Review: ‘Acidman,’ starring Thomas Haden Church and Dianna Agron

April 30, 2023

by Carla Hay

Thomas Haden Church and Dianna Agron in “Acidman” (Photo by John Matysiak/Brainstorm Media)


Directed by Alex Lehmann

Culture Representation: Taking place in Azalea, Oregon, the dramatic film “Acidman” features a predominantly white cast of character (with one African American) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married woman in her 30s goes to a remote area to reconnect with her estranged father, who is living in isolation and obsessed with looking for UFOs and outer-space beings that he thinks are visiting Earth. 

Culture Audience: “Acidman” will appeal primarily to people who fans of the movie’s headliners and who are interested in watching a boring film about boring people.

Thomas Haden Church and Dianna Agron in “Acidman” (Photo by John Matysiak/Brainstorm Media)

“Acidman” might have been better as a short film. Except for a few emotionally charged moments, this tepid drama about an adult daughter reconnecting with her estranged reclusive father is dragged down by dull and listless scenes. It’s a conversation-driven movie that doesn’t have much to say for most of the film. “Acidman” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival.

Directed by Alex Lehmann (who co-wrote the stagnant “Acidman” screenplay with Chris Dowling), “Acidman” wanders from one scene to the next, with mot much purpose but to repeatedly show awkward conversations between this estranged father and daughter. The movie was filmed on location in a woodsy area of Azalea, Oregon, but this gorgeous scenery isn’t enough to elevate the movie from its dreadfully drab tone.

In the beginning of “Acidman,” a woman in her 30s named Maggie (played by Dianna Agron) has driven to this remote, wooded area to visit her father Loyd (played by Thomas Haden Church), whom she hasn’t seen in about 10 years. Loyd lives in a small, run-down trailer house that is very cluttered inside. His only companion is a male German Shorthaired Pointer named Migo.

Viewers find out later in the movie that Loyd used to be an engineer, but he “dropped out” of society when Maggie was about 9 or 10 years old. Loyd quit his job, left his wife and their two children, and lived a nomadic existence where he cut off contact with almost everyone in his previous life. Loyd’s abandonment has left Maggie with lingering feelings of resentment toward her father and insecurity about herself.

Maggie says at one point in the movie that Loyd hadn’t been returning her recent messages, and she went to a lot of trouble to find his current address. When she showed up at the house, Maggie says she wasn’t even sure if she had the correct address. Loyd doesn’t look very pleased to see her, but he isn’t hostile toward Maggie. He asks her how long she plans to stay for her unannounced visit. She says she’ll be staying for no more than two days.

During their conversations, more information emerges about Maggie and Loyd. Maggie is married to a graphic designer named Ben, whom Loyd didn’t know about until this visit. Maggie, who describes Ben as a “good person,” is quick to tell Loyd that she and Ben had a very small wedding ceremony at a local town hall. The guest list was so small, Maggie’s mother and Maggie’s brother Bucky were not invited to the wedding.

As for Loyd, he spends much of his time looking for UFOs, which are his obsession. He also has some music equipment in his home, where he makes music that he describes as “a lot of harmonic distortion” that he mixes with the sound of inanimate objects. It’s never mentioned where Loyd (who doesn’t have a job) gets money to live, but it’s possible that he has a pension, and he looks old enough to be eligible for Social Security benefits.

Loyd makes several comments that indicate he’s taken a lot of mind-altering drugs in his life, which might or might or might not have affected his mental stability. It’s possible he already had mental health issues even if he didn’t take drugs. When Maggie notices that Loyd has numerous yellow objects in his home (including Post-It notes all over the walls), she asks him: “What’s with all the yellow?” Loyd replies, “It’s a safe color.”

At the crack of dawn, Loyd is about to make a his daily visit to a hilly area with Migo, for what Loyd calls a “brain smash.” Maggie doesn’t know yet how obsessed Loyd is with UFOs, but she’s about to find out. Maggie is curious about what Loyd means by a “brain smash,” and she insists on going with Loyd to what she thinks will be a regular walk in the woods.

When they get to the top of the hill, Loyd shows her flashing red lights in the sky. He says these lights are outer-space aliens communicating by Morse code. He also films the lights to add to his large video collection of what he says are UFOs. Loyd tells Maggie: “There’s so much mankind doesn’t want to know about. It’s a shame.” He comments on the UFOs: “They don’t stay long. They just drop by to let me know they’re around. Interplanetary drive-by.”

Loyd adds, “Just to be clear: They reached out to me first, about three years ago … They knew I was listening.” At this point, Maggie doesn’t seem too alarmed by Loyd’s UFO ramblings, but later it begins to sink in with her that Loyd’s life revolves around these UFO sights. And it concerns her that Loyd has such an isolated existence and doesn’t get regualr medical check-ups, even though she knows there’s no chance that she can get Loyd to change his ways.

Why is this movie called “Acidman”? When Maggie first arrived at Loyd’s home, she sees the word “Acidman” written in orange paint on the front of the house. It’s because Loyd has a reputation for seeing UFOs, while the local skeptics think Loyd’s “UFO sightings” are really just hallucinations from LSD (acid) trips. Loyd tells her that some young mischief makers in the area committed this vandalism of his property. As a kind gesture, Maggie eventually paints over this graffiti.

Later, four of these young men drive by the house in a truck, yell “Acidman,” and throw eggs at the house. Loyd fires his shotgun to scare them off, but this scene is not as interesting or dramatic as it could have been. It’s also one of many scenes that are put in the movie as filler and don’t really go anywhere or lead to anything particularly insightful.

During her visit, Maggie and Loyd talk about mundane things, such as a seedling that they planted in the woods that has now grown into a small tree; happy memories of when they used to go fishing together; and Maggie’s experiences playing basketball when she was about 6 to 8 years old. The movie has some generic flashback scenes of Loyd and “Acidman” has flashback scenes of Loyd and Maggie as a child (played by Miranda O’Brien) spending father-daughter time together at places such as the beach.

Loyd used to encourage Maggie’s basketball playing back then, even though she describes herself as a mediocre basketball player, and it’s one of the few memories she has of her Loyd being a good father. The movie has a very tedious subplot about what Loyd and Maggie used to call Slamdunk Tuesdays, which was a family ritual for them: When Maggie was a child, they would spend father-daughter time on Tuesdays to talk about any basketball activities that she had. Maggie used to write in her childhood journal about Slamdunk Tuesdays.

Eventually, this small talk between Maggie and Loyd gives way to bigger issues that need to be confronted. Maggie tells Loyd that she wants to know the real reason why Loyd abandoned his family. Loyd tells her he left because he was tired of dealing with people in his life, including his family and work collegaues, whom he calls “cynics, skeptics and traitors” for wanting to live in what he thinks is a fake society. A tearful Maggie asks if there could have been anything she could’ve done to change his mind about leaving. The expression on Loyd’s face says it all.

Loyd sometimes eats at a local diner, where he knows a friendly waitress named Charlie (played by Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris), who briefly met Maggie when Maggie stopped at the diner before heading to Loyd’s home. Charlie’s screen time in the movie is less than 10 minutes, but she might as well have not been in the movie at all. The conversations between Maggie, Loyd and Charlie are so montonous and pointless, the scenes with Charlie could have been cut from the movie, and it wouldn’t make a difference to the story.

At one point, Loyd has a confrontation with two hunter trespassers on his property. It leads to the only thing in the movie that has a little bit of suspense, but it doesn’t last long. It’s just yet another thing in “Acidman” that happens and then it’s not really spoken about or addressed again in the story.

Maggie has a secret that Loyd is able to figure out from the way that she is acting with him and choosing this particular time in her life to reconnect with him. It’s a secret that’s not too surprising. “Acidman” has moments where Maggie shows she’s worried about Loyd, but then she goes right back into indulging in his UFO obsessions.

The movie gives a little bit of an indication of Maggie’s talent for writing short stories and poems as a child. But that’s the extent of what is revealed about Maggie’s interests. By making her such a vague character, “Acidman” doesn’t show enough of who Maggie is to make viewers care enough about the life she was able to have without her father. As for Loyd, he’s just a stereotype of a self-absorbed grouch who happens to be UFO-obsessed weirdo. By the time that the underwhelming ending of “Acidman” happens, viewers won’t remember much about this bland film because the movie didn’t have much to offer in the first place.

Brainstorm Media released “Acidman” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 31, 2023.

Review: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei

December 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Directed by Jon Watts

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the superhero action film “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After 17-year-old Peter Parker has been exposed as the alter ego of Spider-Man, he enlists the help of mystical superhero Doctor Strange to make people forget this secret identity, but Doctor Strange’s spell brings several allies and enemies back from various dimensions of the Spider-Verse. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will appeal primarily to people who like nostalgia-filled superhero movies and who are fans of this movie’s star-studded cast.

Tom Holland and Alfred Molina) in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Just like an artist’s greatest-hits box set offered to fans who already own every album by the artist, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is best appreciated by people who’ve already seen all the previous “Spider-Man” movies. It’s filled with insider jokes that will either delight or annoy viewers, depending on how familiar they are with the cinematic Spider-Verse. Simply put: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is an epic superhero feast for fans, but it should not be the first “Spider-Man” movie that people should see. There are too many references to other Spider-Man movies that came before “Spider-Man: No Way Home” that just won’t connect very well with people who have not seen enough of the previous “Spider-Man” movies.

Fortunately for the blockbuster “Spider-Man” movie franchise (which launched with 2002’s “Spider-Man,” starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man), most people who watch “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will have already seen at least one previous “Spider-Man” movie. Maguire also starred in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” and 2007’s “Spider-Man 3.” Andrew Garfield starred as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in two of the reboot movies: 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Another “Spider-Man” movie reboot series began with Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, starting with 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and continuing with 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the third “Spider-Man” movie directed by Jon Watts and co-written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, the same writer/director team behind 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” There were six screenwriters (including Watts, McKenna and Sommers) for 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which was also directed by Watts. The trio of Watts, McKenna and Sommers for three consecutive “Spider-Man” movies has been beneficial to the quality of the filmmaking.

Each “Spider-Man” film that this trio has worked on truly does feel connected to each other, compared to other franchise films where different directors and writers often change the tone of the sequels, and therefore the sequels feel disconnected. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” also makes several references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which Spider-Man/Peter Parker (as portrayed by Holland) was a big part of, in his alliance with the Avengers. It’s another reason why it’s better to see previous Marvel-related movies with Spider-Man in it before seeing “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Because Spider-Man is Marvel Comics’ most popular character, you’d have to be completely shut off from pop culture to not at least know a few things about Spider-Man, such as he got his agility superpowers by accidentally being bit by a radioactive spider. Just like many superheroes, Peter is an orphan: His parents died in a plane crash, so he was raised by an aunt and an uncle. Even with knowledge of these basic facts about Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it really is best to see all or most of the previous “Spider-Man” films, because the jokes will be funnier, and the surprises will be sweeter.

Speaking of surprises, the vast majority of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has spoiler information. However, it’s enough to give a summary of what to expect in the first 30 minutes of this 148-minute film without revealing any surprises. The beginning of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” picks up right where “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left off: Peter Parker—an intelligent and compassionate 17-year-old student who lives in New York City’s Queens borough—has been exposed as the secret alter ego of superhero Spider-Man. The culprit who exposed him was the villain Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s seen briefly in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in the opening scene that shows the aftermath of this exposé.

All hell breaks loose, because Mysterio has twisted things to make it look like Spider-Man is a villain, not a hero. Peter and his girlfriend MJ (played by Zendaya) are caught in the middle of a crowded New York City street when Peter’s Spider-Man identity is exposed. And the backlash is immediate. Before getting into any harmful physical danger, Spider-Man puts his superhero skills to good use by whisking himself and MJ to safety.

However, the Department of Damage Control quickly detains Peter, MJ, Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds (played by Jacob Batalon) and Peter’s aunt May Parker (played by Marisa Tomei) for questioning. And who shows up to give some legal advice? Attorney/blind superhero Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox), who makes a very brief cameo. Matt says, “I don’t think any of the charges will stick. Things will get even worse. There’s still the court of public opinion.”

There’s not enough evidence to hold Peter and his loved ones in the interrogation rooms, so they go back home and ponder their next move. But how long can they stay safe, when people know where Peter lives and where he goes to school? Spider-Man has been branded as a troublemaker by certain people, such as fear-mongering journalist-turned-conspiracy theorist J. Jonah Jameson (played by J.K. Simmons), who no longer works as the editor of the Daily Planet newspaper. Jameson is now anchoring, a 24-hour news streaming service.

However, Spider-Man is still a hero or an anti-hero to many more people. When Peter goes back to school the next day, he’s treated like a celebrity. Students surround him to take photos and videos with their phones. Faculty members fawn over him. Conceited and bullying student Flash Thompson (played by Tony Revolori), one of Peter’s nuisances at school, tries to latch on to Peter’s newfound fame by now claiming to be Peter’s best friend. Flash has already written a tell-all memoir to cash in on Peter’s celebrity status.

Peter, MJ (whose real name is Michelle Jones) and Ned are in their last year at Midtown School of Science and Technology. They have plans to go to the prestigious Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT) together after they graduate from high school. But due to their high-profile brush with the law, the three pals are worried about their chances of getting into MIT.

This hoped-for MIT enrollment becomes the motivation for Peter to go to fellow New York City-based superhero Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to ask for his help. Peter wants Doctor Strange to cast a spell so that people will forget that Peter is really Spider-Man. Doctor Strange is reluctant, but he gives in to Peter’s pleading. As Doctor Strange is casting his Spell of Forgetting, Peter interrupts several times to tell Doctor Strange to exempt some of Peter’s loved ones (such as MJ, Ned and May) from the spell.

Doctor Strange is extremely annoyed, so he cuts the spell short and is able to contain the spell’s powers in a cube-sized box. But some damage has already been done: The spell has opened the multi-verse where anyone who knows who Peter Parker can be summoned and go to the dimension where Peter is. And some of these individuals are villains from past “Spider-Man” movies. Doctor Strange gives Peter/Spider-Man the task of capturing these villains to imprison them in Doctor Strange’s dungeon that looks like a combination of a high-tech jail and a mystical crypt.

The return of some of these villains has already been announced through official publicity and marketing materials released for “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” so it’s not spoiler information. These villains are:

  • Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe), from 2002’s “Spider-Man”
  • Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, also known as Doc Ock (played by Alfred Molina), from 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”
  • Flint Marko/Sandman (played by Thomas Haden Church), from 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”
  • Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (played by Rhys Ifans), from 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”
  • Max Dillon/Electro (played by Jamie Foxx), from 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some other surprises, some of which have already been leaked to the public, but won’t be revealed in this review. A few other non-surprise characters in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” include Doctor Strange’s portal-traveling sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong), as well as Harold “Happy” Hogan (played by Jon Favreau), Tony Stark/Iron Man’s loyal driver who is now taken on minder duties for Peter. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Happy and May had a fling that ended. Happy fell in love with May and wanted a more serious romance with her, so he is still nursing a broken heart about it in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The movie’s action sequences are among the most memorable in “Spider-Man” movie history, in large part because of the return of so many characters from the past. A lengthy part of the movie that takes place on the Statue of Liberty will be talked about by fans for years. Because so much of “Spider-Man” relies heavily on people knowing the history of this movie franchise to fully understand the plot developments and a lot of the dialogue, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will probably be a “love it or hate it” film.

The movie’s mid-credits scene directly correlates to the mid-credits scene for 2021’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” And the end-credits scene for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a glimpse into the world of Doctor Strange. People should know by now that movies with Marvel characters have mid-credits scenes and/or end-credits scenes that are essentially teasers for an upcoming Marvel superhero movie or TV series.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some wisecracking that seems a little too self-congratulatory, but those smug moments are balanced out with some heartfelt emotional scenes. And all the jumping around from one universe dimension to the next might be a little too confusing to viewers who are new to the Spider-Verse. Some people might accuse “Spider-Man: No Way Home” of overstuffing the movie with too much nostalgic stunt casting as gimmicks. However, die-hard fans of the franchise will be utterly thrilled by seeing these familiar characters and will be fully engaged in finding out what happens to them in this very entertaining superhero adventure.

Columbia Pictures will release “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021.

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