Review: ‘Fresh’ (2022), starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan

March 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones in “Fresh” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

“Fresh” (2022)

Directed by Mimi Cave

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Fresh” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s thinks that she’s dating her dream guy, but when he kidnaps her and holds her captive in an isolated house in the woods, she finds out that he has terrible secrets. 

Culture Audience: “Fresh” will appeal primarily to people interested in suspenseful “women in peril” movies with unusually ghastly surprises.

Jojo T. Gibbs in “Fresh” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

The horror film “Fresh” is effectively terrifying and nauseating when the movie’s gruesome surprise is revealed. What will disturb many viewers the most is that it’s not just a contrived plot twist for a movie but something that could happen in real life. Because so much of what happens in “Fresh” is considered “spoiler information,” it’s best if viewers don’t know about this shocking plot development before seeing the movie. It’s enough to say that “Fresh” is definitely one of the more memorable horror movies that people can see in any given year.

“Fresh” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, so what happens in the movie was already leaked online by people who saw “Fresh” almost two months before the movie was set to premiere on Hulu in the United States. (Outside the U.S., “Fresh” is available on other Disney-owned streaming platforms.) Directed by Mimi Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, “Fresh” has all the elements of what could have been a formulaic film about a young woman held captive by someone she thought was a “nice guy.” However, thanks to above-average performances from the cast members and a taut thriller of a story that’s well-directed, “Fresh” is anything but an ordinary horror film.

The movie’s protagonist is Noa (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), who’s in her early-to-mid-20s, single, and looking for love, although she’s the first person to admit that she hates dating. Noa lives in an unnamed U.S. city that’s not on the East Coast, because on her first date with the man who will become her sadistic captor, Noa says that she’s originally from the East Coast. Noa is an only child. Her father is dead, and she’s estranged from her mother, whose whereabouts are unknown to Noa. This is information that she also tells on the first date with the man who will be her kidnapper.

Not much else is revealed in the movie about Noa’s life, except that she lives alone. Her sassy best friend (and apparently only friend) is named Mollie (played by Jojo T. Gibbs), who is openly queer or bisexual. Noa and Mollie met about seven years ago, when Noa moved to the area where they live now. Noa and Mollie also used to be co-workers, but it’s never revealed what Noa does for a living. Mollie currently works in an unspecified office job, where she’s seen using her computer to do some Internet sleuthing after Noa goes missing.

“Fresh” opens with a scene showing Noa on a bad date at a low-priced restaurant. It’s a casual date, so she’s wearing a sweater and jeans. Her date is a boorish egomaniac named Chad (played by Brett Dier), who gives Noa a sexist lecture about what she’s wearing on the date.

Chad tells Noa: “The women in our parents’ generation, they just cared more about how they dressed and how they looked. They were more into femininity. Nowadays, I feel like girls wear oversized everything, like it’s a blanket. I think you would look good in a dress—not that you don’t look good in a sweater.”

And to top off this date, Chad asks Noa for the leftovers on her plate, so that he can take this unfinished meal home with him. Needless to say, there’s no second date between Noa and Chad. When she tells him at the end of the date that she doesn’t think that they’re compatible, he calls her a “stuck-up bitch” before he walks away.

On a day after this bad date, Noa and Mollie are doing boxing exercises in a gym while Noa tells Mollie about this unpleasant dating experience. Mollie and Noa talk about a dating app called Puzzle Piece, but Noa has become cynical about online dating. Noa is also a homebody type, so going to bars or nightclubs to meet people isn’t really her thing. Mollie thinks that Noa is being too fearful and that Noa should take more risks when it comes to dating.

Noa is in a lovelorn state of mind when she goes shopping at a grocery store and she unexpectedly meets a handsome man named Steve (played by Sebastian Stan), who strikes up a conversation with her about grapes. Steve, who’s about 10 to 15 years older than Noa, has a somewhat awkward flirtation with her. She’s charmed by his apparent down-to-earth and self-deprecating nature, so when Steve asks for Noa’s phone number, she gives it to him without hesitation.

Steve doesn’t waste time in contacting Noa for a date. Their first date is at a mid-scale restaurant/bar. A bartender who works there is named Paul (played by Dayo Okeniyi), and he happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Mollie’s. During Noa’s first date with Steve, she tells Steve a little bit about her background, which is how he finds out that Noa lives alone and doesn’t have her parents in her life. Steve says that he’s a doctor who’s originally from Texas. “I work in reconstructive surgery,” he adds. Steve also mentions that his father is still alive, but his mother is dead.

When Steve mentions that he’s not on any social media, Noa says flirtatiously, “How am I supposed to stalk you now?” Steve quips, “You’ll just have to do it in person, the old-fashioned way.” At one point in the conversation, Noa blurts out to Steve: “I hate dating! People who believe in true love are fucking idiots!” With that comment, Noa reveals that she actually feels hurt and vulnerable when it comes to love. Steve is charming and attentive to Noa. He says all the right things and makes her feel attractive.

Although it’s not unusual for people to talk about their backgrounds on a first date, in hindsight, Noa could certainly be considered an ideal target for a kidnapper because of what she revealed to Steve on their first date: She lives alone, she’s an only child whose parents are not in her life, she doesn’t have a lot of close friends, and she doesn’t appear to have a job that requires her to work in-person with other people. It’s exactly the type of “profile” of someone who might not have a lot of people searching for that person if that person is kidnapped.

It isn’t long before Noa and Steve become lovers. Their relationship happens so quickly, Noa doesn’t have time to introduce Steve to Mollie, but she does tell Mollie about him. Soon after Noa and Steve have begun dating each other, he invites her to a weekend getaway at a place that Steve says will be a romantic surprise.

At this point, Noa and Steve have only known each other for about two weeks or less. It would be easy to judge and say that it’s too soon to go away for getaway trip with a lover you’ve known for less than two weeks. But there are plenty of real-life examples of couples who’ve moved in together after knowing each other for a very short period of time. “Fresh” realistically shows how easy it is for people to get caught up in quickie romances if the people in the relationship feel trust and have a mutual “connection” with each other.

Noa knows that things are moving very fast with Steve. Mollie expresses some concern too, but Noa sees no reason not to trust Steve, so she accepts his invitation to go on the trip, which they will take in Steve’s car. Steve tells her that they should spend the night at his place before they leave for their getaway destination in the morning. When Steve picks Noa up in his car to take her on this trip, she has no idea of what’s in store for her.

“Fresh” is yet another horror movie where the terror takes place in a remote wooded area. Steve’s getaway house is at a place called Cottage Grove. And because this is a horror movie, Noa soon finds out that she can’t get cell phone service in this isolated area. Not long after arriving at Cottage Grove, Steve hands Noa a drink. And the next thing that Noa knows, she has woken up alone in a room, with her right hand handcuffed to a bed.

Noa eventually finds out why Steve kidnapped her. The rest of the movie shows what Noa does to try to escape and if other people are involved in Steve’s sordid secret life. As this depraved kidnapper, Stan gives a chilling performance of someone with a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. Edgar-Jones is equally riveting as the trapped heroine who has to use her wits to try to escape from this horrible situation.

“Fresh” also has another heroine: Noa’s best friend Mollie, who actively does everything she can to find Noa when Noa goes missing. Mollie doesn’t have a lot of information about Steve, so her search for Noa is very difficult during the period of time when adults can’t be declared missing with law enforcement until 48 hours after the missing people were last seen. “Fresh” shows a lot of cruelty, but the friendship between Noa and Mollie is really at the heart of the film.

And as gory and unsettling as “Fresh” can be, the movie has some dark satire that brings some twisted comedy to this otherwise very grim horror story. The movie uses 1980s pop hits, such as Animotion’s “Obsession” and Peter Cetera’s “Restless Heart,” in scenes to juxtapose this nostalgic pop music with the current torture that is being inflicted in those scenes. There’s also a memorable scene where Noa dances with Steve, in an effort to let his guard down and make him completely trust her. “Fresh” is Cave’s feature-film directorial debut. And even though there are some predictable elements to “Fresh,” it’s an impressive first feature film and an indication that Cave is a talented filmmaker to watch.

Hulu will premiere “Fresh” on March 4, 2022.

Review: ‘The 355,’ starring Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Bingbing Fan

January 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Penélope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o in “The 355” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“The 355”

Directed by Simon Kinberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in Colombia, France, the United States, Morocco, the United Kingdom and China, the action film “The 355” features a racially diverse cast (white, Latino, black and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Five women from five different countries join forces to prevent a world-destroying computer hard drive from getting into the wrong hands. 

Culture Audience: “The 355” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s star-studded cast and spy movies that are big on action and lacking in believable and well-written stories.

Bingbing Fan, Lupita Nyong’o and Jessica Chastain in “The 355” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

If you’re going to do a “female empowerment” film set in the world of international espionage, then don’t make a movie that’s not just embarrassing to women but also to anyone who wants to make or see a good movie. Even with an all-star cast of headliners, “The 355” is just a silly parade of fight scenes to distract from all the plot holes and lack of logic in this witless spy caper movie. “The 355” has a very talented and experienced cast, but the entire story is so cringeworthy and badly conceived, it seems like it was made for a beginner student film instead of a major studio film starring at least two Oscar winners.

“The 355” was directed by Simon Kinberg, who co-wrote the atrocious screenplay with Theresa Rebeck. Kinberg is best known as a producer and writer of several “X-Men” movies. He made his feature-film directorial debut with the 2019 tedious train wreck called “Dark Phoenix,” which was a lackluster end to “The X-Men” prequel movie phase that began with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” “The 355” is another train wreck, but at least it has more adrenaline-packed action than “Dark Phoenix,” even if the action scenes are ridiculously staged.

“The 355” is about five women from five different countries who band together to stop the wrong people from getting a computer hard drive that’s capable of destroying the world. Four of the women have experience in international espionage, while the fifth woman is a “fish out of water,” which is just an excuse to have a woman act like a Nervous Nellie in a gun-toting action movie because she’s afraid of guns. The movie’s title refers to the code name for the unidentified female spy who was crucial in helping the Americans in the U.S. Revolutionary War. Some female spies are still referred to as 355.

The five heroines of the story are:

  • Mason “Mace” Browne (played by Jessica Chastain), a hard-driving American who’s an independent-minded agent for the CIA.
  • Marie Schmidt (played by Diane Kruger), a ruthless German spy working for an unnamed agency, who’s even more of a cold-blooded assassin than Mace is.
  • Khadijah Adiyeme (played by Lupita Nyong’o), a computer-savvy Brit who used to be an agent for MI6, but she left the agency to become a computer specialist.
  • Lin Mi Sheng (played by Bingbing Fan, also known as Fan Bingbing), a mysterious Chinese operative who plays the role of a wealthy art curator in charge of a pivotal auction in the movie.
  • Graciela Rivera (played by Penélope Cruz), a Colombian psychologist who unintentionally gets mixed up with these spies and spends a lot of time complaining about it.

The sought-after destructive computer hard drive is shown in the movie’s opening scene, which takes place 150 miles south of Bogotá, Colombia. A British financier named Elijah Clarke (played by Jason Flemying) has arrived at the palatial estate of a man named Santiago (played by Pablo Scola), who is obviously a shady character, based on all the menacing-looking armed bodyguards on his property. Santiago’s young adult son is a computer whiz named Jeronimo (played by Marcello Cruz), who has invented a computer program that can cause massive global destruction, including worldwide blackouts and aircraft explosions—all by doing a few keystrokes on a computer.

Jeronimo and Santiago proudly show off a few demonstrations for Elijah, by making a plane explode in the air and causing a citywide blackout in Bogotá. Jeronimo brags about his destructive computer program: “Try to make a copy, it deletes itself. I’m the only one who can make it.”

Meanwhile, a group of six Colombian National Intelligence Directory agents are hiding outside in a jungle near the estate. The agents are armed and ready to attack, because they think a major drug deal is happening in Santiago’s home. But they hear on their audio surveillance equipment that this isn’t a drug deal. It’s something involving computers and cyber destruction.

When the agents see the plane explode in the air, the agents go on the attack and raid the home. A shootout happens that leaves almost everyone in the house dead, except for Elijah (who made a quick escape) and a Colombian National Intelligence Directory agent named Luis Rojas (played by Édgar Ramírez), who takes the computer hard drive. Luis then decides to sell the hard drive to whoever is the first to pay him $3 million, because he wants to take the money and disappear with his family to have an anonymous, wealthy life.

Someone should’ve told Luis (and “The 355” filmmakers) that $3 million is a ridiculously low amount of money for this type of weapon that can cause global destruction. And it’s really not even enough money for a family to live on for the rest of their lives, if they want to be considered “rich.” It’s one of many poorly conceived details in “The 355,” which is one of the worst big-budget, major studio movies about international espionage in the 21st century.

The word gets out to various government intelligence agencies that this destructive computer drive is up for sale on the black market. As an example of how creatively bankrupt “The 355” is, the filmmakers don’t even come up with a name for the computer hard drive. The characters in the movie just keep referring to the computer hard drive as “the drive.”

“The 355” then shows how various people (heroes, villains and some people in between) try to get possession of “the drive” and all the dumb shenanigans that ensue. There are so many things wrong with how badly these operations are bungled. For example, this scenario is repeated to boring predictability in the movie: People who think they’ve stolen the drive find out that they don’t have it after all.

This computer hard drive is the equivalent of a deadly weapon, but no one in the movie takes any precautions to put this computer hard drive in any type of protective casing to avoid scratching or other damage. Time and time again, the drive is plopped into backpacks, mishandled and tossed around in so many fights, it’s a miracle that this hard drive comes out unscathed, as it does in this grossly unrealistic movie. And if this hard drive is a weapon of mass destruction that can’t be duplicated, then none of the “heroes” thinks of taking the obvious action, until toward the end of the film.

Another ludicrously awful thing about “The 355” is how it depicts spy agencies of First World countries as woefully understaffed and incompetent. It’s the only illogical reason to explain why these agents zip around the world with almost no accountability to supervisors, but they have miraculous access to resources that can only be cleared through supervisors. Major decisions about international security are staged to look like only one mid-level spy supervisor in each country makes all these important decisions, thereby completely erasing a realistic chain of command.

That’s what happens when Mace and her longtime spy partner/best friend Nick Fowler (played by Sebastian Stan) get assigned by their supervisor Larry Marks (played by John Douglas Thompson) to retrieve “the drive” in Paris. Larry’s CIA title is never revealed, but he’s not at the highest level, based on the small number of people who report to him and the low-quality office space where he works. The same could be said for Marie’s boss Jonas Muller (played by Sylvester Groth), who is later described as Marie’s closest confidant, even though he doesn’t really trust her.

Why do Mace and Nick have to go to Paris? It’s because the CIA somehow found out that Luis will be there at an outdoor cafe to sell “the drive.” Why choose an outdoor cafe where there could be dozens of witnesses, street cameras and many things that could go wrong in a public place? Why not choose a private place to do the deal in secret? Because it’s an idiotic movie like “The 355,” were so-called trained professionals make the dumbest decisions.

Mace and Nick have been assigned undercover identities for this mission, where they have to pose as American newlyweds named Joel and Ethel Lewis. And they just happen to sit right next to the same outdoor cafe table as Luis. Nick just happens to have a backpack that’s identical to Luis’ backpack. Luis, like a fool, leaves his backpack on the ground.

You know what’s in the backpack. Nick does too. And so does a cafe waitress, who is really German spy Marie going undercover. Nick and Mace try to distract Luis in a conversation, so that Nick can switch his backpack with Luis’ backpack when Luis isn’t looking. But what do you know: Marie, posing as a waitress with Nick’s order, spills the food and drinks on Nick, and then steals Nick’s backpack intead of Luis’ backpack. A person with common sense would’ve taken both backpacks, in order to leave nothing to chance.

The ruckus results in two simulatenous chase scenes: Mace chases after Marie, who ends up getting away in a subway train. Nick chases after Luis, who takes his backpack and runs away in a panic on a busy street. The chase scenes predictably have “near miss” scenarios where subways and cars get in the way, and it looks like people might be run over if they’re not careful. And after all that trouble, Marie finds out that she took the wrong backpack.

Luis goes into hiding at a hotel, but the Colombian government finds out where he is and dispatches Graciela to offer him therapy. “I’m the only one in the agency who really knows you,” Graciela tells Luis. It’s an obvious ploy to see if Luis will give up secrets about where he has “the drive.” And that’s how Graciela gets caught up in this battle for “the drive.” She finds out the hard way when she barely escapes a shootout that takes place when she’s walking with Luis through a fish processing facility, while Luis still has “the drive” in his backpack.

Graciela has a husband and two sons (the kids are about 6 to 9 years old) at home in Colombia, so the movie makes a big deal of Graciela being not just the only mother in the group of five heroines but also the only one who’s not trained to be a spy. Therefore, “The 355” has multiple scenes of Graciela lying to her family on the phone by telling them that’s she’s away on a safe business trip, while griping to everyone who knows the truth that she doesn’t belong in this dangerous mess.

Graciela is so afraid of guns, she doesn’t even want to touch guns. Why did Graciela choose to work for a government spy agency then? Couldn’t she be a psychologist somewhere else? Of course not, because then “The 355” wouldn’t have a stereotypical “I’m so not prepared to defend myself in fights” confused character that always seems to be in action movies that are plagued with the laziest clichés.

And here’s another lazy cliché for a spy movie: If a female spy is a lead character in the movie, then she has sex with a co-worker. That’s what happens when Mace and Nick hook up for real, shortly after they find out that they’re supposed to be posing as newlyweds. The movie drops big hints that Mace is secretly in love with Nick but she doesn’t want to admit it to anyone.

Nick has been hot and heavy to be “more than friends” with Mace for quite some time, but she tells him: “You’re my best friend. I don’t have anybody else. I don’t want to mess this up.” Immediately after she gives Nick this mini-lecture about wanting to keep things strictly professional between them, she starts seductively undressing in front of him in their Paris hotel room, and they have sex.

After the debacle of losing “the drive” in Paris, Mace goes to London to reconnect with her estranged friend Khadijah. Mace, who has now become a rogue agent, begs Khadijah to help her find Luis and “the drive,” as well as to get revenge on Marie. Khadijah, who has comfortably settled into civilian live with her understanding husband Abdul (played by Raphael Acloque), reluctantly agrees to help Mace on this mission. Abdul handles Khadijah’s decision to go on this mission and possibly be killed as casually as a husband being told that his wife is going away on an adventure trip.

More chase scenes and shootouts ensue. Marie poses as a police officer and whisks Graciela into her custody in a hotel room. Mace and Khadijah burst into the hotel room because they’ve been tracking Marie. They all decide they have a common enemy and decide to join forces. The scene where they decide to team up is so trite and overly contrived, you almost half-expect them to yell, “Girl power!”

Mace, Khadijah, Marie and Graciela end up in Morocco. And when an unimaginative action movie takes place in Morocco, you know what that means (cliché alert): a chase scene in a crowded outdoor marketplace in Marrakesh. And “the drive” gets bounced around in more backpacks and knapsacks.

After the hijinks in Morocco, the four women go to Shanghai, where there’s an auction of luxury art. That’s how Mace, Marie, Khadijah and Graciela meet Lin Mi, who is overseeing this event. And you know what that means (cliché alert): the female spies dress up in banquet attire so they can mix and mingle with elite society people at this auction. Predictably, it’s a scene where the women’s sex appeal is used as a distraction to men in at least two instances.

More clichés clog up the film. And almost all of them are unconvincing. One of the clichés is about someone who supposedly dies during a fight. But surprise! This person isn’t really dead after all.

This person’s “departure” is so abrupt and unrealistically handled in the movie, as soon as this person is announced as dead, it’s obvious that this person will be back in the movie at some point. The fake death subplot doesn’t take into account that many people (including a medical examiner) would have to see the body in order for a death certificate to be signed. Of course, “The 355” filmmakers assume that viewers are too dumb to know these facts.

“The 355” is so shoddily filmed, it’s obvious to tell who the stunt doubles are in the action scenes. In a scene where Mace and Marie are in a physical fight before they decide to team up, there’s a shockingly bad close-up where the face of Chastain’s stunt double can clearly be seen. Kinberg and Chastain are two of the producers of “The 355,” so they bear a lot of the responsbility for how this disaster of a movie turned out.

Beyond the stunts, some of the action scenes are plotted with absolutely no sense. There’s a scene were certain people are held captive in a house, then they are inexplicably let go (when in reality they would be killed by their captors), and the newly freed kidnapping victims find out that there’s an arsenal of loaded weapons in a nearby unlocked room. How stupid do kidnappers have to be to let that happen? As stupid as they are in “The 355.”

The acting in this movie is nothing special, and it often looks subpar because of the moronic dialogue. Khadijah is written as the most intelligent and level-headed of the five heroines, but she also just spews a lot of computer jargon that’s very phony. Unfortunately, Fan’s acting as Lin Mi is so stiff, it’s easy to see why she has the least screen time out of the five actresses—she doesn’t appear in “The 355” until the last third of the film.

Even though Marie is supposed to be the secretive “ice queen” of the group, ironically, she’s the only one of the five who’s given a backstory, so that she can have a scene where she gets emotional about her past. (It has to do with her father, who was also a spy.) It’s worth noting that Kruger replaced Marion Cotillard, who was originally cast in “The 355” as a French spy named Marie. Cotillard should feel relieved that she didn’t get stuck in this terrible movie.

Graciela is a one-note character, whose main purpose is to say variations of “I don’t belong here! I want to get back to my family!” Mace is a hollow shell that the filmmakers obviously want to portray as the group’s badass leader. Too bad they forgot to give Mace an intriguing personality.

“The 355” also perpetuates outdated and sexist movie stereotypes that the best female spies can’t possibly be mothers too. It’s no coincidence that in “The 355,” the only trained spies in this group of heroines are women who don’t have children. It’s a not-so-subtle message that if you’re a female spy, being a mother is supposed to ruin your chances of being great in your career. In reality, there have been plenty of prominent female spies who were mothers at same time they were spies. Mata Hari and Josephine Baker are just two examples.

One of the most laughable things about “The 355” isn’t on screen but it’s in the movie’s production notes. There’s a statement in “The 355” production notes about the intention of the movie: “Character, realism and authenticity were key to the filmmakers’ vision.” However, almost everything in “The 355” is the opposite of realistic. As a spy movie, “The 355” is as unrealistic as James Bond being a Russian astronaut becoming an American cowboy who starts working for the CIA.

Universal Pictures will release “The 355” in U.S. cinemas on January 7, 2022.

Review: ‘Monday’ (2021), starring Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough

April 21, 2021

by Carla Hay

Denise Gough and Sebastian Stan in “Monday” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Monday” (2021)

Directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos

Some language in Greek with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Athens, Greece, the romantic drama “Monday” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A musician/party DJ and an immigration attorney, who are both American and in their 30s, meet in Greece, impulsively hook up with each other, and try to deal with problems in their relationship after they move in together.

Culture Audience: “Monday” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching the annoying shenanigans of a badly mismatched couple in an uneven, overly long movie that irritates more than it intrigues.

Sebastian Stan and Denise Gough in “Monday” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

If you’re in the mood to watch two American lovers in their mid-30s act like immature, self-absorbed partiers while living in Greece, in a shallow story that mostly goes nowhere, then feel free to waste about 115 minutes of your time watching this movie. The actors seem to be putting their best efforts forward to make their characters as realistic as possible, but it’s not enough to salvage “Monday,” which is bogged down by a meandering story filled with bad clichés that viewers might expect to see in a frat boy movie. “Monday” also needed better editing, because there are too many scenes that drag on repetitively.

Directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos (who co-wrote the screenplay with Rob Hayes), “Monday” doesn’t tell a story as much as it strings together insufferable and often-dull scenes of a mismatched couple in Athens, Greece. It’s a movie about how two Americans meet in Greece, they quickly fall in lust with each other, and then they try to make their relationship work when they move in together after knowing each other for a few days. The biggest problem with “Monday” is that it’s more concerned with showing this couple’s antics instead of explaining why they ended up in this dysfunctional relationship.

The filmmakers of “Monday” might think the movie is “edgy” because it’s got full-frontal nudity (male and female), and it portrays people in their 30s acting like irresponsible brats in their early 20s. But “Monday” is just a series of rehashed stereotypes of any movie about young people who quickly hook up after they first meet. “Monday” director/co-writer Papadimitropoulos says in the movie’s production notes that the central couple’s relationship “is a very realistic take—maybe more than we can handle—on all relationships.” However, the “realism” that the movie is trying desperately to depict just comes across as very phony.

There’s even a “race to the airport” scene to stop someone from getting on a plane, which is an overused trope in movies about romance. It’s a trope that’s ripe for parody, but that “race to the airport” scene is in “Monday,” without any wit, irony or campy self-awareness. “Monday” has several of these types of lazy clichés littered throughout the film. Viewers who’ve seen enough of these types of movies will be constantly rolling their eyes at the cheesiness of it all.

The opening scene of “Monday” is a very “male gaze” trope of mostly attractive women (who might or might nor be intoxicated) dancing at a house party. The DJ at the party is named Mickey (played by Sebastian Stan), who is interrupted by the obnoxious party host Argyris (played by Yorgos Pirpassopoulos) because his friend Argyris wants to introduce someone to Mickey. Mickey is slightly annoyed at having to be pulled away from his work, but he obliges, because Agryis is technically his boss at this party.

Argyris (who is in his late 30s or early 40s) introduces Mickey (who is in his mid-30s) to a party guest named Chloe Gaines (played by Denise Gough), who’s also in her mid-30s but she mentions later in the movie that she’s older than Mickey. Before she meets Mickey, Chloe is seen drunkenly yelling into a phone to someone on the other line: “Fuck you, Christos!” It’s at this point in the movie that viewers can predict that Christos is her ex-boyfriend, and he’ll eventually show up in the movie. That’s because (cliché alert) movies like this always have at least one love triangle.

When Argyris introduces Chloe and Mickey to each other, he says it’s because they’re both American, as if that’s enough to make Chloe and Mickey compatible. In a very “only in a movie” scene, as soon as Chloe meets Mickey, she grabs him for a kiss, they start making out with each other, and they run out of the house together to have sex on a nearby beach. Meanwhile, Mickey seems to have forgotten all about the fact that he was in the midst of working as the party’s DJ.

The next morning, Mickey and Chloe wake up completely naked on the beach, and some families with young kids nearby express their shock and disgust. Someone has called the police on Mickey and Chloe for indecent exposure. Two cops (played by Michalis Laios and Mihalis Alexakis) are already at the beach when Mickey and Chloe wake up naked, so Mickey and Chloe get arrested and are hauled to a police station.

In the back of the police car, Mickey and Chloe introduce themselves to each other and tell each other their names for the first time. Yes, it’s that kind of movie. And apparently, Chloe and Mickey also forgot that that were already introduced to each other by Mickey’s friend Argyris.

At the small police station, the police chief (played by Giorgos Valais) on duty has this far-fetched reaction to the arrest: Once he hears that Mickey and Chloe are American, he asks, “Which basketball team do you support?” And he starts talking to them as if they’re having a conversation in a pub, not a police station. The police chief quickly lets them them go with no consequences and barely a warning.

Why? Because the filmmakers want viewers to think that when white Americans behave badly in other countries, it’s not only a privilege, it’s a right. At least that’s the attitude of Mickey and Chloe, as their boorishness gets a lot worse. Without giving away spoiler information about what happens later in the movie, it’s enough to say that this brush with Greek law enforcement won’t be the last time that Mickey and Chloe engage in illegal acts and have a run-in with the police in Greece.

The clichés continue about “irresponsible partiers in a movie.” Chloe finds out that she left her purse behind at the house where the party was held, so she asks Mickey for a ride back to the house. In the first of many signs that Mickey is floundering in his life, he has a motor scooter instead of a car. Chloe and Mickey go back to the house, but no one is there. Mickey calls Argyris to come back to the house so that Chloe can retrieve her purse.

The movie then has a somewhat dull stretch of Chloe and Mickey wandering around until she can get her purse. This self-centered couple actually spend some time asking questions about each other, but the information revealed is the bare minimum. It’s in this part of the movie that viewers will find out that Chloe is an immigration attorney who works on an independent contractor basis. She’s originally from the small town of Blanchester, Ohio, and has spent time living in Chicago. Chloe tells Mickey that she’s lived in Greece for the past 18 months, and she is moving back to Chicago in two days.

Mickey says that he’s originally from New Orleans, but he spent about 10 years living in New York City, where he was a musician in a band for an unnamed period of time. He’s been living in Greece for the past seven years. And he has a 6-year-old son named Hector, who lives nearby, but Mickey rarely sees Hector because Hector’s mother (Mickey’s ex-girlfriend Aspa Karas) had a falling out with Mickey. Mickey doesn’t go into details and will only say that trying to have a cordial relationship with Hector’s mother is a “work in progress.”

And during this “barely getting to know you” phase of their relationship, Mickey tries to persuade Chloe that she shouldn’t move back to the U.S. and that she should stay in Greece to be with him. Keep in mind, this is within 24 hours after they meet. Chloe hems and haws and acts offended that Mickey can be so presumptuous about what she wants and what will make her happy. But it’s not spoiler information to say that Chloe and Mickey end up living together, because their often-turbulent live-in relationship is about 80% of this movie.

“Monday” tries to fool audiences into thinking that Mickey and Chloe have a “love at first sight” romance, but any reasonable adult can see how the relationship is based mostly on sexual attraction, not true love. Mickey and Chloe say “I love you” to each other many times in the movie, but it doesn’t really appear to be that genuine. They’re saying it not because they mean it, but because they don’t want to be alone.

What made Chloe change her mind about living with Mickey? After Chloe and Mickey avoid jail time or any fines for indecent exposure, Chloe eventually gets her purse back, and she says what she thinks will be goodbye to Mickey. But then, that “race to the airport” scene happens, with Mickey running up to the metal detector area, just as Chloe has put her baggage on the conveyor belt.

Because Mickey isn’t a passenger with a ticket, a security officer is holding Mickey back as Mickey shouts at Chloe to get her attention. And the next thing you know, she’s moving in with Mickey. The only thing that’s slightly different about this moronic “race to the airport” scene is that it’s done fairly early on in the movie, instead of it being a typical climactic scene.

Part of the un-realism of “Monday” has to do with the huge gaps in Chloe and Mickey’s conversations before they move in together. Viewers never find out if Chloe or Mickey have ever been married or if they have any family members, except for Mickey’s son Hector. Chloe and Mickey are never shown asking each other these questions or talking about basic things people would want to find out about each other before they move in together as a couple. It’s one of many examples of how badly these characters are written.

And the entire time that Chloe knows Mickey in this story, she doesn’t seem curious to know anything about his son. She doesn’t even ask Mickey to see a photo of Hector. But there’s a whole section of the movie where Chloe tries to help Mickey get visitation rights to Hector. It’s all so “only in a movie” fake.

As for why the movie is called “Monday,” there’s a gimmick where many of the scenes start off with the word “Friday” in giant letters appearing on screen. The concept is that milestones in Chloe and Mickey’s relationship happen on a Friday. Chloe and Mickey met on a Friday. They also move in together on a Friday. You get the idea. And toward the end of the movie, something major is supposed to happen that will change Mickey and Chloe’s living situation. But that occasion (which won’t be revealed in this review) is scheduled to take place on a Monday.

Mickey lives in a two-bedroom condo that used to be owned by Argyris’ late grandmother, who had multiple properties that Argyris inherited. Argryis (who is Mickey’s closest friend) is weasel-like, crude and completely irritating. It’s implied that Argryis lives off of his family’s money because he doesn’t have a job, and his main priority is partying.

It’s easy to see why Mickey wants Argryis as a friend, because of all the perks that Mickey gets out of this relationship. It’s mentioned in the movie that Mickey gets to live rent-free in this condo. And as seen in the beginning of the movie, Mickey is hired to DJ at Argryis’ parties and can ditch the job whenever he feels like having sex with a stranger he just met at the party. The movie quickly fills up with examples of Mickey acting irresponsibly and facing no real punishment or consequences.

If people are wondering why Argyris has the same first name as the director of “Monday,” Papadimitropoulos explains it in the production notes: “The film was shot in places that I know like the back of my hand. The party where [Mickey and Chloe] meet is the same party I throw every year for my birthday. The beautiful island where they spend their first weekend together is the place I spent my last 25 summers and also the island I shot ‘Suntan’ on. Mickey lives in Kypseli—Greek for beehive—the bohemian and multicultural neighborhood of my youth. This is not only a cinematic game or an homage to places I love, it’s a way of making this feel even more personal.”

Personal? More like self-indulgent. Although “Monday” seems to have been inspired by Papadimitropoulos’ youthful memories, the arrested-development characters in the movie are just a little too old for their reckless antics to be considered endearing. It’s all actually quite pathetic.

Mickey hangs out with the type of men who think it’s funny to urinate or ejaculate in a woman’s drink without her knowledge, and then laugh when they tell her what she just drank. And since Chloe has no friends, Mickey’s friends become her friends. Most self-respecting adults would not want to be friends with people like Mickey and Chloe.

One of the more annoying aspects about “Monday” is how it wastes so much time on things that, at best, should have been deleted scenes. Chloe’s move-in day is a chore to watch, because viewers really won’t care about all the details of how Mickey got the truck to transport her furniture and other belongings. The movie spends at least 10 minutes explaining how Mickey got the truck. But apparently, that’s just an excuse to show Mickey and Chloe spontaneously pulling over on a street so that they can have sex in the back of the truck.

And viewers also won’t care to see an extensive segment showing how long it took to try to move Chloe’s favorite sofa into Mickey’s apartment. There’s visual repetition of Mickey and Chloe huffing and puffing while trying to move the sofa, and the sofa being dropped in frustration, because these dimwits refuse to accept that the sofa is too big to be carried up the narrow, winding staircase. (The building doesn’t have an elevator.)

Chloe whines about how it’s is her favorite sofa and she won’t abandon it. And yet, she apparently didn’t figure out early enough that the sofa was too big to be carried up the stairs. Instead, she wastes time trying to get someone to carry the sofa up the stairs, over and over. For an attorney, Chloe doesn’t have much common sense.

But then, later that day, after Chloe made such a big deal out of not wanting to get rid of her beloved sofa, she enthusiastically goes along when Mickey puts the sofa in the front of the building, he pours a bottle of liquor on the sofa, and lights the sofa on fire. This arson happens while Mickey has somehow gathered a lot of people to watch, like it’s some kind of bonfire party. And did we mention that he’s DJ’ing at this gathering too? It’s all just so stupid and contrived in this movie. The cops show up, but Mickey and Chloe run safely into their apartment with no consequences for committing this arson.

Mickey is fairly transparent about who he is, but “Monday” does a big disservice to the Chloe character by not giving her any depth or a real identity. She’s the one who makes the most sacrifices in this relationship, but the movie never gives any hints of why she has blown up her life to be in this dead-end relationship with Mickey. Chloe is given almost no backstory in this movie.

There are hints that Chloe is the type of person who worries about the future and likes to plan ahead. At one point in the movie, she says to Mickey if he ever asks himself, “What am I doing?” (As in, “What am I doing with my life?”)

Mickey flippantly says no, he never thinks that way. So what is Chloe doing with Mickey, who’s the epitome of an impetuous hedonist who only wants to live in the present? Opposites can attract, but there’s nothing in the movie that shows that these two have any real love for each other.

“Monday” tries to make it look like Chloe has somehow decided to get rid of her hangups after she’s met Mickey. But did she really? Viewers never find out what kind of person Chloe was before she met Mickey. There’s no indication of any past relationships she’s had, except with Christos (played by Andreas Konstantinou), who is depicted as a wealthy control freak.

Christos is not in the movie long enough to find out much about the relationship that Chloe had with him. Chloe doesn’t want to talk about Christos, and the movie doesn’t have flashbacks, but it’s inferred that she broke up with him. However, if Chloe ended the relationship with Christos because of his controlling nature, she’s jumped into another co-dependent relationship with Mickey. Most of what Chloe does in her relationship with Mickey is either cater to Mickey’s needs or enable his immaturity.

There are plenty of people whose careers are going well, but their personal lives are a mess. There are plenty of women who seem to have orderly lives but who have a pattern of going for “bad boys” who make their lives chaotic. Is Chloe that type of person? Viewers never find out. The filmmakers don’t want her to be a whole person. Her personality is essentially just a series of reactions to whatever Mickey says or does.

Based on things that are mentioned by people who know Mickey, it’s clear that he’s had an “I don’t want to grow up” attitude for a very long time, which explains a lot of things about how he lives his life. In one of the better-acted scenes in the movie, Chloe is sent by Mickey to have lunch with his ex-girlfriend Aspa (played by Elli Tringou), who is Hector’s mother, to discuss Mickey’s visitation rights for Hector. Aspa, who’s known Mickey longer than Chloe has, tries to burst Chloe’s bubble about Mickey, by warning her that Mickey is “a child.”

When Chloe speaks in glowing terms of how she and Mickey are in love, Aspa gives Chloe a reality check about Mickey’s selfishness. Aspa says that Hector speaks mostly Greek, but Mickey refuses to learn Greek and expects Hector to speak in English when Hector and Mickey communicate. Chloe brushes off this insightful information like a typical person in denial. Instead, Chloe chooses to think of Aspa as a bitter ex-girlfriend who’s jealous that Mickey has moved on to someone new.

It’s very telling that (1) Mickey would take the cowardly way out and not deal with the child visitation issue himself, by sending his new girlfriend to do the dirty work for him, and (2) Chloe was willing to do it. Can you say “doormat”? Later in the story, Chloe, not Mickey, comes up with the idea for them to learn a children’s song in Greek, as a way for Mickey to communicate with Hector in Greek.

The only indication that Mickey is making some attempt to be a caring father is that he has a room furnished for Hector, in case Hector comes to visit. Chloe knows that Aspa has denied visitation rights to Mickey, so Chloe volunteers to help Mickey with these legal issues, even though family law is not her specialty. In the meantime, Chloe wants to use Hector’s room to store some of her belongings. Mickey is very reluctant to allow it because of what the room represents. How this issue is resolved is an example of how awkwardly Chloe and Mickey have to navigate their relationship when they barely know each other.

While Mickey and Chloe are living together, Chloe decides to work from home until she finds office space. This arrangement turns out to be a hassle because Mickey, who makes some of his money by writing commercial jingle music, also works from home. Mickey’s home studio is in the living room, while Chloe’s “office” is in a room next door. It’s easy to predict some of the conflicts that arise.

There’s a tedious scene in the movie where Chloe and Mickey both have business meetings in their home with their respective clients at the same time. Not surprisingly, Mickey’s work involves playing music loudly, which disrupts the meeting that Chloe has with a man who wants to hire her for an immigration case. Mickey also gets into an argument with his client, who’s not happy with the music that Mickey created for the jingle. For some unknown reason, Argryis is in Mickey’s client meeting too, piping in with his opinions, even though Argryis doesn’t have a job and he has no discernable talent.

Chloe asks Mickey to keep the noise level down, but he barely does. Meanwhile, when Chloe finds out that the man she’s meeting with was referred to her by her ex-boyfriend Christos, she abruptly ends the meeting and tells this potential client that she can’t be his attorney. It’s easy to see that Chloe got upset as soon as Christos’ name was mentioned. Don’t expect this movie to give details on why Chloe and Christos broke up.

“Monday” gives a little bit more insight into Mickey’s past when his ex-bandmate Bastian (played by Dominique Tipper) shows up at Chloe and Mickey’s home, at Mickey’s invitation, because she’s in Greece to perform at a headlining show. Bastian is now a semi-famous solo artist who still lives in New York City. During their conversation, Bastian remarks to Mickey: “You’re not really happy unless you’re failing, and that’s why you left the band.”

It’s revealed that Mickey and Bastian used to be in a New York City-based band called Saint Claude. The band had a record deal and was doing pretty well, but Mickey quit toward the end of a successful tour. Mickey has some remorse, but not much. And it’s never explained why he quit, but it’s implied that he didn’t want to deal with any pressures that come with success. During her visit, Bastian tries to persuade Mickey to move back to the U.S. and work with her, but he immediately declines the offer.

After Bastian leaves, and Mickey and Chloe are lying in bed together, Chloe asks Mickey what Bastian meant by Mickey not being happy unless he’s failing. Mickey doesn’t really a straightforward answer, but he looks somewhat hurt and haunted, as if he knows that what Bastian said is entirely true. It’s one of the rare moments in the movie where someone shows some inkling of introspection.

But those moments are overshadowed by more shallowness and some drug-fueled antics. And, of course, there’s another cliché of a romantic drama that’s easy to predict the moment that Chloe is seen vomiting into a toilet in the middle of the day. And it’s not because she’s got a hangover.

Even without some of the insipid things that happen in this disjointed and wandering story, “Monday” fails on a very basic level of a romantic drama, by making the central couple so superficial. That doesn’t mean that they have to be likable. But viewers should feel like the couple can be relatable and that the romance is worth rooting for in some way, even if this duo is all wrong for each other. Chloe and Mickey’s romance is supposed to be the soul of this movie, but “Monday” is almost entirely soulless.

IFC Films released “Monday” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 16, 2021.

Review: ‘The Last Full Measure,’ starring Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson

January 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sebastian Stan and William Hurt in “The Last Full Measure” (Photo by Jackson Lee Davis)

“The Last Full Measure”

Directed by Todd Robinson

Culture Representation: Set in the United States and Vietnam, the male-centric military drama “The Last Full Measure” centers on predominantly white (and a few African American) characters who are connected in some way to the U.S. Air Force.

Culture Clash: The conflicting agendas of politicians, military officials and war veterans are depicted in the process of deciding if a deceased military man will get the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Culture Audience: “The Last Full Measure” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about military veterans and the Vietnam War.

Jeremy Irvine in “The Last Full Measure” (Photo by Wasan Puengprasert)

The military/political drama “The Last Full Measure” gets its title from the phrase used to describe the ultimate sacrifice that a military person can give in service. Inspired by a true story, this appropriately solemn movie chronicles the journey of Pentagon staffer Scott Huffman (a fictional chracter played by Sebastian Stan), who investigates a decades-long request for the Congressional Medal of Honor to be given to Vietnam War hero William Pitsenbarger, a U.S. Air Force Pararescue medic who died in combat in 1966, at the age of 21.

Pitsenbarger (nicknamed Pits) lost his life during a battle at Xa Cam My that was part of a secretive mission called Operation Abilene. He was a para jumper (or PJ), who saved approximately 60 men in the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division during his military service in the Vietnam War. The movie’s story unfolds in a way that is similar to a mystery, since Scott uncovers secrets that certain people in the government do not want to be revealed. According to “The Last Full Measure” writer/director Todd Robinson (who tried to get this movie made for 20 years), the fictional Scott Huffman character is a composite of himself, historian Parker Hayes and unnamed Pentagon staffers who fought for Pitsenbarger to get the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The beginning of the movie takes place in Washington, D.C., in 1999, when F. Whitten Peters (played by Linus Roache) abruptly retired from his position as U.S. Secretary of the Air Force. Knowing that he’ll soon be out of a job because he worked on Peters’ staff, Scott reluctantly takes an assignment from the smirky and arrogant Carlton Stanton (played by Bradley Whitford), a Pentagon public-relations employee who delights in giving to Scott what they both perceive as a trivial and distracting task—looking into a Congressional Medal of Honor request that has been rejected for decades. (Viewers can see from the get-go that Carlton will be the movie’s power-hungry villain who will do whatever it takes to climb the government ladder.)

At the time he is given the assignment, Scott is more concerned about where he’s going to find his next job.  He’s the father of a kindergarten-age son, and he’s expecting his second child with his pregnant wife Tara (played by Alison Sudol), who encourages him to approach the investigation with compassion and an open mind. The three people who are the biggest advocates for Pits to get his posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor are retired Air Force Sgt. Tom Tulley (William Hurt), who was Pits’ best friend and mission partner, and Pits’ parents Frank and Alice (played by Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd), who have never fully recovered from the untimely loss of their son.

Scott interviews them, as well as several U.S. military veterans who were eyewitnesses to Pits’ bravery, including Billy Takoda (played by Samuel L. Jackson), Ray Mott (played by Ed Harris), Jimmy Burr (played Peter Fonda, in his last movie role, which is essentially a camero) and Kepper (John Savage), who still lives in Vietnam. Scott travels all the way to Vietnam to interview Kepper, and during his conversation with Kepper, Scott has a powerful awakening. Through the interviews, Scott pieces together the puzzle of the ill-fated Operation Abilene that led the U.S. soldiers into a Viet Cong ambush. Showing uncommon bravery, Pitsenbarger refused a chance to escape and instead stayed on the battleground to help save lives and attend to the wounded, while also taking up arms to defend his comrades. The battle scenes are shown in flashbacks, with Jeremy Irvine portraying Pits.

But what really caused that deadly ambush at Xa Cam My? And how much did the U.S. government know but chose to hide from the public? As Scott gets closer to the truth, he knows that revealing the truth could destroy his career and possibly put his life in danger. It could also kill the chances of Pits getting a Congressional Medal of Honor if the full story comes out about Operation Abilene. It’s a tricky dilemma, because some of the same government people whose votes are needed to approve the Congressional Medal of Honor going to Pits are also the same people who could squash that request if Scott goes public with the full story.

During the course of the movie, viewers see Scott’s transformation as a somewhat rigid character who tends to see issues in black and white to someone who begins to understand that issues come in many shades of grey. For example, in one scene in the movie, Scott is assembling a crib and he refuses to look at the instructions, because “that would be cheating,” he says—an indication of not only his hardline approach on how to solve problems but also an assertion of how he perceives his strong masuculinity. But as the stories about Operation Abilene unfold, Scott begins to question his views on ethics in the context of war. He must also confront issues of patriotism and personal sacrifice—issues that can sometimes be at odds with each other and can be tested if it involves reporting government corruption.

Fortunately, Stan does an admirable job of portraying this metamorphosis in a realistic way. He and co-star Hurt have a few emotional scenes in the movie, which doesn’t veer too much into melodrama for the characters. In addition, “The Last Full Measure” respectfully handles the issues of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and how it not only affects war veterans but also their loved ones. The movie responsibly shows how people can react to PTSD in different ways and how military machismo sometimes hinders people from dealing with these issues in a beneficial and healing way.

Because “The Last Full Measure” is a male-oriented film and the military is a male-dominated field, the female characters don’t have much to do except play “the supportive wife” or “the supportive administration employee.” However, that doesn’t mean the women in this movie are doormats. In particular, Ladd’s Alice Pitsenbarger character shows inspiring determination to keep pushing for the family’s cause when her ailing husband’s health issues indicate that he won’t be around much longer.

“The Last Full Measure” is an engrossing and heartfelt story that might seem like a paint-by-numbers military movie because the ending is very easy to predict, but it stands out for its top-notch cast of stars (who all deliver convincing performances) and the fact that Vietnam War stories about the U.S. Air Force are rarely told in movies. At the end of the film, “The Last Full Measure” points out the extremely low percentage of Air Force people and even lower percentage of enlisted airpeople who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor. The movie is ultimately a tribute to U.S. military people, especially those who made personal sacrifices during wars, whether or not they made it out alive.

Roadside Attractions will release “The Last Full Measure” in U.S. cinemas on January 24, 2020.

Disney+ reveals plans for non-fiction programs; spinoff shows for Marvel, ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Monsters Inc.’ also in the works

April 10, 2019

by Carla Hay

Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen in "Captain America: Civil War" (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)
Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen in “Captain America: Civil War” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

Disney+, the streaming service that will launch before the end of 2019, has finally revealed some shows that will be part of the Disney+ lineup. The launch date for Disney+ and the premieres for these shows are still to be announced.*

And although it hasn’t been official announced yet, several media outlets (including Variety) have reported that Disney+ will have several spinoff series about Marvel characters played by the same actors who played the characters in the Marvel movies. Loki (played by Tom Hiddleston), Hawkeye (played by Jeremy Renner), Falcon (played by Anthony Mackie), Winter Soldier (played by Sebastian Stan), Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (played by Paul Bettany) will all have their own limited series.

There will also be spinoff shows for “Star Wars” and the animated film “Monsters Inc.” Disney owns Lucasfilm (the company behind the “Star Wars” franchise) and Pixar, the company behind several award-winning animated films such as “Monsters Inc.”

A scene from “The Mandalorian” (Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm)

“The Jungle Book” and “The Lion King” live-action director Jon Favreau is writing and directing the Disney+ “Star Wars” spinoff series, which is called “The Mandalorian.” In October 2018, Lucasfilm and revealed this synopsis for “The Mandalorian”: “After the stories of Jango and Boba Fett, another warrior emerges in the ‘Star Wars’ universe. ‘The Mandalorian’ is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order. We follow the travails of a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy far from the authority of the New Republic.” Directors for “The Mandalorian” include Dave Filoni, Deborah Chow,  Rick Famuyiwa, Bryce Dallas Howard and Taika Waititi.

According to a press release, the Disney+ series “Monsters at Work” reunites the original voice cast of “Monsters Inc.” (John Goodman, Billy Crystal, Jennifer Tilly, John Ratzenberger and Bob Peterson), who will be joined by new cast members.  The press release announces that the new characters are “Tylor Tuskmon (voiced by Ben Feldman), an eager and talented young mechanic on the Monsters, Inc. Facilities Team (MIFT) who dreams of working his way up to the factory Laugh Floor to become a Jokester alongside his idols Mike and Sulley. Starring alongside Feldman is Kelly Marie Tran as Val Little, Tylor’s lifelong friend and confidante; Henry Winkler as Fritz, the scatterbrained boss; Lucas Neff as Duncan, an opportunistic plumber; Alanna Ubach as Cutter, the officious rule follower; and Stephen Stanton as Smitty and Needleman, the bumbling custodial team. Aisha Tyler (“Archer”) voices Tylor’s mom, Millie Tuskmon.” “Monsters at Work” is produced by Disney Television Animation, and the series was developed and is executive produced by Disney animation veteran Bobs Gannaway with Ferrell Barron serving as producer. Kat Good and Rob Gibbs are directors.

A scene from “Monsters Inc.” (Image courtesy of Pixar/Disney)

Disney’s acquisition of several Fox entertainment assets (including Fox Studios, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox 21 Television Studios, FX Networks and National Geographic Partners) means that Disney+ is also expected to have Fox-related content. There has also been speculation about what will happen to the Marvel series that were canceled by Netflix (“Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” “The Punisher” and “The Defenders”), although the explicit content of those Marvel shows (which would get an R rating if they were movies) might prohibit them from being on the family-oriented Disney+ streaming service. Since Disney now owns a majority stake in Hulu, the more adult-oriented Disney content could end up on Hulu.

According to Variety, Disney has signed a two-year deal with production group Supper Club, whose credits include the non-fiction projects “Chef’s Table” series on Netflix and the documentary films “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and “13th.” Under the deal, Supper Club co-founders Brian McGinn, David Gelb and Jason Sterman will develop and executive produce non-fiction programs for Disney+ and other Disney-owned properties.

Kristen Bell (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Disney+ has announced these non-fiction shows, according to Variety:

  • “Be Our Chef,” hosted by Angela Kinsey, a cooking competition that pits diverse groups of families against each other for culinary showdowns at Walt Disney World. The show is produced by Eric Day and Mark Koops of INE Entertainment.
  • “Earthkeepers” (working title), a wildlife conservation show produced by Supper Club.
  • “Encore!,” hosted by Kristen Bell, a reality show that reunites cast members of high-school musicals. Jason Cohen created the show, whose executive producers are Cohen,  Bell, Alycia Rossiter, Will Gluck, Richard Schwartz, Jim Roush and Chris Wagner.
  • “Cinema Relics: Iconic Art of the Movies” (working title), a documentary series that examines the costumes and props of famous Disney films, including “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Muppet Movie,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and “Tron.” The show is produced by ABC Studios and executive produced by Jason Henry and Dan Lanigan.
  • “Marvel’s 616″ (working title), a pop-culture show produced by Supper Club and Marvel Digital.
  • “(Re)Connect,” a reality show that aims to reunite families who have been divided over a serious issue. The show’s executive producers are Mark Consuelos, Kelly Ripa and Albert Bianchini of Milojo Productions, and Julian P. Hobbs and Elli Hakami of Talos Films.
  • “Rogue Trip,” a non-fiction travel show that explores places off the beaten path from predictable tourist spots. Bob Woodruff and his son Mack Woodruff are show’s hosts, and will executive produce “Rogue Trip” with Jeanmarie Condon for Lincoln Square Productions.
  • “Shop Class” (working title), a reality competition where students of a shop class are tasked with making new inventions. The show’s executive producers are John Stevens and Spike Feresten of Hangar 56 Media and Richard Rawlings of Production Monkey
  • Walt Disney Imagineering documentary series (title to be announced), produced by Iwerks & Co. and directed by Leslie Iwerks.

*April 11, 2019 UPDATE: Disney+ has announced that its launch date is on Tuesday, November 12, 2019. The subscription rate is $6.99 (U.S. dollars) per month.

2018 ACE Comic Con Arizona: ‘Captain America’ and ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ stars confirmed to attend

October 5, 2017

"Captain America" star Chris Evans and "Spider-Man: Homecoming" star Tom Holland
“Captain America” star Chris Evans and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” star Tom Holland (Image courtesy of ACE Universe)

The following is a press release from ACE Universe:

Chris Evans, star of the worldwide hit “Captain America” movie franchise, and Tom Holland, who portrays Spider-Man in the Marvel hits “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and “Captain America: Civil War” are headlining the new ACE Comic Con Arizona at Gila River Arena, Jan. 13-15, 2018.

ACE Comic Con Arizona is a division of ACE Universe, a newly launched experiential events company created by brothers Gareb and Stephen Shamus.  With 20 years of experience and 175 Comic Con shows under their belts, the brothers are creating a new immersive experience that looks to redefine the industry and break the mold of the linear Comic Con business.

Along with Evans and Holland, other confirmed guests include Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier – “Captain America”), Anthony Mackie (The Falcon – “Captain America”), Hayley Atwell (Agent Peggy Carter – “Captain America”), Laura Harrier (Liz – “Spider-Man: Homecoming”), and Jacob Batalon (Ned – “Spider-Man: Homecoming”).  More guests will be announced soon, including superstars from World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

VIP Admissions, Photo Ops and Autographs are on sale now at  General Admission Tickets can be purchased online at Ticketmaster ( starting at 10 a.m. PST on Tuesday, Oct. 10. Additional ticketing information also can be found at

“When we first went to Gila River Arena, we knew we had found the right home for our next big event,” said Gareb Shamus, ACE Universe Chairman and CEO.  “We believe the fans will fall in love with this new style of Comic Con and we can’t wait for everyone to enjoy everything the weekend will have to offer, which includes the opportunity to watch all of the can’t-miss programming on the arena Jumbotron.”  ACE Universe has secured an exclusive Marvel Comic variant cover to Captain America #495, drawn by Good Charlotte lead guitarist and illustrator Billy Martin.  This book is exclusive to box office buyers and VIPs.  Martin will be on hand all three days to sign the books, which feature Captain America and Spider-Man, in an homage piece of art to the great Todd McFarlane. 

ACE Universe also has partnerships across key sectors including technology, media, entertainment, gaming, publishers, manufacturers, licensors and retailers to help create a robust experience for fans.

Additionally, ACE Universe will be the first to provide FREE global live streaming to fans with wall-to-wall coverage of the entire Comic Con.  Now, all fans can enjoy access to top-tier talent, breaking news and on-site programming as every aspect of the show will be fully streamed, social media friendly, and available on mobile devices.

Chris Evans, Tom Holland and the casts of both films are global box office stars that provide fans a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet and greet with their favorite super heroes,” said Stephen Shamus, President of ACE Universe.  “When you listen to the fans, these are the stars that are most requested, so securing the main cast members from both Marvel franchises makes this a can’t miss weekend.  We also haven’t forgotten the WWE fans, some of the most excitable fans in the world.”

ACE Comic Con Arizona is the second of the new ACE Comic Cons, with the debut event set to take place at NYCB Live:  Home of the Veterans Memorial Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, NY, Dec. 8-10.  In addition to these two shows, ACE Universe will announce more 2018 dates, cities and ticket information at and on the ACE Comic Con social channels at or @acecomiccon on Instagram and Twitter.

ACE Universe ( is a New York-based media and experiential events company founded by Gareb and Stephen Shamus, who are the world’s most experienced producers of Comic Con conventions.  Stephen has personally produced over 175 Comic Con events, booked thousands of celebrity guests, and played host to millions of happy fans.  Gareb is a leading pop-culture expert, founder of the largest Comic Con tour in the world, an original producer of national Comic Cons, and publisher of multiple award-winning magazines published in 75 countries worldwide.  ACE Universe produces premium events in world-class venues that feature the best of Film, TV, Gaming, Virtual Reality, Collectibles, Comics, Original Art, Toys, Action Figures, Graphic Novels, Illustrators, Writers, Creators, and Entertainment Programming.  Fans can live stream all ACE Universe events at and engage with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

November 3, 2017 UPDATE:

(“Captain America” star Chris Evans, Stan Lee and “Spider-Man: Homecoming” star Tom Holland Image courtesy of ACE Universe)

The following is a press release from ACE Universe:

Stan Lee, co-creator of Spider-Man, world-renowned comic book writer and former publisher of Marvel Comics, has been added to the star-studded lineup for ACE Comic Con Arizona, which will take place Jan. 13-15 at Gila River Arena in Glendale.

Lee is known as the creative force behind Marvel Comics and was a co-creator for numerous popular Marvel characters, including Spider-Man.  He also is credited with re-launching Marvel’s Captain America in the 1960s.

“We are committed to bringing fans the best of the best guests, and today’s announcement reinforces this commitment,” said Stephen Shamus, President of ACE Universe. “Stan Lee is an iconic figure, and having the opportunity to take a Photo Op with his superhero creations come to life – Captain America & Spider-Man (Chris Evans & Tom Holland), will create a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Taking a Photo Op with all three will be a truly historic moment.”

Lee will be available for dual photo opportunities with Captain America (Chris Evans) and Spider-Man (Tom Holland), as well as a triple photo opportunity with both characters together.  Additionally, Lee will be doing solo photo opportunities and autograph sessions, and take part in a panel discussion which will be live streamed to fans around the world.

Lee also will participate in “Comic Con” night at the Arizona Coyotes – Edmonton Oilers game on Friday, Jan. 12, the night before the kickoff of ACE Comic Con Arizona.  Lee will be on hand to drop the puck to start the game, and a variety of other ACE Comic Con Arizona artists and vendors will be available on the concourse for autographs signings and merchandise sales.

ACE Comic Con Arizona officials announced one additional change to the weekend lineup.  Hayley Atwell (Agent Peggy Carter – “Captain America”), who was scheduled to appear both Saturday and Sunday, will now only appear on Sunday as she booked a role in a play. All Saturday ticket holders with VIP packages, photo ops or autographs including Hayley will be notified via email with instructions on how to exchange tickets for Sunday, or to get a refund.

ACE Comic Con Arizona is a division of ACE Universe, a newly launched experiential events company created by brothers Gareb and Stephen Shamus.  With 20 years of experience and 175 Comic Con shows under their belts, the brothers are creating a new immersive experience that looks to redefine the industry and break the mold of the linear Comic Con business.


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