Culture Representation: Taking place in Denver, the dramatic film “Sanctuary” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A dominatrix’s client tries to end his relationship with her, but she has other plans.
Culture Audience: “Sanctuary” will primarily appeal to people who are interested in watching well-acted dramas where the main characters play a lot of mind games.
Role playing and power struggles are at the center of “Sanctuary,” a talkative psychological drama about a dominatrix and her client. The dialogue can get repetitive, but the cast members’ lively performances make the conversations more compelling. The movie (which has some dark comedic elements) does a fairly interesting presentation of the age-old question about sex workers and their clients: What should be done when the relationship might become more than transactional? “Sanctuary” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by and written by Micah Bloomberg, “Sanctuary” could easily have been a stage play. That’s because almost everything in the movie (except for flashback scenes) takes place in a hotel suite, with a very long conversation as the basis of the story. The conversation takes place between a dominatrix named Rebecca (played by Margaret Qualley) and her client named Hal Porterfield (played by Christopher Abbott), during and after one of their sessions.
“Sanctuary” (which takes place in Denver but was actually filmed in New York state) doesn’t reveal until after the first 15 minutes that Rebecca and Hal are in a dominatrix/client relationship. The opening scene shows Rebecca arriving at the Hal’s hotel suite. He’s the scion of Porterfield Hotels and Resorts.
Rebecca, who says she’s from the Lichter-Haynes law firm, is there to “interview” Hal for a liability affidavit that is included in a background check. It’s part of an evaluation process that Hal has to go through to determine if he’s acceptable to the company’s board of directors, who have to decide whether or not Hal will get the company’s CEO position. Hal seems a little nervous but confidently ready for the questions he’ll be getting.
At first, Rebecca (who has the mannerisms and outward appearance of efficient young legal executive) asks questions that seem typical for a personal background check. She asks Hal to confirm his date of birth. He says it’s April 7, 1987. But when she asks him his height and weight (which aren’t really appropriate questions), Hal lies and tells Rebecca that he’s 6’2″ and 200 pounds, which is taller and heavier than he really is. Rebecca mildly scolds him for telling her this lie.
Rebecca then asks Hal what his history is in taking legal and illegal drugs. He tells her he takes prescribed medication and that he’s taken recreational illegal drugs “thousands of times” in his life. Hal also says he’s been in treatment for alcohol addiction. Rebecca comments on the fact that Hal is drinking alcohol during the interview.
And then, the questions get inappropriate. Rebecca asks Hal if he has any sexually transmitted diseases. Hal tells Rebecca that he doubts that question is part of the affidavit. She insists that it is. Rebecca then asks Hal when he lost his virginity. He tells her he was 13, but she correctly guesses that he was actually 25. Rebecca grows increasingly hostile with Hal and starts berating and insulting him.
Rebecca then writes on her legal pad, “Hal Porterfield fucks like Caligula.” She then orders him to get on his knees and clean the bathroom in the suite. It’s soon revealed that Rebecca isn’t really a law firm employee who’s there to take an affidavit. She’s a dominatrix who’s been hired by Hal to do say these things to him to get him sexually aroused so that he can masturbate in front of her.
Hal (who really is a hotel heir) wrote the entire script for this encounter too. Rebecca is a dominatrix whose rule is that the clients don’t touch her, and she doesn’t touch the clients. Hal has been her client for an untold period of time, but the movie implies that it’s been at least several months. In other words, they’ve done this type of role playing many times before. Hal also isn’t a job candidate for CEO of Porterfield Hotels and Resorts. He already has the job and has recently been appointed to the position.
All of this information is revealed early on in the movie. And this revelation is the point where viewers will ether be intrigued or will not be interested in seeing the rest of the film. The rest of “Sanctuary” is a back-and-forth conversation where Hal tries to get Rebecca to leave because he wants to end their relationship, but Rebecca wants the upper hand and tries to prolong the stay as long as possible.
Why does Hal want to end the relationship? It’s not because he’s bored with Rebecca. In fact, after the session, Hal genuinely compliments her on giving another great performance. Rebecca takes off her straight blonde wig to reveal her natural brunette curly hair, which is an indication that she’s not “working” at that moment and is being “herself.”
Hal invites Rebecca to stay a little while and have a meal with him, even though he’s intending to end their relationship. There’s something about Rebecca that’s making Hal very uneasy, so he wants to stop seeing her. Viewers with enough life experience will figure out exactly what’s going on, long before the movie ends.
“Sanctuary” is meant to be an often-uncomfortable watch as these two people, who are both control freaks in their own ways, try to one-up each other in their power dynamics. Gender roles (traditional and non-traditional) have an effect on these dynamics. It should come as no surprise that Hal has “daddy issues” and is living in the shadow of his deceased mogul father Phillip “Phil” Porterfield. (Dominic Defilips portrays Phil as an elderly man, while Rene Calvo portrays Phil as a young man.) Rebecca is less forthcoming about her own personal issues, but eventually the cracks begin to show in her emotional shields.
Because “Sanctuary” is essentially about two people talking in a hotel suite, the movie lives or dies by the performances of Abbott and Qualley. Abbott gives the more credible performance, since Qualley has a tendency to over-act in some scenes. They both handle their dialogue like two people locked in a fencing match—and neither one wants to back down or admit defeat. It’s a battle of egos, wits and complicated feelings that might leave viewers feeling exhausted but unlikely to be bored.
Neon released “Sanctuary” in select U.S. cinemas on May 19, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in 1944 in Finland, the action film “Sisu” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class during World War II.
Culture Clash: A Finnish former military commander, who has become a gold miner and a rogue vigilante, fights Nazi soldiers during World War II.
Culture Audience: “Sisu” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in war movies with “hero vigilantes” and exaggerated action that’s meant to be partially amusing.
“Sisu” knows what it is and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else: an adrenaline-packed, violent action film served up with plenty of self-aware campiness. Jorma Tommila’s portrayal of Aatami Korpi, the hero who fights Nazis, is a crowd-pleasing blitz. “Sisu” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, “Sisu” (which takes place in 1944 in Finland) has a very simple plot: a loner vigilante/gold miner named Aatami Korpi (played by Jorma Tommila) gets deadly revenge on Nazis who want to steal his gold. The Nazis underestimate Aatami because he’s much older than their usual opponents. Atami is a lot tougher and more ruthless than he looks.
It’s explained in the very beginning of the movie that the word “sisu” doesn’t have a specific meaning in Finnish, but it roughly translates to a white-knuckled form of courage in desperate moments. There are many of those moments in “Sisu,” which has a lot of over-the-top violence showing one man pitted against an army of several people. Because he’s outnumbered, Aatami has to figure out ways to outsmart his enemies.
At one point in the movie, it’s revealed that Aatami used to be a commander in the Finnish Army, but he went rogue after Nazis killed his entire family during the war. After the massacre of his family, Aatmi became a vengeful person whom no one could control. Even with Aatami having military training, there are are still deliberately cartoonish depictions of how Aatami is able to defeat many of the soldiers he comes up against.
Aatami’s violent exploits have given him a somewhat mystical legendary reputation, because he has been able to avoid death in situations that could easily kill most people. Some people who know about Aatami say that Aatami might be immortal. Whether or not his immortality is true, Aatami still needs to sustain himself with money and food.
The beginning of “Sisu” shows Aatami searching for gold in a remote area. Aatami’s only companions are his Bedlington Terrier and his horse. Aatami finds a huge slab of gold and can’t believe his luck. He takes his ice pick and chops the gold into large chunks. And he plans to bring the gold to the nearest financial bank, which is 563 miles away.
While he’s making the long trek to the bank, Aatami is stopped and harassed by Nazi soldiers, who soon find out how much gold Aatami has and plan to steal it from him. Aatami makes it clear that he’s not going to let the Nazis do what they want without a gifht from him. The rest of the movie is a fierce battle of wits and brutality between Aatami and the Nazis.
There isn’t much dialogue in “Sisu,” but when there is, it is delivered with a winking tone of loud and violent action movies that don’t take themselves too seriously. Most of the Nazi villains are generic, but the standouts are the troop leader Obersturmführer Bruno Helldorf (played by Aksel Hennie); his main sidekick Wolf (played by Jack Doolan), who loyally follows commands; and a soldier named Schütze (played by Onni Tommila, Jorma Tommilla’s real-life son), who easily gets into precarious situations.
The Nazis have captured five women as prisoners of war. As already shown in the trailer for “Sisu,” these women end up escaping and become allies to Aatami. The most defiant woman in the group is Aino (played by Mimosa Willamo), who does most of the talking.
The trailer for “Sisu” reveals a lot of the movie’s most memorable action scenes, lines of dialogue and plot developments. What you see in the trailer is really what you get in the movie. If you’re intrigued by what’s in the “Sisu” trailer, and you’re in the mood for a semi-comedic World War II action movie that’s pure escapism and not meant to be realistic, then “Sisu” delivers exactly what you might expect.
Lionsgate and Stage 6 Films released “Sisu” in U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on May 16, 2023. “Sisu” was released in Finland on January 27, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Canadian city, the comedy film “The End of Sex” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A married couple decide to spice up their sex life while their two pre-teen daughters are away at camp for a week.
Culture Audience: “The End of Sex” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a sporadically amusing and repetitive sex comedy that’s not as clever as the filmmakers think it is.
“The End of Sex” is a weak comedy that tries very hard to be edgy and cute at the same time. It’s mostly predictable tedium that’s not as open-minded as it tries to look. The women who are queer or sexually liberated in the movie get “punished” the most. Many of the sexual situations presented in the movie could have been a lot funnier and cleverly satirical if the filmmakers didn’t take the lazy approach of making everything look like a second-rate sitcom, albeit a sitcom that is definitely geared to adults. “The End of Sex” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by Sean Garrity and written by Jonas Chernick (who is one of the stars of the movie), “The End of Sex” (which takes place during one week in an unnamed Canadian city) would like viewers to believe that a married couple can solve their sexual boredom problems in just one week. That’s the period of time that Josh Michaels (played by Chernick) and his wife Emma Michaels (played by Emily Hampshire) have their home to themselves while their two underage daughters are away at a summer camp. The couple’s daughters are Grace (played by Maya Misaljevic) and Dawn (played by Emily Watt), who are about 7 to 9 years old. Dawn and Grace are in the movie for less than 10 minutes.
“The End of Sex” gets its title because Josh and Emma (who are both in their 40s) believe that their sex life was ruined because they became parents. Of course, it’s very easy to make children the scapegoats when the adults won’t take responsibility for their own actions. It soon becomes obvious as the story goes on that the kids aren’t the real reason why the passion has all but disappeared in Josh and Emma’s sex life. These two whiny and insecure spouses have problems being honest with each other.
As soon as the kids are out of the house for the trip away at camp, Josh and Emma decide to have sex. Emma tells Josh triumphantly, “We can be as loud as we want. I’m going to be loud.” But in fact, Emma isn’t loud during this encounter, as she and Josh have quiet and awkward sex, like people who don’t know each other very well and don’t want anyone to hear them.
“The End of Sex” frequently uses a gimmick that shows sex-related captions above people’s heads. During the scene where Emma and Josh are having sex after their children are out of the house, Emma is giving Josh oral sex, and a caption appears on screen that says, “Definitely too much teeth.” (The cast members do not have full frontal nudity in this movie.) Also during this scene, when Emma and Josh each fake an orgasm without telling the other spouse, the captions read, “Faked” and “Definitely faked.”
Eventually, Emma and Josh confess to each other about the faked orgasms. They are both offended, but Emma is especially insulted because she tells Josh that it’s more pathetic (and much more difficult) for a man to fake an orgasm. In actuality, Emma is just probably angry at herself that she was fooled by Josh.
However, this confession is a turning point in Josh and Emma’s marriage. They decide that in order to improve their marriage, they need to spice up their sex life by trying new things and experimenting. Although this entire movie’s story takes place in one week, there are so many things packed into this week, it looks completely phony that this couple can think they can turn their troubled marriage around in such a short period of time.
Of course, there will be people outside the marriage who will be involved in some of the shenanigans. Josh works as a packaging editor for an ad agency, where he and a much-younger co-worker named Kelly (played by Lily Gao) privately confide in each other about their love lives. Kelly doesn’t believe that monogamy and marriage are right for her. She thinks marriage is an outdated institution and monogamy is a construct of a patriarchal society.
Because Kelly has an image of being a sexually liberated free spirit, Josh asks Kelly for advice on what he should do to be a better lover. The Josh/Kelly relationship is inappropriate in a corporate workplace setting, since the movie shows Josh and Kelly talking almost exclusively about sex while they’re alone together in private conversations in the office. It doesn’t seem like a real friendship at all.
And because this movie comes across as a male filmmaker fantasy, you can easily predict what will happen when nerdy, average-looking, middle-aged Josh decides he’s going to do more than talk about sex with Kelly, a younger co-worker who’s pretty enough to be a model. Viewers are supposed to believe that Josh is charismatic enough (he’s not) to be sexually attractive to Kelly, who exists in this movie only to be someone who has raunchy conversations and to be Josh’s “temptation” to have sex outside of his marriage.
As for Emma, her “temptation” is a former classmate from her high school. His name is Marlon (played by Gray Powell), a bachelor who owns an art gallery. Marlon, who has had a crush on Emma since they were in high school together, is the first to admit that he’s overly talkative and has no tact. In other words, he’s a creep. After years of Marlon and Emma not seeing each other, Emma and Marlon get reacquainted when she and her best friend Wendy (played by Melanie Scrofano) go to an art exhibit at Marlon’s gallery. The art exhibit consists of photo close-ups of men’s testicles.
Emma and Wendy teach art to at-risk youth at a local recreation center. The movie goes off on a boring and unnecessary tangent about one of the teens named Aisha (played Eden Cupid) being the most talented student in the class. Emma thinks Aisha (who’s a painter and illustrator) is an art prodigy. Emma tells Marlon about Aisha and says that Marlon should stop by the recreation center to look at Aisha’s art. Marlon’s response is he will stop by the recreation center only because he wants to see Emma.
“The End of Sex” does one of the most cliché things that a sex comedy does when it’s about a couple wanting to try other things in their sex life: a subplot about the couple having a threesome. After some more awkward conversations, Emma and Josh decide that Wendy will be their threesome partner. On the surface, Wendy (who is in her own troubled marriage) seems meek and prudish, but she’s really had a secret crush on Emma, and eagerly accepts the offer of having this threesome.
As you might expect under these circumstances, this “threesome” idea is a disaster, since Wendy wants nothing to do with Josh and only wants to focus on Emma in this encounter. Josh feels rejected and excluded, while Emma is alarmed to find out that Wendy has had romantic feelings for Emma for a long time. None of this is spoiler information, since the trailer for “The End of Sex” gives away about 85% of the movie’s plot.
Also revealed in the trailer is a scene that’s supposed to be one of the funniest in the movie: Josh and Emma join a swingers’ club, where they find out that Emma’s parents—Arthur (played by Colin Mochrie) and Marge (played by Frances Townend)—have been longtime swingers. Arthur is dressed in bondage gear and is surprised to see Josh and Emma there, but Arthur almost instantly accepts that Josh and Emma are trying out the swinger lifestyle. By contrast, Emma is mortified and is disturbed that her parents were living a lie to her.
This uncomfortable revelation could have been mined for better laughs and more comedy in the movie, but “The End of Sex” then falls back into typical (and dull) stereotypes of the spouses trying to make each other jealous when they decide they’re going to try an “open marriage.” For a movie that’s supposed to be an adult-oriented sex comedy, “The End of Sex” spends too much time having the central couple act like immature teenagers. Toward the end of the movie, it just becomes an irritating back-and-forth of Emma and Josh using Marlon and Kelly to deceive the other spouse into thinking that a hot and heavy affair is going on with each “temptation” person.
Not all of “The End of Sex” is completely horrible. Chernick and Hampshire have good comedic timing in some of their scenes together. But when their characters Josh and Emma spend time with other people, the comedic chemistry looks very forced and inauthentic. Powell has moments when he is a scene stealer, but his odious and one-note Marlon character becomes less amusing as things drag on in the movie.
Mostly, “The End of Sex” is such a “male gaze” and borderline misogynistic film, because of all the ways that it subtly and not-so-subtly makes the women of the movie the ones to get shamed the most when it comes to these sexual hijinks, while the men in the movie get excused for awfulness in a “boys will be boys” attitude. Emma’s father Arthur isn’t all that concerned about Emma experiencing the trauma of finding out that he’s a swinger and all the years he lied to about it. Meanwhile, Emma’s mother Marge doesn’t really get to say anything about it at all.
Emma and Josh both kiss their “temptations” (as shown in the movie’s trailer), but one of these spouses ends up doing more than kissing someone outside the marriage and doesn’t get much flack for it by the other spouse. It’s easy to guess which spouse’s extramarital sexual encounter was quickly forgiven. In fact, it’s forgiven and brushed aside so quickly, it makes all of the other spouse’s previous jealousy look very contrived. And predictably, Josh is quick to blame Emma for their threesome fiasco, although he eventually backtracks when he admits that it wasn’t Emma’s fault that she didn’t know that Wendy would be so infatuated with Emma.
There’s also a huge disparity between Emma’s “temptation” and Josh’s “temptation.” Marlon is a physically average jerk with an unattractive personality, and he would want a committed love affair with Emma. Kelly is a pretty intellectual with an adventurous personality, and she would not want be in a committed relationship with Josh. As far as choosing a would-be extramarital lover for a “no strings attached” fling, Josh definitely has the better option.
“The End of Sex” is a sex comedy that pretends to be risky and daring but ultimately plays into old-fashioned gender stereotypes of what’s acceptable for men and women, when it comes to marriage and sex. It would be interesting to see what a female writer and a female director would have done with the same concept that “The End of Sex” filmmakers ultimately bungled with tired tropes and not-very-funny jokes. A comedy with this subject matter deserves better than to have it dumbed down into trite material that isn’t very sexy or amusing at all.
Blue Fox Entertainment released “The End of Sex” in select U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on June 13, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Mexico and in California, the dramatic film “Carmen” (very loosely based on the classic French opera “Carmen”) features a Latin and white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After her mother is murdered, a young woman illegally immigrates from Mexico to California to find her mother’s best friend, and she gets involved with an American border patrol agent who’s a fugitive for murder.
Culture Audience: “Carmen” will appeal primarily to people who are curious to see what an unconventional re-imagining of the famous opera looks like as a movie told from the perspective of a Mexican immigrant.
It’s a little too pretentious at times, but this dance-oriented version of the classic French opera “Carmen” at least took some bold risks and tried to do something different from what might be expected. Melissa Barrera and Paul Mescal give very watchable performances. The movie is not going to appeal to people who think it’s going to be a traditional musical or a formulaic “outlaws on the run” action flick.
“Carmen” (which premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival) is the feature-film solo directorial debut of Benjamin Millepied, who has a background as a ballet dancer. He had a small acting role in 2010’s ballet drama “Black Swan” and married Natalie Portman, the Oscar-winning star of “Black Swan.” Millepied co-wrote the “Carmen” screenplay with Loïc Barrere and Alexander Dinelaris.
The passion for dance as a form of expression is shown throughout “Carmen.” However, people who want to see a version of “Carmen” where people sing while dancing will be disappointed. There is some singing in “Carmen,” but it’s mainly with Barrera doing a sultry performance on stage as the title character, not singing dialogue in a conventional musical format.
“Carmen” begins with a scene of in the Chihuahuan Desert, near the Mexico/U.S. border. A woman named Zilah Rosas (played by Marina Tamayo) is doing a flamenco tap dance by herself, on a flat wooden board outside of her modest home. Suddenly, a hat-wearing man (played by Nico Cortez) drives up in a car, points a gun at her, and asks, “Where is she?” Zilah says nothing and tap dances furiously in response. And then, the man shoots Zilah and drives off, just as the woman he is looking for runs near the house and hears the gunshot.
That woman is Carmen, who is Zilah’s daughter. Carmen sees her dead mother, mourns for her, and buries Zilah in the front yard of the home in a makeshift grave. In a voiceover from the dead, Zilah tells Carmen to go to the City of Angels (Los Angeles) to a nightclub called La Sombra Ponderosa, and find Masilda. Viewers later find out that Masila and Zilah were best friends but haven’t not seen each other since Masilda moved to Los Angeles. Masilda has not seen Carmen since Carmen was a child.
Meanwhile, a U.S. Marines veteran named Aidan, who’s in his late 20s or early 30s (about the same age as Carmen), is attending a barbecue cookout in Texas with some working-class people he doesn’t know very well. He has recently been discharged from the military, after serving in combat duty in Afghanistan, and he is currently unemployed. Aidan’s concerned older sister Julieanne (played by Nicole da Silva) tells him he needs to get a job. “It’s been nine months,” Julieanne tells Aidan. “And there’s only one job in this town.”
That job is being hired as an independent contractor for the U.S. Border Patrol. Aidan reluctantly takes the job and is given a brief orientation by a supervisor named Phil (played by Justin Smith), who tells his new subordinates that their job is fairly simple: If they see people illegally crossing the border, apprehend the border crossers and call for officials to handle it from there. All of these border patrollers are white men who are armed with guns.
It doesn’t take long for Aidan to see how some of the men he’s working with are openly racist, because the act very eager to cause violence against the non-white, Spanish-speaking people they expect to catch at the border. One of the new hires asks if anyone in this group of border patrol agents knows how to speak Spanish. A racist named Mike (played by Benedict Hardie), who has been paired with Aidan as a border patrol partner, smirks as he says, “Why? Do you speak deer?” It’s Mike’s way of saying he wants to hunt these people down like animals.
It should come as no surprise that Carmen is one of the people who ends up getting caught illegally crossing the border at night. She is among a group of some other captured Mexicans who are strangers to her. A few of them are children whom Carmen tries to protect. Mike gets very aggressive and shoots some of the Mexicans who try to run away.
A horrified Aidan is nearby, and helps some of the Mexicans escape. An infuriated Mike points a gun at Aidan, who shoots Mike in the head. Mike is killed instantly. In the chaos, Carmen steals Aidan’s truck, which is parked nearby. Aidan runs after the truck and manages to get in the back.
Carmen steers the truck in a way to try to throw Aidan off the truck, but it doesn’t work, so she stops when she sees that Aidan isn’t going to hurt her. When the the truck runs out of gas on a deserted road, Carmen gets out and run away. However, Aidan has a spare can of gas in his truck.
Aidan re-fuels the truck and drives up to where Carmen (who can speak Spanish and English) is walking on the road and offers to give her a ride and help her. Knowing that they are both fugitives from the law, Carmen accepts Aidan’s offer. And so begins the outlaw journey of Aidan and Carmen, who convinces Aidan to go to Los Angeles with her.
“Carmen” doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, which might be frustrating to some viewers. And the dialogue is often very simplistic. However, the movie does have a way of maintaining viewers’ attention for people who are curious to see what will happen next.
As already revealed in the “Carmen” trailer, Carmen and Aidan make it to Los Angeles, where Carmen goes to see Masilda (played by Rossy de Palma), is the owner of La Sombra Ponderosa. Masilda, who is happy to see Carmen doesn’t know at first that Carmen is a fugitive, wants to mentor Carmen as a performer in the nightclub. Masilda is an unusual character who puts her passion for music and dance above everything else in her life. Elsa Pataky has a small role as Gabrielle, one of the nightclub’s employees.
The movie has scenes where, right in the middle of a suspenseful plot development, people suddenly start dancing, usually in open outdoor areas. The modern dance performances are well-choreographed and convey the obvious: These dance interludes represent the moments of freedom that Carmen wants to experience in her chaotic life. Nicholas Britell’s musical score is very absorbing and complement the tone of the film that is sometimes suspenseful, sometimes meandering.
“Carmen” gets a little stale in a sequence where Aidan gets involved in underground boxing to make some quick cash. However, these scenes are enlivened by rapper Tracy “The D.O.C.” Curry portraying a boxing referee. Curry performs some original raps in the movie during these boxing scenes. It’s eventually revealed that Aidan has post-traumatic stress disorder and a complicated sibling relationship with Julieanne.
Carmen and Aidan inevitably become lovers (also revealed in the movie’s trailer), but the movie does a very good job of showing the growing attraction and affection between these two characters. Aidan and Carmen are both lost souls who have a hard time trusting others. However, through their shared experience of looking out for each other while going into hiding, they learn to trust each other, to a certain extent. Barrera and Mescal have some sizzling chemistry, but viewers should not expect the Carmen/Aidan relationship to be a fairytale romance.
“Carmen” is by no means an award-worthy movie. It has some moments where the pacing is very sluggish. The movie’s dialogue could have been a lot more engaging. And the ending won’t be satisfying enough for viewers who want movies with unambiguous conclusions. However, “Carmen” shows very early on that it’s an experimental project where many of the emotions are expressed in the dance numbers. Viewers will know within the first 20 minutes of watching the 116-minute “Carmen” if they want to stay engaged in the story, or if they will lose interest in watching the rest of the movie.
Sony Pictures Classics released “Carmen” in select U.S. cinemas on April 21, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in France, from the 1750s to the 1790s, the dramatic film “Chevalier” (a biopic of musician/fencer Joseph Bologne, also known as Chevalier de Saint-Georges) features a predominantly white group of people (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.
Culture Clash: Bologne experiences racism, an illicit love affair and treacherous politics in his journey to becoming a celebrated musician and fencer.
Culture Audience: “Chevalier” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of history-based biopics and classical music and don’t mind if a movie set in 1700s France has some modern touches that didn’t exist in that century.
“Chevalier” has its share of corny “only in a movie” moments, but the essential truths of oppression and racial barriers in society have the most resonance in this story. Kelvin Harrison Jr. gives an admirable performance. The costume designs are gorgeous. You don’t have to be fan of classical music to enjoy the movie, but it certainly helps. History purists will be wincing through some of the story, because it’s yet another biopic that takes liberties with facts, in order to make the movie more dramatic.
Directed by Stephen Williams and written by Stefani Robinson (who is one of the producers of the movie), “Chevalier” (which takes place in France, mostly in Paris) tells the story of Joseph Bologne, also known as the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, who lived from 1745 to 1799. He the first black person to conduct a major orchestra in France. He was also renowned for being a champion fencer. The movie depicts Joseph mostly in his 20s, 30s and 40s, but there are flashback scenes to his teens and younger childhood. “Chevalier” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
The movie tells viewers right from the beginning that Joseph (played as an underage teen and as an adult by Harrison) was so phenomenal, he outshone Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (played by Joseph Prowen) in concert. The opening scene shows Mozart conducting an orchestra in Paris, sometime in the 1780s, and asking the audience for requests. Joseph confidently strolls into the concert hall and asks to play the violin alongside Mozart.
Mozart looks slightly amused and asks, “Who put you up to this?” Joseph says, “Myself, monsieur.” Mozart calls Joseph a “dark stranger” and smugly says, “I hope this won’t be too embarrassing for you.” They proceed to play the violin, as if it’s a dueling competition of musicianship.
And in the end, Mozart is the one who’s embarrassed, as Joseph proves that he’s the more talented violinist. Joseph is so masterful, the crowd gives him a standing ovation. An infuriated Mozart runs off stage and fumes, “Who the fuck was that?” Clearly, “Chevalier” is not a movie that wants to look historically accurate.
This scene is a perfect example of how “Chevalier” tries but doesn’t always succeed in balancing hokey drama with regal gravitas. It’s a movie with a lot of 1700s pomp and circumstance, but with a modern approach to melodrama that takes viewers out of this time period, especially in a lot of the dialogue that sounds too contemporary. The movie’s messages about racism sometimes get bogged down in too much exposition, but luckily the cast is talented enough to elevate the material.
If some of the scenes in “Chevalier” look over-the-top and fabricated for a movie, that’s because the real life of Bologne did not get a lot of historical documentation. However, you don’t have to be a historian or a classical music expert to know that the opening scene definitely looks fake. Mozart running off stage in humiliation because of a newcomer rival—if it happened in real life—would have gone down in history as one of the most notorious stories about him.
What the movie does depict that is historically accurate is that at the age of 7, Joseph (played by Reuben Anderson) was taken by his white French American father to live in France, where Joseph was educated and lived for the rest of his life. Joseph’s father was a wealthy plantation owner named Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges, and his mother was an enslaved black woman named Nanon, who was originally from Senegal. In real life, Georges de Bologne Saint-Georges lived in the Caribbean archipelago Guadeloupe, which was a colony of France at the time.
The “Chevalier” movie changes the location of Joseph’s birthplace from Guadeloupe to Louisiana. His father’s name has the English-language spelling of George Bologne (played by Jim High), a French American who spends time at his plantations in Louisiana and Guadeloupe. Joseph’s mother Nanon (played by Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo) is depicted as being originally from Senegal and brought to North America in enslavement, just like in real life. The “Chevalier” filmmakers perhaps made Joseph have a connection to Louisiana because Harrison is American, and his American accent can be heard in much of the dialogue.
Before abandoning his son in France at the private Academie de La Boëssière, George instills the belief in Joseph that Joseph must be the best at anything he does if he is going to survive and succeed. The academy’s owner Tessier de La Boëssière (played by Ben Bradshaw) reluctantly enrolls Joseph in the school and warns George that Joseph people at the school will not be kind to this “Negro bastard.” In real life, Joseph had an older white half-brother named Pierre (they had the same father), who was already enrolled at the academy when Joseph was admitted as a sudent. However, the “Chevalier” movie erases Pierre, probably to make it look more dramatic that Joseph felt isolated by not knowing any at the academy as a new student.
“Chevalier” shows the expected racist bullying that Joseph received throughout his life. But the movie also shows how he achieved greatness, despite many obstacles put in his way. Expect to see several montages of him practicing his music or fencing, as if his life depended on it, because in many ways, his life really did depend on it. Joseph eventually became well-known for his talents and got respect from members of high society.
This notoriety resulted in a volatile friendship with the fun-loving but very spoiled Marie Antoinette (played by Lucy Boynton), the queen of France, who introduced him to powerful members of her inner circle. This inner circle includes Marie’s cousin Philippe (played by Alex Fitzalan), the Duke of Orleans. Philippe becomes Joseph’s close confidant, and their friendship leads to an important political alliance.
As already revealed in the trailer for “Chevalier,” Nanon reunites with Joseph around the time that he becomes a famous musician and a champion fencer. The reunion doesn’t go smoothly at first, because Nanon represents a part of Joseph’s life that he wants to keep in the past. Eventually, Nanaon and Joseph become close when he begins to understand that he should embrace and appreciate his African American heritage.
“Chevalier” is not subtle in its messages about how black people who achieve success in a predominantly white culture have to decide how much “black culture” will be part of their identity when interacting with white people. The way that Joseph chooses to wear his hair in public (African-styled cornrow braids or European-made wigs) is a manifestation/symbol about how much of his “black” or “white” identity that he wants to express.
Some of the best aspects of “Chevalier” have to do with Joseph confronting his “assimilation” into white French society and what that assimilation will cost him, in terms of his self-respect, his relationship with his mother and his career. Joseph has to deal with constant condescension from white people who think that Joseph will never be equal to them, simply because he is not white. Marie Antoinette often treats him like “charity case” who needs her and other white people to “save” him. At one point, Joseph assertively says to her: “Not everything is about you people.”
The movie’s strongest non-musical scenes are those between Joseph and the women in his life: his kind and patient mother Nanon, his unpredictable friend Marie Antoinette, and his conflicted lover Marie-Josephine (played by Samara Weaving), an opera singer who is an unhappy marriage to a cruel and wealthy man named Marquis De Montalembert (played by Marton Csokas). Marie-Josephine was the one who introduced Joseph to her husband, who could immediately sense that there was an attraction between her and Joseph. Privately, Marquis De Montalembert tells Joseph (who has a reputation for being a ladies’ man) that he doesn’t “wish for my Marie-Josephine to become a whore.”
Joseph also has to navigate the power and politics of getting investments for an original opera that he is composing and plans to conduct. Marie-Josephine’s cousin La Guimard (played by Minnie Driver), who is a rich opera singer, expresses interest in being an investor, but she enjoys manipulating Joseph, because she knows she has the financial upper hand. Joseph ends up wanting Marie-Josephine to be the star of his opera. Marquis De Montalembert doesn’t want Marie-Josephine to take the job, for obvious reasons.
Another affluent potential investor is Madame De Genlis (played by Sian Clifford), who believes in Joseph’s talent, but she wants some creative control that he’s reluctant to give. She says she will finance the opera if he bases it on a story that she wrote. Observant viewers will notice that no matter how exceptional Joseph can be, it causes resentment among racist people who will use any excuse to try to tear him down.
“Chevalier” does not make Joseph look like a saint. He can be stubborn and arrogant to a fault. His affair with Marie-Josephine is an example of his selfish recklessness. And even though Joseph thinks he loves Marie-Josephine, it’s pretty obvious that people will get very hurt by this love affair. The movie takes an abrupt turn into some melodrama that comes as a result of this extramarital relationship.
Despite some cringeworthy lines of dialogue in “Chevalier” and occasionally slow pacing of the movie, Harrison holds everything together and keeps things watchable in his intriguing portrayal of this complex character. Boynton has some memorable moments in her performance as the imperious and fickle queen Marie Antoinette. The movie’s costume design by Oliver García and production design by Karen Murphy are truly feasts for the eyes.
The music of “Chevalier” is also noteworthy, including a vibrant original score by Kris Bowers and production and musical arrangements of Bologne’s music by Michael Abels. In terms of overall storytelling, “Chevalier” is no masterpiece. However, the movie has enough compelling moments and good acting to maintain viewer interest in this very dramatic version of an extraordinary and talented life.
Searchlight Pictures released “Chevalier” in U.S. cinemas on April 21, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas, California, and North Dakota, mostly in December 2023, the dramatic film “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white, Latino and Native American) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A group of eight radical environmentalists go to Texas to carry out their plan to blow up a major oil pipeline.
Culture Audience: “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in environmental causes, but the movie has mixed messages about how violence can play a role in extreme activism, and the story somewhat glosses over racism problems.
“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” might as well have the words “made by well-meaning and privileged political liberals” in the description of this movie. It’s a gripping and well-acted drama about a group of extreme environmentalists. However, there are some glaring plot holes, and the film mishandles some racism issues. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” was co-written by Goldhaber, Ariela Barer (who’s one of the stars of the film) and Jordan Sjol. The story has plenty of suspense and makes great use of flashbacks to fill in the blanks in most of the characters’ backstories. However, viewers with enough life experience who watch this movie won’t be able to shake the feeling that the “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” filmmakers thought that it would be cool to make a movie about a serious subject matter (committing violence in the name of extreme activism) without really doing enough research into the subculture of violent, radical activists.
It’s the same feeling that came from the 2018 erotic drama “Cam,” Goldhaber’s feature-film directorial debut about a young woman who works as a porn webcam performer. There was a lot of interesting dialogue in “Cam,” but the movie didn’t come across as completely realistic or authentic, even though it wanted to be. “Cam” was also a very “male gaze” film, even though “Cam” was supposed to be told from the perspective of a female protagonist.
“How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is not a documentary, and the movie’s fictional characters are not based on any particular real people. However, the movie is based on Andreas Malm’s 2020 non-fiction book “How to Blow Up a Pipeline,” which advocates for property destruction as a way to get attention for activist causes. The obvious intention of the movie was to have a tone of realism, in order to make this a thought-provoking film. It succeeds in many areas, but it other areas, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” falls very short.
Most of “How to Blow Up Your Pipeline” switches back and forth between two types of scenes: (1) the planned December 2023 bombing of a major oil pipeline, somewhere in west Texas and (2) flashbacks that reveal the lives and motivations of the eight young people who have planned this bombing. The last 15 minutes of the movie show the aftermath of this plan.
The eight people in this racially diverse group of bombers consider themselves to be extreme environmentalists, although at least two of them don’t really seem to care that much about environmental causes and just want to cause some mischief. The bombers’ ages range from mid-20s to early 30s. And they have all agreed in advance that they will rig the bomb so that no one could possibly get killed or physically injured. (And as soon as someone says in the movie that no one will get physically hurt, you just know that at least one person will get physically hurt.)
The bombers’ intent is to disrupt the fossil fuel production that comes from this major pipeline. They don’t have a name for their group. They want this bombing to be an anonymous statement against fossil fuel production. In fact, the way these these eight people found each other to form this loose-knit group looks a little too “only in a movie” rushed. Three of the group members didn’t know anyone else in the group before this plan, so these three people are the ones that are essentially the “strangers” to the other people.
The eight people in this group are:
Xochitl “Xochi” Fuentes (played by Barer) is the mastermind of this bombing. She came up with the idea and is the one most responsible for bringing this group together. Xochi (pronounced “soh-shee”) lives in Long Beach, California, and is grieving over the recent death of her mother, who raised Xochi as a single parent.
Theo (played by Sasha Lane) is Xochi’s best friend since childhood. Theo and Xochi, who both live in Long Beach, consider each other to be almost like sisters, since Theo (who came from a broken home) mentions in the story (after Xochi’s mother has died) that Xochi’s mother was like a mother to Theo.
Alisha (played by Jayme Lawson) is Theo’s girlfriend. They both work as house cleaners. Alisha is initially the one who’s the most reluctant to participate in this bombing plan.
Rowan (played by Kristine Froseth) is a meth-snorting party girl who is homeless and always ready for any type of mischief-making.
Logan (played by Lukas Gage), Rowan’s drug-using boyfriend, is also homeless and is even more reckless than Rowan. They both live in motels and in Logan’s car in the Long Beach area.
Shawn (played by Marcus Scribner) is a former college student who became disillusioned with mainstream environmental activism because he thinks it’s not effective enough. He currently lives in the Long Beach area.
Dwayne (played by Jake Weary) is an unemployed husband who is bitter because he lost his home, is financially broke, and is now living with his wife at her parents’ home in Odessa, Texas.
Michael (played by Forrest Goodluck) is a scowling introvert who is angry about what pipelines have done to his Native American community in Parshall, North Dakota.
Michael is the one who is in charge of planning the chemical concoctions to make the bomb. Michael is a “chemistry nerd” who has done extensive research on how to make bombs. He even films social media videos on how to make homemade bombs. He does videos and livestreams on a YouTube-like channel called Boom Talk.
Michael also gets help from Shawn in making the bomb’s chemical concoctions, although Michael is a control freak who would prefer that no one else get near the chemicals, for their own safety. Shawn (who is African American) and Michael construct the actual bomb. Observant viewers will notice that the people of color in this group are the ones who do most of the work and put themselves in the most physical danger in the bombing plans.
There are overt signs of racism that the movie doesn’t adequately explore. Michael deeply resents the pipeline workers (almost all are white men) who pass through the Native American reservations to do their job or to look for pipeline work. In a flashback scene, Michael gets confrontational with one of these workers (played by Adam Wyatt Tate) and spits on him. It leads to a brawl where Michael gets physically beaten up.
When Michael goes home and his jewelry maker mother Joanna (played by Irene Bedard) sees the injuries on his face, she knows exactly why he got into a fight. Joanna scolds Michael for picking a fight with someone who just wants a job. In response, Michael angrily says that Joanna just wants to let racist white people exploit Native American land in ways that will hurt Native Americans.
It’s later revealed in the movie that other people in the group have been negatively impacted by industrial toxins that caused pollution in the area where they used to live. It was a low-income area mostly populated by people of color. This environmental racism is implied, but no one in the movie specifically says the word “racism,” which is one of the reasons why parts of this movie look very phony.
Environmental racism is a huge talking point for self-described “social justice warriors” who are environmental activists. And to not have any explicit discussion of environmental racism in this movie looks like a huge blind spot from filmmakers who won’t go deep in the trenches and get real about this uncomfortable topic in activism. It’s similar to how some people might make a video of take a photo of themselves wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, but these same “supporters” don’t want to actually do anything about stopping racism.
Because this group of bombers will be planting a bomb for the very first time, they are predictably nervous. And you know what that means: Mistakes are going to happen. This review won’t reveal the things that go wrong with the bombers’ plans, but there is one plot hole that’s too big too overlook. It has to do with a drone. This plot hole doesn’t take into account that data is automatically stored on the type of drone seen in this movie.
The biggest strength in “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is how the movie builds tension and how it weaves together the backstories of these eight people to give the big picture in explaining how and why they ended up with this common goal. Barer and Lawson give the best performances, because Xochi and Alisha seem to be the most complicated and nuanced characters. Lane does an admirable performance for some of the melodrama that her Theo character goes through later in the story.
The movie could have done more with the Michael character, whose sullen brooding is a hint that he’s gone through some trauma that is never mentioned in the film. Shawn’s backstory is adequate, but he is another character that’s a little underdeveloped. Viewers find out nothing meaningful about Shawn’s personal life and only get information about some of his previous experiences in environmental activism.
Dwayne’s backstory shows why he’s against pipelines: It’s in a flashback scene where Dwayne and his wife Katie (played by Olive Jane Lorraine) are being interviewed by a two-person documentary crew. Katie knows in advance that Dwayne is involved in this secret bombing, but she doesn’t participate in carrying out the bombing plans. Because Dwayne is unemployed and doesn’t have his own home, the stakes are lower for Dwayne, compared to most of the other people in the group. These low stakes also apply to Rowan and Logan.
Although the filmmakers will deny that this movie makes bombing look glamorous, “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” does have a tone that these are rebel activists who are trying to change the world. In all actuality, most of the bomber characters in this movie have no real direction in their lives and just seem to be using environmentalism as a way to take out their anger about their lives not turning out the way they wanted. (Somewhere, real-life environmental activist Greta Thunberg is shaking her head in disapproval.)
A few of the people in this group (especially Logan and Rowan) seem to think this radical environmentalist activism is just a fad, and they give the impression they’ll eventually ditch it for something else they find more exciting. Logan and Rowan are the only shallow characters in the group. Almost nothing is told about Logan’s and Rowan’s backgrounds to explain how these two lovers became homeless.
It’s good that the movie didn’t portray these bombers as being monolithic. However, this “diversity” comes off a little like “checking off diversity boxes,” instead of giving a meaningful examination of racial and sociopolitical implications for the different identity groups who get involved in this type of violent activism. “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” never wants to admit (even though it’s reality) that there is race-based scapegoating in the United States, when it comes to which races gets punished the worst for extreme acts of violence. It’s why “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” is a solid drama as a crime caper, but it’s somewhat weak when it comes to the movie’s intended social commentary.
Neon released “How to Blow Up a Pipeline” in select U.S. cinemas on April 7, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in upstate New York, the dramatic film “Baby Ruby” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A popular lifestyle blogger experiences nightmarish scenarios soon after the birth of her first child.
Culture Audience: “Baby Ruby” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching incoherent and repetitive movies about postpartum depression.
“Baby Ruby” wants to get viewers to think about postpartum depression, but this gimmicky and dull drama will just give some viewers a headache from all the baby screaming and mother’s hallucinations that the movie uses as weak filler. Before seeing “Baby Ruby,” some people might have the wrong impression that it’s a horror movie. “Baby Ruby” is more of a psychological drama that has nothing interesting to say and just shows a series of repetitive scenes of a new mother losing touch with reality. The movie’s ending is both annoying and underwhelming. “Baby Ruby” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Bess Wohl, “Baby Ruby” (Wohl’s feature-film directorial debut) is inspired by Wohl’s experience with postpartum depression after the birth of her first child. In the “Baby Ruby” production notes, Wohl made this statement about this experience that describes, in part, how she was affected by being a first-time mother to a baby: “When I became a mother, I lost my mind … Suddenly, instead of floating on a cloud of oxytocin, I felt trapped in a nightmare. The doctors called my daughter ‘surprisingly alert’ which turned out to be code for fussy, sleepless, ravenous and insatiable. I had no idea how to soothe her; I couldn’t even soothe myself. My mind felt broken.”
Wohl’s statement continues: “My body felt like it was no longer my own. When I haltingly tried to tell people what I was experiencing, they assured me it was all ‘perfectly normal,’ and suggested that I just needed rest. But I couldn’t rest. I couldn’t calm down. I felt like I was dying, and, in a way, I was. Though I could never have articulated it at the time, what I was experiencing was the death of the person I had been before I had children.”
Those are perfectly valid feelings. The problem is that “Baby Ruby” is supposed to be a movie about postpartum depression, but the movie actually depicts someone going through the type of psychotic breakdown that doesn’t happen to most mothers—or to most people in general. The main conflict in “Baby Ruby” should have been more relatable to viewers, especially to those who’ve experienced postpartum depression. Instead, the movie goes so far off the deep end, it just becomes a very sloppy compilation of nightmarish visions.
In the beginning of “Baby Ruby,” protagonist Joséphine, nicknamed Jo (played by Noémie Merlant), is in her 30s and is about to give birth to her first child in less than a few weeks. Jo is a French immigrant living in an unnamed city in upstate New York. She is the owner of a women’s lifestyle blog called Love, Joséphine. The blog hasn’t made Jo rich, like Martha Stewart, but Jo is bringing in enough profits from the blog to live a comfortable, middle-class lifestyle.
Jo’s loving and supportive husband Spencer (played by Kit Harington), who is American, works as a butcher. Jo and Spencer have a solid marriage and are eagerly anticipating the birth of their first child. (Harington is British in real life, and he has a passable American accent in this movie.) Predictably, the marriage of Jo and Spencer becomes strained when Jo goes through her mental health issues after the baby is born.
The movie’s opening scene shows a baby shower party for Jo that is attended by about 10 to 15 of her work colleagues. Before the guests arrive, Jo is seen cutting these words out of felt material: “Welcome, Baby Ruby.” Spencer asks Jo if it’s weird that she’s throwing a baby shower for herself. Jo says no and adds, “It’s just because I need it to be perfect. It’s barely anything. Just people from work.” After the guests arrive, Jo’s assistant Caroline (played by Camila Canó-Flaviá) praises Jo as a “boss lady,” “entrepreneur” and “a leader.”
Caroline gushes to Jo, “You tripled our readership this year. You launched the online shop, you moved upstate, you did this insane renovation, by the way—all the while answering every single one of our readers’ comments personally. Oh, and by the way, making a human. We would all hate you if we didn’t absolutely love you. I feel so grateful to be a part of the Love, Joséphine family.”
Now that it’s been established that Jo is an overachiever and a bit of perfectionist, who seems to have an ideal life, it’s supposed to make it more unsettling for her when she feels she’s losing control over her life. “Baby Ruby” veers off course from the postpartum depression theme, in a scene where pregnant Jo goes to a store that sells baby clothes. While she’s looking at some of the merchandise, Jo notices a blonde woman staring at her.
The woman appears to be in the same age range as Jo. This mystery stranger asks Jo in a friendly tone when the baby is due. Jo tells her the due date is “any day now.” The woman then asks Jo, “Are you scared?” Jo replies, “Should I be?” The woman has a baby in a stroller. But when Jo asks to see the baby, the woman’s attitude becomes hostile. She pushes Jo’s hand away and says that sleeping babies shouldn’t be awakened.
A few days after this uncomfortable incident, Jo gives birth in a hospital to a healthy baby girl named Ruby (played by Gabriella Reese Thompson and Lucas Timothy Thompson). But more odd things start happening. At the hospital, Jo is told by an unnamed nurse (played by Mariela Villa) that Jo can’t leave the hospital until Jo has defecated. When Jo does that, Jo sees blood is in the toilet. And then, the nurse gives Jo the baby’s placenta, “in case you want to eat it,” says the nurse. Most people would say something to a medical professional at the hospital about these two strange incidents, but Jo says nothing.
During the car ride home, Jo hallucinates seeing a young mother on the street throwing her baby at the car. It’s one of those scenes that pretends to be “real,” but then viewers find out it was all in Jo’s mind. Get used to seeing more of these fakeout scenes in “Baby Ruby,” because this repetitively boring movie is full them.
“Baby Ruby” does not give details on how long Jo has been living in her current home, but she doesn’t have any friends in the neighborhood. Instead, Jo is irritated that the only person she might have for company while Spencer is away at work is Spencer’s meddling and overprotective mother Doris (played by Jayne Atkinson), who insists that Jo call her “Mom.” Doris isn’t mean-spirited, and she has good intentions, but it’s obvious that Doris expects Jo to do what Doris thinks Jo should do in taking care of Ruby, instead of respecting Jo’s parenting choices.
Not much is revealed about Jo’s side of the family, except for one comment that Jo makes when she and Spencer leave the hospital with Ruby: “I wish my mum were here.” In fact, one of the biggest flaws about “Baby Ruby” is there’s hardly anything revealed about Ruby and Spencer (other than their jobs) at all throughout this 93-minute film. Spencer just becomes a husband who reacts in stereotypical ways when his wife starts to have terrified reactions to things that other people can’t see.
That’s because most of this movie turns into a tired cliché of the “paranoid woman who is not believed,” which is very common in horror movies—except that “Baby Ruby” isn’t a horror movie. It’s a very superficial exercise in flimsy jump scares that are supposed to be manifestations of motherhood fears. Fans of Harington will be disappointed by how uninteresting his Spencer character is and how he isn’t in the movie as much as his co-headlining status for “Baby Ruby” would suggest.
Making matters worse, Jo and Spencer don’t do things that real couples do when they have a newborn baby in the home. They don’t talk about how they’re going to take turns getting the baby to go back to sleep at night when the baby wakes up screaming and crying. They don’t talk about who would take care of the baby if the baby’s parents and other relatives aren’t available. If Spencer has any friends, they are not seen or mentioned this movie. These are some of the many reasons why “Baby Ruby” looks so phony and unrelatable.
Instead of showing Jo and Spencer as a realistic couple, “Baby Ruby” wastes a lot of time on a subplot about the mystery blonde coming back into Jo’s life. It happens when Jo is outside with Ruby in a stroller, on a residential street. A car speeds by, causing the stroller to tip over. Luckily, Ruby isn’t hurt.
But the rude blonde from the baby clothing store is nearby and witnesses this incident. She sees Jo and starts talking to Jo, as if she doesn’t remember how unfriendly she was to Jo the previous time that they talked. Her name is Shelly (played by Meredith Hagner), who is also married. Shelly’s baby is her first child. Shelly and Jo end up striking up a friendship where Shelly introduces Jo to a group of other young mothers in the neighborhood.
The movie goes off on an unrelated tangent where Shelly and Jo end up being sexually attracted to each other and start kissing each other passionately after a drunken night at a bar. But did this makeout session really happen? Or was it all in Jo’s imagination? Does anyone really care? Viewers shouldn’t care, because it’s ultimately a useless subplot.
When Jo is not having blackouts or being confused about what reality is, she sees things like a bony hand trying to get to Ruby in the crib while Jo is looking at a baby monitor in another room. When Jo rushes into the crib room to protect Ruby, there is no menacing intruder, and Ruby is safe and sound. These are the types of unimaginative scenes that litter the movie and do nothing to further the story’s plot.
“Baby Ruby” also has a weak and poorly written subplot that tries to mislead viewers into thinking that Ruby might be a “demon baby.” Even though Ruby is a newborn, Jo painfully finds out something shocking when she’s breastfeeding the baby: Ruby has a full set of teeth that normally wouldn’t grow so fast in a child this young. Jo’s obstetrician Dr. Rosenbaum (played by Reed Birney) dismisses this biological abnormality and says it’s not a big deal. Jo doesn’t question his assessment. It’s all just another clue that something is very wrong with Jo, and it’s another one of her hallucinations.
Jo also gets pestered by her assistant Caroline to share a photo of Ruby with the audience of Love, Joséphine. Before Jo gave birth, Jo had been blogging about her pregnancy journey on the website and had promised her audience that she would share photos of the baby after the baby was born. However, Jo keeps delaying making any photos of Ruby available to the public.
Ruby is kept hidden from Jo’s audience, but the audience of “Baby Ruby” will get a full-blast onslaught of this kid’s crying and shrieking, which intentionally gets louder and more frequent the more that Jo becomes unhinged. It’s an obvious and lazy way of trying to make viewers feel like they’re “losing their minds” too, because this incessant baby crying is part of what is supposed to be driving Jo over the edge into insanity. All it does is give an inaccurate, insulting and extremely “hysterical” version of postpartum depression.
All of the characters in “Baby Ruby” except Jo are very generic, with performances to match. Merlant seems to be doing her best in attempting to convince viewers that Jo is a complicated and tortured person. But the results just don’t look authentic, because Jo is depicted as being frequently shallow and vapid. The movie also makes a somewhat offensive and flippant mockery of the necessary steps to have someone involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution. “Baby Ruby,” just like Jo, ends up being a very muddled mess with absolutely no depth and nothing substantial to say.
Magnet Releasing released “Baby Ruby” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 3, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in California (and briefly in Ohio), the comedy/drama film “Moving On” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: After their former best friend from college passes away, two elderly women decide to get deadly revenge on the friend’s widower for a despicable act that he committed 46 years ago.
Culture Audience: “Moving On” will appeal primarily to people who are fans the movie’s stars and fairy-tale-like movies about acting on revenge fantasies.
Neither terrible nor great, “Moving On” will mainly appeal to viewers who like seeing Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin work together on screen. This comedy/drama with a deadly revenge plot is really a harmless story about appreciating true friendships. It’s recommended only for people who want something to do to pass the time and aren’t expecting anything outstanding from a movie that has a talented cast and director who’ve made better films. “Moving On” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Paul Weitz, “Moving On” begins with a senior citizen named Claire (played by Fonda) leaving her home state of Ohio for a trip to California, to attend the funeral of a longtime friend named Joyce. Claire, Joyce and a woman named Evelyn (played by Tomlin) were the best of friends in college. Claire isn’t going to the funeral just to grieve. She wants to go to California to kill Joyce’s husband Howard (played by Malcolm McDowell), who has no idea that he’s the target of a murder plot.
Claire has been married and divorced twice. Her most recent divorce was 15 years ago. She has an adult daughter (from her second marriage) and two teenage grandchildren. Claire currently lives alone and has a beloved pet Corgi named Daschel. Evelyn is the only person (other than Claire) who knows why Claire would want to kill Howard.
Evelyn is a retired professional cellist who used to be part of a classical orchestra that traveled around the world. She has arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis, which obviously ended her career. Evelyn lives in a retirement building in California, not far from where Joyce and Howard live. Evelyn, who has been living openly as a lesbian for years, is grieving over the death of her wife Annette, who was also a classical musician. Annette and Evelyn met in 2006, and they were married in 2009, shortly before Annette died.
At the funeral, Claire is warmly greeted by Joyce’s adult daughter Allie (played by Sarah Burns), who lives in Pennsylvania. Also with Allie are her two daughters Devin (played by Haley Wolff) and Joycie (played by Cosette Abinante), who are about 8 to 10 years old. Allie is very kind and patient with her father Howard, who can be rude and abrupt with people. At the funeral, Claire tells Howard that she’s going to kill him, but he thinks she’s joking.
Howard gives an effusive eulogy about Joyce at her wake, but Evelyn interrupts and makes a bombshell announcement: During and after college, Evelyn and Joyce were secret lovers and were very much in love with each other. Their relationship ended though, and Joyce went on to marry Howard. Allie and Howard are shocked, in denial, and insulted that Evelyn would make this announcement during the wake. Eventually, Evelyn is asked to leave, and Claire leaves around the same time.
In the car, Claire tells Evelyn that she’s not surprised that Evelyn and Joyce were lovers because Claire always suspected it. Claire and Evelyn catch up with what’s been going on in their lives, because they haven’t seen each other in years. In this private conversation, Claire tells Evelyn that she’s going to murder Howard when she gets the chance to do so. Evelyn knows why Claire wants to kill Howard and thinks it’s bad idea, but then agrees to help Claire.
Claire hasn’t figured out how she’s going to murder Howard. And so, the movie has some frivolous and not-very-funny scenes of them trying to plan this murder. Claire and Evelyn go to a gun shop so that Claire can buy a gun. But then, they find out that Claire can’t legally buy a gun in California, because she’s not a resident of California. Claire and Evelynn also discuss other methods of murder, such as poisoning.
Someone who was at Joyce’s wake was Claire’s first ex-husband Ralph (played by Richard Roundtree), who lives in California, and who is happy to see Claire after years of not being in contact with her. Howard invited Ralph to the wake, because Ralph knew Joyce when Ralph was married to Claire. Ralph’s second wife Zora died four years ago.
And it isn’t long before Ralph makes it known that he’s interested in seeing Claire again, even though he knows that she lives in Ohio. Before you know it, Ralph has invited Claire over to his house for dinner. Also at the dinner are Ralph’s daughter Joie (played by Amber Chardae Robinson) and Joie’s two sons (played Jeremiah King and Isai Devine), who are about 9 to 11 years old.
“Moving On” sort of wanders and drags out the murder plot in ways that get a little tiresome. Claire and Evelyn fumble and bungle their attempts to decide how to murder Howard. And they find the weapon they are going to use from an unlikely source.
Evelyn has become acquainted with a boy of about 8 to 9 years old named James (played by Marcel Nahapetian), whose grandfather Walt (played by Vachik Mangassarian) is an ailing resident living in the same apartment building as Evelyn. James and his parents (played by Eddie Martinez and Santina Muha) visit Walt on a semi-regular basis. And one day, James mentions to Evelyn that his grandfather Walt has a gun.
James mentions it when he tells Evelyn that James’ father wants to teach James how to use a gun to go hunting. James would rather wear dresses and jewelry, and play “dress up” in mock fashion shows with Evelyn, who encourages James to be himself and pursue these passions. However, it’s obvious (without it being said out loud) that James’ parents wouldn’t approve of James’ fashion interests. Evelyn knows that she and James have to keep these types of activities a secret because of homophobia.
“Moving On” has these moments of kindness and compassion, but there are also some mean-spirited slapstick comedy moments that aren’t uproariously funny, but they’re capably acted by the cast members who are in these scenes. Viewers find out that what Howard did to Claire was so damaging, she kept it a secret from Ralph, and it ended up ruining Claire and Ralph’s marriage. Even before the secret is fully revealed, it’s easy to figure out what the secret is, because the clues are so obvious.
“Moving On” makes Howard into a caricature-like villain, which is kind of a mistake and the easiest way to depict this character. What would have been more interesting is to have Howard be very skilled at hiding his despicable side. It would also explain why he got away with what he did to Claire and why she kept it a secret: She was afraid that no one would believe her. She also didn’t want to hurt Joyce by telling Joyce the awful truth about Howard.
People should not expect “Moving On” to be a completely lighthearted film. There are some heavy and dark issues in the movie. And not all of them are handled in the best way. However, the movie keeps things interesting enough for viewers who want to find out what will happen next. There’s a fable-like quality to “Moving On” that isn’t preachy, but it shows that getting deadly revenge for a grudge can be more toxic than what caused the grudge.
Roadside Attractions released “Moving On” in U.S. cinemas on March 17, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Nevada (and briefly in Van Nuys, California), the comedy/drama film “Wildflower,” which is based on real people, features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class. middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A sarcastic and intelligent teenager, who is in her last year of high school, gets in a coma after a mysterious accident, and she narrates her life story of being raised by intellectually disabled parents whom she resents because they depend on her to be the most responsible person in the household.
Culture Audience: “Wildflower” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and don’t mind watching rambling and disjointed stories about teenagers and bickering families.
Based on a true story, “Wildflower” has an admirable performance from Kiernan Shipka, but there are too many problems with this uneven dramedy, including awkward subplots that go nowhere and underdeveloped characters that are bad parodies of real people. It’s one of those movies that has much of the narrative coming from voiceovers of a character who’s supposed to be in a coma. Very few movies can pull off this type of narrative in a way that is appealing. In “Wildflower,” the coma narration is cringeworthy—and so are many other parts of this misguided film.
Directed by Matt Smukler and written by Jana Savage, “Wildflower” is inspired by the real-life experiences of Smukler’s family. According to the “Wildflower” production notes, the protagonist of the movie is based on Smukler’s niece Christina. As part of Christina’s college admission application to the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), Smukler made a short documentary film about Christina’s experiences growing up as a child of parents with intellectual disabilities. Savage came up with the idea to make Christina’s story into a scripted feature film. The result is “Wildflower” (which had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival), but the film takes shameless detours into formulaic schmaltz that cheapens the quality of what could have been a more meaningful movie.
In the beginning of “Wildflower” (which takes place mostly in an unnamed city in Nevada) viewers see Bambi “Bea” Johnson (played by Shipka) is in a coma in a hospital. Bea is 17 years old and in her last year of high school. She has a head injury, but no one at the hospital knows how she got the injury. A flashback later shows how an unconscious Bea ended up at the hospital and what caused her injury. Bea’s voiceover narration tells viewers that she can’t remember how she got injured either, but she wants to tell her life story, based on what she remembers of her life.
Several of Bea’s worried family members have gathered in the hospital room. And because this movie is filled with clichés about bickering families, it doesn’t take long for the arguing to start. The movie doesn’t do a very good job of introducing these family members, who talk over each other and disjointedly show up in this hospital scene that takes place in the beginning of the movie. You probably have to take notes (mentally or literally) to keep track of all these squawking relatives.
Bea is the only child of Derek Johnson (played by Dash Mihok) and Sharon Johnson (played by Samantha Hyde), who have intellectual disabilities. A flashback later explains that Derek got a head injury in a car accident when he was 12 years old. Sharon was born with an underdeveloped brain.
Derek and Sharon used to live in Van Nuys, California. They met when Sharon was 21, and Derek (who was around the same age, maybe slightly older) was hired by Sharon’s parents to mow the family’s lawn. Sharon and Derek began dating each other soon afterward. Derek and Sharon quickly fell in love wither each other, and they eloped—much to the dismay of both of their families.
Sharon’s parents are Peg McDonald (played by Jean Smart) and Earl Edelman (played by Brad Garrett), who are now divorced. (Peg went back to her maiden surname after the divorce.) Peg and Earl are among the family members who are in Bea’s hospital room.
Derek’s parents are Loretta (played by Jacki Weaver) and Hal (played by Chris Mulkey), who are also divorced. Hal is not in the hospital room, but Loretta is—much to the disdain of Peg, because the two women have had a longstanding feud with each other. Derek is an only child.
Peg has another daughter: the materialistic and vain Joy (played by Alexandra Daddario), who has a condescending attitude toward her sister Sharon. Joy and her equally snooty husband Ben (played by Reid Scott) are also in the hospital room. Peg is a control freak who constantly complains if things don’t go her way. Joy is a lot like Peg.
Loretta, who smokes a lot and drinks a lot of alcohol, immediately annoys Peg by lighting up a cigarette inside the hospital room. It’s a very rude (not to mention illegal) thing for Loretta to do in a hospital room, but Peg is the only one in the family with the backbone to stand up to Loretta about it. The movie makes it a running gag that Loretta’s constant cigarette smoking annoys Peg. And it’s a “joke” that quickly gets old and tiresome. Loretta’s obnoxiousness is supposed to look “cute” because she’s a senior citizen, but it just looks grating.
Flashbacks show that after Derek and Sharon got married, both of their parents were worried about Derek and Sharon not being capable of raising a family. During a family meeting between Derek’s parents and Sharon’s parents, both couples agreed that it would be a bad idea for Derek and Sharon to become parents. The purpose of the meeting was to figure out what to do about this marriage that does not have the approval of all four of the newlyweds’ parents. However, there was a big disagreement about what to do.
Sharon’s parents (who raised Sharon as Jewish) thought that Derek and Sharon should get divorced as soon as possible. However, Derek’s parents (especially Loretta) are strict Catholics who think divorce is a big stigma. Loretta suggested that Sharon be sterilized and said that Sharon was a promiscuous temptress who “trapped” Derek into this marriage. (Loretta used cruder terms than that to describe Sharon.) Peg was deeply offended by Loretta’s remarks and has held a grudge against Loretta ever since. Neither of these parents’ schemes became a reality, since Derek and Sharon became parents to Bea and remain happily married throughout this story.
More flashbacks show that when Bea was 10 years old (played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong), her father Derek illegally taught her how to drive. The secret is exposed when Bea crashed the car on a neighborhood street (fortunately, no one was hurt) when Bea went looking for the family dog, which ran out of the house because Sharon left the front door open. Although Bea denied being the driver of the car, Derek and Sharon were declared unfit parents. Joy and Ben (who had become parents of twin sons at this point) got custody of Bea.
Joy and Ben find out that Bea is extremely resistant to their rules and their trendy New Age way of parenting. From a very young age, Bea was expected to handle a lot of responsibilities for her parents, who treated her like a mini-adult who didn’t have the type of rules and discipline that other kids were expected to have. Bea is bratty and rebellious under the guardianship of Ben and Joy. Ben privately tells Joy what he thinks of Bea’s irreverence: “She’s like a feral dog.”
Eventually, Derek and Sharon convince child welfare authorities to let them have custody of Bea again. She has spent her teenage years living with her parents. As a compromise to giving back custody of Bea to her parents, Joy and Ben have insisted on paying for Bea to go to an elite private school.
Derek has problems holding a steady job. He currently works as a janitor at a recreational games center. He also plans to become a rideshare driver. Sharon, who is a gambling addict, was getting disability payments from the government until Derek put a stop to it, because he doesn’t think Sharon is disabled. Bea has a part-time job doing janitorial work at her school, to help pay for her parents’ household expenses, but she gets angry and frustrated because her parents often irresponsibly spend the money that they take from her.
There’s a lot of Bea’s family history to unpack in this movie, but “Wildflower” has a very disappointing way of starting off on one tangent and then not really finishing it before going on to others tangents and not really finishing them either. The results are an erratic, overstuffed movie fllled with a lot of underdeveloped characters, unfinished subplots and unanswered questions. “Wildflower” also has trouble balancing the comedy and drama.
There’s a very distracting and unnecessary subplot about a children’s protective services worker named Mary (played by Erika Alexander), who first met Bea on the day of the car accident. And lo and behold, Mary shows up years later at the hospital, while Bea is in a coma. Even though there’s no evidence that Bea’s parents were responsible for Bea’s head injury, Mary is there to investigate, since Bea’s parents lost custody of Bea in the past.
And so, there are several scenes of Mary awkwardly interviewing people close to Bea. Mary wants to find out who caused the injury, and she wants to determine if Bea’s parents are fit to take care of Bea if she wakes up from the coma and is discharged from the hospital. Mary is inclined to think that Bea’s parents will need help taking care of Bea in Bea’s recovery.
Bea’s life in high school is also told mostly in flashbacks. Before she ended up in a coma, Bea was an outstanding academic student whose favorite subject was astronomy. She’s also a star of the school’s track team. However, she shuns the idea of being a “popular” student. She feels like a misfit at this school, because she comes from a low-income household and because her parents are disabled.
Bea has a guidance counselor at school named Alex Vasquez (played by Victor Rasuk), who has been encouraging Bea to apply to universities to continue her education. However, Bea has been very reluctant because she thinks she needs to skip college to take care of her parents. Bea is also worried about how much college tuition might cost, even though Mr. Vasquez assures Bea that she’s such an excellent student, she should have no problems getting a scholarship. UCLA is one of the universities that Mr. Vasquez suggests to Bea.
Another person who thinks Bea should go to a university after she graduates from high school is Ethan Rivers (played by Charlie Plummer), a classmate who has recently transferred to this high school. Ethan comes from a rich family (his father owns the “largest Porta Potty company in Nevada”), but he downplays his wealth in order to let people know that he’s humble and down-to-earth. Many of the students automatically think Ethan is kind of weird because the word has gotten out that Ethan had testicular cancer that left him with one testicle.
Bea’s best friend at school is Mia Tanaka (played by Kannon Omachi), who is a brainy eccentric, just like Bea. And there’s predictably a “mean girls” clique that bullies and taunts Bea and Mia. This clique is led by an ultra-snob named Esther (played by Chloe Rose Robertson), who is attracted to Ethan, but she’s already dating someone else. Ethan, who’s in the same astronomy class as Bea, tries to get close to her by offering to share his class notes with her, but she rebuffs his obvious interest in her the first time that he talks to her.
Mia and Bea act like they don’t care about being accepted by the “cool kids,” but they really do care, because Mia and Bea tell Sharon to buy alcohol for them (it was Bea’s idea) so they can take the alcohol as a gift to crash a house party hosted by Esther. Also at the party is Esther’s older brother Tyler (played by Josh Plasse), an adult of college age who gets a snide remark from Bea because she says it’s pathetic that someone of Tyler’s age is partying with mostly underage high schoolers. It’s at this party that Bea and Ethan connect for the first time.
“Wildflower” then drones on and on with typical high school drama that sometimes gets very dull. Mia and Bea made a pact not to go to their school prom, but then things change when Ethan asks Bea to the prom, and she says yes. There’s some love triangle jealousy between Ethan, Bea and Esther. And, of course, there’s more arguing between Bea and her parents.
Nowhere does this movie explain why Bea has to do cleanup work at her high school, when there are so many other part-time jobs she could have had that wouldn’t make her feel embarrassed in front of her peers. It all just looks contrived for a scene so that “mean girl” Esther and “snarky underdog” Bea can have a verbal confrontation where Esther tries to humiliate Bea, and Bea makes snappy comments as a comeback. (This isn’t spoiler information. It’s shown in the movie’s trailer.)
The romance between Ethan and Bea is sweet but very rushed and at times hard to believe. Even though Ethan meets Bea’s parents and wholeheartedly accepts them with no judgment, Bea never shows an interest in meeting Ethan’s family, nor does Ethan invite her to meet his family. It’s yet another question that the movie never bothers to answer. Meanwhile, the friendship between Mia and Bea is reduced to superficial scenes of them shopping together and debating about whether or not it’s worth going to their school’s upcoming prom.
There are several talented cast members in “Wildflower,” but only Shipka has a character with layers to a personality. Everyone else just kind of drifts in and out of the story, in service of vapid sitcom scenarios or melodrama that often looks fake. “Wildflower” does the biggest disservice to Weaver, whose aggressively clownish Loretta character is very beneath Weaver’s immense talent.
The movie’s depiction of disabled people sometimes falls into negative stereotypes. “Wildflower” is not unwatchable, but it lacks a clear vision and a cohesive narrative. For a movie with a lot of voiceover narration, it ultimately doesn’t have a lot of interesting things to say.
Momentum Pictures released “Wildflower” in select U.S. cinemas on March 17, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on March 21, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in Germany and France, from 1917 to 1918, the World War I dramatic film “All Quiet on the Western Front” (based on the novel of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A teenager loses his innocence after he becomes a soldier in the German Army during World War I, while a ruthless general and a liberal politician have different ideas about how Germany should handle the war.
Culture Audience: “All Quiet on the Western Front” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of realistic war movies and Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name.
Told from a German perspective, this version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” is the most brutal and harrowing in showing the horrors of World War I. The movie has well-crafted technical assets, but the personalities of the characters are underdeveloped. The main protagonist is a teenage German soldier. The actor portraying this character has less than 15 minutes of dialogue in this 147-minute movie.
Directed by Edward Berger, the 2022 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” is based on Erich Maria Remarque’s 1929 novel of the same name. Berger co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Lesley Paterson and Ian Stokell. It’s the third movie version of the novel, following the 1930 version (directed by Lewis Milestone) and the 1979 TV-movie version (directed by by Delbert Mann).
The first two movie adaptations of “All Quiet on the Western Front” were American-made and starred American actors portraying Europeans. The 2022 version of “All Quiet on the Western Front” (which was filmed in the Czech Republic) is a German production and has German actors in the majority of the starring roles. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
In the 2022 version “All Quiet at the Western Front” (which takes place in Germany and France from 1917 to 1918), viewers see the transformation of teenage German soldier Paul Bäumer (played by Felix Kammerer) from being a naïve recruit who’s eager to participate in the war to an emotionally devastated war veteran who has been worn down by all the death and destruction around him. Meanwhile, the movie shows how two very different government officials have contrasting views on Germany’s actions during this war. One is a liberal politician who wants to negotiate to end the war, while the other is a ruthless general who wants Germany to win the war at any cost.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” begins in early 1917, by showing a young German soldier named Heinrich Gerber (played by Jakob Schmidt) fighting on a battlefield. The movie does a freeze-frame, right when he’s about to attack a French soldier. What happened?
Viewers then see that Heinrich has died, because his body is dumped in a truck that is transporting the corpses of other German military men. The movie then shows that Henrich’s former military uniform has been sent for repairs to a factory in Germany. His name tag is still on the uniform.
In the spring of 1917, quiet and amiable 17-year-old Paul is joyously celebrating his graduation from an all-boys high school at a ceremony attended by by fellow classmates. The school’s headmaster gives the graduates a patriotic pep talk about Germany’s involvement in World War I. Whether or not Paul was thinking about joining the German Army before this pep talk, Paul enlists in the army soon after his graduation.
When he gets his military uniform, Paul notices right away that it has the name tag Heinrich Gerber. He tells the person who gave the uniform to Paul that there must be a mistake, because he was given someone else’s uniform. The uniform is taken away, and Paul is given another uniform. Paul is given an explanation that the uniform that Paul was given by mistake was probably discarded by the previous owner because the uniform was too small.
Of course, viewers (but not Paul) know that the Henrich is dead. And the fact that the German Army is recycling a dead man’s uniform is a symbol of how impersonal and “assembly line” a war can be, in terms of how thousands or millions of soldiers on the front line are treated. Paul is about to find out the hard way that he’s just another number in this vicious war. The movie also shows this “assembly line” symbolism when Paul is assigned the task of collecting military identification tags from dead bodies on battlefields.
Paul and his troop are eventually sent to France, which is occupied by Germany at this time. The expected horrific battle scenes ensue, with graphic depictions of killings and other deaths during combat. But amid the madness and mayhem, Paul bonds with some of his fellow soldiers. The movie’s brightest and most endearing moments come from scenes showing these friendships.
One of Paul’s army buddies is Albert Kropp (played by Aaron Hilmer), who is about the same age as Paul and who becomes Paul’s best friend in this war. Albert, who sees himself as somewhat of a charming ladies’ man, often talks about how he can’t wait for the war to end so he can go back to being around women. As a new recruit, Albert is terrified and very nervous, compared to Paul, who starts off being very enthusiastic and confident about serving his country in this war. But that confidence is then destroyed by several traumatic experiences.
Four other men from Paul’s troop become part of a tight-knit circle of close acquaintances, including Paul. Stanislaus “Kat” Katczinsky (played by Albrecht Schuch), who is in his 30s, likes to portray himself as a cocky “alpha male” type. However, there’s a very poignant scene where Kat (who cannot read) asks Paul to read a letter from Kat’s wife. The letter reveals that Kat’s somewhat arrogant demeanor actually masks a lot of personal pain.
Two of Paul’s classmates from high school are also part of the troop: Franz Müller (played by Moritz Klaus) and Ludwig Behm (played by Adrian Grünewald). Ludwig doesn’t hesitate to show how afraid he is about being in combat. While hiding out with other troop members in a bunker, Ludwig cries out for his mother. He gets some insults from a few of the soldiers, who think Ludwig is being wimpy, but Paul can understand this fear because he feels it too.
Tjaden Stackfleet (played by Edin Hasanovic), who is in his late 20s or early 30s, is a military police officer who dreams of being promoted to the position of corporal. Kat scoffs at Tjaden by saying, “You’ll never be a corporal.” Tjaden (who is deeply insecure) takes this comment as a personal insult but attempts to brush it off, so as not to let it show how much this comment hurt his feelings.
Through it all, Paul tries to hold on to his humanity when the harsh realities of war fighting force Paul and other people in combat to do some very inhumane things. Just like almost every movie that has a lot of war combat scenes, the soldiers face moral dilemmas and have to make split-second decisions that could mean life or death. And for all-male troops, there are machismo issues about who can look the toughest and the bravest.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” is not subtle at all in contrasting the filthy and dangerous living conditions of the soldiers on the front lines of combat and comparing all of it to the pampered and safe living conditions of the leaders who cause these wars. The movie cuts back and forth betwen these contrasts in several scenes. It’s a way to put an emphasis on who really benefits financially from war, which can be a profitable business for some people.
Libeal politician Matthias Erzberger (played by Daniel Brühl) wants to end the war by having Germany peacefully negotiate with France. He meets with France’s Marshal Ferdinand Foch (played by Thibault de Montalembert), who offers a deal that is non-negotiable, with Germany given a deadline of 72 hours to respond to the deal. Erzberger is put in a tough situation: He doesn’t want to give in to these demands too easily, because he knows he might be branded as a traitor to Germany. France’s Generalmajor Maxime Weygand (played by Gabriel Dufay) also plays a role in these tense German-French war discussions.
Being open to negotiating a truce is in direct contrast to what’s desired by General Friedrich (played by Devid Striesow), who is usually shown dining in mansions that are far removed from the war. General Friedrich wants to use the war for his own personal gain, so that he can achieve military glory and all the financial rewards and fame that come with it. Needless to say, General Friedrich is fanatical about Germany winning the war, no matter what the human cost of Germans who die.
“All Quiet on the Western Front” has top-notch production design, cinematography, original score music and sound editing/sound mixing. Where the movie isn’t as stellar is in some of the film editing (which makes the story look a little choppy and abrupt in some scene transitions) and in the screenplay, which has dialogue that tends to be over-simplistic. The screenplay makes many of the movie’s principal characters a little too vague or stereotypical.
Most of the perspective of “All Quiet on the Western Front” comes from Paul, but viewers don’t really get to know a lot of basic things about him during this lengthy film. For example, the movie never shows or tells who Paul’s family is, or what Paul wants to do with his life after the war. And because he doesn’t talk much in this movie, the Paul character could have easily been no more complex than a character in a video game.
However, thanks to the admirable talent of Kammerer in the role of Paul, this character becomes more than just a generic soldier. Kammerer (who has a background in theater/stage acting) makes his feature-film debut in “All Quiet on the Western Front.” He is very effective at showing Paul’s feelings through his eyes, facial expressions and body language.
Paul is the heart and soul of the movie, but it’s a heart and soul that the filmmakers have shrouded in a certain amount of mystery. Even with some things about Paul remaining enigmatic, there’s no mystery over how emotionally shattered Paul becomes during the course of this story. By the end of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” viewers will be emotionally affected too, no matter what people think about war.
Netflix released “All Quiet on the Western Front” in select U.S. cinemas on October 7, 2022. The movie premiered on Netflix on October 28, 2022.