‘Catherine Called Birdy’: Kickin’ It Teen Style 1290 AD Edition

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Look at that Birdy fly! (CREDIT: Alex Bailey/© Amazon Content Services LLC)

Starring: Bella Ramsey, Andrew Scott, Billie Piper, Joe Alwyn, Dean Charles-Chapman, Paul Kaye, Lesley Sharp, Sophie Okonedo, Ralph Ineson, Michael Woolfitt, Isis Hainsworth, Archie Renaux

Director: Lena Dunham

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Power of Suggestion

Release Date: September 23, 2022 (Theaters)/October 7, 2022 (Amazon Prime Video)

What’s It About?: What was life like for a sassy, opinionated teenage girl in 1290 England? That’s what Catherine Called Birdy is here to let us know! Based on a 1994 children’s novel by Karen Cushman, it follows the always rambunctious days of the irrepressible Lady Catherine (Bella Ramsey), aka (you guessed it) “Birdy.” She’s an unmistakably independent young woman, but what does that even mean in a patriarchal medieval society? Despite her unique wants and desires as a human being in her own right, the standards of the time insist that she’s little more than a bargaining chip for marriage. She might drive her parents (Andrew “Hot Priest” Scott and Billie “Companion Rose” Piper) batty, but they do love her. Although, they’re also in quite the financial bind, so they could really use that dowry moolah from even the oldest, ugliest, most grotesque suitor. What’s a little Birdy to do?!

What Made an Impression?: There’s something mystical about watching a story set in a time before mass telecommunication. Since there’s no video evidence of the era, any picture of centuries ago is a mere approximation. But this wasn’t exactly a problem for the people when they were alive in 1290. In fact, I would go so far as to say that nobody ever thought about that sort of thing, unless they were unusually philosophically inclined. Certainly, Birdy and her family and friends don’t concern themselves with such thoughts; instead, they mostly just go about their routines and live their lives as they are wont to do. So the fact that we get to have a peek into those lives arrives like a mysterious gift from the universe, even if it is all fully fictional.

On a more quotidian level, I also appreciate that Catherine Called Birdy is family-friendly without feeling like it’s holding back. There are several moments where it feels frighteningly possible that things could turn bloody and/or abusive. And while we’re spared the worst details, we’re not spared the vicarious experience of what it’s like to be a teenage girl at a time when that meant you were basically property. Ramsey boils it all together with a spirited, feral performance that should hook in plenty of viewers.

Catherine Called Birdy is Recommended If You Like: Rolling around on hills, Occasional swordplay, The scene with Dennis the Peasant from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Dowries

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Anna and the Apocalypse’ Fulfills Our Society’s Need for a Decent Zombie Musical

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CREDIT: Gerardo Jaconelli/Orion Pictures

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Ella Hunt, Malcolm Cumming, Sarah Swire, Christopher Leveaux, Ben Wiggins, Marli Siu, Mark Benton, Paul Kaye

Director: John McPhail

Running Time: 92 Minutes

Rating: R for Typical Zombie Gore and a Disturbingly Sniveling Principal

Release Date: November 30, 2018 (Limited)

How has it taken us this long to have a major zombie movie musical? Some quick research proves that there actually are previous examples of this genre mashup, as the Disney Channel Original Zombies debuted earlier this year, and Z: A Zombie Musical, about three nuns attacked by a zombie dog, apparently also exists. But as far as I can tell, Anna and the Apocalypse is the first major theatrical release in which fending off the undead is interspersed with characters belting out original tunes. And in light of the genre’s popularity and how it has already allowed comedy and romance to seep through in the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Warm Bodies, that just seems fundamentally incorrect. But luckily for Anna and the Apocalypse, zombie ubiquity means that setting the living dead loose on a sleepy little song-happy British town around Christmas makes more or less perfect sense.

What Anna and the Apocalypse has most in its favor is a winning lead performance from Ella Hunt as Anna, who is trying to survive the holidays as she deals with the craziness at her high school, some boy troubles, and a falling out with her dad. What it lacks is the thematic heft that has uplifted so many zombie films above their slash-and-splatter foundations. There might be an attempt at that sort of message, perhaps regarding how the pain of how friendships and familial relationships evolve as you become a young adult are akin to the visceral nature of chopping up zombie brains. But it comes across as a clash of two different stories bumping against each other. They work well enough on their own, but they don’t really deepen each other, although nor do they undercut each other.

At least the songs are satisfactorily rousing, though they somewhat surprisingly tend more towards the “life is changing so fast” variety rather than the “world is going to hell” style. This particular musical agnostic found them decently toe-tapping and not too overwhelming. The champ of the soundtrack, for my money, is the saucy “Santa Baby”-esque talent show number that includes lyrics like “My chimney needs a good unblocking.” If you’re okay with someone getting holiday-based innuendo in your zombie movie, you should be pleased.

Anna and the Apocalypse is Recommended If You Like: Warm Bodies, High school talent shows with actual talent, A cozy British sensibility

Grade: 3 out of 5 EvacSelfies