for no good reason. During one of these abuse incidents, Darren physically assaults Makwa and shouts at Makwa: “I don’t want you in the house!” And so, Makwa has to find another place to stay for the night.

The movie doesn’t really show Teddo’s home life when Teddo was a teenager. However, it’s implied that when things get rough in Makwa’s household, he can find refuge in Teddo’s household. Needless to say, Teddo is Makwa’s closest companion. Teddo is the one who teaches Makwa how to shoot a rifle.

Makwa gets injuries from the physical abuse, and some of those injuries (such as a black eye and bruises) are difficult to hide. At school, Makwa is called into the office of the school principal, a caring priest named Father Daniels (played by Scott Haze), who tactfully tries to find out if Makwa is being abused at home. Father Daniels asks Makwa how he got the bruises.

Makwa is sullen and abrupt when he replies, “I was running and I fell. Can I go now?” Father Daniels then asks Makwa about Makwa’s parents: “Do they drink often?” It’s a sore subject for Makwa, who cuts the conversation short. Makwa tells Father Daniels that he’s doing well academically, so there’s no reason for him to be in the principal’s office. It’s the first indication that Makwa has a side to him that’s willing to defy authority and deny there’s a problem to anyone who might want to help him.

In their free time, Makwa and Teddo like to go into the woods to shoot things, such as discarded items, for target practice. They use a rifle owned by Teddo’s father. And one day in the woods during target practice, when Teddo is a few dozen yards away, Makwa happens to see his rival James by himself. Makwa takes aim and coldly murders James.

Teddo hears the gunshot and goes over to see what Makwa as shooting at, and he’s shocked to se James’ dead body. Whle Teddo is panicking and says they should call an ambulance or the police, Makwa convinces Teddo not to tell anyone because he says that they will both get in trouble. Instead, Makwa convinces Teddo to help him bury James in the woods. It’s a secret that they will carry for the next 34 years.

Before the movie fast-forwards to 2019, there’s a very telling scene that shows that Makwa isn’t a misunderstood child who made a horrible mistake. After another vicious fight with his father, Makwa bites his father’s hand, and then runs outside to the woods, where Makwa finds the spot where James’ body iss buried, and he urinates on this makeshift grave. It’s at this point that viewers know what Makwa is a sociopath with no remorse for the murder he committed.

In 2019, Makwa is a successful business executive at an unnamed corporate job in California. The type of business he does isn’t fully described in the movie, but it’s a company where Makwa has to interact with important clients. Some of these clients like to play golf, so Makwa is shown playing golf as a way to be in a better position to network with clients or potential clients.

And there’s something else about Makwa’s reinvention as a successful executive who’s on the rise at his company: He’s changed his name from Makwa Giizheg to Michael Peterson. Michael is also married to an attractive blonde named Greta (played by Kate Bosworth), and they have a son named Michael Jr., who’s about 2 years old. Greta does not know about Michael’s past, including his former name.

Michael and Greta have an upper-middle-class lifestyle somewhere in the Los Angeles area. She works in human resources and isn’t very enthusiastic about her career choice. it’s why when Greta finds out that she’s pregnant, she tells Michael that she wants to take a leave of absence from her job. Michael doesn’t seem very happy that Greta is pregnant with their second child, since this second child was unplanned. Viewers will soon see that Makwa/Michael is not only a sociopath, but he’s also a control freak.

Whatever attempts that Makwa/Michael made to assimilate into his predominantly white environment, he still gets reminders that he’s a person of color. At his job, a white co-worker named Jerry (played by Jesse Eisenberg) seems to genuinely like Michael and is rooting for his success. But when Jerry talks about Michael being a top candidate to be promoted into an open position, he mentions Michael being Native American as something that will make the company look progressive. It’s a casually racist remark that implies that Michael’s race can be used as a trendy gimmick instead of Michael being qualified for the promotion, solely based on his skills and experience.

Meanwhile, as Makwa/Michael has made a life for himself as an “upstanding citizen” who’s living “The American Dream,” Teddo has spent 12 of the past 34 years years in and out of prison. He spent 10 years in prison for drug dealing. He’s also been incarcerated for drug possession and assault and battery.

In 2019, Teddo (who is a a bachelor with no children) has been released from prison and is trying to get his life back on track. He’s moved back into his family home, where he lives with his sister Cammy (played by Lisa Cromarty), who is the single mother of a 5-year-old son named Daniel (played by Hilario “Tres” Garcia III), who is very shy. Since Teddo’s parents aren’t mentioned at this point in the story, it’s implied that they are dead.

Teddo has a much bigger problem than difficulty finding a job because he’s an ex-felon. His conscience has been weighing heavily on him because of the secret that he and Makwa have been keeping. The two cousins have not seen or spoken to each other in years, but Teddo decides he’s going to track down Makwa and confront him about this dark secret. Teddo also reaches out to Lisa Wolf (played by Sheri Foster), the mother of James. (Jennifer Rader portrays Lisa in the scenes that take place in 1985.)

There are some other things that happen in the movie that should be surprises but unfortunately are revealed in the “Wild Indian” trailer. It’s enough to say that Makwa/Michael is forced to deal with this secret, and he goes to extreme lengths to try act innocent. During this period of time, viewers see that Makwa/Michael has been fighting a compulsion to commit violent crimes against people.

For example, Makwa/Michael has a disturbing encounter with a stripper that is eerily similar to what real-life serial killers have done to victims who’ve had violent experiences with serial killers. After this incident, Makwa/Michael is seen frantically praying in a church. It shows he has some feelings of guilt over his horrific crimes, but whatever guilt he feels is overshadowed by his need for self-preservation and control.

“Wild Indian” shows how Makwa/Michael uses his con man skills to lie and and manipulate his way out of a few situations. The movie never shows what happened in the years between the James Wolf’s murder in 1985 and Makwa/Michael’s life in 2019, but it’s easy to see that Makwa/Michael’s reinvention isn’t just about covering up the murder. He now lives a life of privilege, which he uses to hs advantage when it comes time for him to get a lawyer.

As the sociopathic Makwa/Michael, Greyeyes gives a chilling performance, even if it is a little robotic at times. Maybe it’s just Greyeyes’ way of portraying someone who has no empathy. All the other supporting characters in Makwa/Michael’s orbit (except for Teddo) are somewhat two-dimensional. Not enough time is spent with these supporting characters to get a sense of who they are as well-rounded people.

Teddo is a much more interesting character to watch because his adult life is more difficult and complicated than Makwa/Michael’s life. Even though Teddo has more morality than Makwa/Michael, Teddo’s prison record automatically puts him at a disadvantage in how people will judge Teddo and Teddo’s credibility. Spencer gives the role a very compassionate nuance in how he portrays Teddo’s troubled soul.

“Wild Indian” doesn’t have a typical story arc that movies tend to have about people who’ve covered up of a murder years ago, and their past comes back to haunt them. This movie is more of a character study than a predictable criminal justice story. People who have a more realistic view of the world will probably appreciate “Wild Indian” more than viewers who expect movies like this to gloss over life’s harsh realities and wrap up everything nicely in a tidy bow.

Vertical Entertainment released “Wild Indian” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.

Review: ’12 Mighty Orphans,’ starring Luke Wilson, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker, Robert Duvall and Martin Sheen

June 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

“12 Mighty Orphans” Pictured in back row, from left to right: Preston Porter, Woodrow Luttrell, Sampley Barinaga and Jacob Lofland. Pictured in middle row, from left to right: Levi Dylan, Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Manuel Tapia, Austin Shook and Michael Gohlke. Pictured in front tow, from left to right: Slade Monroe, Jake Austin Walker, Bailey Roberts and Tyler Silva. (Photo by Laura Wilson/Sony Pictures Classics)

“12 Mighty Orphans”

Directed by Ty Roberts

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1938, mainly in Fort Worth, Texas, the dramatic film “12 Mighty Orphans” (based on a true story) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A high school football coach begins working at an orphanage, where he assembles a ragtag team of teenage football players, who must fight for respect and overcome several obstacles in football and in life.

Culture Audience: “12 Mighty Orphans” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in traditionally made “against all odds” sports movies.

Luke Wilson and Jake Austin Walker in “12 Mighty Orphans” (Photo by David McFarland/Sony Pictures Classics)

Unapologetically sentimental and earnest, the dramatic film “12 Mighty Orphans” is the type of movie that embraces its hokey tropes and ends up being a charming story. Most of the movie is utterly predictable, because there are so many underdog sports movies that have covered the same territory in a similar way. Somehow, it all works well for “12 Mighty Orphans,” which tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, a Texas orphanage football team that defied low expectations to go all the way to the Texas state championships.

People who already know this story probably won’t learn anything new, but this dramatic depiction is still compelling, thanks to commendable performances from the cast members. Directed by Ty Roberts (who co-wrote the “12 Mighty Orphans” screenplay with Lane Garrison and Kevin Meyer), “12 Mighty Orphans” is based on Jim Dent’s 2008 non-fiction book “Twelve Mighty Orphans: The Inspiring True Story of the Mighty Mites Who Ruled Texas Football.” The movie (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City) hits a lot of the same beats as other inspirational sports movies about underdogs.

There’s the coach who ignores the naysayers, motivates his team, and turns them into winners. There’s the talented but hotheaded team member who lets his temper get in the way of his sportsmanship. There’s the sneering coach from another team who can’t believe these ragamuffins could possibly be better than his team.

The movie, which takes place in 1938 during the Great Depression, begins with the introduction of Harvey Nual “Rusty” Russell (played by Luke Wilson), who has left a comfortable teaching position at a high school to take a teaching/coaching job at the Masonic Home, an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas, that has about 150 children in residence. Rusty has moved with his loyal wife Juanita Russell (played by Vinessa Shaw) and their two children: Betty Russell (played by Josie Fink and Lillie Fink), who’s about 4 or 5 years old, and another unnamed daughter, who’s about 6 or 7 years old.

Juanita, who will be teaching English at the orphanage, isn’t happy about this move because Rusty took this job without even discussing it with her. Rusty will be teaching math at the orphanage, but his true passion is coaching football. The orphanage’s doctor A.P. “Doc” Hall (played by Martin Sheen) recommended Rusty for the job, but Doc and Rusty don’t meet in person until Rusty and his family arrive on the premises. Doc is also a football enthusiast, and he becomes Rusty’s biggest ally at the orphanage. Doc also serves as the movie’s voiceover narrator.

To his shock and dismay, Rusty finds out that not only does the orphanage not have a formal football team but the orphanage also don’t have football uniforms. Doc also says that when the orphans do play footbal, they play during two seasons: One season where they can wear shoes, and they other where they don’t wear shoes. The orphanage is so financially strapped that there aren’t enough athletic shoes to last an entire year. Despite these obstacles, Rusty is determined to put a football team together and have the team compete with high school football teams in the league.

Rusty gets resistence from the orphanage’s corrupt chief administrator Frank Wynn (played by Wayne Knight), who physically and verbally abuses the male orphans. (Frank has a large paddle named Bertha, and he doesn’t hesitate to use it.) Frank also forces the male teenagers to work in an orphanage sweatshop to make garments and shoes that he sells for his own personal profit. Needless to say, the sweatshop work violates all types of child labor laws.

Frank thinks that the male teens in the orphanage shouldn’t be playing competitive football because he thinks the time spent on practice and games should be used for his grueling sweatshop work. However, Frank is overruled by his boss, who tells Rusty that Rusty can put together a football team, under one condition: “It’s very important that it does not interfere with the day-to-day [activities] of the home.”

Through a process of elimination (some of the boys don’t qualify for the team because of low grades), 12 teens (whose average age is 16 to 17) join the football team. They call themselves the Mighty Mites. The 12 members of the team are:

  • Hardy Brown (played by Jake Austin Walker), an angry young man who becomes the team’s star linebacker
  • Wheatie “C.D.” Sealey (played by Slade Monroe), who comes out of his bashful shell to become the team quarterback
  • Douglass “Fairbank” Lord (played by Levi Dylan), the pretty boy of the team
  • Leonard “Snoggs” Roach (played by Jacob Lofland), a foul-mouthed jokester
  • Leon Pickett (played by Woodrow Luttrell), an introvert
  • Miller Moseley (played by Bailey Roberts), the smallest player on the team
  • Cecil “Crazy” Moseley (played by Michael Gohlke), Miller’s brother who happens to be mute
  • Amarante Pete “A.P.” Torres (played by Tler Silva), who doesn’t say much in the movie
  • Gonzolo “Carlos” Torres (played by Manuel Tapia), who is A.P.’s brother
  • DeWitt “Tex” Coulter (played by Preston Porter), the tallest person on the team
  • Ray Coulter (played by Austin Shook), Tex’s brother
  • Clyde “Chicken” Roberts (played by Sampley Barinaga), a redhead who overcomes his fears to become a solid team player

Abusive orphanage administrator Wayne is the story’s biggest villain, but the movie also has other antagonists. Luther (played by Lane Garrison) is a cigar-chewing, arrogant businessman who has invested in a rival football team. He’s dead-set against letting the Mighty Mites play in the high school football league because he thinks the orphanage isn’t a legitimate school. “Orphan football,” Luther sasy to himself disgust. “That’s as dumb as letting women vote.”

During a football league hearing to decide whether or not the Mighty Mites can compete against other high school football teams, Luther objects because of the rule that a competing school must have at least 500 students. However, Rusty has found a clause in the rulebook that can make an exception for a team if the coaches of the other high schools give a majority vote to allow the team. Rodney Kidd (played by Scott Haze), who happens to be Luther’s brother-in-law, is presiding over the hearing.

Luther thinks that his family connection will give him an easy advantage in this battle. But to Luther’s anger and disappointment, the coaches of the other high schools vote by a majority to let the Mighty Mites compete in the league. It can be presumed that these other coaches probably thought that these orphans would be easy to defeat in football games, so that’s why they readily allowed the Mighty Mites into the league.

But as what happens in underdog stories like this one, the Mighty Mites were severely underestimated. They start winning games and become folk heroes. The team attracts the attention of businessman Mason Hawk (played by Robert Duvall, in a small role), who invests in the Mighty Mites. (“Apocalypse Now” co-stars Sheen and Duvall have a scene together in “12 Mighty Orphans.”) Later in the story, President Franklin Roosevelt (played by Larry Pine) becomes a Mighty Mites fan. Treat Williams has a small role as Amon Carter, founder/publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

And every underdog story seems to have emotional baggage and trauma. Hardy is a very talented football player, but he has an explosive temper that can get him into trouble. Why is he so angry? Before he came to the orphanage, he was found lying next to his dead father (who was murdered), and Hardy’s mother didn’t want to take care of Hardy, so she sent him to live in the orphanage.

C.D. also has a mother who abandoned him at the orphanage, when he was 7 years old, after C.D.’s father left the family. C.D. hasn’t seen his mother in the 10 years since then. When C.D. mother’s Wanda (played by Lucy Faust) unexpectedly shows up at the orphanage with her current husband, it leads to an emotionally raw confrontation that’s very melodramatic, but it fits well in this often-melodramatic movie.

Doc, who is a widower, has his own personal demons: He’s an alcoholic. And he confides in Rusty that his wife died during childbirth. Based on his tone of voice, Doc is still haunted by his wife’s tragic death. As for Rusty, he tells his football team during an emotional moment that he can relate to them because he’s an orphan too.

“12 Mighty Orphans” is the type of movie where Doc says in a voiceover about Rusty: “He knew that football would inevitably bring self-respect to the boys.” And there are plenty of “pep talk” scenes that are exactly what you would expect. As formulaic as this movie is, there’s still a level of suspense in the movie’s best game scene: the Texas state championship. Viewers who already know the game’s outcome can still be drawn in by the thrilling way that this game is filmed for the movie.

Rusty is portrayed by Wilson as an almost saintly mentor who never loses his temper, even when some of the boys on his team rudely insult him and each other. By contrast, Knight’s depiction of the loathsome Frank is almost a caricature of a villain. Out of all Mighty Mites, Walker (as Hardy), Monroe (as C.D.) and Lofland (as Snoggs) get the most screen time to showcase the characters’ personalities. All of the acting is believable, but sometimes hampered by corny dialogue.

“12 Mighty Orphans” was filmed on location in Texas, in the cities of Fort Worth, Weatherford and Cleburne. That authenticity goes a long way in this movie’s appeal, since so much of the film comes across as a made-for-TV movie. Is this movie going to be nominated for any awards? No, but it’s not a bad way to be entertained. And people don’t even have to be fans of American football to enjoy “12 Mighty Orphans.”

Sony Pictures Classics released “12 Mighty Orphans” in select U.S. cinemas on June 11, 2021, with an expansion to more cinemas on June 18, 2021.

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