Review: ‘The Ancestral,’ starring Lâm Thanh Mỹ, Quang Tuấn, Mai Cát Vi and Dieu Nhi

May 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Lâm Thanh Mỹ in “The Ancestral” (Photo courtesy of T2 Group)

“The Ancestral”

Directed by Le Van Kiet

Vietnamese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of Vietnam, the horror film “The Ancestral” features an all-Vietnamese cast of characters representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: After the tragic death of his wife, a widower takes his two underage daughters to live in an abandoned ancestral mansion, which appears to be haunted by ghosts.

Culture Audience: “The Ancestral” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of horror movies about ghosts and haunted houses.

Mai Cát Vi and Quang Tuấn in “The Ancestral” (Photo courtesy of T2 Group)

“The Ancestral” overcomes repetitive clichés in movies about haunted houses, by delivering an intriguing plot twist in the last third of the movie. Spooky jump scares, convincing visual effects and good acting make “The Ancestral” an effective horror film. “The Ancestral” does a lot with a relatively small number of people in its cast. It’s a movie that could have gone down a predictable route, but it keeps viewers guessing over what will happen until the very last scene. Viewers should stick around for a mid-credits scene that shows the fate of one of the characters.

Written and directed by Le Van Kiet, “The Ancestral” (which takes place in an unnamed part of Vietnam) begins with a widower named Thanh (played by Quang Tuấn) driving himself and his two underage daughters to an abandoned and dilapidated mansion, which is described as an ancestral family home. Elder daughter Linh (played by Lâm Thanh Mỹ), who’s about 14 or 15 years old, is a serious and responsible child who has essentially become the female head of the household. Younger daughter Yen (played by Mai Cát Vi) is more outgoing and playful than Linh.

The family is grieving over the death of Thanh’s wife, who was the mother of Linh and Yen. Thanh’s wife died a year before for reasons that are later explained in the movie. Even though this ancestral mansion is dark, run-down and very creepy-looking, Thanh has decided that they are going to move there for a change of scenery. He thinks that this change of environment will help all three of them heal from their grief.

However, the house is a less-than-ideal place to raise two children. There is no electricity in the house. And it’s the type of abandoned place that has been neglected for so long, many things in the house look rusty and worn-down. And as is typical for a haunted house in a horror movie, it’s also in an isolated area, where there doesn’t seem to be any neighbors around for miles.

Not long after moving into their new home, Thanh tells his daughters: “It’s just the three of us now.” He also tells Linh that she has to look after Yen when he’s not there. The movie never details what Thanh does for a living, but he’s often away during the day. He plans to have Linh and Yen homeschooled, so he later introduces them to a pretty young woman named Ms. Hanh (played by Diệu Nhi), whom he says will be the girls’ tutor.

Strange things start happening immediately after the family gets settled in the house. Linh and Yen both start to see various people in the house. And these people appear to be ghosts. Some of them are shadowy apparitions that run across a room and disappear. Others run on all fours and then attack before Linh and Yen wake up, as if it was all a bad dream.

And these sighting don’t just happen at night. In an eerie and chilling scene, Linh is outside in the house yard as she hangs laundered sheets to dry. She starts to see human faces pressed against the sheets. But when she looks behind the sheets, no one is there. And then what appears to be an old lady, who has matted hair and black teeth, attacks Linh before running away. This time, Yen saw this ghost too.

Adding to the terror, Yen starts to sleepwalk. And sometimes she appears to be experiencing paralysis during a nightmare where she can’t wake up unless someone vigorously shakes her. Yen and Linh tell their father about these scary incidents, but he dismisses it all has the girls having bad dreams. Thanh tells his daughters: “There are no such things as ghosts and demons.”

Ms. Hanh is kind and sympathetic to Yen and Linh. This tutor also seems to be spending a lot of time with Thanh, which leads Yen to joke that maybe their father and Ms. Hanh will end up dating each other. Ms. Hanh also goes out of her way to show that she wants to befriend the girls, and not just be their tutor.

One day, Thanh surprises the girls by showing them a new, more modern home where they will be moving to in the near future. Yen and Linh each has her own bedroom in this new home. Ms. Hanh has even gone to the trouble of decorating each of the girls’ bedrooms, according to the tastes of each girl.

But this seemingly idyllic new living situation is hindered as more haunting incidents occur. These ghost sightings and jump scares become a little tiresome after a while when it’s just a repeat of the girls getting scared, and their father not really doing anything about it but comforting them and telling them that ghosts aren’t real. By the middle of movie, viewers might be frustrated that nothing much is being done in plot development.

But viewers who are patient enough to stick around for the last third of the movie will be rewarded with some compelling twists and turns. Lâm Thanh Mỹ and Mai Cát Vi give very good performances as loyal sisters Linh and Yen, whose sibling relationship is at the heart of the movie. There’s a little bit of melodrama in a climactic “life or death” scene, but this melodrama doesn’t lessen the impact of the suspense that ramps up in this last section of the movie. “The Ancestral” has its best moments when it shows that even in the devastation of grief, there is always hope for healing.

T2 Group released “The Ancestral” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022. The movie was released in Vietnam on March 18, 2022, and in Malaysia and Singapore on March 24, 2022.

Review: ‘King Otto,’ starring Otto Rehhagel

May 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Otto Rehhagel in “King Otto” (Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group)

“King Otto”

Directed by Christopher André Marks

Greek, German and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece and other parts of the world, the documentary film “King Otto” features an all-white group of men who are connected in some way to Greece’s national soccer team of the 2000s.

Culture Clash: German soccer coach Otto Rehhagel, who had success in coaching German professional soccer teams, took a big risk to coach Greece’s national soccer team, which was on a losing streak for decades, to transform the Greek team into underestimated winners.

Culture Audience: “King Otto” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of soccer and underdog sports stories.

Otto Rehhagel (top center, in black and white outfit) in “King Otto” (Photo courtesy of MPI Media Group)

You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy the documentary “King Otto,” the inspirational story of how German coach Otto Rehhagel transformed Greece’s national soccer team from a group on a losing streak into international champions in the 2000s. It’s also a story of how people can overcome language barriers and cultural differences to succeed in common goals without losing their identities. “King Otto” follows a familiar documentary format for this type of story, but the thrilling archival sports footage and insightful interviews make this movie an engaging watch from start to finish.

Directed by Christopher André Marks, “King Otto” is also just the right length (82 minutes) to tell the story well without being too long or too short. At the center of the interview footage is Rehhagel, who has a compelling way that he shares his memories of how he took the Greek national soccer team from the bottom of the pack to the top of the heap. He was with the Greek team from 2000 to 2010. It’s a story of massive risk-taking and how confidence and the right teamwork can pay off to great rewards.

Most coaches who are at the top of their game with a championship and well-respected track record don’t decide to do an about-face to relocate to another country and coach a losing team. But that’s exactly what Rehhagel (a former soccer player himself) did in 2000, when he began coaching the Greek national soccer team. When Rehhagel took the job offer to coach the Greek team, he was a very famous soccer coach in Germany. He had the nickname King Otto because of his charismatic leadership qualities.

Rehhagel had his greatest success in German soccer as the coach of Werder Bremen from 1981 to 1995. During this time period, Werder Bremen was transformed from a modestly winning team to a powerhouse, winning German championships in 1988 and 1993, as well as the European Cup in 1992. Rehhagel left Werder Bremen to coach rival team Bayern Munich from 1994 to 1995, but it was a tumultuous change that resulted in Rehhagel being fired.

Rehhagel then moved on to manage the German soccer team Kaiserslautern from 1996 to 2000, to mixed results. The team won the German national championship in 1998, but that turned out to be the peak victory for the team under Rehhagel’s leadership. He resigned from Kaiserslautern in 2000. It’s no wonder, under these circumstances, that Rehhagel probably thought it might be good for him to do something radically different. And that’s when he accepted the offer to coach the Greek national soccer team.

In the beginning of “King Otto,” Rehhagel is shown looking around at an empty Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, Greece. In a voiceover, he makes this comment about why Greece appealed to him: “We admire the Greeks for their history. They have given so much to the world. I, as a German, had a special relationship with the Greeks.”

He continues, “And if someone had told me what would happen one day, no one would have believed it. We were outsiders in the entire world of football. But, as Greek history teaches us, the gods always have their own plans.”

Most of Rehhagel’s interview footage is of him in a room literally sitting on a throne, which was probably the “King Otto” filmmakers’ idea, not his. Although Rehhagel’s nickname is King Otto, he doesn’t put on pretentious airs. There are touches of arrogance in his storytelling. However, this pride isn’t so much about himself as it is about the collective pride that he feels about what he was able to accomplish with the team members who were widely underestimated and disrespected in the world of soccer until Rehhagel came along.

Greek National Team president Vassilis Gagatsis was the one who recruited Rehhagel for the job. Gagatsis says in the documentary: “I wanted to hire Rehhagel because I thought [Rehhagel] being a German, he would be able to instill the discipline that we Greeks lack.” Gagatsis describes Greek culture as a lot of partying and procrastination—two words that he said also could describe the Greek National Team at the time.

There were other problems too. Gagatsis remembers, “When I became president, the National Team was like a traveling circus.” By the time Rehhagel joined as the coach, the team still didn’t have its own training center. “The team had to wander around and beg local clubs to let us use their facilities,” adds Gagatsis.

Rehhagel (who was born in 1938) remembers that he was reluctant to take the job at first. For starters, he was in his early 60s, an age range when most people in his line of work are retired or plan to retire within a few years. Second, there was a language barrier, since Rehhagel did not speak Greek, and none of the Greek players spoke German. And third, there was no denying that it was going to be an uphill battle to transform an underfunded, perpetually losing team into winners.

But take the job he did. And it wasn’t easy, because Rehhagel’s strict and intense style clashed with the Greek players being accustomed to a more laid-back way of coaching. Rehhagel also refused to permanently relocate to Greece and maintained his home in Germany in those early years, thereby adding to the perception that he was just a visiting outsider. With tensions rising between the German coach and the Greek team, something had to be done to solve this problem.

Understanding that he couldn’t bridge the gap alone, Rehhagel recruited Ioannis Topalidis, a former soccer player who was fluent in Greek and German, to be Rehhagel’s assistant coach. In the documentary, Topalidis says that in his translations to the team members, he would “sugar coat” Rehhagel’s often-harsh criticisms to the team members. In other words, Topalidis would translate Rehhagel’s comments as being nicer and more humorous than what Rehhagel was actually saying. The trick worked, because Topalidis said the team started responding better to Rehhagel when they thought that what he was saying was more diplomatic.

Also interviewed in “King Otto” are several former Greek National Team members who worked with Rehhagel as their coach. They include midfielder Giorgos Karagounis, defender Georgios “Giourkas” Seitaridis, goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis and defender Takis Fyssas. Their interviews—along with the interviews of Rehhagel, Gagatsis and Topalidis—provide lively play-play-play recollections of some of the team’s best tournaments, including the 2004 European Championship. (David Beckham and Thierry Henry in their youth are included in the documentary’s archival footage.)

“King Otto” does what every good sports documentary does, even if you might already know the outcome of the matches shown in the movie: It makes you root for the protagonists, feel the pain of defeat, and rejoice in the glory of hard-won and well-deserved victories. It’s a well-edited documentary where the pace never drags.

There’s also even-handed mix of the archival footage and the interviews, all presented in a straightforward manner. “King Otto” does not make the documentary mistake of having too many talking head interviews. Some viewers might get a little emotional at the end of the documentary, which shows a sentimentally sweet moment when former coaching partners Rehhagel and Topalidis reunite at an empty Panathenaic Stadium to reminisce together about their best memories of the Greek National Team.

Sports are often indicative of how people overcome obstacles in other areas of their lives. Sports can teach people how it’s important not to get too conceited or too comfortable in life’s accomplishments. In this unique soccer story, “King Otto” also proves that it’s never too late to take bold risks in life; to mentor people who need mentoring; and to be willing to work hard to make seemingly unattainable dreams a reality.

MPI Media Group released “King Otto” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Hatching,’ starring Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen, Oiva Ollila and Reino Nordin

May 20, 2022

by Carla Hay

Siiri Solalinna in “Hatching” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)


Directed by Hanna Bergholm

Finnish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of Finland, the horror flick “Hatching” has an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 12-year-old girl brings home and secretly hides a mysterious bird’s egg, which grows, hatches, and lets loose a terrifying and deadly creature. 

Culture Audience: “Hatching” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching suspenseful horror movies that use gory images as symbols of repressed feelings that affect relationships.

Siiri Solalinna, Sophia Heikkilä, Jani Volanen and Oiva Ollila in “Hatching” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Hatching” is a thoroughly absorbing horror movie that uses the hatching of a mysterious egg as a representation of childhood angst and inner demons. In its uniquely gruesome way, “Hatching” offers astute observations of adolescent rebellion in a dysfunctional home. It’s a very impressive feature-film debut from director Hanna Bergholm. “Hatching,” which was written by Ilja Rautsi, had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival.

Most of what happens in “Hatching” (which takes place in unnamed parts of in Finland but was filmed in Latvia) is spoiler information that would give away too many surprises in the movie. However, it’s enough to say that “Hatching” doesn’t waste time in showing that something sinister is about to happen in the home of 12-year-old Finnish girl Tinja (played by Siiri Solalinna), who lives with her parents and her younger brother. It’s a family that, on the surface, appears to be happy, loving and “perfect.” But not everything is what it first appears to be in “Hatching.”

“Hatching” opens with a scene that shows a familiar activity in this household: Tinja’s status-conscious mother (played by Sophia Heikkilä), who does not have a name in the movie, is making another video for her social media blog called “Lovely Everyday Life.” It’s a stereotypical “mommy blog,” where a mother tries to project that she has a picture-perfect life with her husband and children. Even when she’s at home, Tinja’s mother dresses as if she’s about to do a photo shoot for an article about how glamorous mothers are supposed to look.

Tinja’s mother has gathered her unnamed husband (played by Jani Volanen), Tinja and Tinja’s younger brother Matias (played by Oiva Ollila), who’s about 9 or 10 years old, into the house’s living room to film another video showing how “happy” they all are in this family. It’s never stated what the source of the family’s income is, but they have a well-kept, middle-class home. The names of Tinja’s mother and Tinja’s father seem to be deliberately unmentioned, as a way to show they could be like any other parents.

Viewers will immediately notice that Tinja and her mother physically resemble each other (they’re both pretty with long, blonde hair), while Tinja’s father and Matias have a similar physical appearance of wearing glasses and looking a little nerdy. However, the parents’ personalities are not similar to their look alike children. Unlike her extroverted and talkative mother, Tinja is shy and introverted. Matias is outspoken and inquisitive, unlike his father, who is passive and doesn’t ask a lot of questions. Different scenes in the movie show that Tinja’s mother is much more attentive to Tinja than to Matias.

The family’s video session is suddenly interrupted by a thumping sound on a nearby window. Tinja goes to the window to find out the cause of the noise. When Tinja opens the window, a large black bird suddenly flies into the house and starts frantically flapping everywhere in the room, causing several glass items to shatter. The family members try to capture the bird, but it makes the chaos worse, because in chasing after the bird, the family members cause other items in the room to break too. The biggest item that breaks is a glass chandelier, which is destroyed when the bird flies into it, and the hanging chandelier crashes to the ground.

Eventually, the bird is captured. In front of her family members, Tinja’s mother holds the bird in a blanket and snaps its neck to kill it. She kills the bird with no hesitation and with a hint of sadistic pleasure, as if she’s smugly happy to get revenge on this animal that caused damage to her picture-perfect home. Tinja then puts the bird in a trash bin in the family yard. As she walks away, Tinja does not see the bird twitch, as if it’s still alive. And you know what that means in a horror movie.

Not long after this incident, Tinja is out walking in the nearby woods at night because she heard strange noises coming from the woods. She sees a large black bird on the ground. This bird is severely wounded for unknown reasons and is barely alive. To put the bird out of its misery, Tinja kills it with a rock.

And not far from the bird, Tinja finds a small egg, which she takes home and hides underneath her bed pillow. The egg quickly grows into the size of a very large watermelon. Observant viewers will notice that the egg gets bigger every time that Tinja experiences something that makes her very anxious.

Tinja is a gymnast who is being pressured by her mother to win important competitions. Tinja’s mother often watches Tinja during Tinja’s gym practices. When she is practicing gymnastics moves, Tinja generally does well, but she has a tendency to falter when she gets very nervous. And her mother makes her nervous. Tinja’s female gymnastics coach (played by Saija Lentonen) is tough but not abusive. Tinja’s closest friend in her gymnastics class is Reeta (played by Ida Määttänen), who is friendly and outgoing.

Tinja’s mother is the type of parent who will demand that her child keep practicing until everything is perfect. One day, after all the other gymnastics students have left because the practice session is over, Tinja’s mother insists that Tinja can’t leave until she perfects the gym move that Tinja had been practicing. The coach tells Tinja’s mother that it won’t be necessary, since the practice session has ended for the day, but Tinja’s mother persists until Tinja does what is expected of her.

On another occasion, Tinja’s ultra-competitive mother puts on a fake smile when she asks Reetta if she plans to enter the qualifying round of an upcoming competition. When Reetta says yes, Tinja’s mother then makes a point of telling Reetta in front of Tinja that Reetta will have to work extra-hard to defeat Tinja. It puts Tinja in an awkward position of reminding Tinja that she will be competing against Reetta, who is her closest friend. Reetta is not as intense about the competition as Tinja’s mother wants Tinja to be, but since this is a horror movie, you just know that Reetta is not going to go unscathed in this story.

As much as Tinja’s mother is obsessed with projecting the image of “perfection,” she is far from perfect. Tinja finds out one day when she comes home from gym practice alone. repairman named Tero (played by Reino Nordin) is in the living room with Tinja’s mother because he is replacing the broken chandelier. Tero is younger and better-looking than Tinja’s father.

At first, Tero and Tinja’s mother don’t see that Tinja has seen them in the room. Tinja is shocked when she sees her mother slowly rubbing Tero’s leg. And then Tinja’s mother and Tero kiss like lovers, but they quickly stop kissing when they see that Tinja has witnessed this act of infidelity. A little later, Tinja’s mother goes into Tinja’s room to explain what Tinja saw.

“Sometimes, adults have these special friends,” Tinja’s mother says. Tinja asks, “What about Dad?” Her mother replies, “Dad is Dad. You know what he’s like. How about we keep this between us?” Tinja’s mother then says that she’s going away for a few days, implying that it’s probably going to be a tryst with Tero.

Tinja tries to pretend that she’s okay with finding out about her mother’s infidelity, but deep down, it really bothers her. And this burden is made worse because her mother expects her to keep it a secret. However, there’s a point in the movie where Tinja’s father lets it be known to Tinja that he knows that his wife is having an affair with Tero, but Tinja’s father prefers to keep quiet about it because he loves his wife and wants to stay married to her.

Around the time that Tinja finds out about her mother’s extramarital affair, the egg gets larger and eventually hatches. And what comes out of the egg ends up wreaking havoc on people inside and outside the home. It’s enough to say that Tinja ends up naming the creature Alli.

“Hatching” is one of those movies that could have turned out looking tacky and amateurish if it had the wrong cast members and the wrong director. That’s because some parts of the screenplay needed better explanations. For example, the scene where Tinja discovers the egg looks too random and not that believable. What 12-year-old kid is going to walk alone in the woods, in the dead of night, just because of hearing some bird squawking?

There’s another part of the story where Reetta is walking alone at night in an isolated area. That scene also looks a little too fake and contrived. However, those are minor flaws when most of the movie is filmed in a way that makes it believable that Tinja has grown both fond of and afraid of this creature that hatched from the egg.

“Hatching” also makes a point of showing that although it would be easy to assume that this creature is the movie’s villain, Tinja’s self-absorbed mother also does a lot of damage too. In addition to pressuring Tinja to be perfect, Tinja’s mother has inappropriate and hurtful conversations with Tinja about Tero.

At one point, Tinja’s mother tells Tinja: “I think I’m in love. Tero is the best thing that ever happened to me. This is the first time in my life I feel like I really love someone. I have to see where it takes me.” How do you think that would make any child feel to hear a parent say that about someone else?

As good as the cast members are in their roles, this movie really stands out because of Solalinna and her stunning feature-film debut in “Hatching.” As Tinja, she portrays a wide range of emotions with authenticity, along with showing the angst of a child who has to present different sides of herself to the world, in order to keep certain secrets. More than a typical horror movie, “Hatching” shows how destructive this secrecy can be.

Bergholm brings the right amount of pacing to the movie, although at times there’s some unnecessary repetition over how close the creature comes to being discovered in Tinja’s room. The movie’s visual effects are not award-worthy, but they get the job done well in fulfilling a certain purpose. With “Hatching,” the filmmakers and cast members seem to understand that the best horror movies aren’t always about what’s seen on screen but how what happens in the story makes viewers feel. “Hatching” shows in alarming details how the pressure on girls to be “perfect” can be its own kind of horror story.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Hatching” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on April 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Downton Abbey: A New Era,’ starring Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Maggie Smith, Hugh Dancy, Dominic West and Robert James-Collier

May 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Hugh Bonneville, Elizabeth McGovern and Laura Carmichael in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (Photo by Ben Blackall/Focus Features)

“Downton Abbey: A New Era”

Directed by Simon Curtis

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1928, in the United Kingdom and in France, the dramatic film “Downton Abbey: A New Era” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In order to pay for extensive mansion renovations, the wealthy Downton Abbey clan of England reluctantly allows a movie to be filmed at Downton Abbey, while matriarch Violet Crawley finds herself embroiled in a battle over inherited property, health issues, and questions over who really fathered her son Robert Crawley.

Culture Audience: Aside from appealing to “Downton Abbey” fans, “Downton Abbey: A New Era” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of movies about 20th century upper-crust British people and their servants.

Hugh Dancy (second from left), Kevin Doyle (third from left), Alex Macqueen (second from right) and Michelle Dockery (far right) in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (Photo by Ben Blackall/Focus Features)

“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is more comedic and bolder than its predecessor movie. It takes a less insular view of the world, from the central family’s perspective, thanks to encounters with the 1920s movie industry and a trip to the south of France. The wealthy British clan is impacted when a movie is made on the Downton Abbey estate (located in Yorkshire, England), while members of the Downton Abbey family go to the south of France and learn more about their ancestral history, which might be intertwined with a French aristocratic family.

“Downton Abbey: A New Era” is a sequel to 2019’s “Downton Abbey” movie (directed by Michael Engler), which was in turn a continuation of the British “Downton Abbey” TV series, which was on the air from 2010 to 2015. (In the United States, the award-winning “Downton Abbey” series began airing in 2011.) “Downton Abbey” creator/showrunner/writer Julian Fellowes, who is also the writer of the “Downton Abbey” movies, makes each part of the franchise seamless without making it confusing to viewers who are new to the franchise.

In other words: It’s not necessary to see the “Downton Abbey” TV series (which takes place from 1912 to 1926) and 2019’s “Downton Abbey” movie (which takes place in 1927) before seeing “Downton Abbey: A New Era” (which takes place in 1928), although it is very helpful to see all things “Downton Abbey” before watching this movie sequel. As a bonus, “Downton Abbey: A New Era” has an introduction by Kevin Doyle, who plays valet Joseph Molesley, better known as Mr. Molesley. In this introduction, he catches viewers up to speed by providing a summary of what happened in the 2019 “Downton Abbey” movie. A “Downtown Abbey” TV series recap, although not part of “Downton Abbey: A New Era,” is available online and narrated by cast members Jim Carter and Phyllis Logan, who portray Downton Abbey servants Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes.

Directed by Simon Curtis, “Downton Abbey: A New Era” continues with the central family’s preoccupations with class status, royal titles, property ownership and who is (or who should be) the rightful heirs of various inheritances. The “Downton Abbey” franchise, just like much of Fellowes’ work, explores the “upstairs/downstairs” cultures, with the “upstairs” people being the wealthy employers and the “downstairs” people being the employers’ servants. What makes “Downton Abbey: A New Era” stand out from previous “Downton Abbey” storylines is that the “upstairs” and “downstairs” people of Downton Abbey, who usually only deal with British aristocrats, interact with two very different types of cultures: showbiz people and French aristocrats.

Because there are so many characters in the “Downton Abbey” franchise, here’s a handy guide of who’s who in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” and how their relationships affect each other:

The “Upstairs” People

  • Violet Crawley (played by Maggie Smith), also known as Violet Grantham (her maiden name) or Dowager Countess of Grantham. Violet is the widowed family matriarch. She is feisty, sarcastic and strong-willed when it comes to deciding the family’s power structure. Violet is the mother of two living children: son Robert and daughter Rosamund. Sir Marmaduke Painswick, one of Violet’s three children, is deceased and was never seen in the series.
  • Robert Crawley (played by Hugh Bonneville), 7th Earl of Grantham. Robert is Violet’s only living son. He is generally friendly but also very opinionated on how family matters should be handled.
  • Lady Rosamund Painswick (played by Samantha Bond), Violet’s other living child. Lady Rosamund usually defers to her mother and her brother, when it comes to major decisions for the family.
  • Cora Crawley (played by Elizabeth McGovern), the Countess of Grantham. She is Robert’s kind, patient and dutiful wife. Robert and Cora are the parents of three daughters, one of whom is deceased.
  • Lady Mary Josephine Talbot (played by Michelle Dockery), previously known as Mary Crawley. Fair-minded and even-tempered, she is the eldest of Robert and Cora’s three daughters. In the “Downton Abbey” movie, Violet put Mary in charge of all Downton Abbey management decisions, but Mary struggles with having confidence in deciding what is best for Downton Abbey and the family. Mary experienced tragedy with the 1921 death of her first husband Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens), who was a distant cousin. Matthew died in a car accident shortly after Mary gave birth to their son George Crawley (played by twins Oliver Barker and Zac Barker), born in 1921. In 1925, Mary wed her second husband Henry Talbot (played by Matthew Goode), who is not seen in “Downton Abbey: A New Era.” Henry is dashing and charming but often inattentive to his family because he frequently travels to attend car racing matches around the world. Mary says of Henry: “He’s in love with cars, speed and adventure.” Mary and Henry have a daughter together named Caroline Talbot (played by twins Bibi Burr and Olive Burr), who was born in 1926.
  • Lady Edith Pelham (played by Laura Carmichael), previously known as Edith Crawley), Marchioness of Hexham. She is the middle daughter of Robert and Cora. Edith is happily married and has been mainly preoccupied with raising children, after previous issues with conceiving. She is a journalist who still wants to continue her dream of owning and managing her own magazine. In late 1922 or early 1923, Edith gave birth to her daughter Marigold (played by twins Eva Samms and Karina Samms), whose biological father was The Sketch magazine editor Michael Gregson (played by Charles Edwards), whom Edith met when she wrote for the magazine. Edith and Michael were never married because he could not divorce his mentally ill wife. Michael died in 1923, during the Beer Hall Putch in Germany.
  • Herbert “Bertie” Pelham (played by Harry Hadden-Paton), 7th Marquess of Hexham, an amiable real-estate agent/military man. He is Edith’s second husband and the stepfather of Marigold. Bertie and Edith, who were wed on New Year’s Eve 1925, have a biological son together named Peter, who was born in 1927 or 1928.
  • Tom Branson (played by Allen Leech), an Irishman who used to be the Downton Abbey chauffeur, but he became part of the family when he married Sybil Crawley (played by Jessica Brown Findlay), Robert and Cora’s youngest daughter, who died from childbirth complications in 1920. Tom and Sybil’s daughter, born in 1920, is named Sybil “Sybbie” Branson (played by Fifi Hart).
  • Lucy Branson (played by Tuppence Middleton), Tom’s second wife, whom he began courting in the first “Downton Abbey” movie. Lucy is a former maid and formerly secret illegitimate daughter of Maud Bagshaw, who is a wealthy distant relative of the Crawleys. Maud has made Lucy the heir to Maud’s entire fortune. “Downton Abbey: A New Era” opens with the wedding of Tom and Lucy.
  • Maud Bagshaw (played by Imelda Staunton) is a steely socialite who has had a longstanding feud with Violet, because Violet thinks Maud should have made Violet son’s Robert the heir to Maud’s fortune, since Maud has no sons of her own. This feud reached a temporary halt when Lucy and Tom got married, since this marriage puts the Crawleys in close proximity to Lucy’s inheritance, because Robert’s granddaughter Sybbie is now Lucy’s stepdaughter.
  • Isobel Merton (played by Penelope Wilton), the droll-talking mother of the late Matthew Crawley. Isobel frequently trades sardonic barbs with Violet.
  • Lord Merton (played by Douglas Reith), Isobel’s laid-back second husband. He is usually a bystander in the family drama.

The “Downstairs” People

  • Thomas Barrow (played by Robert James-Collier), the Downton Abbey butler. He is somewhat rigid and uptight but not afraid to stand up for himself if he feels that he is being disrespected. Thomas is also a semi-closeted gay man. Only a few trusted people at Downton Abbey know about his true sexuality.
  • Daisy Parker (played by Sophie McShera), a Downton Abbey kitchen maid. She has a fun-loving and energetic personality. Daisy suffered a tragedy when her first husband William Mason (Thomas Howes), a second footman for the Downton Abbey family, died from World War I combat wounds.
  • Andy Parker (played by Michael Fox), the Downton Abbey second footman. Daisy and Andy fell in love and got married circa 1928. Andy is prone to get jealous and insecure, but Daisy likes that Andy is willing to go to extremes for their love.
  • Mr. Carson (played by Jim Carter), the on-again/off-again Downton Abbey butler. As the most experienced butler at Downton, he often sees himself as the unofficial leader of the staff, whether they want his advice or not.
  • Mrs. Hughes (played by Phyllis Logan), the Downtown Abbey head housekeeper, who is prim, proper, and frequently involved in keeping secrets to prevent Downton Abbey from being embroiled in scandals.
  • Mrs. Patmore (played by Lesley Nicol), the Downton Abbey chief cook. She has a no-nonsense attitude that keeps the other kitchen staff in check.
  • Mr. Bates (played by Brendan Coyle), the Downton Abbey valet. His arrogance sometimes alienates other members of the staff.
  • Anna Bates (played by Joanne Froggatt), wife of Mr. Bates and the maid to Lady Mary. She is generally well-liked but sometimes gets caught up in the Downton Abbey gossip.
  • Mr. Molesley, the aforementioned Downton Abbey valet who has a tendency to bumble and be socially awkward.
  • Phyllis Baxter (played by Raquel Cassidy), the lady’s maid for the Countess of Grantham. Phyllis and Mr. Molesley become each other’s love interest. “Downton Abbey: The Next Era” shows how far this romance goes.

The Newcomers

  • Jack Barber (played by Hugh Dancy), the director and producer of “The Gambler,” a drama film, set in 1875, about a seductive gambler who’s a con man and a heartbreaker.
  • Guy Dexter (played by Dominic West), the male titular star of “The Gambler.” Guy is charismatic, flirtatious, and might be secretly attracted to Barrow, the Downton Abbey butler.
  • Myrna Dalgleish (played by Laura Haddock), the female star of “The Gambler.” Myrna comes from a working-class background and has a thick Cockney accent. She is very conceited and rude to almost everyone.
  • Mr. Stubbins (played by Alex Macqueen), the sound engineer for “The Gambler.”
  • Montmirail (played by Jonathan Zaccaï), a French marquis from a wealthy family.
  • Madame de Montmirail (played by Nathalie Baye), Montmirail’s mistrusting mother.

It’s a lot of characters to take in for one movie, which is why viewers who know at least some basic “Downton Abbey” background will enjoy “Downton Abbey: A New Era” the most. “Downton Abbey: A New Era” also has two main storylines:

(1) British Lion Film Corp. Ltd. asks to film “The Gambler” at Downton Abbey for one month. Some members of the family think it would be crass and tacky to allow a movie to be made at their home, but Mary ultimately decides that the family could use the money to do extensive renovations at Downton Abbey, including the roof that has been leaking for years. After all, why use the family money for this refurbishing when it can be paid for by a movie studio?

“The Gambler” was originally going to be a silent film. However, the movie studio shuts down production of “The Gambler” because talking pictures are becoming popular. Mary comes up with the idea to make “The Gambler” a talking picture by dubbing in the audio with a separate recording.

However, Myrna’s speaking voice is considered too “low-class” and unacceptable for the role, and she says her lines of dialogue in a stiff and unnatural manner. A reluctant Mary is then recruited to be the speaking voice for Myrna’s character in “The Gambler.” Myrna predictably gets jealous. Most of the comedic scenes in “Downton Abbey: A New Era” revolve around the making of “The Gambler.”

(2) Violet finds out that she inherited a villa in the south of France from Montmirail’s marquis father, whom Violet spent just a few days with when she traveled to France as a young woman. This Montmirail widow is contesting this will and is threatening to take legal action against Violet. Robert, Cora, Edith, Bertie, Tom and Lucy all travel to France to meet the Montmirail widow and her son, to settle this matter, and to see the villa. Meanwhile, speculation abounds over why Violet got the inheritance. Was it because she and the marquis were secret lovers? Meanwhile, Violet is dealing with health issues that were mentioned in the first “Downton Abbey” movie.

“Downton Abbey: A New Era” keeps much of the snappy dialogue that’s characteristic of the “Downton Abbey” franchise, while the movie’s screenplay still maintains an air of intrigue and mystery of how the story is going to go. (Needless to say, the movie’s cinematography and production design are gorgeous.) And all of the cast members play their roles with considerable aplomb.

Violet, as usual, gets the best zingers. She’s one of the Crawley family members who is appalled that showbiz people have populated Downton Abbey to film “The Gambler.” Violet is particularly unimpressed with Myrna. Violet quips about Myrna: “She has all the charm of a verruca.” Violet also finds movies to be an uncultured form of entertainment. “I’d rather eat pebbles,” she says about watching movies.

If watching a film about stuffy British people and their servants isn’t something that you don’t want to spend two hours of your time doing, then anything to do with “Downton Abbey” is not for you. But if you want to see an intriguing and multilayered story about the dynamics between a complicated family, then “Downton Abbey: A New Era” is worth your time, especially if you know about who these characters are before watching the movie.

Focus Features will release “Downton Abbey: A New Era” in U.S. cinemas on May 20, 2022. The movie was released in the United Kingdom on April 29, 2022.

Review: ‘Men’ (2022), starring Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear

May 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jessie Buckley in “Men” (Photo by Kevin Baker/A24)

“Men” (2022)

Directed by Alex Garland

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional Village Kotson, England, the horror flick “Men” has a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman, who is grieving over the death of her estranged husband, rents a home in the English countryside and has a series of disturbing encounters with men. 

Culture Audience: “Men” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching horror movies that use abstract and often-gruesome scenes to convey messages about relationships between men and women.

Rory Kinnear in “Men” (Photo by Kevin Baker/A24)

Filled with symbolism intended to make viewers uncomfortable, “Men” has incisive observations about grief, guilt, toxic masculinity and female empowerment—all wrapped up in an atmospheric horror movie. Written and directed by Alex Garland, “Men” is the type of horror film that is best appreciated by people who don’t expect all horror films to follow a certain formula where a “villain” is defeated at the end. In fact, the movie leaves it open to interpretation if there are any “villains” and how much of the story occurs inside the mind of the story’s protagonist.

“Men” (which takes place in England) begins with a striking and disturbing image of protagonist Harper Marlow (played by Jessie Buckley) watching a man die while she’s in her apartment home. Harper is British, in her early 30s, and she works in an unspecified job where she has to deal with data figures. As she looks out her apartment window, she’s shocked to see a man falling. This scene is played in slow-motion, as if it’s some kind of dream. But it’s no dream. It’s a flashback memory that Harper is having.

And the man falling out of the building was Harper’s estranged husband James (played by Paapa Essiedu), who died in this tragic fall. His death happened on the day that Harper told James that she wanted him to move out of their home after they had a brutal argument. Harper had already told James that she was going to divorce him. Some other things happened on that day to explain why Harper has a bloody nose. Whether or not James’ death was an accident or a suicide is discussed in the movie, which makes it clear that James was definitely not murdered.

After this horrifying opening scene for “Men,” Harper is then shown arriving at an English countryside mansion called Kotson Manor, which she is renting for two weeks in a place called Village Kotson. It will be a getaway retreat for her after James’ death. It’s never detailed how long ago that James has died, but it’s implied that his death was fairly recent, because Harper booked the rental under the name Mrs. Harper Marlow, out of habit.

The owner of the house is a middle-aged man named Geoffrey (played by Rory Kinnear), who has nervous energy and is very talkative when he gives Harper a tour of the house. When Geoffrey asks Harper where her husband is, Harper makes a comment that implies that she’s divorced, but she hasn’t changed the “Mrs.” part of her name yet. Harper also tells Geoffrey that she has kept her married surname, but she plans to change that too.

James’ death isn’t the only thing that Harper lies about to Geoffrey. There’s a baby grand piano in the house. James asks Harper if she knows how to play piano. Harper says no. James comments, “Me neither.” However, when Harper is alone in the house much later in the movie, she plays the piano. And she’s clearly a very skilled piano player. It’s the movie’s way of showing how women sometimes hide their talent to make men feel more secure.

“Men” has several religious symbols from Christianity’s Old Testament, including the Garden of Eden and the biblical story of the birth of humankind. The first thing that Harper does when she arrives at the house is eat an apple from the apple tree on the front lawn. Geoffrey jokes to Harper that the apple she’s eating is “forbidden fruit.”

Geoffrey, who is upbeat and friendly, apparently lives alone, since he doesn’t mention anyone else who lives in the house. Harper has a very good first impression of this well-kept estate, which she later describes as a “dream country house.” Geoffrey seems very confident that Harper will take good care of the house before he leaves. But it won’t be the last time that Harper will see Geoffrey.

Harper’s best friend is an opinionated and confident American woman named Riley (played by Gayle Rankin), who is close to Harper’s age and who also lives in England. Riley is a supportive and attentive friend to Harper. Harper and Riley are shown having FaceTime conversations throughout the movie. In one of their conversations, when Riley becomes concerned about Harper’s safety, Riley offers to go to this country estate to give Harper some company, but Harper declines the offer. Later in the story, it becomes clear how this friendship represents the power of female solidarity.

Harper thinks she’s going to have a peaceful and quiet vacation at this home in the English countryside. But soon, strange things start happening. While out for a walk in an open field, Harper uses her phone to take a photo of the lush green scenery. But she’s horrified to see a naked man (also played by Kinnear) in the distance suddenly appear in the photo. The man, who is bald and has a stocky build, is completely nude and just staring at her silently in a creepy manner.

Harper goes back to the house, calls Riley, and shows the photo to Riley. They both have a laugh over this awkward situation. But it won’t be the last time that Harper sees this bald, naked man.

While taking a walk through the woods, Harper come across a tunnel, which has an unusually long echo whenever she makes sounds in the tunnel. Harper is charmed and amused by this echo, but her whimsical moment comes to an abrupt end when she sees a shadowy figure of a man at the end of the tunnel. The man, who is wearing a business suit, appears to be watching her.

And all of a sudden, the man starts running after Harper. She frantically runs away, goes in the house, and locks the front door. Harper looks out the windows and doesn’t see any sign of this stranger. She assumes that the man lost track of her when she ran away in the woods, so she’s fairly certain that he wasn’t able to follow her to the house.

Harper then calls Riley to tell her about this odd experience, but Harper decides to shake it off and give Riley a video tour of the house. As she gives the video tour, unbeknownst to Harper, the naked man is walking around on the house’s front lawn and peering through the house’s front windows. He also sees the apple tree and starts eating one of the apples. Eventually, Harper sees the man, who tries to break into the house. Harper calls the police, and the man is arrested.

The rest of “Men” shows Harper having varying degrees of hostile experiences with some of the men who live in the area. Viewers can easily see that most of these men look like Geoffrey, including a church vicar, the naked man, a cop, a pub owner and two farmhand brothers who are both customers in the pub. But is something supernatural going on in Village Kotson, or is it all an elaborate hallucination from Harper?

There’s also a young male character named Samuel (played by Zak Rothera-Oxley), whom Harper first meets when she goes to a church for some meditative solitude. Behind the church is a cemetery. Samuel is sitting on the church steps, wearing a face mask of a blonde woman, when he asks Harper if she wants to play a game. When Harper politely says no, Samuel calls her a “stupid bitch.” Samuel is also rude to the vicar and tells the vicar to “fuck off” when the vicar tells Samuel to stop bothering Harper.

Are there any women in this village, besides Harper? Yes. After the unnamed naked man is arrested (he is mute, has no identification, and is presumed to be homeless), a female police officer named Freida (played by Sarah Twomey) takes Harper’s statement with empathy and professionalism. The 999 phone dispatcher/police operator (voiced by Sonoya Mizuno), who takes Harper’s call about the intruder, is also a woman, although she is only heard over the phone.

However, the movie is really about the characters played by Buckley and Kinnear, who give compelling and admirable performances. The flashback scenes in “Men” demonstrate that although Harper is on a “getaway” trip, she can’t really get away from her feelings about James’ death and how their impending divorce had an impact on their lives. The movie’s pacing might be a little slow for some viewers, but the last 15 minutes of “Men” are a bold and bizarre knockout.

What does all of this symbolism mean in the story of “Men”? The movie shows in subtle and not-so-subtle ways what it’s like to be a woman in a world where men have most of the power and want to keep it that way. A woman who is independent, intelligent and confident is seen as a “threat” to this dominance. And this male insecurity comes out in various ways, such as trying to make women feel weak and inferior to men.

One of the most telling scenes in the movie is at the church, when the vicar talks to Harper, who confides in him on how her husband James died. At first, the vicar seems compassionate in comforting Harper. But when the vicar finds out how Harper’s husband died, this impromptu counseling session ends on a sour note because of rude and insensitive comments that the vicar makes to Harper, as shown in the “Men” trailer: “You must wonder why you drove him to it … Might it be true that if you had given him a chance to apologize, he’d still be alive?”

Even “nice guy” Geoffrey has his moments of sexist condescension. When he gives the house tour to Harper, he says to her with a smirky grin: “Ladies, watch what you flush.” He adds, “Septic tank,” as if to say that the septic tank can get easily clogged. Geoffrey’s snide comment is a subtle menstruation reference to women and girls being told not to flush sanitary pads down toilets. Geoffrey could have easily told Harper about the septic tank without making it sound like women are more likely than men to clog toilets.

The series of increasingly horrifying encounters that happen in “Men” range from sexist comments to outright violent misogyny. Some of it happens in Harper’s flashbacks too. The movie takes a scathing look at how male egos are intertwined with society’s idea of what outward masculinity should look like. And the movie also shows how men are taught to hide their inner pain and insecurities, which misogynistic men often take out and inflict on women.

“Men” also shows how toxic masculinity breeds more toxic masculinity. This toxic masculinity can morph into many different forms—and it isn’t always violent. It’s shown in conversations between men and women when men talk over and interrupt women, to try to assert male dominance. It’s shown when men dismiss women’s thoughts, feelings, intelligence, skills and worth as less important than men’s.

It’s shown when men are hostile to women who are or could be in leadership positions over men. It’s shown when men excuse, enable or tolerate horrible actions from men, but give harsher judgment to women who do the same horrible things. It’s shown when men are quick to blame women when women are wronged and are the victims. It’s shown when men think they know best on how women should live their lives.

“Men” will frustrate some viewers who won’t understand the symbolism in this richly layered movie. People who have no knowledge about Judeo-Christian religious beliefs might also be confused over what the apple tree means in the story. (Look up the story of Adam and Eve, if you don’t know it.) But for people who get what the messages in “Men” are all about, the main takeaway should be that toxic masculinity is everywhere, and people really can’t escape it. “Men” also sends an impactful message that grief should be honestly confronted (not avoided), and women need to tap into their own strength to overcome the damage of misogyny.

A24 will release “Men” in U.S. cinemas on May 20, 2022.

Review: ‘Aline’ (2021), starring Valérie Lemercier

May 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Valérie Lemercier in “Aline” (Photo by Jean-Marie Leroy/Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aline” (2021)

Directed by Valérie Lemercier

French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Canadian province of Québec and various other parts of the world, the drama “Aline” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In this dramatic film inspired by the life of French Canadian pop singer Céline Dion, fictional singer Aline Dieu overcomes childhood shyness to become a music superstar, but as an adult, she struggles with fame, infertility issues and her husband’s cancer diagnosis.

Culture Audience: “Aline” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Céline Dion and melodramatic movies about famous singers where the movies’ cinematic quality is questionable at best.

Valérie Lemercier and Silvain Marcel in “Aline” (Photo by Jean-Marie Leroy/Roadside Attractions/Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Aline” is less of a Céline Dion tribute and more of a mishandled vanity project from director/writer/star Valérie Lemercier. In this frequently tacky drama, Lemercier portrays a superstar fictional singer named Aline Dieu (a character based on the real-life Céline Dion), from the ages of 5 to 50. Very few middle-aged people can convincingly depict a pre-teen child on camera. Unfortunately for the movie, Lemercier is not one of them.

It’s not a complete train wreck, but “Aline” is not very convincing as an “inspired by” biopic or as a work of fiction. And it has a lot to do with Lemercier’s often-cringeworthy performance of Aline as a child. Lemercier co-wrote the “Aline” screenplay with Brigitte Buc. And as the movie’s director, Lemercier had the bad judgment to cast herself in the role of Aline as a child. This directorial decision reeks of egotism and wanting to have as much screen time as possible, instead of casting a capable child actress in an age-appropriate role for the underage part of Aline’s life.

People who know Dion’s story already will find no surprises in “Aline.” The movie follows a “Behind the Music” format, by chronicling the rise of Aline from obscurity in Québec, to Canadian fame, to eventual international superstardom. Nearly one-third of the movie (which is told in chronological order) is about Aline under the age of 18. The movie shows Aline (just like the real Dion) growing up as a shy and introverted child in a loving and opinionated family that included her butcher father Anglomard Dieu (played by Roc Lafortune); her homemaker mother Sylvette Dieu (played by Danielle Fichaud); and eight sisters and five brothers.

Aline, the youngest child in her immediate family, first sings in front of an audience at the age of 5, at the wedding of one of her brothers. She instantly wows the crowd, of course. Aline and some of her siblings begin performing in the Dieu Family Band. (When she was a child, Dion also was in a singing group with some of her siblings.) The “Aline” movie also shows how—just like Dion in real life—Aline disliked school because other students bullied and teased for her physical appearance of being very thin and having crooked teeth.

By the age of 12, Aline is co-writing songs and singing on Canadian television. And she catches the attention of a talent manager named Guy-Claude Kamar (played by Sylvain Marcel), who’s old enough to be Aline’s father. There are some “I can make this kid a star” scenarios, which lead to Guy-Claude signing on as Aline’s manager. But his feelings for her aren’t fatherly at all.

The movie is deliberately murky on some of the details (probably for legal reasons), but Guy-Claude (a very married man with adult children) and Aline eventually fall in love with each other when she’s in her mid-teens. “Aline” depicts it as a chaste romance, where Aline and Guy-Claude would just look at each other lovingly and occasionally hug and hold hands. According to this movie, when Aline and Guy-Claude would travel together, he would just tuck her into bed at various hotels, and there would be no sexual contact between them when she was an underage child.

If you believe this movie, Guy-Claude’s personality was so charming, Aline was the one who wanted the relationship to turn sexual, but Guy-Claude turned down her “advances” until she was at the legal age of consent for a sexual relationship. (In Canada, the legal age of consent is 16.) Viewers can make up their own minds about how realistic or unrealistic the movie’s scenarios are of this underage and sheltered child pushing to have a sexual relationship with an adult who is not only enough to be the child’s parent but also has a position of authority and power over the child.

Aline’s protective mother Sylvette is very suspicious of Guy-Claude’s intentions to become more than Aline’s manager, so Sylvette threatens to harm him if he ever touches Aline inappropriately. But despite these threats, the fact is that Sylvette can’t be with Aline all the time. Aline and Guy-Claude spend a lot of time alone together behind closed doors, as he guides her career to more fame and fortune. Because of the creepy nature of Guy-Claude “falling in love” with underage Aline, it’s another reason why the scenes of Aline as a child make the movie look very awkward.

After a number of years, Aline becomes a legal adult. Guy-Claude announces that he’s getting divorced, and he eventually marries Aline. Her parents and siblings give begrudging approval, and they eventually accept Guy-Claude into the Dieu family. It probably helped that Guy-Claude was making Aline rich and famous.

The movie gets a little more interesting during this celebrity part of Aline’s life, but Lemercier’s performance as the adult Aline is still tainted by all the icky earlier scenes of her portraying a child who was seduced (and some would say exploited) by a man old enough to be her father. Marcel’s actor interpretation of Guy-Claude is as someone who was “misunderstood” and protective of Aline, while other people might see Guy-Claude’s attitude toward Aline as obsessive and controlling. The rest of the cast members’ performances are mediocre at best.

Every “inspired by” biopic about a famous entertainer has to include some tragedy and heartbreak, with the entertainer usually finding some way to recover on the road to a comeback. Unlike most famous singers, Dion (who was born in 1968) has not had a public battle with drug addiction or failed romances as the darkest moments in her life. Her most challenging personal experiences have to do with the death of her husband/manager and her brother within a short period of time. On January 14, 2016, Dion’s husband/manager Rene Angélil’s died of throat cancer, at the age of 73, just two days before he would have turned 74. On what would have been his birthday in 2016, Dion’s brother Daniel died of cancer.

Less tragic but still emotionally painful was her struggle to conceive children, which she eventually was able to do with the help of in vitro fertilization. In real life, Dion has three children, all sons: René-Charles Angélil (born in 2001) and fraternal twins Eddy and Nelson, born in 2010. The movie includes the expected emotional tug of war she felt when she had to leave her children behind during rigorous touring schedules, or when she couldn’t spend enough time with them as she wanted, because of the demands of her Las Vegas residency.

It’s all recreated in “Aline.” And because Dion’s life has been so public, none of this is spoiler information for the “Aline” movie. What makes it so hard to take is that this movie has a lot of cliché and hokey dialogue. And therefore, no further insight can be gained into what Dion’s life might have been really like behind the scenes, when so many of the movie’s conversations sound fake and too contrived. People can read Dion’s 2001 memoir “My Story, My Dream” for better insight into her early life, instead of the very bland version presented in this movie. And with a total running time of 126 minutes, “Aline” is just a little too long (with uneven pacing that sometimes drags) for what amounts to a scripted movie version of Dion’s Wikipedia page.

One of the ways that the movie badly falters is how it skimps on Aline’s performances, which include just snippets of Dion’s real-life songs. It’s an obvious sign that the movie couldn’t afford or were denied the rights to have renditions of Dion’s songs for longer than a minute. Most of the performances are less than a minute each, and they breeze by like a choppy music video. Victoria Sio, who provides the singing voice of Aline in this movie, does a fairly good impression of the real-life Dion, but this vocal talent can barely be appreciated when the songs aren’t played long enough in “Aline.”

And that’s not a good sign, when the performances are supposed to be the best part of this movie. The concert scenes of superstar Aline have faithful recreations of many of Dion’s real-life costumes and stage moves, but they are all superficial when the music is cut off so abruptly in many of these live performance scenes. Dion’s most famous hit—”My Heart Will Go On,” the Oscar-winning theme from 1997’s “Titanic”—is merely a blip in this assembly-line approach to showing Aline doing what she does best: sing. And a life as full of highs and lows as Dion’s deserves better than being treated as a formula that hits a lot of wrong notes.

Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Aline” in select U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022, with a wider expansion on April 8, 2022. The movie was released in Canada, France and other countries in 2021.

Review: ‘Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story,’ starring George Wein, Quint Davis, Wynton Marsalis, Irma Thomas, Jimmy Buffett and Bruce Springsteen

May 16, 2022

by Carla Hay

Verdine White of Earth, Wind & Fire in “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” (Photo courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company and Sony Pictures Classics)

“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story”

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the documentary “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” features a cast of white and black people (with a few Latinos), mostly music artists, who are connected in some way to Jazz Fest, an annual music and cultural festival in New Orleans.

Culture Clash: Jazz Fest has had its share of obstacles, including overcoming racial segregation issues, Hurricane Katrina and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Culture Audience: “Jazz Fest” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in this festival and its impact on New Orleans and pop culture.

Nashville Super Choir in “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” (Photo courtesy of The Kennedy/Marshall Company and Sony Pictures Classics)

“Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” is a purely laudatory documentary, told mostly from artists’ perspectives. The film is sometimes unfocused, and some of the commentary praise is too effusive, but the dynamic concert scenes make the movie a worthwhile watch. The movie capably demonstrates how Jazz Fest has become a necessary and influential cultural institution in New Orleans.

Directed by Frank Marshall and Ryan Suffern, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” does nothing groundbreaking in how the film is presented. It’s a traditionally formatted documentary that blends archival footage with the movie’s exclusive interviews. “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” does an excellent job of showing the diversity of Jazz Fest, the commonly used name for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Despite its name, this beloved event isn’t just a festival for jazz music. Jazz Fest—an outdoor festival which traditionally takes place in the spring at Fair Grounds Race Course and Slots—also features R&B, rock, pop, country, gospel, blues, Latin music, Americana, world music, and a number of other music genres from numerous artists from around the world. Jazz Fest, which launched in 1970, is owned by the non-profit New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival Foundation Inc. The event is produced by AEG Presents and Festival Productions Inc.-New Orleans.

Jazz Fest founder George Wein (who died in 2021, at age 95) is one of the people interviewed in the documentary. A longtime concert promoter, Wein says in the documentary that he was first approached to do Jazz Fest in 1962 by “someone from the Hotel Corporation of America” to do a “Newport [Jazz Festival] type of festival.” Wein said that because of Jim Crow laws at the time that made racial segregation legal in Louisiana, “I couldn’t have white musicians and African [black] musicians on stage at the same time.”

And so, Jazz Fest had to wait to launch only after the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed into law and ended legal racial segregation in the United States. Shell Oil Company signed on to be Jazz Fest’s first corporate sponsor. Jazz Fest’s first concert lineup in the event’s inaugural year included Mahalia Jackson, Duke Wellington, Pete Fountain, Al Hirt, Clifton Chenier, Fats Domino, The Meters, and the Preservation Hall Band.

Jazz Fest received support from the artistic community from the beginning, although attendance from the public was very low by today’s Jazz Fest standards. In the first year of Jazz Fest, which took place in Congo Square in 1970, about 350 people attended. Since then, Jazz Fest has become the biggest annual concert event in New Orleans, with an estimated 425,000 to 475,000 people in attendance, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jazz Fest founding producer Quint Davis comments in the documentary: “When Jazz Fest started, it was like we were presenting this music to the world … There were a lot of reasons everybody thought we would fail. One of them was bringing Cajun people and Latin people together.”

Davis adds, “Well, everybody eats, and everybody dances. So, if we can get people together to see what they eat and see what they dance to, I think that can work. When it was all put together in one place, it was stunning to the local people. They were amazed at themselves and felt tremendous pride.”

One particular New Orleans family became integral to Jazz Fest: the Marsalis family, who are world-renowned for their musical accomplishments, particularly in jazz. Ellis Marsalis Jr. (who died in 2020, at age 85) and four of his six sons—Wynton, Branson, Delfeayo, and Jason—are interviewed in the documentary, and they share fond memories of performing at Jazz Fest. The Marsalis brothers literally grew up at Jazz Fest and frequently performed as part of the musical group called the Ellis Marsalis Family Tribute. Branford Marsalis comments on performing with his brothers and his father Ellis: “When we walked out on stage, he ceased being my dad. He was the leader of the group.”

Davis comments on another popular Jazz Fest artist: “Jimmy Buffett is very, very special to us. He’s been responsible for drawing more people to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival than maybe anybody else.” Buffett says in the documentary: “Everything I do, from writing shows to writing songs comes out from being a child of the Mardi Gras.”

Other artists interviewed include Irma Thomas; Pitbull; Boyfriend; Sony Landreth; Big Freedia; Tom Jones; Divine Ladies member Angelina Sever; Preservation Hall Jazz Band member Ben Jaffe; Cowboy Mouth member Fred LeBlanc; High Steppers Brass Band member Daryl Fields; Tab Benoit; Marc Savoy; John Hammond; and Earth, Wind & Fire members Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson. The documentary also has archival footage of several performances, including those by Aaron Neville; Katy Perry with the Gospel Soul Children; Thomas; Pitbull; B.B. King; Al Green; Hammond; Big Freedia; Preservation Hall Jazz Band; Herbie Hancock; Nashville Super Choir; and Earth, Wind & Fire.

There’s an entire segment in the documentary about the food of Jazz Fest, with soundbites from some Jazz Fest food vendors, along with the expected delectable-looking display of New Orleans cuisine, such as jambalaya, crawfish, pralines and beignets. The movie tends to drift off-topic in the middle of the film, when it veers into a prolonged discussion of Mardi Gras, including the history of Mardi Gras and how Mardi Gras has impacted New Orleans Fortunately, the documentary eventually gets back on track to talking about Jazz Fest.

One of the best aspects of the documentary is the discussion about how Jazz Fest had a triumphant comeback in 2006, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bruce Springsteen’s emotionally moving Jazz Fest 2006 performance of “My City of Ruins” is in the documentary. Springsteen comments, “There are certain moments when you meet your audience, and that’s when the healing begins. It was one of the most beautiful concert experiences I ever had.”

The epilogue of “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” includes mention of how, for the first time in Jazz Fest history, the event was cancelled. It happened in 2020 and 2021, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The epilogue includes a brief mention of Jazz Fest’s return in 2022, with footage of Buffet performing a rousing cover version of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

“Jazz Fest” is a documentary that often comes across as an electronic press kit video, because the commentary is non-stop praise of Jazz Fest and/or New Orleans, with no mention of any under-reported problems of Jazz Fest. The movie lacks any constructive criticism of the event and doesn’t talk about issues such as overcrowding or overpricing. But as a documentary that’s meant to celebrate the event, “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” is at its best when it lets the music and performances do the talking.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022.

2022 Critics Choice Real TV Awards: ‘Top Chef’ is the top nominee

May 16, 2022

“Top Chef” judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio ad Gail Simmons (Photo by David Moir/Bravo)

The following is a press release from the Critics Choice Association and NPACT:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) and nonfiction producers’ organization NPACT today unveiled the nominees for the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards, which recognize excellence in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. The annual event returns to an in-person ceremony and gala this year, taking place on June 12 at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

“Top Chef” leads this year’s nominations, earning nods in five categories including Best Competition Series, Best Culinary Show, and Best Ensemble Cast in an Unscripted Series, with Padma Lakshmi earning nominations for Best Show Host and Female Star of the Year. Netflix leads the networks, having projects recognized in 20 categories.

Actors, comedians and television and podcast hosts Randy and Jason Sklar will host the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards. The brothers notably hosted and produced History Channel’s “United Stats of America” and created and starred in the ESPN cult hit series “Cheap Seats,” besides being guest hosts on “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle.” The Sklars can next be seen on “The Nose Bleeds,” a hilarious deep dive into UFC’s history that will launch this summer on UFC’s Fight Pass streaming service.

“Given its ongoing popularity across broadcast and cable networks, streaming services and other platforms, it’s clear that unscripted programming is deserving of special recognition by the Critics Choice Association,” said Ed Martin, President of the Critics Choice Association’s TV Branch. “The exciting programs and diverse personalities selected by our five nominating committees represent the best that this multi-faceted genre has to offer. The fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards ceremony promises to be our most exciting yet.”

Said NPACT General Manager Michelle Van Kempen, “The amazing depth and quality of unscripted programming is evident in this year’s nominees, and we’re especially excited to be able to pay tribute to them and the entire unscripted community at an in-person gala, after two virtual years. It’s truly an honor to collaborate with the Critics Choice Association to celebrate the excellence and innovation of nonfiction content.”

Bob Bain and Joey Berlin will serve as Executive Producers. Michelle Van Kempen also executive produces the show.

The Critics Choice Real TV Awards were launched in 2019 as a large-scale awards platform to give the robust (and still growing) unscripted genre critical attention and support. The awards celebrate programming across platforms, and also recognize industry leaders with special awards highlighting career achievements.

The Critics Choice Association monitors all awards submissions and selects the nominees in all competitive categories. Blue-ribbon nominating committees made up of CCA members with expertise in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming determine the nominees. Winners will be chosen by a vote of the CCA membership. NPACT leads the selection of non-competitive discretionary awards and awards for platforms and production companies.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 525 media critics and entertainment journalists. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the intersection between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit:


NPACT is the trade association for nonfiction production companies doing business in the U.S. Its members are comprised of production companies of all sizes, as well as allied services companies. NPACT serves as the voice for the nonfiction creative community, providing a forum for producers as they navigate changes in media and tackle business issues. For more information visit

# # #



  • Chopped (Food Network)
  • Making It (NBC)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)


  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • Finding Magic Mike (HBO Max)
  • Legendary (HBO Max)
  • Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (Prime Video)
  • Next Level Chef (Fox)
  • The Voice (NBC)


  • Couples Therapy (Showtime)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked (VH1)
  • The Kardashians (Hulu)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • We’re Here (HBO)


  • Catfish: The TV Show (MTV)
  • Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network)
  • Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)
  • Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (National Geographic)
  • How To with John Wilson (HBO)
  • Sketchbook (Disney+)


  • Cooking with Paris (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene Kitchen (Fox)
  • Is It Cake? (Netflix)
  • Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)


  • Family Game Fight! (NBC)
  • Holey Moley (ABC)
  • Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Supermarket Sweep (ABC)
  • The Price Is Right (CBS)
  • Weakest Link (NBC)


  • Alone (History)
  • Family Dinner (Magnolia)
  • Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals (Netflix)


  • American Greed (CNBC)
  • Bar Rescue (Paramount+)
  • Million Dollar Wheels (Discovery+) 
  • Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • Shark Tank (ABC)
  • Undercover Boss (CBS)


  • Crikey! It’s the Irwins (Discovery)
  • Critter Fixers: Country Vets (National Geographic)
  • Eden: Untamed Planet (BBC America)
  • Growing Up Animal (Disney+)
  • Penguin Town (Netflix)
  • The Wizard of Paws (BYUtv)


  • 911 Crisis Center (Oxygen)
  • Cold Justice (Oxygen)
  • Heist (Netflix)
  • Rich & Shameless (TNT)
  • Secrets of Playboy (A&E)
  • Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller (National Geographic)


  • 30 for 30 (ESPN)
  • Bad Sport (Netflix)
  • Cheer (Netflix)
  • Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team (CMT)
  • Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
  • Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers (Prime Video)


  • 90 Day Fiancé (TLC)
  • La Máscara del Amor (Estrella TV)
  • Love Is Blind (Netflix)
  • Love on the Spectrum (Netflix)
  • My Mom, Your Dad (HBO Max)
  • The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On (Netflix)


  • Celebrity IOU (HGTV)
  • Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia)
  • Houses with History (HGTV)
  • Married to Real Estate (HGTV)
  • Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles (Bravo)
  • Rock the Block (HGTV)


  • Glow Up (Netflix)
  • Love, Kam (SurvivorNetTV)
  • Making the Cut (Prime Video)
  • My Unorthodox Life (Netflix)
  • Project Runway (Bravo)
  • The Hype (HBO Max)


  • Abraham Lincoln (History)
  • Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (Netflix)
  • Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo (Netflix)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (History)
  • We Need to Talk About Cosby (Showtime)


  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • The Voice (NBC)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)


  • Mayim Bialik – Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez – Desus & Mero (Showtime)
  • Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • John Oliver – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)


  • Jeff Goldblum – The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • Robert Irvine – Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • Phil Rosenthal – Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • Stanley Tucci – Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (CNN)


  • Samantha Bee – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
  • Kelly Clarkson – The Kelly Clarkson Show (Syndicated); The Voice (NBC); American Song Contest (NBC)
  • Joanna Gaines – Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia); Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • Selena Gomez – Selena + Chef (HBO Max)
  • Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Sandra Lee – Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)


  • Discovery+
  • HBO Max
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • TLC


  • Bunim/Murray Productions
  • The Intellectual Property Corporation (IPC)
  • Kinetic Content
  • Raw TV
  • Sharp Entertainment
  • World of Wonder

2022 Billboard Music Awards: Olivia Rodrigo is the top winner

May 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Doja Cat at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on May 15, 2022. (Photo by David Becker/NBC)

With seven prizes, Olivia Rodrigo was the top winner at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards, which were presented on May 15 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Sean “Diddy” Combs hosted the show, which was televised in the U.S. on NBC and streamed live on Peacock.

Rodrigo (who did not attend the ceremony) won the awards for Best New Artist, Top Female Artist, Top Hot 100 Artist, Top Streaming Songs Artist, Top Radio Songs Artist, Top Billboard Global 200 Artist and Top Billboard 200 Album (for “Sour”).

Other artists who won several awards included Drake (five prizes, including Top Artist); Ye (six prizes in the Gospel and Christian categories); and Doja Cat (four prizes, mostly in the R&B categories). Drake and Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) did not attend the ceremony.

Mary J. Blige received the Icon award, which was presented to her by Janet Jackson. The Weeknd, who was the artist with the ceremony’s most nominations (17), ended up winning just one prize at the 2022 Billboard Music Awards: Top R&B Male Artist. The Weeknd did not attend the ceremony. Other winners who were no-shows included BTS, Taylor Swift, The Kid Laroi and Justin Bieber.

Performers at the show were Diddy, Bryson Tiller, Jack Harlow, Teyana Taylor, Silk Sonic, Rauw Alejandro, Florence and the Machine, Miranda Lambert, Elle King, Latto, Morgan Wallen, Megan Thee Stallion, Dan + Shay, Travis Scott, Machine Gun Kelly, Ed Sheeran, Becky G, Maxwell and Burna Boy.

Presenters at the show included City Girls, Lainey Wilson, DJ Khaled, Heidi Klum, Fat Joe, Michael Bublé, Anitta, Diddy, Liza Koshy, Shenseea, French Montana, Pusha T, Teyana Taylor, graduates of Capital Prep, Dove Cameron, Dixie D’Amelio, Chloe Bailey, Anthony Anderson, Tiffany Haddish and Giveon.

According to a press release: “This year’s awards are based on the chart period of April 10, 2021 through March 26, 2022. Billboard Music Awards finalists and winners are based on key fan interactions with music, including album and digital song sales, streaming, radio airplay, and social engagement, tracked by Billboard and its data partners, including Luminate.” Finalists are also determined by performance on the Billboard Charts.

The 2022 Billboard Music Awards show was produced by MRC Live & Alternative. Robert Deaton was the executive producer.

Here is the complete list of nominees and winners for the 2022 Billboard Music Awards:



Top Artist
Doja Cat
Olivia Rodrigo
Taylor Swift
The Weeknd

Top New Artist
Masked Wolf
Olivia Rodrigo*
Pooh Shiesty
The Kid Laroi

Top Male Artist

Ed Sheeran
Justin Bieber
Lil Nas X
The Weeknd

Top Female Artist
Doja Cat
Dua Lipa
Olivia Rodrigo*

Taylor Swift

Top Duo/Group

Glass Animals
Imagine Dragons
Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak)

Top Billboard 200 Artist
Juice WRLD
Morgan Wallen
Taylor Swift*

Top Hot 100 Artist
Doja Cat
Justin Bieber
Olivia Rodrigo*
The Weeknd

Top Streaming Songs Artist
Doja Cat
Lil Nas X
Olivia Rodrigo*
The Weeknd

Top Song Sales Artist
Dua Lipa
Ed Sheeran
Walker Hayes

Top Radio Songs Artist
Doja Cat
Ed Sheeran
Justin Bieber
Olivia Rodrigo*
The Weeknd

Top Billboard Global 200 Artist (new category)
Doja Cat
Ed Sheeran
Justin Bieber
Olivia Rodrigo*
The Weeknd

Top Billboard Global (Excluding U.S.) Artist (new category)
Dua Lipa
Ed Sheeran*
Olivia Rodrigo
The Weeknd

Top Tour
Eagles (Hotel California Tour)
Genesis (The Last Domino? Tour)
Green Day, Fall Out Boy & Weezer (The Hella Mega Tour)
Harry Styles (Love on Tour)
The Rolling Stones (No Filter Tour)*

Top R&B Artist
Doja Cat*

Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak)
Summer Walker
The Weeknd

Top R&B Male Artist
The Weeknd*

Top R&B Female Artist
Doja Cat*

Summer Walker

Top R&B Tour
Bruno Mars (Bruno Mars at Park MGM)*

Omarion & Bow Wow (The Millennium Tour 2021)
Usher (The Vegas Residency)

Top Rap Artist

Juice WRLD
Lil Baby
Moneybagg Yo
Polo G

Top Rap Male Artist

Juice WRLD
Polo G

Top Rap Female Artist
Cardi B
Megan Thee Stallion*

Top Rap Tour
J. Cole (The Off-Season Tour)
Lil Baby (The Back Outside Tour)
Omarion & Bow Wow (The Millennium Tour 2021)*

Top Country Artist
Chris Stapleton
Luke Combs
Morgan Wallen
Taylor Swift*
Walker Hayes

Top Country Male Artist
Chris Stapleton
Luke Combs
Morgan Wallen*

Top Country Female Artist
Carrie Underwood
Miranda Lambert
Taylor Swift*

Top Country Duo/Group
Dan + Shay*

Florida Georgia Line
Zac Brown Band

Top Country Tour
Luke Bryan (Proud to Be Right Here Tour)
Eric Church (Gather Again Tour)*
Chris Stapleton (All-American Road Show Tour)

Top Rock Artist
Glass Animals*

Imagine Dragons
Machine Gun Kelly
Twenty One Pilots

Top Rock Tour
Genesis (The Last Domino? Tour)
Green Day, Fall Out Boy & Weezer (The Hella Mega Tour)
The Rolling Stones (No Filter Tour)*

Top Latin Artist
Bad Bunny*

Kali Uchis
Karol G
Rauw Alejandro

Top Latin Male Artist
Bad Bunny*

Rauw Alejandro

Top Latin Female Artist
Kali Uchis*

Karol G

Top Latin Duo/Group
Calibre 50
Eslabon Armado*
Grupo Firme

Top Latin Tour
Bad Bunny (El Último Tour Del Mundo)
Enrique Iglesias & Ricky Martin (Live in Concert)
Los Bukis (Una Historia Cantada Tour)*

Top Dance/Electronic Artist
Calvin Harris
David Guetta
Lady Gaga*

Top Christian Artist
Carrie Underwood
Elevation Worship
for King & Country
Lauren Daigle

Top Gospel Artist
CeCe Winans
Elevation Worship
Kirk Franklin
Maverick City Music


Top Billboard 200 Album
Adele, 30
Doja Cat, Planet Her
Drake, Certified Lover Boy
Morgan Wallen, Dangerous: The Double Album
Olivia Rodrigo, SOUR*

Top Soundtrack
Arcane League of Legends
In The Heights
Sing 2
tick, tick…BOOM!

Top R&B Album
Doja Cat, Planet Her*

Givēon, When It’s All Said and Done…Take Time
Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak), An Evening With Silk Sonic
Summer Walker, Still Over It
The Weeknd, Dawn FM

Top Rap Album
Drake, Certified Lover Boy*

Moneybagg Yo, A Gangsta’s Pain
Rod Wave, SoulFly
The Kid Laroi, F*ck Love
Ye, Donda

Top Country Album
Florida Georgia Line, Life Rolls On
Lee Brice, Hey World
Taylor Swift, Fearless (Taylor’s Version)
Taylor Swift, Red (Taylor’s Version)*
Walker Hayes, Country Stuff: The Album

Top Rock Album
AJR, OK Orchestra
Coldplay, Music of the Spheres
Imagine Dragons, Mercury – Act 1
John Mayer, Sob Rock
Twenty One Pilots, Scaled and Icy*

Top Latin Album
Eslabon Armado, Corta Venas
J Balvin, Jose
Kali Uchis, Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios)
Karol G, KG0516*
Rauw Alejandro, Vice Versa

Top Dance/Electronic Album
C418, Minecraft – Volume Alpha
FKA twigs, Caprisongs
Illenium, Fallen Embers*
Porter Robinson, Nurture
Rüfüs Du Sol, Surrender

Top Christian Album
Carrie Underwood, My Savior
CeCe Winans, Believe for It
Elevation Worship & Maverick City Music, Old Church Basement
Phil Wickham, Hymn of Heaven
Ye, Donda*

Top Gospel Album
CeCe Winans, Believe for It
Elevation Worship & Maverick City Music, Old Church Basement
Maverick City Music, Jubilee: Juneteenth Edition
Maverick City Music & Upperroom, move your heart.
Ye, Donda*


Top Hot 100 Song
Doja Cat featuring SZA, “Kiss Me More”
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Streaming Song
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Glass Animals, “Heat Waves”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Selling Song
BTS, “Butter”*

BTS, “Permission to Dance”
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits”
Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”

Top Radio Song
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”*

Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Collaboration
Doja Cat featuring SZA, “Kiss Me More”
Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar & GIVĒON, “Peaches”
Lil Nas X featuring Jack Harlow, “Industry Baby”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Billboard Global 200 Song (new category)
Dua Lipa, “Levitating”
Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits”
Olivia Rodrigo, “good 4 u”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Billboard Global (Excluding U.S.) Song (new category)
BTS, “Butter”
Ed Sheeran, “Bad Habits”
Lil Nas X, “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)”
The Kid Laroi & Justin Bieber, “Stay”*
The Weeknd & Ariana Grande, “Save Your Tears”

Top Viral Song (new category)
Doja Cat featuring SZA, “Kiss Me More”*
Gayle, “Abcdefu”
Glass Animals, “Heat Waves”
Masked Wolf, “Astronaut in the Ocean”
Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”

Top R&B Song
Doja Cat & The Weeknd, “You Right”
Givēon, “Heartbreak Anniversary”
Justin Bieber featuring Daniel Caesar & Givēon, “Peaches”
Silk Sonic (Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak), “Leave The Door Open”*
WizKid featuring Justin Bieber & Tems, “Essence”

Top Rap Song
Drake featuring 21 Savage, Project Pat, “Knife Talk”
Drake featuring Future & Young Thug, “Way 2 Sexy”
Lil Nas X featuring Jack Harlow, “Industry Baby”*
Masked Wolf, “Astronaut In The Ocean”
Polo G, “Rapstar”

Top Country Song
Chris Stapleton, “You Should Probably Leave”
Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood, “If I Didn’t Love You”
Jordan Davis featuring Luke Bryan, “Buy Dirt”
Luke Combs, “Forever After All”
Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like”*

Top Rock Song
Coldplay X BTS, “My Universe”
Elle King & Miranda Lambert, “Drunk (And I Don’t Wanna Go Home)”
Imagine Dragons, “Follow You”
Måneskin, “Beggin’”*
The Anxiety: Willow & Tyler Cole, “Meet Me at Our Spot”

Top Latin Song
Aventura x Bad Bunny, “Volví”
Bad Bunny, “Yonaguni”
Farruko, “Pepas”
Kali Uchis, “telepatía”*
Rauw Alejandro, “Todo De Ti”

Top Dance/Electronic Song
Elton John & Dua Lipa, “Cold Heart – PNAU Remix”*

Farruko, “Pepas”
Regard x Troye Sivan x Tate McRae, “You”
Tiësto, “The Business”
Travis Scott & HVME, “Goosebumps”

Top Christian Song
Anne Wilson, “My Jesus”
Ye, “Hurricane”*
Ye, “Moon”
Ye, “Off The Grid”
Ye, “Praise God”

Top Gospel Song
Elevation Worship & Maverick City Music featuring Chandler Moore & Naomi Raine, “Jireh”
Ye, “Hurricane”*
Ye, “Moon”
Ye, “Off the Grid”
Ye, “Praise God”

Review: ‘Nightride’ (2022), starring Moe Dunford

May 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mo Dunford in “Nightride” (Photo courtesy of Belfast Still Department/Brainstorm Media)

Nightride” (2022)

Directed by Stephen Fingleton

Culture Representation: Taking place in Northern Ireland, the dramatic film “Nightride” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A man who wants to leave his criminal lifestyle behind decides to do one last drug deal, but things go horribly wrong. 

Culture Audience: “Nightride” will appeal primarily to people who like watching crime dramas with unusual settings, since “Nightride” takes place mostly in a car.

Gerard Jordan and Moe Dunford in “Nightride” (Photo by David Bird and Stephen Fingleton/Brainstorm Media)

Not too many movies can make a lively thriller out of a story that’s mostly a series of phone calls, but “Nightride” succeeds in doing so. The movie overcomes some crime drama clichés with a riveting lead performance by Moe Dunford. Dunford is literally front and center for almost all of the movie’s screen time, which primarily features his “Nightride” character Budge talking on the phone, usually in his car. When Budge gets out of his car, it’s usually for a reason that adds to the tension in the story.

Directed by Stephen Fingleton and written by Ben Conway, “Nightride” takes place over the course of one night, somewhere in an unnamed urban part of Northern Ireland. Budge has been making money selling illegal drugs as a mid-level drug dealer, but he’s about to quit the drug trade to open a legitimate business with a good friend of his named Graham (voiced by Paul Kennedy), who is only heard in the movie through phone conversations. And yes, “Nightride” is one of those crime dramas were the protagonist wants to do “one last crime caper” before “going straight.”

Budge and Graham plan to open an auto body shop called Nightride Auto Body, which Budge describes as a place that will offer “bespoke” custom jobs. The two pals have a meeting scheduled to take place the next morning at a bank, to pay back £60,000 in cash that they owe on a bank loan to purchase the business. If Budge and Graham default on the loan, they lose all the money that has already been paid for the loan, and they’ll lose this chance to start the business. Graham’s parents mortgaged their house to help Budge and Graham as a business investment, so Graham feels extra pressure to make sure that this bank deal goes smoothly.

Budge plans to get the money by doing one last drug deal that will give him the cash that he and Graham need. Graham knows that Budge has been involved in criminal activities, but he has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes discussing it with Budge. All Graham knows is that Budge has promised him that no matter what happens that night, it will end with Graham getting the £60,000 in cash that they need. Budge has also promised Graham that it will be the last time he does anything criminal before they open their auto body shop.

Budge’s girlfriend Sofia (played by Joana Ribeiro), a Ukrainian immigrant, knows all of Budge’s plans, and she wants him to leave the criminal life behind too. Before Budge gets in his car to do the drug deal, Sofia tells him, “Don’t get lifted [slang for arrested]. Once you do this, you’ll be out. We’ll both be out.” Needless to say, Budge, Sofia and Graham are feeling very anxious, but Budge tries to hide his nervousness with a cool and confident manner.

They won’t be the only ones on edge about this drug deal. The plan is for two of Budge’s cohorts named Lefty (played by John Travers) and Beaker (played by “Nightride” director Fingleton) to pick up the drug supply in a van that has 50 kilograms of the drug. The name of the drug is not named in the movie. Lefty and Beaker are then supposed to drive the van to some Ukrainian gangsters, who will buy the drug supply, and give Budge’s henchmen the cash, which Lefty and Beaker they will hand over to Budge. Lefty and Beaker are supposed to get a pre-arranged cut of the cash as payment for their help.

And why isn’t Budge doing the delivery himself? He suspects that he’s under surveillance by law enforcement, so he doesn’t want to risk any chance of getting arrested. The gangsters who are buying this drug supply are led by a ruthless overlord named Felix (voiced by Andrew Simpson), who is already irritated with Budge because Budge has delayed this drug deal for a week. Felix says if the drug supply isn’t delivered by 11:15 p.m., the deal is off. At the time Felix tells Budge this deadline over the phone, it’s 10:40 p.m., and Felix think that’s enough time to get everything done. As a precaution, Felix sends a menacing goon named Troy (played by Gerard Jordan) to be his enforcer, in case things go wrong.

There would be no “Nightride” movie if things went smoothly. Lefty and Beaker are bumbling dimwits, so you know what that means. Other things go wrong too, but that information will not be revealed in this review. What can be mentioned is that the stakes keep getting higher for Budge. At one point, he has to choose whether or not to commit murder. Sofia begs him not to go to those deadly extremes, but will Budge listen to her pleas?

Other characters who get involved in one way or another in Budge’s drug deal gone wrong include a guy nicknamed Scholar (played by Ciaran Flynn), Budge’s middle-man accomplice who is a Ph.D. student dealing drugs to help pay for his school tuition; a man nicknamed Magic Shop (voiced by Desmond Eastwood), a drug buyer whom Budge turns to in a moment of desperation; and Joe (voiced by Stephen Rea), a loan shark who is described by someone as a “psycho.” Budge also has a 15-year-old female cousin nicknamed Cuz (played Ellie O’Halloran), who calls him at inconvenient times to talk about her love life, but she ends up giving some valuable help to Budge when things go awry. Cuz also wants to work at the auto body shop that Budge and Graham plan to own.

“Nightride,” which had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, was filmed in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and before COVID-19 vaccines were available. You can tell that the movie was filmed during the pandemic because most conversations take place over the phone, and most of the cast members are not seen in the movie. When any cast members are seen on screen together, they are not gathered in large groups; only two to four people are in the scene.

One of the best things about “Nightride” is how it makes great use of dialogue and facial expressions to give viewers important insight into the personalities of these characters. Budge is the type of character who will keep viewers curious about what he’s going to do next when another obstacle gets in his way. Things never get boring in “Nightride,” which is a testament to how this movie was filmed and edited, as well as the cast members’ performances, particularly the standout turn from Dunford. “Nightride” is not a completely groundbreaking film, but it has plenty to offer to viewers looking for an adrenaline-fueled and entertaining thriller.

Brainstorm Media released “Nightride” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on March 4, 2022.

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