Witchy Women

Young necromancers make new sparks fly in Gen-X update of ‘The Craft: Legacy’

Lovie Simone, Zoey Luna, Cailee Spaeny and Gideon Adlon star in ‘The Craft: Legacy’

The Craft: Legacy
Starring Cailee Spaeny, Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simon & Zoey Luna
Directed by Zoe Lister-Jones
Not Rated

Available Oct. 28 Amazon Prime and other digital retail platforms

“Raven hair and ruby lips, sparks fly from her fingertips,” sang the Eagles in their Top 10 hit “Witchy Woman,” back in 1972. “Woo-hoo, witchy woman, see how high she flies.”

Sparks do indeed fly from the fingertips of the witches in The Craft: Legacy, but these teen sorceresses don’t fly—they float, or at least levitate, and they can slam a high school bully up against a locker just by thinking about it.

You don’t have to be a fan of the 1996 cult hit The Craft to pick up and go with this lively and likeable “continuation” story, but there are several throwbacks to the original movie in this one, including a sock-o surprise cameo and a couple of quips too good to leave behind.

Like, “We are the weirdos, mister.”

And the basic premise is still much the same. Teenager Hannah (Cailee Spaney) relocates across country to a new town with her mom (Michelle Monaghan) to move in with mom’s long-distance bf (David Duchovny) and his three teenage sons. But Hannah feels like an outsider, both in her new blended family and at her high school—until she finds a connection with a trio of fellow-misfit girls (Gideon Adlon, Lovie Simone and Zoey Luna), who happen to be a coven of young wannabe witches.

And the neophyte necromancers were just waiting for the right newbie to complete their “craft,” to be a fourth element in their mystic ceremonies summoning the spirits of air, fire, water and earth.

Zoe Lister-Jones, best known for playing Jen in the Colin Hanks sitcom Life in Pieces, is also a budding filmmaker; not near enough people, alas, saw her charming 2017 romcom Band Aid, in which she also starred with Fred Armisen. Here, completely behind the scenes as writer and director, she leans into the fem-centric elements of the tale, as Hannah asserts herself against toxic masculinity at school and at home, and the girls of the “craft” grow in their bonds of sisterhood and the rituals of their shared spirituality.

Things start out light, lively, fun and frisky, as the girls discover the power that is, quite literally, at their fingertips; it’s pretty cool for blasting away defamatory locker graffiti or freeze-framing lunchroom pranks just for yuks. But the movie takes a more serious turn when it dives into some darker emotional issues, including a character’s difficulty dealing with gender identity, and Hannah’s search for answers about her past.

And sometimes spells, the craft discovers, can spell trouble.

The young cast is solid, smart and spunky, with built-in Gen X appeal. Spaeny rocked her roles in the movies Bad Times at the El Royale and On the Basis of Sex; Adlon was great in The Mustang and Blockers; Simone is a breakout on the Amazon series Selah & the Spades; and newcomer Luna played Lacy in Pose.

Witches have, of course, been a part of legend, folklore and literature practically forever—they’re mentioned in the Bible, they stir up double-double-toil-and-trouble in one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, and Hollywood loves them.

But witchcraft has a much more troubling side, historically, particularly in how it’s been used to label anyone, particularly women, whose behavior did not conform to local norms—with often terrible consequences. Pop culture, from Bewitched and Hocus Pocus to Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, puts a happy face on a tragic past whenever it gets playful with modern-day witches. At least The Craft: Legacy holds a dark mirror to its ancient roots. Lister-Jones depicts a “society” aggressively intent on keeping its male-dominated heirarchy intact—and marginalizing, or eliminating, the young women of the craft.

The soundtrack snaps with tasty hip-hop and pop from a playlist that includes snippets from such contemporary acts as Sa-fire, Litty Kitty, Nadia Rose, Kikbak and Bette Lemme. At a house party, everyone’s excited to hear a tune by Princess Noika. In a musical nod to its predecessor, the movie opens with Alanis Morrissette’s “You Oughta Know,” a No. 1 flashback hit from late 1995 that would have still been on the radio when the first Craft movie hit theaters in May the following year.

More “seasoned” viewers will enjoy seeing Monaghan, recognizable from nearly 50 TV and movie appearances over the past two decades, including memorable roles in the Mission: Impossible franchise, Patriot’s Day, Gone Baby Gone, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, 2014’s True Detective and Hulu’s The Path. Duchovny, who starred as Mulder in The X-Files, its reboot and a spinoff movie, looks a bit bored and worn down; maybe after the mind-bending, paranormal threats he faced as Mulder, these teenage-hoodoo hijinks don’t faze him much.

Occasionally tense but never really scary, certainly not gory, and sometimes even quite sensitive and sensual, The Craft: Legacy is a magic-sprinkled Halloween trick-or-treat mainly for girls who’ll harken to its timely theme of youthful female outsiders finding each other, bonding together and harnessing their strengths to confront a world trying to quash them. The movie also presents positive, timely messages of inclusion, anti-bullying, LGBT acceptance and the responsible use of power—and how those who abuse and misuse their positions of dominance don’t deserve to have them.

The Craft: Legacy may be Hollywood’s latest check-in with teenage witches, but it’s clearly got something bigger than bedknobs and broomsticks on its mind.

At one point, the young women of the craft fear they’ve gone too far, that their magic has careened dangerously out of control. Hannah’s friends want to “unbind” themselves from their sorcery. She urges them to instead reconsider—to realign, refocus and regroup.

“You shouldn’t run from your power,” Hannah tells them. “None of us should.”

In a world that just celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights, and a recent Pew research poll in which 61 percent of American women identified themselves as “feminists,” women everywhere continue to push—to march, mobilize and work—for advancement. Like Hannah, none of them want to run from their power.

Sparks fly from her fingertips, indeed.

Without a Hitch

Specter of Alfred Hitchcock lingers of Lily James and Armie Hammer in Netflix’s new version of classic ‘Rebecca’

Rebecca
Starring Lily James, Armie Hammer & Kristin Scott Thomas
Directed by Ben Wheatley
PG-13
Oct. 21 on Netflix

First of all, Lily James isn’t Rebecca.

There isn’t actually a Rebecca in Rebecca, not in the sense, at least, that you expect in movies with someone’s name in the title.

Based on the classic 1938 novel by British writer Daphne du Maurier, this twisty psychodrama is about a pair of young newlyweds who can’t get escape the memory of his former wife, whose toxic presence continues to dominate him—and almost everyone else.

The story has been adapted numerous times over the years for stage, television and screen, most famously by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940. Hitch’s film, his first American project after more than 15 years of making movies in his native England, won him an Oscar for Best Picture, the only Academy Award he’d ever receive. (It received an additional Oscar, for its cinematography, and was nominated for nine others.)

Du Maurier’s tale certainly makes for fertile storytelling fodder: It’s got love and romance, mystery, crime and misdemeanor, and hints of some things so spicy they landed Hitchcock in hot water with the Hollywood morality police.

James, the British actress appeared as Lady Rose MacClare in Downton Abbey and then starred as Disney’s most famous fairytale princess, Cinderella, also takes center stage in this new version. She’s the main character, and also provides the film’s narration, which opens the movie (and the book).

Lily James

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Manderley is the ancestral home of Maxim de Winter (Armie Hammer), the aristocratic widower that James’ character meets on the French Rivera, where the story begins in the mid 1930s. He’s recovering from the untimely death of his young wife; she’s the paid traveling companion of a haughty American tourist (Ann Dowd, of The Handmaid’s Tale).

After a breezy, breathless courtship—with Maxim whisking her up and down the sun-dappled coast of the Mediterranean—he marries her and brings her back to England, to his sprawling countryside estate.

Situated high on a windswept seaside cliff, Manderley is staffed with servants who run the massive manor, supervised by the icy Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas). It’s filled with pricey treasures dating back to Henry VIII and the Tudors, and with precious keepsakes of Maxim’s marriage to Rebecca, his former wife, from her handwritten notes and her clothes, to the dark hairs in her hairbrush, still on her nightstand.

It’s impossible for Mrs. de Winter No. 2 to escape the feeling that she’s always being compared to Rebecca, always hearing about how beautiful she was, how perfect she was. She begins to question herself, her looks and her marriage—how can she ever measure up? She starts having nightmares about this woman she’s never seen; Maxim is so troubled, he sleepwalks through his massive house, and around the grounds of his estate.

And what exactly happened to Rebecca? That’s at the dark heart of the story, and anyone who’s read the novel—or seen Hitchcock’s movie—will of course know. But everyone else, well, you’ll have to find out, along with the new Mrs. de Winter, as she explores the shadowy, Gothic hallways and forbidden rooms of Manderley, catches shade from the creepy staff and gradually gets a fuller, more troubling picture about the power that Rebecca continues to wield from beyond the grave.

Hammer and James make an eye-candy couple, but they never generate any sweet heat; it’s hard to understand why they fall in love, much less why they remain that way as the dramatic vice tightens in the movie’s second half. Kristin Scott Thomas, however, is absolutely galvanizing as the devious, duplicitous Mrs. Danvers; she’s a matronly movie monster, and the veteran actress seems to relish the devilish delight of biting into this juicy rotten apple of a role.

Director Ben Wheatley—known for his violent 2016 action flick Free Fire (also with Hammer) and the dystopian drama High Rise, with Tom Hiddleston—seems a bit out of his league here, even while dressing up the screen with gorgeous on-location scenery, lots of dandy-looking Brits with dapper haircuts, and a parade of sumptuous fashion getups.

Kristin Scott Thomas plays Mrs. Danvers

But something is missing, something that a more masterful director could have brought to a tale brimming with sexy subtext and wicked, deep-dish character nuance—a director like, say, Alfred Hitchcock.

Hitchcock, for instance, knew how to orchestrate Rebecca’s buildup of tension, dread and criminal collusion with consummate craftsmanship and finesse; how to navigate the tale’s simmering undercurrents of twisted, psychosexual manipulation; and just how important it was to build upon its beguiling ambiguity about the shifting sands of good and evil. Stronger direction, especially in a contemporary remake, could have fleshed out the dueling feminist dynamics of its two pivotal characters, Mrs. de Winter No. 1 and No. 2, one of which never seen, but all-powerful, even in death; the other as the star of the story, but invisible in another way—unnamed, other than in relation to the man she marries.  

To get around censors 80 years ago, Hitchcock had to alter some of his movie—specifically its hints of lesbianism, and one character’s “morally objectionable” actions—before it could be released. Hitch certainly knew the dark, subversive power of Rebecca. He’d make two more movies based on books by du Maurier, including The Birds.

This Rebecca too often feels like a pleasant-enough cross between a posh, British period drama and a primetime network crime procedural, maybe like a special episode of CSI: Downton Abbey. It’s pretty, but it plays too polite to have very much punch.

“She’s still here,” Mrs. Danvers says, sadistically taunting the new Mrs. de Winter about the ever-present specter of Rebecca at Manderley. “Do you feel her?”

Ah, the poisonous power of the invisible Rebecca: She’s still here, and so is he—Hitchcock, whose impressive shadow continues to loom over this classic tale, 80 years later, in a movie version he didn’t even make.

Riding With Bill

Bill Murray drives the smooth comedy of director Sofia Coppola’s new Big Apple tonic for our troubled times

On the Rocks
Bill Murray, Rashida Jones and Marlon Wayans
Directed by Sofia Coppola
R
In select theaters Oct. 2 (Available Oct. 23 on Apple + TV)

In trying to find out if her marriage really might be falling apart, a young New York woman reconnects with her father—who certainly has some experience in that area.

Director Sofia Coppola’s sparkling, stylish, smart new Big Apple comedy reunites her with Bill Murray, 17 years after their collaboration in Lost in Translation won her an Oscar (for writing) and him an acting nomination.

In On the Rocks, Rashida Jones plays Laura, a harried, 38-year-old mom and freelance writer raising her two young kids in a trendy SoHo apartment with hubby Dean (Marlon Wayans). Only Laura is doing most of the raising, while Dean spends days—and often nights—at his new start-up company, flying to meetings in far-off places, wooing new investors, going to dinners, celebrating at parties…and maybe doing something else.

She gets a bit suspicious when she finds a women’s toiletry kit in his open suitcase. Dean has a ready excuse, and it’s believable enough…

Felix (Bill Murray), Laura’s ne’er-do-well, bon vivant dad, offers to take her to lunch. He breezes up to her apartment door in a chauffeured sedan, rolls down the back window, and grins.

“Feel like hoppin’ in?” he asks.

Felix knows all about cheating husbands; his serial infidelities broke up his own marriage to Laura’s mother. He’s a world-traveling, roguish flirt, an irrepressible cad, a prankish playboy who loves women—and loves to be loved. And he’s convinced that Dean is cheating on Laura.

Can Felix and Laura catch him in the act?

Murray, who’s played almost everything in a career that began four decades ago, has nonetheless never before played a movie father, much less a grandfather. On the Rocks is somewhat new comedic ground for him, but he makes Felix feel like a natural progression, all the way back to the goofballs of Saturday Night Live, Stripes and Caddyshack, now just a bit older, a lot more worldly, certainly more wealthy, but just as incorrigibly puckish.

As Laura, Jones is terrific, with most of her performance funneled into her expressive face—as when we watch her elation subtly turn to deflation at a botched birthday surprise. Wayans, usually cast in broader comedic roles, shrewdly plays Dean as a straight-up, nice-guy, hard-working dad—to keep us, as well as Laura, guessing.

Felix obviously loves his daughter, and he also loves a good caper. Which is why they end up all over Manhattan, and later beyond, on their rolling surveillance mission—where, in slack moments, Felix imparts to Laura some of his not-so-enlightened observations on mating rituals, marriage, monogamy and the biology of attraction.

“The bangle is a reminder,” he says, admiring Laura’s bracelet, “that women were once men’s property.”

Felix’s property includes a collection of fine art and a bunch of celebrity friends—his mantle has photos of him playing golf with President Obama and chumming with Andy Warhol. He picks Laura up one evening in a vintage cherry-red Alfa Romeo convertible, which he stocks with champagne and caviar for a late-night reconnaissance mission as they race across the city to keep up with a taxi carrying Dean and his leggy assistant (Jessica Henwick). Felix seems to know everyone in New York—doormen, waitresses, maître d’s, even the cop who pulls them over for running a red light.

He charms the policeman and his partner into giving the convertible a push to get it re-started.

Filmed pre-pandemic on location in New York, On the Rocks—its title a double entendre to the fragile state of Laura’s marriage, as well as the copious drinks she and Felix consume in a variety of iconic nightspots—is also a paeon to the grandeur of Manhattan. (At one point, Felix treats Laura to ice cream at a restaurant “at Bogart’s table—where he proposed to Bacall.”) Coppola treats the city almost as a character itself, its buildings standing tall and proud, its profile majestic and sprawling, its lights twinkling like a panoply of urban fantasia.

Most of us can’t directly relate to Felix’s globetrotting world of fine art, celebrity pals and pricey Italian sports cars. But everyone can probably connect, in some way, when Laura tells him that her “life could just be falling apart.”

Especially right now.

A smooth comic elixir for our very troubled times, On the Rocks basically comes down to Bill Murray—aged like a fine wine—pulling up in a red sports car, asking you a simple question.

“Feel like hoppin’ in?”

Yes, yes, yes, we do!  

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw headline cast of feisty flick about worlds-collide moment in British women’s-lib history

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (center) and Loreece Harrison (right) portray contestants in the 1970 Miss World competition in ‘Misbehavior.’

Misbehaviour
Starring Keira Knightley, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Jessie Buckley
Directed by Philippa Lowthorpe
Unrated
In select theaters and on VOD Sept. 25, 2020

A lot was going on back in 1970.

The Beatles broke up. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix died. The astronauts of Apollo 13 gave everyone a scare when their spacecraft glitched two days into the mission, nearly stranding them between the Earth and the moon. The Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students protesting the Vietnam War at Kent State University in Ohio, killing four and wounding nine others.

It was a turbulent time. And over in England, some women were shaking things up too.

This British true-life character drama is based on the true story of a group of “mischief makers” who disrupted the 1970 Miss World competition in London—a major TV event—with a message that resonated far beyond that raucous November evening at tony Royal Albert Hall.

Claiming that beauty competitions were demeaning to women, the newly formed Women’s Liberation Movement gave the growing grassroots crusade a bracing jolt of international publicity at something the whole world was watching.

Misbehaviour crafts its feisty, worlds-collide story of female activism, women’s rights and an era locked down in a cocky, casual grip of patronizing patriarchy through converging storylines about a cast of real-life characters who all come together at the pageant.

Keira Knightley

There’s Sally Alexander (Keira Knightly) and Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley), vastly different but aligned in rallying for a common cause—planning a demonstration against an event they liken to a world-stage “cattle market,” where women are measured, weighed and displayed for mass-market consumption.

Jessie Buckley

The Miss World contestants arrive in London by the busload from the airport, and we get to know them—and they get to know each other—as they’re put through their rehearsal paces and prep under the tutelage of pageant founder Eric Morley (Rhys Ifans) and his wife (Keeley Hawes).

Cool and cocky Miss Sweden (Clara Rosager), the odds-on international favorite, acts bored by the whole shebang. Shy, wide-eyed Miss Africa South (Loreece Harrison) admits that she’s never been on an airplane, or anywhere outside of her own repressive country. If either she or Miss Grenada (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) wins, it will make history as the first time for a Black woman, representing any country, to take home a Miss World trophy.

Meanwhile, American stateside superstar comedian Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) is preparing to make a return Over There to provide some Yankee-Doodle yuks at the event. But his jaded, longsuffering wife (Lesley Manville) isn’t so hyped about the trip, remembering how badly her infamously flirtatious husband behaved the last time he was in merry old England.

Greg Kinnear

When Morley, the Miss World owner, hears of the planned demonstration by the Women’s Libbers, he dismisses it as just a bunch of “anti-establishment mischief makers.”

But when the big night arrives, the demonstration becomes a sneak-attack invasion and there’s a boisterous break-out of total disorder in the middle of Hope’s mid-show comedic monologue. Chaos reigns when the feminist infiltrators unleash an arsenal of anarchy inside the auditorium—unfurling banners, waving signs, tossing leaflets, hurling bags of flour onto the stage, rattling rattles, shouting and squirting ink-filled water pistols. The fracas shuts the telecast down. Alexander, Robinson and the other agitators are hauled off to jail, but they know they’ve done what they intended to do, and they’ve scored a media victory.

The (mostly British) cast is great, filled with familiar actors and fresh faces. Busy-bee Buckley is on fire as the radicalized Jo; this is her fifth project this year, including a significant role in this season’s Fargo and starring in director Charlie Kaufman’s recent Netflix adaption of the trippy novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Mbatha-Raw, a standout on Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, is equally impressive as Miss Grenada, Jennifer Hosten, whose calm demeanor conceals passion, ambition and dreams far beyond Miss World. Knightley, of course, has been in everything from high-toned dramas (Pride and Prejudice and Atonement) to blockbusters (the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) and larky romcoms (Love Actually). She’s perfect here as a proper young British mom and wife who knows just how much she has to lose by throwing in with a commune of ragtag anarchists—but weighing how much she’ll throw away if she doesn’t. Manville (she was Princess Margaret in The Crown, among her 100-plus TV and movie roles) is superb as Delores Hope, who literally gets the last laugh at her philandering, floundering spouse. And speaking of The Crown, maybe you’ll recognize Miss South Africa—she’s played by Emma Corrin, who portrayed Lady Diana Spencer in 2019’s season four of the Netflix series.

British director Philippa Lowthorpe, who’s steered several episodes of Call the Midwife and The Crown, keeps things brisk and lively, with distinct dashes of British whimsy even when dealing with weighty issues like apartheid, sexism, misogyny and oppressive international politics.    

Misbehaviour gives a sense of the complex, complicated web from which the tapestry of women’s rights was woven. The Women’s Liberation Movement was made of many threads, in many places, some far apart and wildly different, like rabble-rousing activists and beauty pageant contestants. But the movie suggests there’s a common thread that connects all women, and it reaches around the globe.

There’s a subtle scene where several of the women in the pageant catch a BBC appearance by Alexander on TV; she’s on a local talk show presenting the view of the Women’s Libbers and why they’re against the idea of beauty pageants, but not against the contestants themselves. We watch the contestants as they watch Alexander, and we can see the conflict seeping into them as she makes her points, giving them pause as they try on their gowns in their hotel rooms or practice their pageant-perfect smiles.  

And the movie leaves us with a lesson, about how most things worth having are worth standing up for—and sometimes that might mean standing up with a banner, or a bag of flour, or squirt gun pointed at Bob Hope.

“You get the world you deserve,” Jo tells Sally. “And if you don’t fight, you deserve the world you f—’in get.”

The women in Misbehaviour believed in fighting, or at least in misbehaving for a cause. And it’s a cause not only timely, but very much with us; as everyone is well aware, all-too-real battles continue over women’s rights, and women’s bodies, today. But 50 years after Miss World 1970, this bright little charmer of a British micro-moment history lesson is a macro reminder of how much impact the events of one night, or anything, can have on everything and everywhere—and how little threads can connect to become something bigger, bolder and so much stronger.

Scams ‘R’ Us

Evan Rachel Wood and Gina Rodriguez bring heart and heartache to the quirky charms of ‘Kajillionaire.’

Kajillionaire
Starring Evan Rachel Wood, Gina Rodriguez, Debra Winger and Richard Jenkins
Directed by Miranda July
R
In limited theatrical release Friday, Sept. 25

So what’s a kajillionaire?

Someone with a lot of money—a lot more money than the Dolios, a family of small-time grifters, scammers and subsistence-level thieves, have ever seen.

“Most people want to kazillionaires,” says Robert, the Dolio dad. “I prefer to just skim.”

In this quirky, colorful, character-driven tale that’s already won film-festival raves, Robert (Richard Jenkins), wife Theresa (Debra Winger) and their 20-something daughter, Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), eek out a meager living in Los Angeles, where they mostly get by on selling things they’ve pilfered from a local post office.

The Dolios are barely a notch above living on the street; their “home” is a shabby, abandoned space of rundown office cubicles adjacent to a factory, where each day they are faced with a comically endless task: cleaning up an overflow of pink bubbles that comes cascading through the wall from next door.

If only those billowing bubbles were money. The Dolios are three months behind on their rent, but Old Dolio—you’ll find out eventually how she got such an unusual name—comes upon an idea, an insurance scam, that might net them some sizably bigger bucks. That’s how they happen to cross paths with Melanie (Gina Rodriguez), a young Latinx woman who’s roped in by the oddball allure of these eccentric “outlaw” characters—and titillated by the prospect of bringing some sizzle into her own humdrum life.

“I’m super-psyched!” Melanie gushes, admitting how much she loves the Oceans 11 heist movies.

You many not be familiar with writer/director Miranda July unless you follow the independent film circuit, but she’s made a couple of well-received art-house features (The Future and Me and You and Everyone We Know) and numerous short films, and has acted in others, including Madeline’s Madeline (2018). Back behind the camera again for her first feature film in nine years, she returns with this audaciously engaging, eccentrically original, nearly unclassifiable yarn that walks a delicate line between humor and heartache as we discover the wrenching disfunctions of the Dolio clan. Their quirks, tics and oddities seem almost whimsical at first, but it soon becomes clear that Old Dolio is almost a feral child who’s grown into full adulthood without ever experiencing the love, affection and attention of a “real” mother and father.

The off-kilter family dynamic is thrown into an even wonkier tailspin when mom and dad Dolio take more of a shine to the newcomer, Melanie, than they do to their own daughter. But since Melanie is the first person who’s ever treated Old Dolio with anything resembling compassion or kindness, the two young women form an unlikely bond.

Wood, who rose to TV stardom as a robot who outsmarts her human programmers in HBO’s Emmy-winning sci-fi series Westworld, provides the emotional core of the movie, dressing in baggy, shaggy, shapeless boys’ clothes and talking in a low, husky voice to play the emotionally stunted daughter. Her whole performance suggests someone who didn’t have a conventional childhood, to say the least, raised to be a petty criminal, taught to be invisible and undetectable not only to security cameras, but to everyone. She’s an outcast and a misfit, distressed in almost every way, and you cheer on her halting, difficult quest to break out of her shell of invisibility into the bigger, brighter world.

Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Evan Rachel Wood

Rodriguez, the critically lauded star of TV’s Jane the Virgin, brings kilowatts of enthusiastic pop as Melanie, who’s sexier, showier, more successful—with a real job—and far more “sophisticated.” But she too has her own needs for connecting with something, and someone, beyond herself and outside her tiny, closed-in apartment.

As different as they seem to be, and as they certainly are, Old Dolio and Melanie find out how much they actually have in common.

And that’s really what this surprisingly charming movie is really all about. It’s a paean to the oddball and misfit in anyone and everyone, to all who’ve ever felt like they didn’t belong or fit in—with their mother and father, or with the world. It’s about family and parenting and raising kids, all the way back to the moment babies pop out of their mamas. It’s about breaking with addictive, toxic relationships. It’s about people who hear “Mr. Lonely,” the old Bobby Vinton song, and can hopefully remember it’s how their lives used to be, not how they are now. 

And it’s about how the real kajillionaires are people lucky enough to find someone to love, and someone to love them back.

This sneaky little L.A. story—about a family that steals, scams and skims—will sneak up on you, for sure, and steal a little piece of your heart.

Muddy Buddies

Doc takes deep dive into Deep South subculture

Red, White and Wasted
Documentary
Directed by Andrei Bowden-Schwartz and Sam B. Jones
Unrated

This is a really dirty movie.

But not in the way you’re probably thinking. So, get your mind out of the gutter—and prepare to get muddy.

This documentary about “mudders,” enthusiasts of off-road events featuring trucks, cars and “extreme mud” mayhem, centers on a small group in central Florida. When their last mudhole in Orlando is closed down, it causes a near-existential crisis to the mud-man known as “Video Pat,” who has spent most of his life attending mud events and chronicling them on his videocams.

Pat—whose real name is Matthew Burns—has raised his two teenage daughters to love the mud as well.  

“Mud is like a drug to me,” he says.

So that’s what the documentary is “about.” But what’s it’s really about is a sobering, sloppy, gloppy plunge into a muddy pocket of deep-South redneck subculture that most Americans will never see, a place in the swampy shadows of Disney’s gleaming fantasy-land tourism mecca where the stars and bars of the Confederate battle flag still fly and the politics are far, far-right and deep, deep red.

It’s a place where mudders wear cut-out masks of Trump and Melania and T-shirts with the slogan “Isis Lives Splatter,” and sport tattoos of Smith and Wesson 9mm pistols and the 2nd Amendment. One young man talks about how he’s moved out of the city to get away from all the “liberals and pansies” and how he worries about what will happen to his gun rights if “the liberals get their way.”

“I like Russia,” says the boyfriend of Pat’s youngest daughter, Jessie, showing off bumper stickers on his pickup. “I have a lot of respect for Vladimir Putin.” He has stickers that say Nuke ‘Em All and Yankee Go Home.

“I’m not fully racist,” says daughter Krista. “I have some Black friends on Facebook.”

Mud events are good-ol’-boy bacchanalias of beer, boobs and bawdy behavior, punctuated by the constant roar of trucks making as much mess and muck as possible.

Pat pulls out an old VHS tape of an event from several years ago, one where things got particularly rowdy and out-of-hand. “This one here,” he says, “I think it caused some of my divorce.”

These mudders are, for the most part, small-timers. Pat looks at awe at the bigger, “professional” mud events, like ones staged by the Redneck Yacht Club, with gigantic, customized, decorated monster trucks and thousands of attendees. The Orlando mudders are more localized—and radicalized. Their MO is to slip deep onto private property, typically trespassing, until someone—or something—makes them leave.

Pat and his buddies remember mud parties closed down by massive fires, where a mother and her child died of carbon monoxide poisoning, and another when a motorcyclist “decapitated himself.” All those mud holes are gone, closed down, or taken over for construction projects. “Power and money,” Pat says, gesturing at a “No Trespassing” sign blocking the entrance to a once-favorite mud hole, the site of many memories soon to become a hotel, condo, business park or yet another tourist attraction. For the mudders, Orlando’s march of commercialization and progress is a march in the wrong direction; Disney and other developers are the big, bad wolves who have gobbled up all the places in the wild where they once roamed free.

A friend of Pat’s notes wistfully, “My grandson will never experience that part of the woods.”

The “red” in the title is for the political color, as well as for “redneck,” which so many of the mudders use as a badge of honor. And you’ll get eye strain looking for any skin colors other than white at most mudding events. (For punctuation, the movie throws in a guy hollering, “White lives matter!”) As for “wasted,” well, that’s a reference to all the beer and the bongs at mudding events as well as Pat’s own house, which his daughters keep blanketed in a haze of pot smoke. But it could also be a bit of a judgement call on people so obsessed with anything—like mudding—that they neglect other, well, more basic needs.

Daughter Krista

Early in the film, we see Pat, Jessie and Krista dumpster-diving, and Pat later tells us that his oldest daughter never made it past middle school; but he proudly notes that she’s “good [at] being on the phone.” Pat scrapes by on reselling junk and scrap metal. Jessie skips the medicine that controls her epileptic seizures and ends up in the hospital. Krista gets pregnant and has a baby; Pat kicks her out of the house.

It’s depressing and distressing and downright pitiful in a social-services kind of way, but it’s also grotesquely fascinating, like one of those cable-TV shows—Hoarders, or Addiction—about people whose train-wreck lives are so messy and messed up, you’re just thankful you’re watching from a safe, sanitary distance. For most viewers, this may be the only way to ever experience this particular slice of deep-red, pro-gun, casually racist, proudly anti-progressive America—a kind of drive-through movie safari to a place you’d never actually dream of going otherwise.

When Pat becomes a grandpa to Krista’s new baby son, Matthew, he reveals a sentimental, almost poignant side. He takes the toddler to his first mudding event, gently dipping his tiny feet in the gooey black muck just churned by a monster truck—a new generation baptized not in the blood, but in the mud, symbolically bestowing him an indominable yahoo survivalist streak, a fierce, don’t-tread-on-me independence, a disregard for anything that might be considered “political correctness,” and a rebellious spirit that knows no limits.

“The South’s been rebelling since the Civil War,” says Jessie’s boyfriend. “And we ain’t never stopped.”

If the Red, White and Wasted revolution ever comes, people, get ready—it’s gonna be a messy, muddy one.

On Demand Sept. 22, 2020

Past Present

Janelle Monáe reminds us in this double-edged slave drama that the painful scars of America’s “original sin” are still very much with us

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Antebellum
Starring Janelle Monáe, Jack Huston and Jena Malone
Directed by Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz
R
On Demand Sept. 18, 2020

On the poster, the title treatment for Antebellum has the second “e” turned around, facing backward.

That’s because the movie has a twist, a major turn, that makes it something more than just another “slave drama.”

The film opens with a quote from Mississippi’s late, great, Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner: “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” That concept is not only central to the story, it rings with timely relevance in this summer’s highly charged climate of racial reckoning and reawakening.

Janelle Monáe, when we first meet her, is Eden, a slave on a Louisiana plantation overseen by the vile Capt. Jasper (Jack Huston) and the sadistic Confederate general (Eric Lange) who literally brands Eden as his private property.

Things are brutally bad, as you can imagine, on the plantation. The young Rebel troops stationed there are like drunken frat boys, there’s a strict no-talking rule for the slaves, and you don’t even want to know about the horrors of “the shed.” Eden and Eli (Tongayi Chirisa), a male slave, whisper desperate plans of a breakout and a getaway…

But about midway through the movie, we meet another character, and she’s also played by Monáe—waking up with her husband, greeting a bright, sunny day in their modern suburban Virginia townhouse. She’s Veronica Henley, a best-selling author and sociologist and somewhat of a media celebrity for speaking about the disenfranchisement of Blacks in America and the inequities of “historically marginalized people.”

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Monáe as Victoria Henley, with her daughter (London Boyce).

When her daughter asks her about all those big words, Veronica uses an anecdote about playmates, anger and fear, and tells her little one that “things are not always what they appear to be.”

And neither is Antebellum what it appears to be, certainly at first. How does it put together Monáe’s two characters, and these two jarringly different situations? Is it a terrible dream, a living nightmare, a rip in the fabric of space and time? I won’t tell. But I will tell you that you’re in for a wild, galloping ride, kind of like The Twilight Zone crossed with D’jango Unchained, with some bona fide surprises and a few painfully difficult moments to watch.

Directors Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz, who also wrote the original screenplay, have made a “message” movie that means to remind viewers of the cruelty of slavery, America’s “original sin,” while driving home the point that the wretched system of warped beliefs and twisted ideology in which slavery was rooted, like Faulkner’s “past,” isn’t really dead—or even really past, after all.

Monáe, who came to most moviegoers’ attention in Hidden Figures and Moonlight (both 2016), creates a character for whom we can cheer. Huston, the grandson of iconic Hollywood filmmaker/actor John Huston, has a somewhat trickier task, as a strutting, sneering villain with no redeemable qualities. But he plunges into it with gusto. Jenna Malone (Johanna Mason in The Hunger Games franchise) slathers on the Southern-drawl sauce just a little thick, however, chewing her scenes—as the detestable plantation madam—into pulpy B-movie puree.

But first-time feature-filmmakers Bush and Renz, unfortunately, don’t quite seem to yet have the finesse to pull things off without a few hitches. Characters are mostly one-dimensional, the moon is always full (and totally fake-looking), and a glimpse of a reveal during the end credits makes you question the very premise of, well, the whole movie.

Antebellum was originally slated to be released in theaters, in April, but the COVID-19 crisis pushed off its date and its circumstances until now. The timing may make it even more meaningful. Since April, of course, the nation has reeled and roiled from protests sparked by police killings of Black people, a powerful renewal of the Black Lives Matter movement, calls to end systemic racism and intensified scrutiny on the symbols of the Confederacy—particularly its flag and its monuments—as emblems of hate. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently predicted that the greatest terrorism threat to America in 2021 will come from white supremacy.

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A fiery conclusion.

Even the word antebellum, which literally means “before a war,” became so culturally toxic—because of its particular connection to the South, slavery and the Civil War—that the hitmaking country group Lady Antebellum dropped it from their name, becoming simply Lady A. You may recall that the Dixie Chicks, with similar sentiments, are now just the Chicks.

So, slavery, racism and America’s deep-rooted heritage of hate are hot topics all over again, particularly right now, and this movie turns up the heat even hotter.

A Confederate flag and a big ol’ statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee become significant, supremely ironic props. A cell phone rings at a most bewildering moment. And a little girl in a hotel elevator will creep you out, almost like one of the twins from The Shining.

You’ll get the double meaning when Eden tells a dying Confederate officer to “Open your eyes!” She’s not just talking to him in his final gasping moments, but to anyone who might need a jolting reminder, about a society erected on white supremacy and the evil of outright ownership of another group of humans.

Antebellum is about a horrific world “before the war” that never quite ended when the smoke of the battlefield cleared, and about how the past has a way of marching right into the present. This double-edge slave story  will twist you around, turn you backward and open your eyes to the scars of racism that are still painfully, awfully real, wrenchingly raw—and very much with us still, today.

Little Sister

‘Stranger Things’ have happened—than Millie Bobby Brown playing the spunky little sibling of the world’s most famous British gumshoe

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Enola Holmes
Starring Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Lewis Partridge and Helena Bonham Carter
Directed by Harry Bradbeer
PG-13
On Netflix September 23, 2020

You probably know that Sherlock Holmes, the famous fictional British detective, has been played by some 75 different actors—including Robert Downey Jr., Basil Rathbone, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sir Ian McKellen, Roger Moore and Will Ferrell. According to Guinness World Records, he’s the most portrayed human character ever in film and TV history.

You might know that his famous office was on London’s Baker Street, and this his creator was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote about Sherlock in four novels and 56 short stories.

But did you know Sherlock had a little sister?

You did, and you do, if you read the mystery novels of Nancy Springer about Sherlock’s spunky 14-year-old sibling, around which this fun, feisty new movie adaption is spun.

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Millie Bobby Brown with Henry Cavill (left) and Sam Claflin

In Enola Holmes, which draws primarily from Springer’s “The Case of the Missing Marquess,” we meet Enola (Millie Bobby Brown) riding her bicycle across the English countryside. It’s 1884, and she’s on a mission to meet her older brothers, Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroff (Sam Clafin), at the train station.

The Holmes bros have come back to their childhood manor to look into the circumstances of the disappearance of their mother, the eccentric and mysterious Eudoria (Helena Bonham Carter). Sherlock, we learn, is already famous as a crime-solving super-sleuth. Mycroft is…well, appalled that their mother has let home-schooled little sister become such an “uneducated, underdressed and poorly mannered wildling.”

Even with a batch of Holmes stirring about, the movie clearly belongs to Enola. She’s a budding detective who not only dives into the case of her missing mom, but also finds herself at odds with her snooty brother Mycroff, who declares himself her guardian and tries to ship her off to a finishing school to “make her acceptable to society”—and find a husband.

Of course, Enola will have none of that. Running away from home, she dons a disguise (the first of several) and hops a train, where she meets up with another teen fugitive, a renegade, run-away royal named Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge), the “missing marquess.”

Sherlock, meanwhile, more sympathetic to his younger sister, suspects that something else, perhaps something bigger, is going on…

The game, as they say, is afoot.

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Actually, Mycroft does say exactly that, as he begins to try to decipher where his sassy sister has gone, and why. Enola Holmes is a grand game, a passel of puzzles to solve, a hive of hints that you’ll have great Knives Out-kinda fun sorting out—playing along with Enola, who frequently turns and talks into the camera and tells you how things are going, who’s who and what’s what.

And it’s about time a movie took some of the spotlight off Sherlock and put it on someone else—specifically, someone female. It’s no coincidence the story weaves its plot into England’s upheaval at the time about voting rights and the women’s Suffragette movement, or that Enola’s mother—seen repeatedly in flashbacks—tells her she can “do anything and be anything,” making sure Enola is well-versed not only in history, science and art, but also the art of self defense (specifically jujitsu).

Enola’s mother tells her that a better future is worth fighting for.

“Paint your own picture, Enola,” she says. “Don’t be thrown off-course by other people—especially men.”

Best known for navigating the monstrous sci-fi scares of Netflix’s Stranger Things, Brown is  a delight and a dynamo as the fledgling British sleuth, forging her own path, following her mother’s advice—as well has her trail—as Enola zips in and out of London, dodges a mysterious assassin (Jamestown’s Burn Gorman), uncovers a bloody royal scandal and helps change the course of English history. Director Harry Bradbeer, a two-time Emmy winner for directing episodes of Amazon’s acclaimed series Fleabag, knows how to coax out just the right levels of humor, action and emotion.

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Cavill, taking a break from playing Superman in the D.C. movie franchise, certainly doesn’t try to swoop in and steal the show. He knows this flick belongs to little sis, and he lets her have it. And he plays Sherlock as London’s genius detective who’s smart enough to know that even he has a few things to learn.

“You see the world so closely,” a female character chides him, noting that he’s always poking around with his nose in coal dust and footprints. “But do you see how it’s changing?” The suffrage movement, the struggle for the right for women to vote, was finally ratified 100 years ago in the United States—a centennial marked just a few weeks before you’ll be seeing young Enola make the liberated leap from page to screen.

Set in a Victorian era that was indeed changing and evolving, headed to a better, brighter future, the juiced-up, teen-titan girl power of Enola Holmes makes for a right-on, righteously fun romp with a revved-up, fem-forward message that still rings, ever louder and truer today.

Not a Princess

Disney’s new Mulan provides a rousing heroine for young girls ready to move beyond sleeping beauties and little mermaids

Mulan
Starring Yifei Liu, Donnie Yen, Li Gong, Jet Li and Jason Scott Lee
Directed by Niki Caro
PG
Available Sept. 4 on Disney+

Disney’s new princess is no princess.

Mulan, a young female warrior who leaves her family to defend her country, is based on stories dating back to 4th century China.

You might remember Disney’s earlier version, a 1998 animated musical romp for which for Eddie Murphy provided the voice of a little talking dragon and Christina Aguilera sang what would become her first hit song, “Reflections.”

There’s no talking dragon in the new, live-action Mulan, or any other cutesy animals. This Mulan is, instead, full of color, sights, action, drama, emotion and spectacle, all revolving around a young heroine with the bona fides to become a rousing role model for little girls ready to move beyond sleeping beauties, little mermaids, talking teapots and pumpkins that turn into coaches.

(You do get to hear Aguilera sing “Reflections” again, though.)

The setting is ancient China, where the Emperor issues a decree that every family must send “one man” to serve in the Imperial Army to fight against a ruthless horde of advancing invaders. Mulan (Chinese-born actress Yifei Liu), the eldest of two daughters of an honored veteran warrior who has no sons, takes her ailing father’s place so he doesn’t have to hobble onto the battlefield.

Disguising herself as a young man, Mulan goes off to training in preparation to meet the vicious warlord Böri Khan (Jason Scott Lee) and the shape-shifting witch Xianniang (Li Gong), his partner in crime.   

Along with all sorts of rigorous exorcises and combat skills, Mulan and her fellow soldiers are taught to be loyal, brave and true, the three “Pillars of Virtue.” Those pillars are so important, they’re etched into the shiny steel blade of Mulan’s sword. But Mulan struggles with the pillar of truth—she knows she’s living a “lie” hiding her true identity from her fellow soldiers, her commanding officers and herself.

But like the flaming red phoenix—the mythological bird—Mulan keeps seeing, we know Mulan, too, will soon rise up and reveal herself, in all her splendor.

Steeped in Chinese culture and capably steered by director Niki Caro (The Zookeeper’s Wife, Whale Rider, North Country and McFarland U.S.A) in China as well as her native New Zealand, Mulan is truly something to see—too bad COVID-19 kept it out of theaters, and off the big screen. There are teeming plazas, ornate palaces, fortress cities, snow-capped mountains, and training montages on wide, windswept plains. Characters pop, parade and promenade in all sorts of fabulous costumes, from suits of shiny amour to a spectrum of raiment in all colors of the rainbow; I’m sure Disney hopes to sell a ton of ruby-red Mulan cloaks. An early scene where Mulan and her sister get “made up” for a meeting with their village’s matchmaker is a spectacle in itself, a quick-course lesson in Chinese tradition.

There are clash-y showdowns, chop-socky throwdowns and one especially acrobatic battle atop what looks like a bamboo construction site, with a face-off on a piece of lumber hanging precariously by a strand of rope; I halfway expected Tom Cruise or Daniel Craig to step in and take over for a Mission: Impossible stunt or a James Bond cliffhanger.

Liu, who stars as Mulan, may be a newcomer to most Americans. But at 33, she’s already an established, award-winning actress, singer and model who’s starred in some two dozen films and television shows in China. Mulan’s father, Hua Zhou, is played by Tzi Ma, a Hong Kong-born actor with a long list of American acting credits, including TV’s Bosch, Veep, Madam Secretary and The Man in the High Castle.

The rest of the cast is similarly pedigreed, with many actors who are already stars in Chinese cinema, though they may be somewhat unfamiliar to mainstream U.S. audiences.

Some action scenes seem a bit clunky and choreographed, like they were staged for a Broadway production instead of film. I was disappointed that the movie didn’t do more with the idea that “chi” warriors could run on, up and down walls, like spiders; it’s more of a gee-gosh gimmick than a concept that could have been really cool to explore more visually. And for all the progressive, culturally forward progress of having Mulan’s central character be a fearless warrior heroine, instead of a lovestruck princess, there are still some durable, dependable Disney-touchstone throwbacks. I’m almost certain one of Mulan’s fellow recruits—the doughy, comical Cricket—shares some strands of DNA with Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

“We’re going to make men out of all you,” barks Mulan’s drill sergeant to his greenhorn troops at the start of their training.

He doesn’t know, of course, that the greatest soldier in his entire legion, in the history of his empire, will turn out to be a woman, rising like a phoenix through the centuries as an emblem of achievement, loyalty, bravery and honor.

And she’s not a princess, she’s Mulan.

The Blue Wave

All-star cast delivers scathing socially distanced satire in timely, topical quarantine comedy

 

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Bette Midler

Coastal Elites
Starring Bette Midler, Daniel Levy, Issa Raye, Sarah Paulson & Kaitlyn Dever
Directed by Jay Roach
Sept. 12 on HBO

In this “quarantine comedy,” five socially distanced characters grapple with politics and the COVID-19 pandemic in a back-to-back series of monologues, rants and confessions delivered directly into the camera.

It’s a timely, extremely topical movie for these extreme, extraordinary, even apocalyptic times—in more ways than one.

Each individual “segment” was filmed separately, during the pandemic, in a socially distanced, quarantined environment, with each actor performing remotely. A punchy, prickly political satire from Bombshell director Jay Roach, it was originally intended for live presentation at the Public Theater in New York—and written by acclaimed playwright Paul Rudnick—before the pandemic quashed those plans.

The cast is top-notch, putting an A-list spin on the comedically caustic concept of how liberal “elitists” are suffering under the right-wing rigors and ripple effects of the Trump administration. The term “coastal elites” is a more recent spin on just simply “elites,” a longtime pejorative political label used to stir up mainstream, grassroots voters and rile them against big business, big banks and—most recently—the perceived affronteries of science, research and education.

These elitist bogeymen were originally based in big Eastern waterway access cities of culture and commerce, like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Boston, or San Francisco and Los Angeles to the West. The political divide eventually widened to include ideology—particularly Hollywood—so that “elites” came to represent a certain upper-class of people, beyond geography, whose liberal lives and lifestyles, morals, intellectual pursuits, values and vested interests were markedly different from those of more conservative so-called “real Americans” in the heartland.

Coastal Elites introduces you to five of them, all with a different take and a different situation to share.

Singing, songwriting and acting icon Bette Middler kicks things off as Miriam Nessler, a New York City schoolteacher and gabby Jewish widow. Why is she in a police station? It’s something about a guy in a MAGA hat, and her finally getting pushed past her breaking point. But she’s been close to the breaking point for a few years now, especially when she picks up her beloved New York Times or turns on the TV, encountering a barrage of news about something the president said or did that makes her blue blood boil. “Since the election, I haven’t been able to stop cursing,” she admits.

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Daniel Levy

Schitt’s Creek star Daniel Levy is Mark Hesterman, a struggling Hollywood actor teleconferencing with a therapist from his apartment during a moment of career crisis. After finally feeling fully emerged as a gay actor, he’s nailed a big callback audition for his dream role—a gay superhero called Fusion in a new Avengers-like franchise. But his high spirits are crushed after hearing about Vice President Mike Pence’s strident anti-gay agenda.

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Issa Rae

Issa Rae, the co-writer, creator and star of TV’s Insecure, is New Yorker Callie Josephson, who’s having a Zoom call with one of her besties. Callie is well-educated, well-heeled and very well-off, like her dad, a super-rich, super-successful Black businessman whose connections lead them both to an unlikely dinner at the White House. There Callie reconnects with someone she once knew as a little girl when they attended the same Manhattan prep school, where Callie mainly remembers Ivana Trump’s big, fake-y smile—and it haunts her.

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Sarah Paulson

Sarah Paulson, whose many movie and TV credits most recently include Mrs. America and American Crime Story, plays Clarissa Montgomery, a soothing, self-styled motivational YouTuber who breaks down in the middle of a taping to tell viewers about an unsettling visit to quarantine with her extended family during the pandemic. Heading out of the city to rural Wisconsin, she recounts how she felt like a tiny fleck of blue flotsam in a sea of bright red, baited into traps by her overbearing Republican brothers. Then her father confesses something to her that floors her.

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Kaitlyn Dever

And finally, Kaitlyn Dever from Booksmart is a Sharynn Tarrows, a young nurse who’s flown in from Wyoming to work triage at New York City’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, ground zero in the pandemic’s hot zone. As she looks into the camera—we never know who, exactly, she’s talking to—she poignantly tells about meeting, treating and getting to know a certain patient who changes the way she looks at life—and the way she’s going to vote.

And then, that’s it—it’s over. Five characters, five mini-stories.

It’s a “satire,” yes, but this comedy has razor-sharp teeth. And the blood it draws, when it bites down to the bone, flows bright, bright red. So beware: If zingy political humor wrapped in barbed wire’s not your bag, maybe you should stay inland, away from these churning, deep-blue “coastal” waters.

The writing is brilliant, and the performances are perfection—no supporting players, no pros, just pure delivery and straight-up acting chops. Often the characters seem all too “real,” and the emotions too raw; if someone wanders in while you’re watching it, they might even think it’s a documentary, fact instead of fiction.

But it’s fiction wrapped in fact; audio of actual Trump quotes weaves in and out between each segment: “I’m a very stable genius,” “No one respects women more than Donald Trump,” “I know more about ISIS than the generals.” In such a surreal setting, we know the people we’re watching are actors, sure. But their characters are so representative, so tapped into this unhinged moment in time, this ghastly gestalt of global pandemic and polarizing politics—they seem like genuine people, people you might really know, really revealing themselves, unloading their concerns, responding to a world gone mad.

Because yes, the world really has going mad.

Coastal Elites won’t make the madness go away. No movie has that kind of mojo, alas. But it might make you smile and even laugh, here and there, make you feel a little less alone, help you look at some things with some renewed optimism and hope—and maybe make you stop cursing, for at least 90 minutes.