Review: ‘One Life’ (2023), starring Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Flynn, Lena Olin, Romola Garai, Alex Sharp, Jonathan Pryce and Helena Bonham Carter

March 16, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anthony Hopkins in “One Life” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“One Life” (2023)

Directed by James Hawes

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1938, 1939, 1987, and 1988, in the United Kingdom, Poland, and the country then known Czechoslovakia, the dramatic film “One Life” (based on the non-fiction book of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In 1938 and 1939, British stockbroker Nicholas “Nicky” Winton leads a crusading group of people who rescue 669 Jewish children from an impending Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, and he gets recognition for these heroic deeds about 50 years later.

Culture Audience: “One Life” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Anthony Hopkins and true stories about rescuing people from the horrors of the Nazi-led Holocaust.

Johnny Flynn in “One Life” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

If you can tolerate filmmaking that’s a bit stodgy and old-fashioned, “One Life” is worth a watch for its meaningful true story. Anthony Hopkins is memorable in a film that is often undercut by its messy timeline jumping. The movie needed a more cohesive narrative, but the story is still easy to understand and requires patience to get to the movie’s best parts toward the end of the film.

Directed by James Hawes, “One Life” was written by Lucinda Coxon and Nick Drake. The movie is based on the 2014 non-fiction book “If It’s Not Impossible…: The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton,” which has been retitled “One Life: The True Story of Sir Nicholas Winton,” written by Nicholas “Nicky” Winton’s daughter Barbara Winton, who died in 2022, at the age of 69. “One Life” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie was filmed in the Czech Republic and in the United Kingdom.

“One Life” jumps around in the timeline from 1938 and 1939 to 1987 and 1988. In 1938, Nicky Winton (played by Johnny Flynn) is a 29-year-old stockbroker living in London, when he hears from his friend Martin Blake (played by Ziggy Heath), who has been helping refugees in Prague, Czechoslovakia. The refugees want to escape, as Nazi Germany prepares to invade Czechoslovakia. Just as Nicky was going to join Martin in Prague, Martin has called to tell Nicky that Martin is going back home to London. Nicky plans to go to Prague as planned.

Nicky has a strong-willed and opinionated mother named Babette “Babi” Winton (played by Helena Bonham Carter), a widow who is originally from Germany. The family of Nicky’s father was also originally from Germany. Nicky’s parents have relatives who are Jewish. Nicky identifies as an agnostic and a socialist. Babi doesn’t think it’s a good idea for Nicky to go to Prague, because she fears that his life will be in danger. Nicky can be just as stubborn as his mother, so he goes to Prague, despite her objections.

While in Prague, Nicky meets two British people who will change his life: Trevor Chadwick (played by Alex Sharp) and Doreen Warriner (played by Romola Garai), who both work for the British Committee for Refugees in Czechoslovakia. Doreen tells Trevor that she first came to Prague 10 years earlier for a university study trip. She returned to Prague because of her love of Prague’s people. Nicky, Travor and Doreen decide to what they can to help as many children (with permission from their parents) relocate to the United Kingdom and be placed in foster homes until it’s safe for them to come back to Prague.

When they tally up the numbers, there are more than 1,000 children who could potentially be rescued. Although the vast majority of the children are Jewish, Nicky says he wants to rescue children of any or no religion. In a race against time, Nicky and his allies have to not only find enough funding for these relocations, but they also have to find enough families in the United Kingdom who will be willing to be foster families. Nicky says these foster families can be of any religion.

Many of the potential foster parents have specific requirements, such as only wanting a child of a certain gender and only being able to take care of one child. An unfortunate reality was that many siblings were separated, in order to be placed in foster homes that could take a limited number of children. And an even harsher reality was that many of the children’s parents and other loved ones would be murdered in the Holocaust.

Nicky eventually returns to London to raise money and awareness (with the help of his mother) for these child refugees. He faces an uphill battle, since many British people at the time did not want to get involved in Eastern European politics. Nicky also gets some skepticism about his intentions from Jewish leaders in Czechoslovakia and in the United Kingdom, until Nicky makes it known that he has Jewish heritage. The rescue mission, which is called Kindertransport, ends up saving 669 children.

“One Life” shows these rescue efforts in a perfunctory manner, often in montages. These scenes are intercut with elderly Nicky (played by Hopkins) in 1987 and 1988, when he is living in suburban Maidenhead, England. Senior citizen Nicky is finding some of his Kindertransport mementos and records while he is cleaning up his cluttered study. The reason for the cleanup is that Nicky’s wife Grete Winton (played by Lena Olin) has been complaining that Nicky’s mementos and records have been taking up too much space in their home, and they need room for an upcoming visit from their pregnant daughter.

Nicky was an amateur photographer who took a lot of photos of the children he rescued, as well as their Czech neighborhoods. He kept these photos, as well as meticulous records of the refugees, without knowing what happened to them. His wife Grete tells Nicky about these memories that haunt him, “You have to let go, for your own sake,” but Nicky can’t really let go. Going through these photos and records of these refugees bring these memories back to him.

Jonathan Pryce has a small role as the elderly Martin Blake, who meets Nicky for lunch and comments to him about Nicky’s Kindertransport rescue efforts in the late 1930s: “It’s incredible what you achieved.” (It’s an on-screen reunion of Prye and Hopkins, who both starred in 2019’s “The Two Popes.”) Nicky humbly says that Trevor and Doreen took more of the risks in the rescue efforts, because they stayed in Prague. “One Life” doesn’t really extend that acknowledgement, because the rest of the movie is all about Nicky getting recognition for this rescue mission.

It all starts when Nicky gets a call from a library in England saying that they’re interested in the archives that he wants to donate. At his wife’s urging, Nicky decided that these records were better off in an official institution instead of in their home. When he meets with Holocaust researcher Elisabeth “Betty” Maxwell (played by Marthe Keller), she is amazed at Nicky’s collection and says that it’s too big and important for a library and should belong in a museum.

And what do you know: Betty just happens to be married to Robert Maxwell, the Czech-born British media mogul who owned the Mirror Group Newspapers at the time and who got the publicity machine going to tell Nicky’s story. The movie doesn’t mention the later scandals associated with Robert Maxwell (who died at age 68 from a boating accident in 1991), including his history of fraud and the fact that his socialite daughter Ghislaine Maxwell became a convicted sex offender due to her relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. The publicity over Nicky’s Kindertransport archival collection results in him getting invited on the BBC talk show “That’s Life!,” which leads to the most tearjerking parts of the movie.

“One Life” is certainly an inspirational story. However, the movie could have been a little bit more gracious in showing that happened to Trevor and Doreen, instead of reducing them to brief updates in the movie’s epilogue. Hopkins and Bonham Carter give very good performances, but there’s nothing award-worthy about this movie, which has a formulaic style and at times a manner that is too plodding. The movie is called “One Life,” but the real lives from this story are at the heart of the movie and what viewers will be thinking about the most.

Bleecker Street released “One Life” in select U.S. cinemas on March 15, 2024. The movie was released in Italy and in Australia in December 2023.

Review: ‘They Shot the Piano Player,’ starring the voice of Jeff Goldblum

March 14, 2024

by Carla Hay

A scene from “They Shot the Piano Player” (Image by Javier Mariscal/Sony Pictures Classics)

“They Shot the Piano Player”

Directed by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal

Some language in Portuguese and Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 2000s (with re-enacted flashbacks to the 1960s and 1970s), the animated docudrama film “They Shot the Piano Player” features a predominantly Latin cast of characters (with a few white people and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: American music journalist Jeff Harris (a fictional stand-in for “They Shot the Piano Player” director Fernando Trueba), investigates the mysterious 1976 disappearance of Brazilian piano player Tenório Jr., who was an highly respected musician in the Bossa Nova musical movement.

Culture Audience: “They Shot the Piano Player” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching unusual documentaries about Brazilian music or true crime cases.

Jeff Harris (voiced by Jeff Goldblum) in “They Shot the Piano Player” (Image by Javier Mariscal/Sony Pictures Classics)

“They Shot the Piano Player” mostly succeeds in its intention to be an unconventional documentary, but much of the story gets bogged down in repetitiveness. Overall, this animated film is watchable for people interested in Brazilian music or true crime. It’s a hybrid of a fictional narrator telling a true story, with audio recordings of real interviews featured in the documentary.

Directed by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, “They Shot the Piano Player” was written by Trueba. After screening as a work in progress at the 2023 Annecy International Animation Film Festival, “They Shot the Piano Player” had its world premiere at the 2023 Telluride Film Festival. The movie then made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2023, including the Toronto International Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival.

In the production notes for “They Shot the Piano Player,” Trueba (who is a Spanish filmmaker) says that sometime around 2019, he discovered the talent of Brazilian pianist Tenório Jr. while listening to a Brazilian album from the 1960s. Trueba became fascinated with finding out more about Tenório after discovering that Tenório (whose full name was Franciso Tenório Jr.) had vanished while on tour in Argentina in 1976, when Tenório was 35. Trueba went to Brazil and Argentina to interview family members, friends and associates of Tenório to try to solve the mystery of what happened to Tenório. Many of the resulting interviews are featured in “They Shot the Piano Player.”

“They Shot the Piano Player” creates a fictional narrative around these real interviews. In the movie, which takes place in the 2000s, the person doing the interviewing is a fictional New York City-based journalist named Jeff Harris (voiced by Jeff Goldblum), whose quest to find out the truth begins when he writes an article in The New Yorker about Bossa Nova, the music genre that combines Brazilian music and jazz. Bossa Nova, which originated in Brazil in the late 1950s, flourished in Brazil and in other countries.

As a result of this article in The New Yorker, Jeff gets a book publishing deal to write a nonfiction book about the history of Bossa Nova. While listening to a 1960s Brazilian Bossa Nova album, Jeff discovers Tenório Jr. when he hears a piano solo on the album. Jeff is intrigued to find out that Tenório Jr. hasn’t been featured on any musical recordings in more than 30 years. Jeff (who only speaks English) wants to know why, so he travels to Brazil to interview people. Jeff is sometimes accompanied by his Brazilian friend João (a fictional character, voiced by Tony Ramos), who is a tour guide/language interprerter of sorts during these trips.

Through a series of interviews, Jeff finds out that in 1976, Tenório disappeared in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires, during a tour as a band member with singer Vinicius de Moraes and guitarist/singer Toquinho. Jeff then becomes obsessed with solving the mystery of what happened to Tenório, so he travels back and forth between Brazil and Argentina to get answers. (It’s not that much of a mystery, since the title of the movie says it all.) Tenório’s disappearance happened around the same time of the 1976 coup d’état that ousted Isabel Perón as president of Argentina, so it’s not much of a surprise that this political turmoil (and the thousands of innocent people who were victims of it) are part of this story.

Most people who knew Tenório tell Jeff that it was widely believed that Tenório was murdered in Buenos Aires in 1976. But who murdered him and why? Those questions are answered by some people who are interviewed in the movie and an archival interview that Jeff hears. The interviews also reveal what type of person Tenório was by the surviving people who knew him best. Jeff also visits several of the places where Tenório used to go, such as recording studios and nightclubs.

Jeff’s book editor Jessica (a fictional character, voiced by Roberta Wallach) sees how enthusiastic Jeff has become about solving the mystery, so she tells Jeff that instead of writing a book about the history of Bossa Nova, he should instead write a book about what happened to Tenório Jr. “They Shot the Piano Player” actually begins in 2009, after the book is published, and Jeff is doing a book reading at The Strand bookstore in New York City. The rest of the movie is a flashback to Jeff tellng the story about his journey in writing the book.

Through stories and descriptions from interviews, a portrait of Tenório emerges as a highly respected and talented musician who was passionate about music, who didn’t really care about becoming rich and famous, and who had a messy personal life. At the time of his disappearance, married man Tenório had a mistress and a pregnant wife, who was expecting their fifth child. His mistress Malena Barretto (who is interviewed in the movie) was staying with Tenório at a hotel in Buenos Aires on the night of Tenório’s disappearance. She had been feeling sick at the time, so he left the hotel to find a pharmacy to get some medicine for her. That was the last time she saw him.

“They Shot the Piano Player” is packed with several interesting interviews, but after a while, many of them say the same things over and over about how talented and sweet-natured Tenório was. The movie could have used better editing in reducing some of this repetitiveness. There are also some extraneous scenes that look like nothing but travelogue footage.

Most of the people interviewed are musicians who knew Tenório, such as Toquinho, Chico Buarque, Gilberto Gil, Ben Shank, Caeton Veloso, Milton Nascimento, Jorge “Negro” Gonzales, Ian Muniz, João Donato, Laércio de Freitas, Raymundo Bittencourt, music producer Roberto Menescal and sound engineer Umberto Candardi. Family members interviewed include Tenório’s widow Carmen Magalhäes, his sister Vitoria Tenório and his uncle Manuel Tenório.

Also interviewed are several of Tenório Jr.’s friends in the Rio de Janeiro’s arts community, including Alberto Campana, the owner of Bottle’s Bar and Little, the nightclub where Tenório Jr. got his first big break; poet Ferrreira Gullar, who says that a psychic named Mrs. Haydée told Tenório Jr.’s father that Tenório Jr. was murdered; and family members and associates of de Moraes, such as his ex-wife Marta Santamaría, ex-brother-in-law Carlos Santamaría and friend Elena Goñio. Experts who weigh in with interview include Agrentina’s National Memory Archive coordinator Judith Said, human rights lawyer Luiz Eduardo, filmmaker/university professor Rogério Lima and journalists John Rowles, Nano Herrar and Horatio Verbitsky.

The animation is eye-catching and looks like painting art come to life. However, some people might not like the animation style that’s in this movie. The scenes where Jeff is visiting nightclubs to watch performances are enjoyable. And his investigation will keep viewers interested. It’s especially impactful when Jeff finds out what reportedly happened on the last day of Tenório’s life.

There are pros and cons to Goldblum’s constant narration in this movie. On the one hand, he gives a very good voice performance that remains engaging throughout the film. On the other hand, Goldblum has such a distinctive and famous voice, a lot of vewers might find his celebrity voice distracting. You never forget that you’re listening to Goldblum, which makes it harder to believe the narration is from a character named Jeff Harris.

Despite these narrative flaws, “They Shot the Piano Player” is a very good history lesson about Bossa Nova and about a fairly obscure and underrated Bossa Nova musician. The movie also tells a tragic story of someone who died simply because of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “They Shot the Piano Player” doesn’t make any statements about all the political turmoil in South America, but it tells a compelling human story about someone affected by this turmoil who left an influential legacy in Brazilian music.

Sony Pictures Classics released “They Shot the Piano Player” in select U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2023, with a wider release in U.S. cinemas on February 23, 2024.

Review: ‘Four Daughters’ (2023), starring Hind Sabri, Olfa Hamrouni, Eya Chikhaoui, Tayssir Chikhaoui, Nour Karoui, Ichraq Matar and Majd Mastoura

March 10, 2024

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Eya Chikhaouim, Ichraq Matar, Nour Karoui and Tayssir Chikhaoui in “Four Daughters” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

“Four Daughters” (2023)

Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania

Arabic with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tunisia, the docudrama film “Four Daughters” features an all-Tunisian group of people discussing a family whose two of four daughters became terrorists.

Culture Clash: Through re-enactments and interviews, the women’s mother and the other two sisters take a candid look at their family dynamics that led them to this point.

Culture Audience: “Four Daughters” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in movies about how families are torn apart when members of the family leave to become radical terrorists.

Hind Sabri and Olfa Hamrouni in “Four Daughters” (Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber)

“Four Daughters” is an impactful movie that layers documentary elements with dramatic acting to make a film within a film. By using some of the real-life people in the re-enactments, it’s both an examination and cinematic therapy of a family’s love and painful fracturing. The transitions between the documentary-styled interviews and the dramatic acting are mostly seamless, although it all might be a bit disorienting to some viewers.

Directed and written by Kaouther Ben Hania, “Four Daughters” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where the movie won three awards: L’Œil d’or (the prize for Best Documentary), in tie where the award also went to “The Mother of All Lies”; the François Chalais Prize (the award for journalistic excellence); and Prix de la Citoyenneté (the Citizenship Award). “Four Daughters” also won Best Documentary Feature at the 2024 Film Independent Spirit Awards and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2024 Academy Awards.

“Four Daughters” begins by introducing the three women who portray themselves in the re-enactments: Olfa Hamrouni is the divorced mother of the four daughters who inspired the name of the documentary. Eya Chikhaoui (born in 2003) and Tayssir Chikhaoui (born in 2005) are Hamrouni’s two youngest daughters, who were living with her at the time this movie was filmed. Hamrouni’s two eldest daughters are Ghotrane (born in 1998) and Rahma (born in 1999), who both became raidical terrorists, and left Tunisia to go to Lybia. A caption in the movie’s introduction says that Ghotrane Chikaoui and Rahma Chikaoui were “devoured by the wolf,” which is a euphamism for saying that they became consumed by the radical ideology that took them away from their mother and sisters.

“Four Daughters” has several scenes of Hamrouni, Eya and Tayssir acting in scenes with and getting to know the actresses who are in the re-enactments: Hind Sabri has the role of Hamrouni; Ichraq Matar has the role of Ghofrane; Nour Karoui has the role of Rahma. Sabri is seen early in the movie getting makeup applied before she is about to meet Hamrouni. Sabri admits that she feels “stressed,” as if it’s her first movie and that she’s nervous to meet the woman she has the responsibility of portraying.

The first meeting between Sabri and Hamrouni goes very well. Hamrouni assures and warns the anxious Sabri about what “Four Daughters” director Ben Hania has planned for the movie: “Kaouther isn’t going to invent anything in the story. It’s all true. And that could be disturbing for you.”

In a separate scene, Hamrouni admits in an interview that acting in a movie about her life has made her feel like the heartbroken-but-resilient character of Rose in “Titanic.” Hamrouni gets more emotional when she, Eya and Tayssir meet Matar and Karoui. At first, the mother and daughters are in awe of how much the actresses resemble Ghotrane and Rama.

But then, Hamrouni breaks down in tears as they all sit on a sofa together. Hamrouni begins to cry after asks Matar to sit next to her on the sofa, because Hamrouni says she was the real Ghofrane would have sat next to her if she were there. Eya says, “That’s what’s going to be so painful. We are going to relive it all. It’s going to open the wounds.”

Ghofrane is described as having a calm presence, and she was closer to her mother than Rahma was. Later in the movie, the family says that Ghofrane was the one who became a religous fanatic first and started wearing a hijab at all times. Rahma then followed and became a more hardcore radical than Ghofrane. For a while, Hamrouni and youngest daughter Tayssir also wore hijabs, but they never became radicalized. Eya was the only one in this family of women who refused to wear a hijab and become a fundamentalist Muslim.

Viewers of “Four Daughters” will have to be patient before the movie gets to the story of how Ghofrane and Rahma drastically changed. The first two-thirds of the movie are a combination of showing and telling how the family was before Ghofrane and Rahma reached the point of no return in becoming estranged from their mother and sisters. What emerges is a portrait of the family that was already splintering from generational trauma and abuse.

Hamrouni begins by talking about and re-enacting her unhappy marriage. It’s implied that it was an arranged marriage because Hamrouni makes it clear that she was never in love with her husband. On their wedding night, which is re-enacted in the movie, she resisted having sex with her husband, whose first name is not mentioned in the film. They got into a physical fight, and blood ended up on her wedding dress.

Hamrouni proudly says that she got her way and avoided having sex with her husband that night. However, Hamrouni’s sister scolded her that night and told her that she needed to be a good wife and do what her husband expected her to do. Hamrouni then says that for the rest of her miserable marriage, on the rare occasions that she and her husband had sex, it was only to conceive children.

“Four Daughters” has only one actor portraying all the movie’s male characters: Majd Mastoura. He portrays the abusive men in Hamrouni’s life: her husband (whom she eventually left) and an ex-con boyfriend named Wissem, who was in prison for murder but escaped from prison during the chaos of the Tunisian Revolution of 2011. Mastoura also has roles as a boyfriend of a teenage Ghofrane and as a police officer who takes a report when a frantic Hamrouni reports Ghofrane missing after Ghofrane ran away from home.

“Four Daughters” takes a brutally honest look at the problems in the family. Hamrouni says that her ex-husband was physically and verbally abusive to her and her daughters. Ghofrane got the worst of the abuse, her sisters say, because Ghofrane was the eldest child. However, Hamrouni admits that she physically abused her daughters too. She would often whip them out of anger. A tearful and regretful Hamrouni says that she ended up mistreating her daughters in the same way that Hamrouni’s abusive mother mistreated Hamrouni.

Hamrouni acknowledges that she was overly strict and paranoid about her daughters dating or being interested in sex. Part of that paranoia stems from Hamrouni’s own childhood, when she says that she and her sisters were raised by a single mother, and men would try to force themselves into the home to sexually assault them. Hamrouni says she had to disguise herself as a man to protect herself, her mother and her sisters. Hamrouni’s bad experiences with her male partners also undoubtedly affected her attitude in how she tried to instill in her daughters a fear of men.

Hamrouni says that her relationship with Wissem started off as a fairy-tale romance, where she fell in love with him like a giddy teenager. She said the fact that Wissem (who was a butcher as his job) was in prison for murder didn’t bother her because he treated her so well. But a dark family secret is revealed in the documentary: Eya and Tayssir say that Wissem was far from the “nice guy” he appeared to be, because he sexually abused all four of the sisters.

Hamrouni doesn’t comment in the documentary about this sexual abuse, but when it’s mentioned, her eyes and facial expression give away that she knows that it happened, and she feels ashamed that she didn’t protect her daughters. Apparently, Wissem had her fooled, and Hamrouni was blinded by her love for him. Rahma and Ghofrane say that their mother blamed them for Wissem going away. A scene briefly shows actor Mastour as Wissem in a prison cell, which implies that Wissem went to prison for these sex crimes.

In the movie, Eya is more talkative and expressive than Tayssir, although Tayssir later says that Eya is less likely to stand up for herself than Tayssir is. The family also experienced hunger and poverty. A re-enactment of a family dinner scene reveals that even when the family was starving, Ghofrane was very picky about what she would eat. By contrast, Rahma would eat almost anything that she was given.

An emotionally powerful re-enactment scene happens when Eya and Tayssir, portraying themselves, are sitting on the same bed as Mastoura, who portrays the predatory Wissem in this scene. Eya tells Wissem, “I hate you” with an intensity that affects actor Mastoura so much, he has to leave the room, and he asks to have a private conversation off-camera with director Ben Hania.

Meanwhile, Eya is clearly feeling some kind of catharsis from doing this scene, because she seems very proud of herself for doing this scene without breaking down and crying. After actor Mastoura asks to take a break because of how he was affected by this scene, Eya says that Mastoura should understand that she’s only acting. However, the painful memories are all too real for Tayssir, who quietly cries during this emotionally heavy scene.

During “Four Daughters,” the actresses are seen observing the real-life people they are portraying and practicing things such as mimicking their voices and body language. Old videos of Ghotrana and Rahma are shown to the actresses portraying them. All four daughters were in a parade for then-Tunisian president/dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who was ousted in 2011. Hamrouni says that she and her daughters were loyal supporters of Ben Ali.

It’s unclear when the family really began to experience financial hardships, but Hamrouni says the family’s life got worse after the Tunisian Revolution. Hamrouni went to work in Libya as a house cleaner. And that meant her daughters were often not under her supervision.

Older daughters Ghofrane and Rahma started to rebel by doing things such as skipping school. They began listening to heavy metal and dressed in Goth style, much to the disapproval of Hamrouni, who thought that Ghofrane and Rahma were becoming satanists. The movie has a re-enactment of an exorcism on Rahma.

And so, when Ghofrane and Rahma began seemed to have religious awakenings by ditching their Goth lifestyles and dressing in hijabs, Hamrouni says that she was initially relieved because she thought that it meant that her two oldest daughters were on the right track to turn their lives around. Little did the family know that this switch from one extreme to another would turn out to cause a permanent family rift.

There are moments in “Four Daughters” that are not easy to watch, especially scenes involving abuse. Rahma became so fanatical, she would whip Eya and Tayssir for things such as being late to prayer sessions. Rahma would also frequently accuse her younger sisters (especially Tayssir) of being “infidels.”

All four sisters had a fixation on death and would play games where a sister would pretend to be dead, and they would pretend to have burial and funeral rituals. Eya says these games were “fun” for the sisters, like “going to Disneyland.” But these morbid games are indications of severe emotional turmoil.

“Four Daughters” also shows how these family members see how they are perceived by the actresses who are spending time getting to know them. Karoui, who has the role of Rahma, keenly observes that Rahma’s religious fanatacism was a way for Rahma to control and manipulate the sisters’ overly strict mother after Rahma’s Goth rebellion phase didn’t work.

There are also indications that the actresses want to keep a certain professional distance when the family members start to blur the lines between wanting to get to know the actresses and treating them like real family members. Hamrouni essentially admits that she was closest to eldest daughter Ghofrane. But when Hamrouni asks actress Matar (who has the role of Ghofrane) if Matar would want Hamrouni to be her mother in real life, Matar looks uncomfortable and doesn’t answer. Matar’s non-response says it all, and Hamrouni tries not to look hurt and embarrassed.

For better or worse, “Four Daughters” doesn’t reveal until toward the end of the film what happened to Ghofrane and Rahma after they became terrorists. Some viewers might think this information comes too late in the movie. However, the buildup to these final scenes is meant to show that this family—even with their problems before the separation—had a certain unity that is now gone. “Four Daughters” might not heal the family’s heartbreak over the two daughters who left the family. The movie is a cautionary tale of what can happen when people lose loved ones to radical ideologies that can destroy family relationships.

Kino Lorber released “Four Daughters” in select U.S. cinemas on October 27, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on December 19, 2023.

Review: ‘The End We Start From,’ starring Jodie Comer, Joel Fry, Katherine Waterston, Gina McKee, Nina Sosanya, Mark Strong and Benedict Cumberbatch

March 3, 2024

by Carla Hay

Jodie Comer in “The End We Start From” (Photo courtesy of Republic Pictures and Paramount Global Content Distribution)

“The End We Start From”

Directed by Mahalia Belo

Culture Representation: Taking place in England over the course of about 18 months, the dramatic film “The End We Start From” (based on the 2017 novel of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After a woman gives birth to a baby boy during an environmental crisis, she gets separated from the baby’s father, and she has to find ways for herself and the child to survive. 

Culture Audience: “The End We Start From” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Jodie Comer and movies about surviving an apocalyptic-like disaster.

Katherine Waterston and Jodie Comer in “The End We Start From” (Photo courtesy of Republic Pictures and Paramount Global Content Distribution)

Jodie Comer’s riveting performance is the main reason to watch “The End We Start From,” an occasionally vague but well-acted survival story about a new mother trying to survive with her baby during an environmental crisis. It’s a drama where the main character is not identified by any name, and almost all of the characters’ names are one letter in the alphabet, according to the film’s end credits.

Directed by Mahalia Belo and written by Alice Birch, “The End We Start From” is based on Megan Hunter’s 2017 novel of the same name. “The End We Start From” (which is Belo’s feature-film directorial debut) had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, and then screened at several other festivals in 2023, including the BFI London Film Festival and AFI Fest. The movie takes place in England, where an environmental disaster of massive flooding has caused power outages and homelessness for millions of people. The hardest-hit area is London and other cities that are close to large bodies of water.

“The End We Start From” doesn’t waste time in showing a prolonged buildup to this disaster, because this flooding happens in the first three minutes of the film. A very pregnant woman (played by Comer) is alone at her house during a daytime rainstorm when her house suddenly becomes flooded everywhere. It’s not said out loud during the entire movie, but it’s implied that this environmental crisis is the result of climate change.

The next thing that’s shown is the woman is in a hospital and has given birth to a baby boy. Her live-in partner—identified in the end credits only as R (played by Joel Fry)—is at the hospital too. “The End We Start From” never shows how the woman ended up in the hospital and how R found out that she was there. The couple names the baby Zeb.

The safest places in England during this crisis are elevated areas in the countryside, where R’s parents live. The woman (who apparently doesn’t have any other relatives) and R travel to visit his parents—identified by the letters G (played by Nina Sosanya) and N (played by Mark Strong)—who welcome this couple and the baby. It just so happens that G and N are doomsday survivalists, so they have plenty of food and clean water that they have accumulated in preparation for an apocalypse or other disaster. But how long will it be before they run out of these resources?

During this crisis, the best and worst of humanity is shown. Getting to the house of G and N is an ordeal, because the people in this rural area don’t want outsiders coming in to use their resources. There are government officials supervising roadblocks, and the new mother had to literally beg to be let through the roadblock, by explaining that she and R are there to stay with the baby’s grandparents. It’s doubtful that the couple would have been let through the roadblock if they didn’t have a newborn baby.

Through a series of circumstances, the new mother and R have to leave the home of his parents. And then, she and R get separated from each other. She ends up in a crowded shelter, where she meets another new mother named O (played by Katherine Waterston), who is the mother of a 5-month-old baby girl. O says she has a wealthy friend who’s living in a secure and well-stocked commune. O wants to find a way to get to this commune, which she is sure is a safe place to live.

Benedict Cumberbatch has a small role as a man named AB whom the women encounter along the way. And there’s a woman named F (played by Gina McKee) who meets the two women and has a pivotal role in the story. And what about R? The movie shows whether or not R and his partner find each other again. The entire story in the movie takes place over a period of about 18 months.

“The End We Start From” has a lot of harrowing situations that are very realistic to how people would act during a disaster where food, water, shelter and other basic needs become increasingly scarce. There are some flashbacks to how the woman and R met and their subsequent courtship. The movie’s biggest drawback is that very little is revealed about the main character’s life before she met R. However, “The End We Start From” is still an interesting character study in a competently told survival story.

Republic Pictures and Paramount Global Content Distribution released “The End We Start From” in select U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023, with a wider expansion to U.S. cinemas on January 19, 2024. The movie was released on digital and VOD on February 6, 2024.

Review: ‘About Dry Grasses,’ starring Deniz Celiloğlu, Merve Dizdar and Musab Ekici

February 23, 2024

by Carla Hay

Merve Dizdar, Deniz Celiloğlu and Musab Ekici in “About Dry Grasses” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films)

“About Dry Grasses”

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

Turkish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Turkey, the dramatic film “About Dry Grasses” features a cast if Turkish characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A bachelor, who is an art teacher at a middle school, gets into various entanglements related to his career and his personal life. 

Culture Audience: “About Dry Grasses” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan and well-acted movies about adults who are disatisfied with their lives.

Merve Dizdar and Deniz Celiloğlu in “About Dry Grasses” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films)

“About Dry Grasses” will test the patience of anyone who doesn’t want to watch a talkative movie that’s a little more than three hours. However, this artsy drama is an interesting character study of a troubled teacher and his complex relationships. The movie has entwined storylines of how the teacher presents himself in different ways in his job and in his personal life, depending on whom he wants to manipulate or control.

Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, “About Dry Grasses” was co-written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, his wife Ebru Ceylan and Akın Aksu. “About Dry Grasses” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where Merve Dizdar won the prize for Best Actress. The movie made the rounds at other film festivals, including the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. “About Dry Grasses” was Turkey’s official selection to be considered for Best International Feature Film at the 2024 Academy Awards. The movie made the shortlist but ultimately did not get an Oscar nomination.

“About Dry Grasses” takes place mostly in the rural municipality of Incescu, Turkey. In 2022, the population of Incescu was a little more than 29,000 people. In the beginning of the movie, it’s winter in an unspecified year in the early 2020s. An art teacher named Samet (played by Deniz Celiloğlu), who has just returned from a trip, trudges through the snow to get back to his modest house that he shares with his roommate Kenan (played by Musab Ekici), who is currently unemployed.

Samet and Kenan are both never-married bachelors in mid-to-late 30s, with no children. When Samet returns home, Kenan tells him that Kenan’s father is in a hospital, and Kenan’s mother is upset because Kenan is still a bachelor with no known prospects of finding a wife. Kenan also says that’s he’s been trying to find a job, but when he interviewed for a job as a security staffer, Kenan was told that the employer would rather have a dog do the security work.

Samet, who is very self-absorbed, doesn’t really care about Kenan’s problems, but he pretends to listen to Kenan as if he cares. As Samet says many times throughout the story, Samet is miserable with small-town life in Incescu, and he wants to find a job in a much bigger city, preferably Istanbul, where he used to live. For the past four years, Samet has been teaching eighth graders at a middle school in Incescu.

When Samet returns to his school after his vacation, he gives a mirror as a gift to one of his students named Savim (played by Ece Bağcı), who is very happy to see Samet. Samet tells her that this mirror is something he bought for her when he was on his trip. From the beginning, something seems a little inappropriate about the way that Savim and Samet are interacting toward each other.

Savim is very giggly with Samet and has an obvious crush on him, but he is touchy-feely with her in an affectionate way that suggests he’s flirting with her too. As an adult teacher, Samet doesn’t seem to be setting professional boundaries between himself and Savim. The mirror gift to Savim is also a sign that he’s giving her special treatment.

When a student complains to Samet in his classroom that Samet is giving special treatment to Savim and Savim’s friends, Samet verbally lashes out at this observant student by insulting him. Throughout the movie, Samet shows that he can be very charming but also very vindictive. He has a nasty temper that flares up whenever someone gives him criticism that he doesn’t like. He can be emotionally cruel to his students or anyone who doesn’t do exactly what he expects them to do.

Kenan eventually gets a job at the school as a custodian. Kenan reports to the school’s live-in custodian named Tolga (played by Erdem Senocak), who is later revealed to be a bit of a gossip. Kenan is a good guy who thinks Samet is his best friend, but Kenan is slow to pick up on social cues and facial expressions to see how Samet might really feel. Kenan mistakenly believes that Samet is as honest as Kenan is.

Samet hangs out with Kenan because Samet wants to be the superior “alpha male” to Kenan’s “beta male.” This attitude is most evident when a certain woman comes into both of their lives. Her name is Nuray (played by Dizdar), and she is an English teacher at a bigger school where Samet would probably like to work.

Samet meets Nuray for the first time at her school’s cafeteria. It’s sort of like a blind date for both of them. Nuray, who happens to be disabled, is intelligent and witty. She lost her part of a leg to amputation during a suicide bomber attack. Nuray’s parents don’t know that she was involved in radical political activism that led to her being near this bomb.

Later, Kenan meets Nuray when Samet introduces the both of them to each other. Kenan and Nuray seem to like each other a lot and have instant chemistry together. However, jealous Samet can’t bear the thought of Kenan having a more successful love life. Things happen in this love triangle, where someone inevitably gets emotionally hurt.

It’s never said out loud in the movie, by Samet seems to have big secrets about why he ended up in Incescu. For example, “About Dry Grasses” doesn’t reveal why Samet moved from his preferred big city of Istanbul to live in the remote town of Incescu. Samet tells anyone who’ll listen that he doesn’t like small-town life.

It’s very easy to speculate that maybe Samet left Istanbul because he was running away from something. The movie leaves it up to interpretation, but it’s a logical guess that maybe Samet got involved in a scandal in Istanbul, considering how sneaky and dishonest Samet is revealed to be in this movie.

Meanwhile, the discovery of a love letter throws things into chaos for Samet. The movie shows whether or not he gets out of this predicament and the lengths that he will go to in those efforts to not get into trouble. “About Dry Grasses” has some scenes that are intriguing and suspenseful and other scenes that are just of long conversations (usually at a dinner table) of people talking about mostly mundane things.

Boredom might set in for some viewers during this lengthy movie, but what will probably keep people interested is to see what happens to Samet. How long will he continue to juggle the various sides of his personality? Dizdar gives a very skilled performance of someone who just might be a sociopath but is pretty good at hiding it from most people.

Samet also has a great deal of self-loathing. The movie gets its title from a line that he says near the end of the film whene he comments that dry grasses are “worthless, like my life.” Ironically, the person in the movie who is the first to see Samet for who he really is the one whose judgment is questioned the most. “About Dry Grasses” shows in effective ways how warning signs about a problematic person can be ignored because people don’t want to admit that they could be fooled by a manipulative liar.

Sideshow and Janus Films released “About Dry Grasses” in select U.S. cinemas on February 23, 2024.

Review: ‘How to Have Sex,’ starring Mia McKenna-Bruce, Lara Peake, Samuel Bottomley, Shaun Thomas, Enva Lewis and Laura Ambler

February 16, 2024

by Carla Hay

Mia McKenna-Bruce and Shaun Thomas in “How to Have Sex” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“How to Have Sex”

Directed by Molly Manning Walker

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece, the dramatic film “How to Have Sex” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three British female friends, who are in their late teens, go on vacation together in Greece, where they party a lot, and one of the women gets sexually assaulted by a young British man who became one of their party acquaintances. 

Culture Audience: “How to Have Sex” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted movies about “date rape” and its psychological effects.

Lara Peake, Enva Lewis and Mia McKenna-Bruce in “How to Have Sex” (Photo courtesy of MUBI)

“How to Have Sex” is a realistic drama about sexual awakening and sexual assault during a vacation revolving around carefree intoxication. It’s not a preachy movie, but it’s a candid observation of confusion, regret and peer pressure in sexual experiences. “How to Have Sex” is told from the perspectives of people in their late teens and early 20s, but the themes in the film can apply to anyone.

Written and directed by Molly Manning Walker, “How to Have Sex” is her skillfully made feature-film debut. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Un Certain Regard prize. “How to Have Sex” also screened at several other film festivals in 2023, such as the Toronto International Film Festival and the BFI London Film Festival. “How to Have Sex” also won three prizes at the 2023 British Independent Film Awards: Best Lead Performance (for Mia McKenna-Bruce); Best Supporting Performance (for Shaun Thomas); and Best Casting (for Isabella Odoffin).

In “How to Have Sex” (which takes place in an unnamed part of Greece), three British female best friends, have recently graduated from high school and are on a summer vacation. The three pals are vacationing together at a resort that’s popular with other young people who want to do a lot of partying. The three besties are charismatic Tara (played by McKenna-Bruce), bossy Skye (played by Lara Peake), and friendly Em (played by Enva Lewis), who all consider themselves to be fun-loving free spirits. However, in the beginning of the story, Tara is a virgin and is somewhat embarrassed about it, because she doesn’t want anyone else outside of this trio of friends to know that she is a virgin.

Tara, Skye and Em all share the same room together at the resort hotel. The first third of the movie consists of scenes of the three women having a lot of drunken antics and hangovers. Their personalities, which become more apparent in their interactions with people, affect how they react to certain situations.

Skye thinks of herself as the leader of this trio. She constantly wants to know what other people are doing in their sex lives and gives unsolicited advice. Skye is very manipulative, since she says and does things to either bring people together in hookups that she wants to happen, or steer people away from hookups that she doesn’t want to happen. During a drinking game of “Never Have I Ever,” Skye seems to be the most sexually experienced of the three friends.

Tara, who is nicknamed Taz, is the talkative and somewhat goofy charmer of the group. Early on in the movie, there’s a scene where Em unsuccessfully asks the hotel’s front-desk receptionist (played by Eleni Sachini) if the three friends could switch to a room that overlooks the hotel’s swimming pool. The receptionist insists that there is no such room available. But then, Tara immediately comes along, introduces herself to the receptionist with a smile, and talks the receptionist into giving them this room by saying that Skye has been learning to swim, and having a room with the view of the swimming pool will give Skye more confidence.

Em is the quietest one of the trio, which doesn’t mean that she’s not talkative. Em just doesn’t call attention to herself as much as Tara and Skye do. There are hints that Em comes from an affluent family, because she says at one point, “I miss my BMW.” Em is also queer, since her main hookup during this vacation is a butch-looking young British woman named Paige (played by Laura Ambler), who is staying with some British friends at the hotel room next door.

Paige is sharing the room with two guys who are about the same age (late teens or early 20s) and who are also doing a lot of partying. Best friends Badger (played by Thomas) and Paddy (played by Samuel Bottomley) are enthusiastic participants in all the drunken debauchery taking place during this vacation. Not much is revealed about the backgrounds of Badger and Paddy, which is the movie’s way of showing how encounters in this type of environment are often superficial and aren’t about getting to know people better outside of partying and meaningless flings.

Badger, with his tattoos and messy bleach-blonde hair, looks and acts like a stereotypical stoner/drunkard who over-indulges in marijuana and alcohol. The only things he reveals about himself and his life outside of the bubble of this vacation is that his job is “driving vans” (he doesn’t give further details) and that his mother and Paddy’s mother are also best friends. Paddy is more clean-cut and less of a loudmouth than Badger. Paddy often acts like he’s Badger’s “wing man,” since Badger is more likely to take the lead in approaching women.

Badger first sees Tara the morning after a night of heavy partying. They both happen to be on their balconies of their respective rooms at the same time. Badger immediately flirts with Tara, but she doesn’t seem that interested in him, but she accepts his invitation for Tara and her friends to meet up with Badger and his friends at a party. It’s at this party where Tara meets Paddy, and she’s instantly attracted to him, but he doesn’t seem very interested in Tara.

Meanwhile, Skye notices that Badger has been heavily flirting with Tara, who is slowly warming up to Badger’s attention. When Tara and Badger get drunk together, she likes to make him laugh with silly jokes. However, observant viewers will notice that Skye is attracted to Badger, even though Skye doesn’t say so out loud. When Skye finds out that Tara prefers Paddy, Skye encourages Tara to flirt more with Paddy.

At first, “How to Have Sex” shows a lot of intoxicated reveling at places like nightclubs, hotel rooms or swimming pools. It looks repetitive, but it’s the movie way of showing how people in these situations can be lulled into thinking that life is one big party and the worst thing that can happen to them is maybe getting lost or having a hangover. It’s not the movie giving criticism of partying, but it shows how intoxicated partying can impair people’s judgments to the point where they will do things differently or get themselves in situations that they wouldn’t be in if they were clear-minded and sober.

Even in scenes showing a lot of young people partying as if they don’t have a care in the world, there is an underlying sense that sexual antics could go too far and cross the line into sexual assault. At nightclubs and gatherings at swimming pools, party hosts have games requiring participants to take off items of their clothing or do sexually suggestive things, such as place a beer bottle in a crotch area (while clothed) and serve the beer into the open mouth of another participant. No one is shown being forced to participate in these games, but the women who participate are more at risk than men of being perceived as “promiscuous” for playing these games.

During one of these games in a swimming pool, Badger volunteers to be licked and kissed by several women volunteers (who are strangers to him) at the same time in the pool. One of the women ends up giving him oral sex in front of everyone who can see it, although the graphic details are not shown in the movie. Tara sees all of this going on, and she looks uncomfortable. It’s not like she thinks Badger is her boyfriend, but it’s an eye-opening incident for her to find out that this is the kind of thing he’ll do when he’s drunk. The next day, Badger says he has no memory of what happened in the swimming pool.

The prevailing attitude about sexual hookups during all of this partying is: “If it feels good, and it’s consensual, why not?” But what if someone is too intoxicated to consent? That’s where problems can occur, especially if people can’t agree on what it means to be “too intoxicated” in the context of the situation. There’s also peer pressure, since this is the type of vacation where the partiers don’t want to be perceived as being uptight and prudish. Skye and Tara almost have a big argument when Skye drops hints to people that Tara is a virgin.

It’s enough to say that the possible love triangle between Badger, Tara and Paddy turns into something that is definitely not love. Tara loses her virginity to one of them in a consensual encounter. She then regrets it when he acts like the encounter didn’t mean much to him, so she becomes quiet and withdrawn. He then wants to have another sexual encounter with her, but she says no. However, when she’s half-asleep one morning, he crawls into bed with her and starts to have sex with Tara, without her consent, under the covers. He stops only because Skye walks in and unknowingly interrupts this assault.

The rape of Tara happens so quickly, she’s in shock. The tone of “How to Have Sex” then changes from being upbeat to sobering to borderline depressing. The movie does an excellent job of showing the psychological effects this rape has on Tara, as the shock wears off, and she begins to understand that what happened to her wasn’t a drunken mistake: She was deliberately raped.

Does Tara report this rape? It’s a dilemma that many rape victims often face: How do you report a rape when the rapist is someone who can claim it was consensual sex, because the victim had previously had consensual sex with the rapist on another occasion? It’s also a “he said/she said” situation, because no one except Tara and her rapist saw what happened.

Skye is too self-absorbed to notice the personality change in Tara, but Em notices and is a compassionate friend who takes the time to listen to a friend in need. Because Tara is the main character in “How to Have Sex,” the heart and soul of the movie is in the performance of McKenna-Bruce, who does an admirable job of conveying all the emotions of someone who goes from being a bubbly party girl to a vulnerable rape survivor. Whether or not the rapist is punished for the crime is not the point of this movie. The main intent of “How to Have Sex” is to show how easily a sexual-assault crime can happen and how the crime victim chose to cope with it.

MUBI released “How to Have Sex” in select U.S. cinemas on February 2, 2024. The movie was released in the United Kingdom and other countries in 2023.

Review: ‘Perfect Days’ (2023), starring Kôji Yakusho

February 15, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kôji Yakusho and Arisa Nakano in “Perfect Days” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Perfect Days” (2023)

Directed by Wim Wenders

Japanese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tokyo, the dramatic film “Perfect Days” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people and black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly sanitation worker, who is a quiet loner, spends his days and nights trying to live a harmonious existence when he’s with other people, but he sometimes battles loneliness and being misunderstood. 

Culture Audience: “Perfect Days” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a “slice of life” movie that focuses on a specific individual.

Arisa Nakano and Kôji Yakusho in “Perfect Days” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Perfect Days” is a “slice of life” movie about an elderly sanitation worker who is a quiet loner. Viewer appreciation will rest entirely on whether or not this person is worth watching. For most people, the answer is “yes.” However, because “Perfect Days” is a slow-paced movie, it won’t have much appeal to viewers with short attention spans or those who have no interest in seeing this insularly focused movie about this type of person.

Directed by Wim Wenders (who co-wrote the “Perfect Days” screenplay with Takuma Takasaki), “Perfect Days” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival, where star Kôji Yakusho won the prize for Best Actor. The movie then made the rounds at numerous film festivals in 2023, including the Telluride Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival. “Perfect Days” was nominated for Best International Feature Film for the 2024 Academy Awards.

Yakusho, who stars as “Perfect Days” protagonist Hirayama, gives the type of performance where he has to do a lot of acting with his facial expressions and body language, since Hirayama doesn’t talk at all for a great deal of the film. When he does talk, he does so sparingly, without saying his inner feelings out loud. It’s the type of performance that will make viewers want to know more about Hirayama—not in a way where the movie feels incomplete, but in a way that indicates there’s a lot more to Hirayama than he shows to the people he sees on a regular basis.

“Perfect Days” shows what amounts to about two weeks of Hirayama’s life. He works for a company called The Tokyo Toilet, and his job is to clean outdoor public toilets in Tokyo, where he lives. He is very responsible, prompt and thorough in his work. It doesn’t take long for viewers to see that Hirayama likes to keep his life uncomplicated and is happy with finding comfort in life’s simple pleasures.

Very little is known about Hirayama before this story takes place. What were his hopes and dreams when he was younger? Has he been married? Does he have children? What types of jobs did he have before his current job? Don’t expect answers to these questions, although because Hirayama lives alone and doesn’t mention having any children, it can be assumed that he’s a bachelor with no children.

A few things become apparent about Hirayama from his interactions with people. He’s kind, he’s generous, and he likes his daily routines. He has a pattern that he sticks to of going to his job, a local park for lunch, his favorite cafe and bar when he’s not working, and then going home. He likes listening to classic rock, reading, and taking outdoor photos. He keeps his photos neatly filed in boxes labeled according to the months that the photos were taken.

Hirayama shows his generosity by lending a co-worker in his 20s named Takashi (played by Tokio Emoto) some money so that Takashi can court a girlfriend named Aya (played by Aoi Yamada), whom Takashi wants desperately to impress. Takashi gets the money by whining to Hirayama that the Tokyo Toilet job doesn’t pay Takashi enough money to take Aya out on the dates that he thinks Aya deserves. At first, Takashi tried to persuade Hirayama to sell off a large part of Hirayama’s music collection (he has mostly cassettes and vinyl albums) to get the money, but Hirayama decides to just give Takashi the wanted cash instead. Takashi shows up late for work sometimes. When Hirayama has to pick up the slack for Takashi’s flakiness, Hirayama does so without complaining.

Music is a big part of “Perfect Days,” since Hirayama listens to classic rock from the 1960s and 1970s for enjoyment, and it becomes a way that he bonds with certain people in the movie. Patti Smith’s breakthrough 1975 album “Horses” is prominently featured in the story. Other music heard in the movie’s soundtrack (which is the soundtrack to Hirayama’s life) are songs such as Lou Reed’s plaintive 1972 ballad “Perfect Day,” Van Morrison’s classic 1967 love song “Brown Eyed Girl” and the Kinks’ 1966 jaunty hit “Sunny Afternoon.” There’s a scene in the movie where Aya asks Hirayama if she can find “Horses” on Spotify. He’s never heard of Spotify before and think it’s a physical retail store, because he doesn’t fully understand the concept of a digital streaming service.

A turning point in the story comes with the unexpected visit of Hirayama’s teenage niece Niko (played by Arisa Nakano), who shows up at Hirayama’s home because she’s having problems with her mother, who is Hirayama’s younger sister. This visit is a catalyst for Hirayama to look at his life from Niko’s perspective, and it opens up some old emotional wounds and certain feelings in Hirayama. “Perfect Days” is not a perfect movie, but it’s a wonderful example of a contemplative movie about someone who usually isn’t the main character of a movie and is the type of person who is often overlooked or forgotten in real life.

Neon released “Perfect Days” in New York City on November 10, 2023, with a wider expansion to more U.S. cinemas on February 9, 2024. The movie was released in Japan and other countries in 2023.

Review: ‘Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,’ starring Max Pelayo, Reese Gonzales, Veronica Falcón, Kevin Alejandro, Eva Longoria and Eugenio Derbez

December 18, 2023

by Carla Hay

Max Pelayo and Reese Gonzales in “Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe”

Directed by Aitch Alberto

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1987, in El Paso, Texas, and in Chicago, the dramatic film “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (based on the 2012 novel of the same name) features a predominantly Latin cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: When a 16-year-old brooding loner meets a teenage boy of the same age who has an opposite personality, they become unlikely friends that could turn into something more, but one of the teens is afraid to admit this romantic attraction. 

Culture Audience: “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted coming-of-age dramas told from a queer perspective.

Reese Gonzales and Max Pelayo in “Artistotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment)

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” isn’t just another “opposites attract” movie. The engaging and realistic performances by Max Pelayo and Reese Gonzales keep things interesting in this self-identity teen drama when the story starts to wander and get unfocused. The ending is predictable, but the journey to get there is worth watching.

Written and directed by Aitch Alberto, “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is based on Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s 2012 novel of the same name. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. It’s an emotionally authentic story about friendship and young love that happens to also be about coming to terms with someone’s true sexuality.

The movie, which takes place in 1987, begins in El Paso, Texas. That’s where 16-year-old Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza (played by Pelayo) lives with his parents. Ari’s father Jaime Mendoza (played by Eugenio Derbez, one of the movie’s producers) is a mailman. Ari’s mother Liliana Mendoza (played by Veronica Falcón) appears to be a homemaker. Ari is a student at Austin Public High School, where he is a quiet and introverted loner.

Ari has a brother who’s about 10 years older named Bernardo, who is in prison. Bernardo went to prison when Ari was too young (about 5 years old) to know what happened. Ari’s parents have refused to tell Ari why Bernardo is in prison because it’s a shameful secret. The only thing that Ari knows is that Bernardo is in prison for a violent crime.

There’s a scene early on in the movie where Ari and Liliana are in the kitchen in their family home. She gets upset when Ari jokes that he’s going to join a gang. “I’m Mexican,” Ari says. “Isn’t that what we do?”

In the beginning of the movie, Ari says in a voiceover: “One summer night, I fell asleep, hoping the night would be different when I woke up. In the morning, I opened my eyes, and the world was the same.” However, that summer, Ari would meet someone special, and both of ther lives would never be the same.

That special someone is Dante Quintana (played by Gonzales), who meets Ari for the first time when they happen to be at the same public swimming pool. Dante offers to teach Ari to swim when he notices Ari struggling a little bit in the pool. Ari is too proud to ask for a lot of help, but he and Dante strike up a conversation. It’s not that hard to do because Dante is very friendly and talkative.

The conversation turns into a genuine friendship, despite Dante and Ari having opposite personalities and different family backgrounds. Dante’s father Sam Quintana (played by Kevin Alejandro) is a university professor. Dante’s mother Soledad Quintana (played by Eva Longoria) is sophisticated and very open-minded. Dante (who is an only child) mentions at one point in the movie that he has Mexican heritage because of his mother’s side of the family.

Ari’s and Dante’s bedrooms are also a study in contrasts. Ari’s room is small and uncluttered, with nothing hanging on the walls. Dante’s room is large, cluttered and messy. Each of their rooms is a reflection of how they live their lives. Ari is guarded and doesn’t easily reveal himself to a lot of people. Dante, who doesn’t really care if people think he’s a little weird, lives his life exuberantly.

Ari and Dante eventually meet each other’s parents. When Dante meets Ari’s parents for the first time, he gives them a book of Mexican art. Dante says that it was Dante’s father’s idea to give this gift. Dante is the type of person who likes artsy independent films, while Ari likes more mainstream entertainment. Ari looks like he could be a heartthrob athlete. Dante looks like he could be a sensitive intellectual.

Dante and Ari’s close friendship continues after their summer break is over and the new school year begins. Dante is new to the school, so Ari has to be the one to tell him to steer clear of the school’s chief gossip Gina Navarro (played by Isabella Gomez) and her equally nosy sidekick Susie Byrd (played by Hanani Taylor), who both immediately notice how close Dante and Ari are. As far as Ari is concerned, he wants everyone to think that he’s heterosexual and that his seemingly unlikely friendship with Dante is strictly platonic.

Ari becomes so close to Dante and Dante’s parents, they all go on a camping trip together. It’s during this trip that Ari and Dante look through a telescope. Dante tells Ari, “Someday, I’m going to discover all the secrets of the universe.”

The friendship of Dante and Ari is put to the test when Dante drops some surprising news: Dante’s father accepted a year-long visiting professor job at the University of Chicago. The middle section of the movie shows what happens when Dante is in Chicago and Ari is in El Paso. Dante writes letters to Ari, and they both go on dates with girls who are about the same age.

Ari’s would-be love interest is a schoolmate named Elena Tellez (played by Luna Blaise), who makes the first move in flirting with Ari. As for Dante, it’s obvious that Dante is not entirely comfortable being romantic with girls, and he’s been in love with Ari all along. And what about Ari? The rest of the movie is about whether or not Ari can express his true feelings, which are confusing to him and which he often denies.

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” has some parts of the story that are somewhat mundane and somewhat melodramatic. Because it takes less time for Dante to express his true feelings, the last third of the movie becomes an extended “guessing game” of what Ari will do when he finds out that Dante has romantic feelings for him. The direction of the movie is solid, but the pacing of the film could have been better.

However, because of the talented cast in “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” viewers will get a good sense of what the characters are feeling from different angles. Although the focus of the story is on Ari and Dante, their parents’ perspectives are also given importance and show why Ari and Dante both have different ways of coming to terms with their respective sexualities. There’s plenty of teen angst in the movie, but what viewers will most remember is that it’s a story about living your truth, even when being honest about who you are and who you love can be painful.

Blue Fox Entertainment released “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” in select U.S. cinemas on September 8, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on November 14, 2023.

Review: ‘The Boy and the Heron,’ a fantastical adventure anime movie from filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki

November 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mahito Maki and the Grey Heron in “The Boy and the Heron” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“The Boy and the Heron”

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan, mostly in 1944, the animated film “The Boy and the Heron” features a cast of Japanese human and animal characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: A lonely adolescent boy, who’s grieving over the accidental death of his mother, befriends a half-heron/half-man, who leads the boy to fantastical world inside a mysterious tower, where he encounters past versions of various people and a power-hungry group of parakeets. 

Culture Audience: “The Boy and the Heron” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and time-traveling anime movies that can be enjoyed by various generations.

Himi in “The Boy and the Heron” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“The Boy and the Heron” artfully blends heavy issues of grief with the escapism of a thrilling adventure. It’s a beautifully told and moving story that is as much about being a legacy to departed loved ones as it is about establishing one’s own identity. “The Boy and the Heron” had its North American premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, “The Boy and the Heron” is inspired by but not connected to Genzaburō Yoshin’s 1937 novel “How Do You Live?,” which is the Japanese title of the movie. “The Boy and the Heron” has elements of Miyazaki’s childhood in the movie, which has an original screenplay. Miyazaki (who won an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for 2001’s “Spirited Away”) has been synonymous with among the best of what Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli has to offer. “The Boy and the Heron” ends a 10-year gap between Miyazaki’s movies. His previous movie was 2013’s Oscar-nominated “The Wind Rises.”

“The Boy and the Heron” begins with a tragedy. In 1943, in Tokyo during the Pacific War, 12-year-old Mahito Maki is woken up from his sleep to the sound of chaos. His businessman father Shoichi Maki tells him that the hospital where Mahito’s mother Himi works is on fire. The hospital and the fire can be seen from the Maki family home. Mahito (who is an only child at this point) wants to go with his father to the hospital to help save Maki, but Shoichi insists that Mahito stay at home. Unfortunately, Maki does not survive the fire. It’s implied that the fire was caused by a bomb during this war.

The following year, 13-year-old Mahito and Shoichi move to Grey Heron Mansion, in an unnamed city in the countryside. Shoichi, who owns an ammunition factory near the estate, is now married to Himi’s younger sister Natsuko, who is described as a look-alike to Himi. The first time that Mahito meets Natsuko, he finds out that she is pregnant with his younger sibling. It’s a lot to take in for introverted Mahito, who is deep in grief over his mother’s death.

The mansion has seven elderly maids, who dote on Mahito and often work together in a pack. The maids’ names are Kiriko, Aiko, Izumi, Eriko, Utako, Oyuki, and Kazuko. Kiriko is the unofficial leader of the maids. She is often stoic and less talkative than the other maids in the group. Natsuko and all of the maids treat Mahito with kindness. Shoichi is a caring father, but he is very preoccupied with his work.

One day, Mahito notices that a grey heron has flown up to him, as if to try to get his attention. Mahito is told that his grey heron has lived on the property for quite some time. The grey heron will visit Mahito more times over the next several days.

Shortly after moving to this new home, Mahito goes exploring in the estate’s wooded area. He finds a tower that is somewhat sealed off, but Mahito finds a way to peek inside. He’s later told by Natsuko that the tower was built by her granduncle, who had a mental breakdown and disappeared. However, this granduncle left behind a book of his writings. Natsuko also tells Mahito that when Himi was a child, Himi disappeared for a year, but reappeared a year later with no memory of having been gone.

Quiet and shy Mahito has a hard time making friends with other students at his school. The students mostly ignore him or give him hostile stares. Out of frustration and to get out of going to school, Mahito hits himself on the head with a rock. It causes him to bleed profusely. Mahito tells people that he fell down, but his father Shoichi doesn’t believe Mahito. Shoichi thinks that Mahito was assaulted by a bully and is determined to find out who it is.

While Mahito is recovering from his injuries, he gets an unusual visit from the grey heron, who flies to Mahito’s window and squawks, “Mahito, save me!” The heron tells Mahito that Mahito’s mother is still alive and living in the tower. Around the same time, Natsuko goes missing. Through a series of events, Mahito, the heron and Kiriko find themselves trapped in the tower, which is actually a magical place inside that has past versions of some of the people whom Mahito knows.

The grey heron also reveals himself to be half-pelican, half-man, who can wear the pelican part of his body like a costume. It’s best not to go into further details in this review, but it’s enough to say that the story in “The Boy and the Heron” also features pelicans, a parakeet kingdom, and beings called warawara that look like white-colored stars and have a purpose that’s connected to life forces. Some of the scenes in this movie are visually stunning and very immersive.

The voices of “The Boy and the Heron” characters are portrayed by different cast members, depending on the version of the movie. The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Soma Santoki as Mahito, Masaki Suda as the Grey Heron, Takuya Kimura as Soichi, Yoshino Kimura as Natsuko, Kô Shibasaki as Kiriko, Aimyon as Himi, Jun Kunimura as the Parakeet King and Kaoru Kobayashi as a wise old pelican. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Luca Padovan as Mahito, Robert Pattinson as the Grey Heron, Christian Bale as Soichi, Gemma Chan as Natsuko, Florence Pugh as Kiriko, Karen Fukuhara as Himi, Dave Bautista as the Parakeet King and Willem Dafoe as a wise old pelican.

“The Boy and the Heron” explores themes of life, death, and what it might mean to change one’s destiny by going back in time and possibly doing things differently. There are also some sociopolitical observations about how much control people should give leaders over who lives and who dies, as well as some obvious (but not preachy) commentary about the dangers of damaging the environment. There’s a point in the story where Mahito has to decide how much he is going to make his grief control a big decision that he has to make.

The movie has some well-animated and suspenseful action scenes and gives each of the main characters a distinct personality. The voice actors also give very good but not outstanding performances. With so many animated movies stuck in a formulaic rut, “The Boy and the Heron” can be a viable option for people looking for a well-made and entertaining animated film that also has meaningful messages about humanity’s connections to other creatures, the environment, and the life cycles that are unique to all.

GKIDS released “The Boy and the Heron” in select U.S. cinemas on November 24, 2023, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on December 8, 2023. The movie was released in Japan on July 14, 2023.

Review: ‘Next Goal Wins’ (2023), starring Michael Fassbender, Oscar Kightley, Kaimana, David Fane, Rachel House, Beulah Koale, Will Arnett and Elisabeth Moss

November 17, 2023

by Carla Hay

Michael Fassbender (center) in “Next Goal Wins” (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Searchlight Pictures)

“Next Goal Wins” (2023)

Directed by Taika Waititi

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2011, mostly in American Samoa, the comedy/drama film “Next Goal Wins” (based on real events) features Asian/Pacific Islander and white characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A hard-drinking and volatile soccer coach is exiled to work with the American Samoa National Team, which hasn’t scored a goal in years. 

Culture Audience: “Next Goal Wins” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of filmmaker Taika Waititi, star Michael Fassbender, and “against-all-odds” sports movies that are very corny.

Cast members of “Next Goal Wins,” including Lehi Falepapalangi (third from left), Kaimana (fourth from left), Michael Fassbender (fifth from left) and Beulah Koale (sixth from left). (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle/Searchlight Pictures)

“Next Goal Wins” should’ve been a creative and exciting sports movie, considering the uniqueness of this true story. Instead, it overuses tiresome clichés of a grumpy outsider training a ragtag team. The dull comedy and ethnic stereotypes are cringeworthy. “Next Goal Wins” had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival.

Directed by Taika Waititi (who co-wrote the subpar “Next Goal Wins” screenplay with Iain Morris), “Next Goal Wins” is based on a true story of how Dutch-born soccer coach Thomas Rongen transformed the American Samoa National Team from being on a losing streak of never scoring a goal in games for years to being a team capable of scoring goals and winning games. This story was also the subject of the 2014 documentary “Next Goal Wins.”

The scripted version of “Next Goal Wins” (which takes place in 2011) follows every single formula that has been done so many times already in similar movies, except the sports team in “Next Goal Wins” happens to have a transgender player. Waititi does occasional voiceover narration that’s supposed to sound folksy and whimsical, but it just comes across as annoying and unnecessary. Waititi also has a cameo role in the movie as an American Samoan priest.

In the beginning of “Next Goal Wins,” there’s a flashback to 2001, as the narrator explains that the American Samoa National Team experienced a humiliating 31-0 loss in a FIFA World Cup qualification match against Australia. Archival footage shows some of this match, as the narrator says the obvious: The American Samoan team is bad at playing soccer. The team hasn’t scored a goal in the 10 years since then.

“Next Goal Wins” then fast-forwards to 2011. The head of the American Samoa Football Federation is cheerful and friendly Tavita (played by Oscar Kightley), but he doesn’t have the respect of the team. How do we know they don’t respect him? While he was asleep, they used a marker pen to draw breasts on his face. Tavita has these markings on his face for a few days. It’s supposed to be a funny sight gag in the movie, but it just looks stupid.

Tavita’s wife Ruth (played by Rachel House) is fed up with the team never being able to win a game. At the spouses’ home, she tells Tavita what needs to happen to find a better coach for the team: “You have to go off-island.” Tavita and Ruth have a young adult son named Daru (played Beulah Koale), who is on the team and who dislikes this idea of finding a new coach from outside of American Samoa. “It’s treason!” Daru exclaims.

Ruth yells, “We’re getting a real coach!” And besides, Ruth tells Tavita and Daru, she’s already placed an ad to get a new coach for the team. The team has a coach named Ace (played by David Fane), who will be demoted to assistant coach when the American Samoa Football Federation finds a head coach who can “save” the American Samoa National Team.

Meanwhile, on the mainland United States, abrasive soccer coach Thomas Rongen (played by Michael Fassbender) is facing a four-person panel from the American Soccer Federation telling him that he’s been fired from his most recent team. Thomas still gets a chance to work for the American Soccer Federation, but he’s told that he’s being exiled to work with the losing-streak American Samoa National Team. Not surprisingly, Thomas is angry and insulted.

Making matters worse, two of the people who’ve made this decision are Thomas’ estranged wife Gail (played by Elisabeth Moss) and her current boyfriend Alex Magnussen (played by Will Arnett), the smug leader of the American Soccer Federation. (This love triangle scenario did not happen in real life.) Rhys Darby has a small and inconsequential role as another American Soccer Federation panelist named Rhys Marlin. Darby seems to be in this movie only because he’s a friend of Waititi, a fellow New Zealander comedian.

Also different from real life: The Thomas Rongen in this movie isn’t a native of the Netherlands. Instead of having a Dutch accent in this movie, Thomas Rongen has an Irish accent, because Fassbender has an Irish accent in real life. In this “Next Goal Wins” movie, Thomas is a stereotypical down-on-his luck coach with a drinking problem who hates having to work with a losing team.

The scenes of Thomas getting culture shock in American Samoa are unimaginative and boring. Thomas gets annoyed that every person who gives him a car ride in American Samoa is laid-back and won’t drive faster than 20 miles per hour. Thomas thinks it’s ridiculous that people in American Samoa want to work less hours than what he’s accustomed to on the mainland.

Thomas doesn’t understand the local tradition of “curfew time,” when people stop everything during certain times of the day to pray and meditate. Thomas becomes enraged when the team members tell him that they don’t want to practice on Sundays, for religious reasons. That’s why it looks so phony later in the movie when Thomas (who acts like he’s allergic to religion for most of “Next Goal Wins”) actually gets baptized in a body of water, with several members of the team in attendance.

As for the team members, only a few have memorable personalities. Daru is the team’s rebellious “bad boy” and is one of the team’s worst players. Jaiyah (played by Kaimana) is a transitioning transgender woman, whose name in her previous life was Johnny. Rambo (played by Semu Filipo) is a goofy and bumbling police officer, who somehow gets recruited to the team after he pulls Thomas over for erratic speeding on the road.

Other team members include Jonah (played by Chris Alosio), a promising young striker; Pisa (played by Lehi Falepapalangi), a large-sized goalie; and Samson (played by Hio Pelesasa), a long-haired midfielder. There’s a very hokey segment of the movie where Thomas and Jaiyah work together to track down former team members in attempts to convince them to play for the team again. The most notable of these former members is Smiley (played by Ioane Goodhue), a goalie who was on the team during the embarrassing 2001 FIFA loss and is the closest thing that the team had to a star player.

At first, Thomas clashes with Jaiyah the most because Thomas doesn’t understand what being transgender means. Jaiyah and Thomas get into a physical brawl after Thomas taunts Jaiyah by calling her by her dead name Johnny, even though Thomas knew how offensive that would be to Jaiyah. But in a sappy movie like “Next Goal Wins,” you just know there will come a time when the coach and player who started off as enemies will find a way to become friends.

The movie’s approach to soccer is incredibly simple-minded. Thomas announces to the team that his strategy is for them to work on “strength and discipline,” which he compares to being like “cheese and pepper.” The practice scenes are jumbled and filmed in a lazy way.

The team has a young fan named Armani (played by Armani Makaiwa), who’s about 12 or 13 years old. The movie treats him like a mindless mascot, because Armani doesn’t say anything in the movie, which never bothers to explain why this mute child has all this time to spend with the team. Shouldn’t he be in school? Where are his parents?

There’s also a very misleading subplot about Thomas constantly listening to voice mail messages from his teenage daughter Nicole (voiced by Kaitlyn Dever), who is always asking why Thomas won’t communicate with her. Why won’t he call her back? The answer, which is revealed near the end of the movie, is completely manipulative.

“Next Goal Wins” repeatedly shows that Thomas wants to get back together with his estranged wife Gail, but it never mentions why they broke up in the first place. The separation from Gail is supposed to make Thomas look lovelorn and sympathetic. But it doesn’t work, because he’s such a relentless jerk for most of the movie, until he goes through a sudden personality change after making a big speech.

“Next Goal Wins” has some heartfelt and well-acted scenes with Thomas and Jaiyah, but how they end up befriending each other looks too forced and contrived. The racial issues that were hinted at in the beginning of the movie, when Daru objected to hiring a non-Samoan coach, are warped to fit a “white savior” narrative, when “Next Goal Wins” becomes about Thomas and how he’s uncomfortable with Samoan culture. The movie treats the Samoans as all having to accommodate Thomas and eventually be willing to tolerate Thomas’ insults and tirades.

Outstanding sports movies about athletic teams make viewers feel like they know several members of the team, not just a few. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case with “Next Goal Wins,” which makes most of the team members utterly generic side characters. The Samoan team members in “Next Goal Wins” are portrayed as helpless dolts who need a rejected and rude coach of European heritage to make them into a winning team. It’s ethnic condescension at its worst. “Next Goal Wins” might have worked as a satire of sports movie stereotypes, but the movie’s comedy and overall filmmaking are as limp as a deflated soccer ball.

Searchlight Pictures released “Next Goal Wins” in U.S. cinemas on November 17, 2023.

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