Review: ‘A Thousand and One,’ starring Teyana Taylor, Aaron Kingsley Adetola, Aven Courtney, Josiah Cross and William Catlett

January 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley Adetola in “A Thousand and One” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

“A Thousand and One”

Directed by A.V. Rockwell

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, from 1993 to 2005, the dramatic film “A Thousand and One” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After she is released from prison for theft, a New York City mother illegally avoids child welfare services that want to put her underage son in foster care, so she moves to another part of the city with him and gives him a false identity. 

Culture Audience: “A Thousand and One” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching intense dramas about troubled families that are plagued by poverty and dysfunction.

“A Thousand and One” could be an apt description about all the storylines in movies and TV shows about African American pain and struggles. What makes this dramatic film different from the many that just wallow in negative stereotypes is how authentically the complex humanity is presented in the story. The well-worn subject of an African American family living in urban poverty gets a rarely seen perspective of an undocumented U.S.-born child living in America. The middle of the movie tends to drag, but the last third of the film is emotionally powerful.

Written and directed by A.V. Rockwell, “A Thousand and One” won the grand jury prize in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where the movie had its world premiere. “A Thousand and One”—which takes place in New York City, from 1993 to 2005—follows the lives of two people who are on the margins of society because one of them is a child with a false identity. “A Thousand and One” shows how this identity deception was made with good intentions to benefit the child in a system that often neflects or abuses children with unstable home lives. “A Thousand and One” shows in unflinching ways whether or not this decision to change the child’s identity was the right decision.

“A Thousand to One” begins by showing the woman who is the catalyst for most of what happens in the story. Inez de la Paz (played by Teyana Taylor) is a prisoner at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in 1993. The opening scene shows Inez appying makeup on the face of a female inmate. The movie then abruptly cuts to 1994, when Inez is 22 years old. Inez, who has a feisty and outspoken personality, is now out of prison and trying to get her life back on track.

Inez returns to her Brooklyn neighborhood and reconnects with a shy and quiet 6-year-old boy named Terry (played by Aaron Kingsley Adetola), who knows Inez as his mother, but he seems emotionally distant and very mistrustful of her. Terry refuses to talk to Inez and can barely look at her. That’s because for however long that Inez was in prison, Terry has been living in foster care, and he feels like Inez abandoned him.

Terry’s father has not be involved in raising Terry, who has no other known relatives. Inez has told people that her ex-boyfriend Lucky (played by William Catlett) is Terry’s father, but Inez says that Lucky and Inez broke up shortly after she gave birth to Terry. For now, Inez plans to raise Terry on her own. But because she currently has no job and no permanent home, it’s very unlikely that Inez will get custody of Terry.

Inez insists on spending time with Terry, whom she usually gets to see when he’s hanging out with his friends on the streets. She promises Terry that she will stay out of trouble and that she won’t ever leave him again. Eventually, Terry starts to warm up to Inez and begins to trust her again.

Meanwhile, Inez wants to work as a hairstylist, but her criminal record and not having a permanent address make it hard for her to get hired at places that do background checks. She also has a reputation in her neighborhood for being a convicted thief. In an effort to find work, she hands out flyers to advertise her services as an independent hair stylist.

A montage early in the movie shows Inez calling people she knows to find a place to stay, and she gets frustrated when people say no, or she can’t reach them on the phone because she gets voice mail or the phone number is no longer in service. Remember, this is in 1994, when most people did not have mobile phones, so Inez has to rely on pay phones to make her calls. Because Inez doesn’t have her own phone, it’s another reason why it’s hard for her to find a job.

Just as Inez thinks she’s making progress with Terry, he ends up in a hospital with a non-critical head injury from a fall out of a window. Although Terry says that he fell on his own, it’s implied that it’s very likely his foster mother abused him, and it resulted in the injury. One of the signs that Terry is being abused in his foster home is that he is afraid to go back and live there. Another sign is that Inez is told that Terry will probably be moved to another foster home after he’s discharged from the hospital.

Inez is so upset by the thought of Terry going back to a foster home, she asks Terry if he wants to stay with her for a couple of days. He says yes. That’s all Inez needs to hear to decide to take Terry with her without telling the proper authorities. Inez and Terry go to Harlem, where Inez grew up. They temporarily hide out with Inez’s close friend Kim Jones (played by Terri Abney), who has known Inez since childhood. Kim lives with her mother Mrs. Jones (played by Delissa Reynolds), who openly disapproves of Inez, because she thinks Inez is a bad influence on Kim.

Inez confides to Kim that Inez has illegally taken Terry and has no intention of returning him to the child welfare system. Inez makes Kim promise to keep it a secret. However, the local news is reporting that Inez has kidnapped Terry. Photos of Inez and Terry are on local TV stations and in other visual media’s news reports about this kidnapping. Even though the Internet was in its infancy in 1994, a kidnapping reported on the TV news would be a big deal in 1994, as it would be today. “A Thousand and One” doesn’t handle the effects of this mass-media coverage very realistically.

That’s why viewers need a huge suspension of disbelief for the rest of “A Thousand to One,” which shows that Terry and Inez stayed in Harlem through 2005, the year that the movie ends. This isn’t spoiler information, because the movie is being marketed as a story about a woman who kidnapped her son and was able to raise him through his teenage years by giving him a false identity. The movie’s remaining chapters take place in 2001, when Terry (played by Aven Courtney) is 13 years old, and in 2005, when Terry (played by Josiah Cross) is 17 years old.

It’s very hard to believe that people who know Inez (who makes no attempt to disguise herself) wouldn’t find out that she was in the news for kidnapping. It would be easier to believe that Inez got away with it for several years if Inez and Terry had moved to another part of the United States, or even out of the New York City metropolitan area. In real life, too many social workers and law enforcement officials (including parole officers) would be able to easily track down Inez and Terry because she went back to her childhood neighborhood.

And making things even more implausible, Inez and Terry stay in the same Harlem apartment for several years, which would make them even easier to find. (Most fugitives don’t live in one place for too long.) Inez and Terry live an apartment that has the number 10-01 on the door. This apartment number is the inspiration for the movie’s title, because without the hyphen, the number would be 1,001.

Terry is homeschooled for some of his early childhood when Inez goes into “hiding” with him, but Terry eventually goes to public schools, where Inez occasionally interacts with some of the schools’ faculty and staff. It’s another plot hole in the movie, because some of these school employees would realistically be aware of local child kidnappings that were in the news and would recognize Inez. It’s important to mention that Inez’s physical appearance barely ages in the movie. Through the years, her very distinctive face looks exactly the same in the photos of Inez that are shown in the news about the kidnapping case. Law enforcement wouldn’t have do any “aging updates” to her photos.

Inez and Terry being able to “hide in plain sight” and go undetected for years is this movie’s way of saying that children like Terry often “fall through the cracks” of the child welfare system, because no one is really looking that hard for them. A better and more realistic narrative to the story would have been that Terry’s disappearance would not have made the news at all. But because “A Thousand and One” repeatedly shows Inez’s and Terry’s photos on TV as a kidnapping case, this TV news coverage seems very contrived for the movie’s dramatic purposes, in order to make the character of Inez more paranoid about getting caught.

Despite the credibility flaws in this part of the kidnapping investigation narrative, “A Thousand and One” is more authentic in showing the turmoil and dysfunction that result from being an outlaw and having poverty problems. Yes, there are many cringeworthy scenes of Inez being the “angry black woman” stereotype, but Taylor delivers a good-enough performance that it doesn’t devolve into being a pathetic parody. Viewers will see more than enough of Inez’s “I’m angry because I’ve had a hard life” attitude.

However, “A Thousand and One” saves itself from being racially offensive with these negative stereotypes for Inez because the movie shows her vulnerable side, especially during Terry’s early teenage years when she starts to mellow out a little bit when the life that she makes for herself and Lucky becomes more stable. The movie also presents a variety of other African American people who are also living in poverty but who aren’t the clichés of being bitter and “ready to pick a fight” that Inez can often be. Inez’s friend Kim is street-smart too, but Kim is more compassionate and more patient than Inez.

Lucky comes back into Inez’s life, and he’s not quite the deadbeat dad that he could easily be if the movie followed the usual race-demeaning formulas that other movies and TV shows have about low-income African American fathers. Lucky is flawed but he does try to redeem himself as a parent. The scenes with Lucky and Terry are among the most authentic because they show that it takes time for Lucky to build trust as a father who was absent for Terry’s formative childhood years.

What will probably impress people the most about “A Thousand and One” is how superbly the movie shows Terry growing up into the bright and sensitive person that he is, with a lot of potential to succeed, despite Terry coming from dire circumstances and a volatile family background. Terry has a knack for science and technology. But what he really wants to do with his life is to be a music composer like his idol, Quincy Jones. Adetola, Courtney and Cross are all terrific in their roles as Terry in the three life stages that are depicted in “A Thousand and One.”

“A Thousand and One” has plenty of hard edges to its storytelling, but there are some sweet-natured scenes of teenage Terry awkwardly trying to impress his longtime crush Simone (played at age 14 by Azza El, and at age 17 by Alicia Pilgrim), who is dismissive and rude to Terry. As 17-year-old Terry, Cross is particularly skillful at showing introverted Terry’s frustration of wanting to be more confident, but his shyness and insecurity often get in the way. Terry has a slight stutter that is realistically depicted. There are also some tender mother/child moments between Inez and Terry.

“A Thousand and One” transitions between each of the three chapters of Terry’s life, by showing aerial views of New York City with audio clips of news reports about New York City’s mayor at the time. These transitions are an effective way to not only give a quick history lesson of New York City during these years but also put into context the types of mayoral policies that were put in place during these time periods. The news clips highlighted in the movie reflect the type of news that African Americans likely would be paying attention to the most because it’s news that would have an impact on African American communities.

For 1994 and 2001, these clips briefly encapsulate the reign of Rudolph “Rudy” Giuliani, who is credited with “cleaning up” New York City and reducing the city’s crime rate, but who also instilled a damaging and racist “stop and frisk” police policy that disproportionately targeted African Americans and Latinos of the male gender. These clips have mentions of the police brutality cases that violated young, unarmed African American men Abner Louima (a victim of police sodomy in 1997) and Amadou Diallo (killed by 41 rounds of police gunfire in 1999), to serve as reminders of the racial dangers in New York City for young African American men like Terry. The 2005 audio excerpt of the reign of New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg foreshadows how certain people will be affected by Bloomberg’s legacy of bringing more big business and more gentrification to New York City.

Viewers of “A Thousand and One” will get the sense that all the problems experienced by Inez and Terry are not meant to invoke condescension or pity, as some of the move’s more privileged characters react when they’re with Inez and/or Terry. Instead, the movie shows in frank and empathetic ways how quickly people’s lives can spiral in these circumstances. It would be very easy to judge people in these circumstances as self-destructive or lazy. But the ending of “A Thousand and One” makes it very clear that it’s a mistake to harshly judge someone without knowing that person’s whole life story, because some of life’s bad decisions start off as good intentions.

Focus Features will release “A Thousand and One” in select U.S. cinemas on March 31, 2023.

2023 Sundance Film Festival: winners announced

January 27, 2023

Teyana Taylor and Aaron Kingsley Adetola in “A Thousand and One” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

The following is a press release from the Sundance Film Festival:

The Sundance Film Festival, a program of the nonprofit Sundance Institute, returned back in person and across the country online for 2023. Whether you gathered in theaters or are joining us from home, the Festival offers the opportunity to be a part of the discovery of stories and artists that will  inspire and entertain us for years to come. The 2023 Sundance Film Festival jurors and audiences have voted with the awards announced today during an event at The Ray Theatre in Park City and updated on Sundance Film Festival’s official social accounts. The award-winning films will screen in person and via the online Festival platform on Saturday, January 28, and Sunday, January 29. Tickets for all award-screening films are available beginning at 1:00 p.m. MT today.

The jury and audience-awarded prizes amplify the fearless and dynamic stories across sections, with Grand Jury Prizes awarded to A Thousand and One (U.S. Dramatic), Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project (U.S. Documentary), Scrapper (World Cinema Dramatic), and The Eternal Memory (World Cinema Documentary), and the NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe was awarded to KOKOMO CITY.

Voted on by the audience, Radical was granted the Festival Favorite Award. Audience Awards for films in competition were presented by Acura to The Persian Version (U.S. Dramatic) and Beyond Utopia (U.S. Documentary), and presented by United Airlines to Shayda (World Cinema Dramatic) and 20 Days in Mariupol (World Cinema Documentary). KOKOMO CITY won the audience award for NEXT.

“This year’s Festival has been an extraordinary experience,” said Joana Vicente, Sundance Institute CEO. “The artists that comprise the 2023 Sundance Film Festival have demonstrated a sense of urgency and dedication to excellence in independent film. Today’s award winners highlight our programs’ most impressive achievements in the current moment of cinematic arts. I hope you will join me in congratulating our winners, as well as thanking all artists across sections for sharing their stories with the Sundance community.”

“In addition to acknowledging our artists, I want to thank this year’s jurors for their time and thoughtful consideration,” added Kim Yutani, Sundance Film Festival Director of Programming. “Their efforts help contextualize our artists’ work beyond the Festival program and elevate their stories to new audiences around the globe. The winners themselves represent a diverse mix of bold storytelling, thought-provoking reflections, and critical representations of our world today.”

The awards announcement marks a key point of the 2023 Festival, where 111 feature-length and 64 short films — selected from 15,856 submissions — have been presented in Park City, Salt Lake City, and at the Sundance Resort, while over 75% of the feature films, plus Shorts and Indie Episodics, are available via the Festival’s online platform through Sunday, January 29.

This year’s jurors were: Jeremy O. Harris, Eliza Hittman, and Marlee Matlin for U.S. Dramatic Competition; W. Kamau Bell, Ramona Diaz, and Carla Gutierrez for U.S. Documentary Competition; Shozo Ichiyama, Annemarie Jacir, and Funa Maduka for World Cinema Dramatic Competition; and Karim Amer, Petra Costa, and Alexander Nanau for World Cinema Documentary Competition; Madeleine Olnek for the NEXT competition section; Destin Daniel Cretton, Marie-Louise Khondji, and Deborah Stratman for the Short Film Program Competition.

Feature film award winners in previous years include: Nanny, The Exiles, CODA, Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Flee, Hive, Minari, Boys State, Epicentro, Yalda, A Night for Forgiveness, ClemencyOne Child Nation, Honeyland, The SouvenirThe Miseducation of Cameron PostI Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, WeinerWhiplash, Fruitvale Station, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Twenty Feet from Stardom, Searching for Sugarman, The Square, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Cartel Land, The Wolf Pack, The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Dope, Dear White People, The Cove, and Man on Wire.

The 2023 Sundance Film Festival awards are:

GRAND JURY PRIZES

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to A.V. Rockwell for A Thousand and One / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: A.V. Rockwell, Producers: Eddie Vaisman, Julia Lebedev, Lena Waithe, Rishi Rajani, Brad Weston) — Convinced it’s one last, necessary crime on the path to redemption, unapologetic and free-spirited Inez kidnaps 6-year-old Terry from the foster care system. Holding on to their secret and each other, mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in New York City. Cast: Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney, Aaron Kingsley Adetola. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: Never have I seen a life so similar to my own rendered with such nuance and tenderness. I walked out of the theatre and wept in front of people I barely know because this film reached into my gut and pulled from it every emotion I’ve learned to mask in these spaces. As a jury we know how impossible it is to make work that is real, full of pain, and fearless in its rigorous commitment to emotional truth born of oppressive circumstances. It is our honor to award the U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic to A Thousand and One.

The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson for Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project / U.S.A. (Directors and Producers: Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson, Producer: Tommy Oliver) — Intimate vérité, archival footage, and visually innovative treatments of poetry take us on a journey through the dreamscape of legendary poet Nikki Giovanni as she reflects on her life and legacy. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: This film focuses on a singular, unapologetic voice, and through her story it captures the experience of the collective. The strong directorial vision illuminates the joy and the raw reality of the Black experience. Also it is fucking funny. The U.S. Grand Jury Prize: Documentary goes to Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic was presented to Charlotte Regan for Scrapper U.K. (Director and Screenwriter: Charlotte Regan, Producer: Theo Barrowclough) — Georgie is a dreamy 12-year-old girl who lives happily alone in her London flat, filling it with magic. Out of nowhere, her estranged father turns up and forces her to confront reality. Cast: Harris Dickinson, Lola Campbell, Alin Uzun, Ambreen Razia, Olivia Brady, Aylin Tezel. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: A charming and empathetic film full of integrity and life. Scrapper is a poignant study on grief and how the protagonist attempts to shrink her world. Through a child’s eyes, we observe abandonment, detachment and coldness, delivered with love, humor and warmth. The jury was drawn by the honest and sincere performances, strong direction, playful cinematography, and impressive script. The authenticity and command of place and space by the filmmaker and her insistence in creating a world where pain and joy align perfectly delivered a story full of heart and soul. The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic goes to Scrapper.

The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary was presented to Maite Alberdi for The Eternal Memory / Chile (Director and Producer: Maite Alberdi, Producers: Juan de Dios Larraín, Pablo Larraín, Rocío Jadue) — Augusto and Paulina have been together for 25 years. Eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Both fear the day he no longer recognizes her. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: This film opened our hearts by bringing us closer to the meaning of life and death, and the element that threads sense into all of it – love. Through a simple yet complex portrayal of a confinement, it brings us to the lives of these fascinating characters who make us wiser and more loving the longer we stay with them. The World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Documentary goes to The Eternal Memory.

FESTIVAL FAVORITE AWARD

Eugenio Derbez in “Radical” (Photo by Mateo Londono)

Selected by audience votes from the feature films that screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, the Festival Favorite Award was presented to Radical / U.S.A (Director and Screenwriter: Christopher Zalla, Producers: Ben Odell, Eugenio Derbez, Joshua Davis) — In a Mexican border town plagued by neglect, corruption, and violence, a frustrated teacher tries a radical new method to break through his students’ apathy and unlock their curiosity, their potential… and maybe even their genius. Based on a true story. Cast: Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Haddad, Jenifer Trejo, Mia Fernanda Solis, Danilo Guardiola. World Premiere. Fiction. Available online.

AUDIENCE AWARDS

Pictured in front row: Layla Mohammadi and Niousha Noor in “The Persian Version” (Photo by Andre Jaeger)

The Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic, Presented by Acura was awarded to The Persian Version / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Anne Carey, Ben Howe, Luca Borghese, Peter Block, Corey Nelson) — When a large Iranian-American family gathers for the patriarch’s heart transplant, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past. Toggling between the United States and Iran over decades, mother and daughter discover they are more alike than they know. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Bijan Daneshmand, Shervin Alenabi. World Premiere. Available online.

The Audience Award: U.S. Documentary, Presented by Acura was awarded to Beyond Utopia / U.S.A. (Director: Madeleine Gavin, Producers: Jana Edelbaum, Rachel Cohen, Sue Mi Terry) — Hidden camera footage augments this perilous high-stakes journey as we embed with families attempting to escape oppression from North Korea, ultimately revealing a world most of us have never seen. World Premiere. Available online.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic, Presented by United Airlines was awarded to Shayda Australia (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Noora Niasari, Producer: Vincent Sheehan) — Shayda, a brave Iranian mother, finds refuge in an Australian women’s shelter with her 6-year-old daughter. Over Persian New Year, they take solace in Nowruz rituals and new beginnings, but when her estranged husband re-enters their lives, Shayda’s path to freedom is jeopardized. Cast: Zar Amir Ebrahimi, Osamah Sami, Leah Purcell, Jillian Nguyen, Mojean Aria, Selina Zahednia. World Premiere. Available online.

The Audience Award: World Cinema Documentary, Presented by United Airlines was awarded to 20 Days in Mariupol Ukraine (Director and Producer: Mstyslav Chernov, Producers: Michelle Mizner, Raney Aronson-Rath, Derl McCrudden) — As the Russian invasion begins, a team of Ukrainian journalists trapped in the besieged city of Mariupol struggle to continue their work documenting the war’s atrocities. World Premiere. Available online.

The Audience Award: NEXT, Presented by Adobe was awarded to KOKOMO CITY / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: D. Smith, Producers: Harris Doran, Bill Butler) — Four Black transgender sex workers explore the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, while confronting issues long avoided. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online.

JURY AWARDS FOR DIRECTING, SCREENWRITING & EDITING

“A Still Small Voice” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to Luke Lorentzen for A Still Small Voice / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: Luke Lorentzen, Producer: Kellen Quinn) — An aspiring hospital chaplain begins a yearlong residency in spiritual care, only to discover that to successfully tend to her patients, she must look deep within herself. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: This film is a deep dive into grief and the complications of mourning. It has a rigorous and unflinching lens that holds steadfast to the cinematic language the director chose for the film. The Directing Award: U.S. Documentary goes to Luke Lorentzen, A Still Small Voice.

The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to Sing J. Lee for The Accidental Getaway Driver / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Sing J. Lee, Screenwriter: Christopher Chen, Producers: Kimberly Steward, Basil Iwanyk, Andy Sorgie, Brendon Boyea, Joseph Hiếu) — During a routine pickup, an elderly Vietnamese cab driver is taken hostage at gunpoint by three recently escaped Orange County convicts. Based on a true story. Cast: Hiệp Trần Nghĩa, Dustin Nguyen, Dali Benssalah, Phi Vũ, Gabrielle Chan. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: The jury was bowled over by this director’s singular vision that merged the grit of a Western crime film and the poetic imagery of Asian New Wave. This hybridized approach revealed the complexities of existing between cultures and evoked an enormous amount of empathy for its protagonist and the true story underneath it from this jury. The Directing Award: U.S. Dramatic goes to Sing J. Lee, The Accidental Getaway Driver.
The Directing Award: World Cinema Documentary was presented to Anna Hints for Smoke Sauna Sisterhood Estonia, France, Iceland (Director: Anna Hints, Producer: Marianne Ostrat) — In the darkness of a smoke sauna, women share their innermost secrets and intimate experiences, washing off the shame trapped in their bodies and regaining their strength through a sense of communion. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: A transcendental story of women that bring us into their bodies, their traumas and their healing. Tales of patriarchy that we have rarely seen on screen come together with cinematic beauty, humor, wisdom and refreshing self-awareness. The directing award goes to Anna Hints, Smoke Sauna Sisterhood.

The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic was presented to Marija Kavtaradze for Slow Lithuania, Spain, Sweden (Director and Screenwriter: Marija Kavtaradze, Producer: Marija Razgute) — Dancer Elena and sign language interpreter Dovydas meet and form a beautiful bond. As they dive into a new relationship, they must navigate how to build their own kind of intimacy. Cast: Greta Grinevičiūtė, Kęstutis Cicėnas. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: In this untraditional love story, we follow the journey of two individuals who pose the question: what is desire? Marija Kavtaradze’s expert direction guides her audiences to discover their own answer, which delightfully shifts as each act provokes greater interrogation. Kavtaradze is a poet and an expert weaver, intertwining scenes of provocative movement with more quiet, insightful moments rich in dialogue. It combines to deliver a drama that resonates long after the film ends; a tenderness that lingers in the minds and hearts of viewers. The Directing Award: World Cinema Dramatic goes to Marija Kavtaradze, Slow.

The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic was presented to Maryam Keshavarz for The Persian Version / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Maryam Keshavarz, Producers: Anne Carey, Ben Howe, Luca Borghese, Peter Block, Corey Nelson) — When a large Iranian-American family gathers for the patriarch’s heart transplant, a family secret is uncovered that catapults the estranged mother and daughter into an exploration of the past. Toggling between the United States and Iran over decades, mother and daughter discover they are more alike than they know. Cast: Layla Mohammadi, Niousha Noor, Kamand Shafieisabet, Bella Warda, Bijan Daneshmand, Shervin Alenabi. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: We were impressed by the craft of this screenplay that wove together the lives of a fractured family over multiple generations with humor, candor, affection, and verve before surprising us all with the revelation of a family secret that healed past wounds. The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: U.S. Dramatic goes to Maryam Keshavarz, The Persian Version.

The Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary was presented to Daniela I. Quiroz for Going Varsity in Mariachi / U.S.A. (Directors: Alejandra Vasquez, Sam Osborn, Producers: James Lawler, Luis A. Miranda, Jr., Julia Pontecorvo) — In the competitive world of high school mariachi, the musicians from the South Texas borderlands reign supreme. Under the guidance of coach Abel Acuña, the teenage captains of Edinburg North High School’s acclaimed team must turn a shoestring budget and diverse crew of inexperienced musicians into state champions. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: A joyful edit that carries the heart of the characters while still exploring difficult and sensitive issues in a delicate and beautiful way. We deeply care for our heroes and the spirit of life on the border. The Jonathan Oppenheim Editing Award: U.S. Documentary goes to Editor, Daniela I. Quiroz, Going Varsity in Mariachi.

SPECIAL JURY AWARDS

Pictured in front: Molly Gordon and Ben Platt in “Theater Camp” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble was presented to the cast of Theater Camp / U.S.A. (Directors and Screenwriters: Molly Gordon, Nick Lieberman, Screenwriters: Noah Galvin, Ben Platt, Producers: Erik Feig, Samie Kim Falvey, Julia Hammer, Ryan Heller, Will Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum) — When the beloved founder of a run-down theater camp in upstate New York falls into a coma, the eccentric staff must band together with the founder’s crypto-bro son to keep the camp afloat. Cast: Molly Gordon, Ben Platt, Noah Galvin, Jimmy Tatro, Patti Harrison, Ayo Edebiri. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: Creativity does not have to be a torturous, solitary endeavor–it often rarely is. A film is made with a community and those that celebrate that invite new communities to the worlds they have built. As a jury of theatre nerds who felt welcomed back to a place that feels like home it is our pleasure to award the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Ensemble to the cast of Theater Camp.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision was presented to the creative team of Magazine Dreams / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Elijah Bynum, Producers: Jennifer Fox, Dan Gilroy, Jeffrey Soros, Simon Horsman) — An amateur bodybuilder struggles to find human connection as his relentless drive for recognition pushes him to the brink. Cast: Jonathan Majors, Haley Bennett, Taylour Paige, Mike O’Hearn, Harrison Page, Harriet Sansom Harris. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: This immersive film’s relentless tension achieved through the rigorous marriage of light, camera movement, sound, and an overwhelming performance left us all disturbed, yet riveted. It will reverberate through audiences to much debate. The U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision goes to the creative team of Magazine Dreams.

A U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting was presented to Lio Mehiel for Mutt / U.S.A. (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Vuk Lungulov-Klotz, Producers: Alexander Stegmaier, Stephen Scott Scarpulla, Jennifer Kuczaj, Joel Michaely) Jury citation:— Over the course of a single hectic day in New York City, three people from Feña’s past are thrust back into his life. Having lost touch since transitioning from female to male, he navigates the new dynamics of old relationships while tackling the day-to-day challenges of living life in between. Cast: Lío Mehiel, Cole Doman, MiMi Ryder, Alejandro Goic. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: We were charmed, seduced, and compelled by this fresh new performer as we watched them navigating the intimate complexities of their everyday life and relationships in his search for acceptance. We award the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award: Acting to Lio Mehiel, Mutt.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Clarity of Vision was presented to The Stroll / U.S.A. (Directors: Kristen Lovell, Zackary Drucker, Producer: Matt Wolf) — The history of New York’s Meatpacking District, told from the perspective of transgender sex workers who lived and worked there. Filmmaker Kristen Lovell, who walked “The Stroll” for a decade, reunites her community to recount the violence, policing, homelessness, and gentrification they overcame to build a movement for transgender rights. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: It demonstrates an intimate look from the people who have the lived experience. It shows why it is important for the people who are members of the community to be at the helm of their stories. The U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Clarity of Vision goes to The Stroll.

A U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Freedom of Expression was presented to Bad Press / U.S.A (Directors: Rebecca Landsberry-Baker, Joe Peeler, Producers: Conrad Beilharz, Garrett F. Baker, Tyler Graim) — When the Muscogee Nation suddenly begins censoring its free press, a rogue reporter fights to expose her government’s corruption in a historic battle that will have ramifications for all of Indian country. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: An essential story that is being told at a critical time featuring Indigenous people confronting their own power structures. It shines a light on the fact that even though freedom of expression is enshrined in the constitution, none of us can take it for granted. And it has the best ending line of any documentary. “My name is angel. And there’s a rainbow!” The U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award: Freedom of Expression award goes to Bad Press.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Creative Vision was presented to Fantastic Machine Sweden, Denmark (Directors and Producers: Axel Danielson, Maximilien Van Aertryck) — From the first camera to 45 billion cameras worldwide today, the visual sociologist filmmakers widen their lens to expose both humanity’s unique obsession with the camera’s image and the social consequences that lay ahead. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: For sending us on a journey to realize that the invention of image was perhaps one of the most important turning points of our recent history, reshaping radically our inner structure and sense of identity. In a time where everyone is the creator of their own narrative, through image, the film forces, everyone, even us filmmakers, to take a step back and reflect upon our intentions regarding the images we want to put out into the world. It is an artful, hilarious and terrifying homage to the importance of critical thinking. The World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Creative Vision goes to Fantastic Machine.

A World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Verite Filmmaking was presented to Against the Tide India (Director and Producer: Sarvnik Kaur, Producer: Koval Bhatia) — Two friends, both Indigenous fishermen, are driven to desperation by a dying sea. Their friendship begins to fracture as they take very different paths to provide for their struggling families. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: In a time where we are inundated with climate change headlines that seems to not be leading to much change, here is a film that places us in the point of view of two unforgettable protagonists. Their lives, hardships and humor reflect those of billions of people that are most affected by global warming and who are seeing their livelihoods being threatened in its essence. It reminds of the power of verite filmmaking to transport us into the lives of people who might be so distant from us and experience the challenges of their life circumstances first hand. The World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award: Verite Filmmaking goes to Against the Tide.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision was presented to Sofia Alaoui for Animalia / France, Morocco, Qatar (Director and Screenwriter: Sofia Alaoui, Producers: Margaux Lorier, Toufik Ayadi, Christophe Barral) — A young, pregnant woman finds emancipation as aliens land in Morocco. Cast: Oumaïma Barid, Mehdi Dehbi, Fouad Oughaou. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: In this original story of a woman making her way through a living and breathing landscape, we experience a world turned upside down, of humans in collision with nature and an uncovering of supernatural forces. We were delighted to discover in Sofia Alaoui’s first feature a subversive voice that tackles and interrogates the universe in what is ultimately a journey to simply discover oneself. The World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Creative Vision goes to Sofia Alaoui, Animalia.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Cinematography was presented to Lílis Soares for Mami Wata Nigeria (Director and Screenwriter: C.J. “Fiery” Obasi, Producer: Oge Obasi) — When the harmony in a village is threatened by outside elements, two sisters must fight to save their people and restore the glory of a mermaid goddess to the land. Cast: Evelyne Ily, Uzoamaka Aniunoh, Kelechi Udegbe, Emeka Amakeze, Rita Edochie, Tough Bone. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: Through each frame, Lilis Soares’ expert lens mesmerized the jury. The richness of the black and white images, combined with the intricate and intimate camerawork of both the performances and natural landscape, elevated this folkloric tale to an intoxicating, visual experience. The World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Cinematography goes to Lílis Soares, Mami Wata.

A World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Best Performance was presented to Rosa Marchant for When It Melts Belgium (Director and Screenwriter: Veerle Baetens, Screenwriter: Maarten Loix, Producers: Bart Van Langendonck, Ellen Havenith, Jacques-Henri Bronckart) — Many years after a sweltering summer that spun out of control, Eva returns to the village she grew up in with an ice block in the back of her car. In the dead of winter, she confronts her past and faces up to her tormentors. Cast: Charlotte De Bruyne, Rosa Marchant. World Premiere. Available online.

Jury citation: For delivering a piercing and resonant performance that haunted the jury for days. She employed a poetic nuance and complexity throughout her interpretation of the role, belying experience well beyond her years. This is an actor to follow and the jury looks forward to watching her command more screens. The World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award: Best Performance goes to Rosa Marchant, When it Melts.

NEXT INNOVATOR AWARD PRESENTED BY ADOBE

The NEXT Innovator Award presented by Adobe was presented to KOKOMO CITY / U.S.A. (Director and Producer: D. Smith, Producers: Harris Doran, Bill Butler) — Four Black transgender sex workers explore the dichotomy between the Black community and themselves, while confronting issues long avoided. World Premiere. Documentary. Available online.

Jury citation: For taking the traditional “talking heads” documentary structure and opening it up with the use of camera, sound, editing techniques, and imagery to create a dazzling journey with a fluidity that is entirely new. For a groundbreaking presentation of the lives of black trans women sex-workers in black and white, for taking us into their bedrooms and sharing in their incredible vulnerability as we hear their stories, all the while listening with her camera in a way that is electric and alive. For examining the injustice of a world that relegates so many women to a second-class citizenship and the oppressive nature of gender roles for everyone. For making perhaps the funniest movie Sundance has ever shown, and reminding us that the life or death struggle of these women is best understood in their defiant use of humor as a weapon. The NEXT wave of cinema is the profound use of comedy for serious subject matter, and for bringing us all together with laughter, in a hope that the love we come to feel for the people in this film can result in a larger social transformation. The NEXT Innovator Award goes to KOKOMO CITY directed by D. Smith.

SHORT FILM AWARDS PRESENTED BY SHUTTERSTOCK

Kailyn Dulay in “When You Left Me on That Bouelvard” (Photo by Rajinee Buquing)

Jury prizes for short filmmaking were awarded to:

The Short Film Grand Jury Prize presented by Shutterstock was awarded to When You Left Me On That Boulevard / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Kayla Abuda Galang, Producers: Alifya Ali, David Oconer, Udoy Rahim, Samantha Skinner) — Teenager Ly and her cousins get high before a boisterous family Thanksgiving at their auntie’s house in southeast San Diego in 2006. Cast: Kailyn Dulay, Melissa Arcaya, Elle Rodriguez, Whitney Agustin, Gina May Gimongala, Allan Wayne AndersonWorld Premiere. Available Online.

Jury citation: From the first moment, we were fully on board for this rowdy ride. An uproarious take on extended family, irreverence and tradition with incredible attunement to details and frame. This directorial feat of freshness is our enthusiastic choice for the Sundance Grand Jury Short Film Prize goes to When You Left Me On That Boulevard
The Short Film Jury Award: U.S. Fiction presented by Shutterstock was awarded to Rest Stop / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Crystal Kayiza, Producers: Jalena Keane-Lee, Brit Fryer) — On a bus ride from New York to Oklahoma, Meyi, a young Ugandan-American girl, realizes her place in the world through her mother’s ambitious effort to reunite their family. Cast: Leeanna E. Tushabe, Alicia Basiima, Khalid Semakula, Robert Wanyama, Margaret Bisase, Olivia Nantongo. Available Online.

Jury citation: An exquisite song of the ordinary.  We were struck by this unhurried portrayal of itinerancy and estrangement. To this deeply American story, we give the Best US Fiction Short Film Award to Rest Stop.

The Short Film Jury Award: International Fiction presented by Shutterstock was awarded to The Kidnapping of the Bride / Germany (Director and Screenwriter: Sophia Mocorrea, Producer: Sarah Valerie Radu) — Luisa from Argentina and Fred from Germany are confronted with their social roles at their wedding. The German tradition of kidnapping the bride shakes the couple’s equality. There is no room for love in this role-play of marriage. Cast: Rai Todoroff, David Bruning, Tatiana Saphir, Anne Kulbatzki, Michaela Winterstein, Niels Bormann. World Premiere. Available Online.

Jury citation: An elegant telling of a relationship caught between worlds.  Directed with a honed sense of the ever-shifting dynamics and limits of gender and culture, this film reoriented us, drawing from the power of what’s felt and what’s left unsaid. The Best Intl Fiction Short Film Award goes to The Kidnapping of the Bride.

The Short Film Jury Award: Animation presented by Shutterstock was awarded to The Flying Sailor / Canada (Directors and Producers: Wendy Tilby, Amanda Forbis, Producer: David Christensen) — Two ships collide in a harbor, an explosion shatters a city, and a sailor is blasted skyward, where he soars high above the mayhem and toward the great unknown. Available Online.

Jury citation: This beautiful portrait of both an instant and a life lifted us out of our seats and took us on an emotional, innovative and explosive ride. The Best Animation Short Film Award goes to The Flying Sailor.

The Short Film Jury Award: Non-Fiction presented by Shutterstock was awarded to Will You Look At Me / China (Director, Screenwriter, and Producer: Shuli Huang) — As a young Chinese filmmaker returns to his hometown in search of himself, a long-overdue conversation with his mother drives them into a quest for acceptance and love. Available Online.

Jury citation: A complex personal journey of a son accepting his mother’s refusal.  Enchanting, unpretentious images accompany an unflinching soundtrack to portray both a private self and universal misunderstanding. The Best Non-Fiction Short Film Award goes to Will You Look at Me.

A Short Film Special Jury Award, International: Directing presented by Shutterstock was awarded to AliEN0089 / Chile (Director and Screenwriter: Valeria Hofmann, Producers: Augusto Matte, Daniela Camino, Pascual Mena) — While a gamer uploads a testimonial video to denounce the harassment she suffers in a video game, a stranger enters her home and hacks her computer, blurring the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds. Cast: Mariana di Girolamo. World Premiere.

Jury citation: A frightening tale blending online gaming, contemporary politics, and genre elements to create a striking horror story. We give a Short Film Special Jury Award for Directing to AliEN0089.

A Short Film Special Jury Award, U.S: Directing presented by Shutterstock was awarded to The Vacation / U.S.A. (Director and Screenwriter: Jarreau Carrillo, Producers: Marttise Hill, Julius Pryor) — A Black man attempts to take a vacation. Cast: Drew Harris, Jarreau Carrillo, Ohene Cornelius, Trae Harris. Available Online.

Jury citation: An ingenious reinvention of the chamber-drama as a vehicle for neighborhood dreamers and schemers.  For its comic timing and assured direction, we give a Short Film Special Jury Award for Directing to The Vacation.

PREVIOUSLY GRANTED 2023 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AWARDS

The 2023 Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, presented to an outstanding feature film about science or technology, was presented to The Pod Generation. The filmmakers received a $20,000 cash award from Sundance Institute with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Nonfiction went to Jess Devaney for It’s Only Life After All (Premieres).

The Sundance Institute | Amazon Studios Producers Award for Fiction went to Kara Durrett for The Starling Girl (U.S. Dramatic Competition).

The Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for  Nonfiction went to Mary Manhardt, and the Sundance Institute | Adobe Mentorship Award for Fiction went to Troy Takaki.

The Sundance Institute | NHK Award went to Olive Nwosu for Lady.

Sundance Institute | Stars Collective Imagination Awards went to Tamara Shogaolu for their project 40 Acres, Navid Khonsari, Vassiliki Khonsari, and Andres Perez-Duarte for their project BLOCK PARTY BODEGA, and Vanessa Keith for their project Year 2180.

The Sundance Film Festival®
The Sundance Film Festival, a program of the nonprofit, Sundance Institute, is the pre-eminent gathering of original storytellers and audiences seeking new voices and fresh perspectives. Since 1985, hundreds of films launched at the Festival have gone on to gain critical acclaim and reach new audiences worldwide. The Festival has introduced some of the most groundbreaking films and episodic works of the past three decades, including Fire of Love, Cha Cha Real SmoothFlee, CODA, Passing, Summer Of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Zola, O.J.: Made in America, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, Honeyland, One Child Nation, The Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Top of the Lake, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale Station, Whiplash, Brooklyn, Precious, The Cove, Little Miss Sunshine, An Inconvenient Truth, Napoleon Dynamite, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Reservoir Dogs and sex, lies, and videotape. The program consists of fiction and nonfiction features and short films, series and episodic content, emerging media, and performances, as well as conversations, and other events. The Festival takes place both in person in the state of Utah and online, connecting audiences across the U.S. to bold new artists and films. The 2023 Festival takes place January 19–29. Be a part of the Festival at Sundance Film Festival and follow the Festival at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

The Festival is a program of the nonprofit Sundance Institute. To date, 2023 Festival sponsors include: Presenting Sponsors – Acura, AMC Networks, Chase Sapphire®, Adobe; Leadership Sponsors – Audible, DIRECTV, Netflix, Omnicom Group, Shutterstock, Stacy’s® Pita Chips, United Airlines, XRM Media; Sustaining Sponsors – Canada Goose, Canon U.S.A., Inc., DoorDash, Dropbox, World of Hyatt®, IMDb, Lyft, MACRO, Rabbit Hole Bourbon & Rye, Stanley, University of Utah Health, White Claw Hard Seltzer; Media Sponsors – IndieWire, Los Angeles Times, NPR, Variety, Vulture, The Wall Street Journal. Sundance Institute recognizes critical support from the State of Utah as Festival Host State. The support of these organizations helps offset the Festival’s costs and sustain the Institute’s year-round programs for independent artists. festival.sundance.org

Sundance Institute
As a champion and curator of independent stories, the nonprofit Sundance Institute provides and preserves the space for artists across storytelling media to create and thrive. Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Institute’s signature Labs, granting, and mentorship programs, dedicated to developing new work, take place throughout the year in the U.S. and internationally. Sundance Collab, a digital community platform, brings a global cohort of working artists together to learn from each other and Sundance Advisors and connect in a creative space, developing and sharing works in progress. The Sundance Film Festival and other public programs connect audiences and artists to ignite new ideas, discover original voices, and build a community dedicated to independent storytelling. Sundance Institute has supported and showcased such projects as Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), CODA, Flee, Passing, Clemency, Never Rarely Sometimes AlwaysZola, On The Record, Boys State, The Farewell, HoneylandOne Child NationThe Souvenir, The Infiltrators, Sorry to Bother You, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, Hereditary, Call Me By Your Name, Get Out, The Big Sick, Mudbound, Fruitvale StationCity So Real, Top of the Lake, Between the World & Me, Wild Goose Dreams and Fun Home. Join Sundance Institute on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Review: ‘A Guilty Conscience’ (2023), starring Dayo Wong, Tse Kwan Ho, Louise Wong, Renci Yeung, Fish Liew, Adam Pak and Michael Wong

January 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Renci Yeung and Dayo Wong in “A Guilty Conscience” (Photo courtesy of Edko Films Ltd.)

“A Guilty Conscience” (2023)

Directed by Wai-Lun Ng

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the dramatic film “A Guilty Conscience” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A defense attorney, who dislikes his co-lead counsel and corrupt rich people, represents a single mother accused of killing of 7-year-old daughter. 

Culture Audience: “A Guilty Conscience” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of courtroom dramas and murder mysteries that have touches of sarcastic comedy.

Louise Wong in “A Guilty Conscience” (Photo courtesy of Edko Films Ltd.)

“A Guilty Conscience” is a well-paced legal thriller about a prickly defense attorney representing a single mother accused of killing her 7-year-old daughter. Vivid character personalities and occasionally comedic moments help make this movie compelling. If you like stories about defense attorneys who put extra effort into doing their own investigating, then “A Guilty Conscience” is your type of movie.

Directed by Wai-Lun Ng, “A Guilty Conscience” (which takes place in Hong Kong) was co-written by Ng, Jay Cheung and Terry Lam. The movie begins by showing the flawed and memorable protagonist Adrian Lam, also known as Lam Leung Shui (played by Dayo Wong), keeping people in a courtroom waiting, just because he can. Adrian is a defense attorney in criminal law who can be arrogant, self-absorbed and difficult. But he has a strong sense of right and wrong. He especially dislikes rich people who abuse their power.

Adrian has recently become frustrated with his job. He has a new boss named Christine whom he doesn’t really like, and he gets into frequent arguments with her. He also has to share co-counsel duties with Evelyn Fong (played by Renci Yeung), a younger woman whom he doesn’t really respect because he thinks she’s not on the same level as he is because she is less experienced in being an attorney.

Adrian also doesn’t like dealing with cases that he thinks are frivolous and a waste of his time. For example, in the beginning of the movie, he is shown in court defending someone who was charged with using obscene language on a subway. Adrian will soon get caught up in a more substantial case that’s literally a matter of life and death.

One day, Adrian finds out about a young, single mother named Jolene Tsang (played by Louise Wong), who has been accused of attempted murder of her 7-year-old daughter Elsa Tsang (played by Sherlock Mack), who is mute and can only communicate in sign language. Elsa was found beaten and bloodied on the living room floor in the home where she lives with Jolene, who was the only known person in the home during the time that Elsa was assaulted. Elsa is now in a coma in a hospital. This shocking crime has been all over the local news.

Jolene vehemently denies that she had anything to do with this crime. Jolene says that on the night of the assault, she was drunk and passed out in another room. Jolene also says there’s no way that she was so drunk that she could have blacked out and committed the crime. However, because Jolene was the one who found Elsa, and it’s common for attackers to pretend to be innocent witnesses, Jolene automatically comes under suspicion. With no other suspects, and because Jolene admits she was in the home during the attack, she is arrested.

Adrian and Evelyn become Jolene’s co-lead attorneys, but Adrian is the one who spends most of the time investigating, with help from junior attorney Kam Yuen Shan (played by Tse Kwan Ho). At first, Adrian doesn’t know what to think about Jolene’s guilt or innocence. But the more he interviews her and the more looks at some of the evidence, the more he is convinced that someone else committed the crime.

And where is Elsa’s father during this family crisis? Jolene says that Elsa’s father left her when he found out that Jolene was pregnant, and he was never invovled with raising EIsa. I’s already revealed in the trailer for “A Guilty Conscience” trailer that Elsa tells Adrian that Elsa has been having an affair with a married man named Dr. Desmond Chung (played by Adam Pak), who married into a wealthy and powerful family.

Desmond’s wife is the aloof and glamorous Victoria Chung (played by Fish Liew), who is close to her mother Madam Chung (played by Alannah Ong), domineering matriarch who is obsessed with the family having the right image. Also part of this clan is Victoria’s uncle James Tung (played by Michael Wong), an attorney who helps the family with legal matters, such as administering trust funds.

Jolene’s case gets a serious damage when a witness named neighbor named Ball Chan (played by Mak Tze Wan) testifies in court that on the night of the assault on Elsa, he was patrolling the area to do a neighborhood safety check. He says that he saw Jolene in her house, and she was struggling with a small person near a sliding glass door facing the street. The timeline matches the time that Elsa was attacked.

The case takes another turn when Elsa wakes up from her coma. Adrian and Kam rush to the hospital to interview Elsa and ask if her mother was the one who assaulted her. Through sign language, Else says no, it was someone else, but she can’t describe the person because Elsa didn’t get a good look at the attacker. Shortly after making this victim statement, tragedy strikes: Elsa falls into a coma and dies. Jolene is now charged with voluntary manslaughter.

“A Guilty Conscience” has some plot developments that are very easy to predict, but there are also a few twists that that make this a very engaging thriller. In addition to the investigation, the movie’s courtroom scenes stand out because of Adrian’s very dramatic style and sarcastic jokes that sometimes get him in trouble with the judge. You can see some “Perry Mason” influences in this movie from how Adrian’s questions in court are also part of the investigation, as evidence is still being uncovered during the trial.

Dayo Wong, an entertainer who’s known for being a stand-up comedian, brings a lot of comedic flair to his performance as Adrian. And balancing the comedy with the drama is not an easy thing to do in a movie that has the serious subject of parent on trial for killing a child. Adrian’s frequent outbursts are meant to be comic relief in the movie. In real life, much of it wouldn’t be as funny.

Most scripted movies about criminal cases will portray defense attorneys in one of two extremes: as crusading and saintly do-gooders, or as sleazy lowlifes who will do anything to get their guilty clients acquitted. Adrian is neither. He can be pompous and self-righteous in his search of justice for disadvantaged people he thinks has the system rigged against them. But he also has a nasty temper and can be very unprofessional inside and outside the courtroom.

And although he is compassionate with Jolene, there are signs that Adrian has some sexism toward his female colleagues. During the course of this case, he has to come to terms with his narrow-minded views about is female work colleagues who are in a position of authority. During this case, Adrian starts of thinking that he knows everything, but is then humbled to find out that he has a lot more to learn.

Louise Wong’s portrayal of Jolene is heartbreaking and a little melodramatic, but viewers will feel Jolene’s anguish of grieving over Elsa’s death and being locked up in jail for this crime that Jolene swears she didn’t commit. Yeung is quite good in her underdeveloped role as Evelyn, who is often overshadowed by Adrian and his controlling and showoff ways. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles.

“A Guilty Conscience” is more than a courtroom drama. It’s an exploration of how gender dynamics affect people’s egos and interactions in the workplace. It’s also an astute observation of how social class can affect people’s perceptions of a defendant in a criminal case.

Edko Films Ltd. released “A Guilty Conscience” in select U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Fancy Dance’ (2023), starring Lily Gladstone and Isabel Deroy-Olson

January 25, 2023

by Carla Hay

Isabel Deroy-Olson and Lily Gladstone in “Fancy Dance” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“Fancy Dance”

Directed by Erica Tremblay

Some language in Cayuga with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Tulsa County, Oklahoma, the dramatic film “Fancy Dance” features a cast of Native American and white characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman with a troubled background comes up against obstacles in finding her missing sister, whose 13-year-old daughter could end up in the custody of the sisters’ estranged father. 

Culture Audience: “Fancy Dance” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in emotionally riveting movies about families coping with a missing loved one, and how issues of race and social class affect Native Americans in the United States.

“Fancy Dance” is a well-acted story of Native American culture and law enforcement’s treatment of cases involving missing Native American women, who are rarely the focus of narrative feature films. The relationships in the movie are depicted authentically. At a certain point in “Fancy Dance,” the movie’s last five minutes are easily predictable, but this last scene is handled with a mixture of sentiment and realism. Viewers who think the movie’s ending is too vague aren’t really paying attention, because there’s a certain inevitability to what will happen to the main characters. It’s just not explicitly shown in the movie.

Directed by Eric Tremblay (who co-wrote the “Fancy Dance” screenplay with Miciana Alise), “Fancy Dance” takes place in Tulsa County, Oklahoma (where the movie was filmed on location), and centers mostly on working-class members of the Seneca Nation tribe of Native Americans. The movie has several examples of how ancient traditions in the Seneca Nation have survived but sometimes clash or are misunderstood by a modern American culture dominated by white people. “Fancy Dance” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.

At the beginning of “Fancy Dance,” viewers see Jax Goodiron (played by Lily Gladstone) working in tandem with her 13-year-old niece Roki Goodiron (played by Isabel Deroy-Olson) to steal some items from a middle-aged man who’s fishing by himself in a local creek. Jax, who is in her 30s, distracts the man by pretending to cool off with some water in the creek. She takes her top off to reveal her bra, because she knows that the man will be distracted by looking at her.

While the fisherman is ogling Jax in a voyeuristic manner, Roki sneaks up from behind and rifles through his belongings that are in a duffel bag in a nearby grassy area. Roki steals the man’s wallet, his car keys and some other items. After Jax finishes her contrived “bath,” she and Roki steal the man’s car to go to a grungy convenience store, which is an unofficial pawn shop. The store is operated by a scruffy dealer named Boo (played by Blayne Allen), who also sells illegal drugs out of the shop. After some bargaining, Jax and Roki sell a gold wedding band to Boo for $350.

At this convenience store, Roki sadly glances at a posted flyer for a missing woman named Wadatwai “Tawi” Goodiron, who is Roki’s single mother. (Roki’s father, who is briefly mentioned with contempt in the movie, abandoned the family and is not involved in raising her.) Viewers soon find out that Jax, Tawi and Roki all live together in a modest house on a Seneca Nation reservation.

Jax has a sullen, jaded attitude, but she has a soft spot for Roki, whom she treats as if Roki were her own daughter. Roki is inquisitive and has an upbeat personality. However, Roki is not so innocent, because she’s a willing accomplice in the thefts that Jax instigates, and Roki does some shoplifting on her own.

Tawi disappeared two weeks ago without any clues of where she went. Roki and Tawi are scheduled to appear at an upcoming powwow, where they are the reigning champs of a traditional mother/daughter dance. Jax has been keeping Roki’s hopes up that Tawi, who has never missed this powwow with Roki, will come home soon. But is this expectation realistic or false hope?

Tawi works as a dancer at a strip club called Tail Feathers, so it’s possible that she could have run into some sleazy people through her job and met with foul play. Jax is romantically involved with a dancer at the strip club named Sapphire (played by Crystle Lightning), who is also worried about where Tawi is, but Sapphire doesn’t know what happened to Tawi. Jax and Tawi have an older brother named JJ (played by Ryan Begay), a local police officer who hangs out at the strip club in his spare time.

Later, viewers soon find out that Jax is no stranger to felonious criminal activities. She spent time in prison for drug trafficking, although the movie doesn’t say how long her prison sentence was or how long ago it happened. Based on the crimes that Jax commits in the movie’s opening scene and later in “Fancy Dance,” she’s having a hard time “going straight” as a law-abiding citizen.

The disappearance of Tawi is the catalyst for almost everything that happens in the story. Law enforcement officials don’t take the disappearance very seriously, so Jax decides to investigate on her own. It’s implied that because Tawi is Native American and a stripper, authorities don’t really care about investigating her disappearance.

Tawi is a resident of a Native American reservation on federal land, so her disappearance falls under the jurisdiction of the FBI, which has sent an agent with the last name Morris (played by Jason Alan Smith) to investigate. Agent Morris makes it obvious to the family that this missing person case is a low priority. Jax asks some of the shady characters who might know what happened to Tawi, but Jax also gets a hostile or indifferent reaction.

Things get more complicated when the Goodiron siblings’ estranged father Frank Harris (played by Shea Whigham) shows up unannounced with his wife Nancy (played by Audrey Wasilewski), to check in on how Roki is doing. Frank is also a local police officer, who uses his law-enforcement connections later in the movie for other reasons. This fractured family has a lot of resentment and hard feelings that go back several years.

Frank was married to the mother of JJ, Jax and Tawi. After the mother died, Frank “ran off” with Nancy, according to what Jax says in a bitter argument with Frank. JJ seems to have forgiven Frank, but Jax and Tawi have not been as understanding. In fact, Tawi was no longer on speaking terms with Frank at the time that Tawi disappeared. Frank and Nancy are both white, so there are racial implications to how Frank and Nancy lead separate lives from the Native American side of Frank’s family.

Nancy is verbally pleasant but socially awkward with her stepfamily. In a scene demonstrating the racial tensions and cultural divide, Nancy makes ignorant remarks about the upcoming powwow. She calls the powwow regalia a “costume” and thinks of the powwow as some kind of “theater” event where people dress up like actors, instead of trying to understand that a powwow is a tradition that honors a tribe’s culture. It’s also an event where people are encouraged to be themselves. In other words, it’s not like a Halloween party where people dress up in costumed disguises.

When Nancy hears that Roki and Tawi are supposed to participate in a mother/dance at the powwow, Nancy gives a pair of Nancy’s old ballet slippers as a gift to Tawi to wear at the powwow dance. “Fancy Dance” isn’t subtle at all in showing that Nancy is somewhat dismissive of this Native American tradition and would rather impose the white, Eurocentric cultural ways that Nancy is used to living. Roki politely thanks Nancy for the gift, Roki but says that she has no interest in ballet. This misguided gift also shows Nancy’s ignorance or denial that ballet lessons cost the type of money that Roki and her mother obviously don’t have.

“Fancy Dance” has other examples of how Native Americans are treated differently by people in a culture that enables and encourages white supremacist racism. However, the movie doesn’t let Jax and Roki off the hook for some of the risky and illegal things that they do that cause more trouble for themselves. It’s enough to say that the search for Tawi gets more dangerous and complicated.

Jax’s competence as a temporary guardian for Roki also gets questioned because of Jax’s criminal record. Officials from child protective services get involved. Child custody arrangements could result in Frank and Nancy getting permanent custody of Roki if Tawi remains missing. Jax doesn’t want Frank and Nancy to raise Roki, because the spouses barely know Roki, and Roki will be forced to live away from her Native American culture on the reservation. Jax also doesn’t trust Frank, and she thinks that Frank and Nancy won’t be able to properly teach Roki about Native American culture.

What makes “Fancy Dance” such a compelling story is how the principal cast members are able to embody these characters in ways that look entirely natural—not staged, over-rehearsed or forced. The scenes and conversations flow with fluctuating energy that effectively convey what each character might be thinking or feeling, instead of putting too much emphasis on just the perspective of Jax, the lead character.

Still, Gladstone’s complex performance Jax is the heart and soul of the movie. Jax is caught between the seedy world of her criminal activities and the straight-laced life that she has to live if she wants to prove that she’s fit to be Roki’s legal guardian, in case Tawi remains missing. Jax has a combination of cockiness and self-loathing that sometimes makes Jax her own worst enemy.

However, there’s a seething, underlying anger to what Jax does, because she’s so frequently misjudged because of her race and social class. Her attitude seems to be, “People already think I’m a criminal. I might as well be who they think I am.” Even when Jax isn’t doing anything wrong, she is still treated as “inferior” or “suspicious” by certain people.

Roki is keenly observant of what goes on around her, and Deroy-Olson portrays Roki with a skillful blend of child-like optimism and adult cynicism. Viewers of “Fancy Dance” will feel some emotional investment or concern about how Roki is growing up, and who she might be when she’s an adult, considering her chaotic life so far. Is Roki better off living with Jax or with Frank and Nancy? The movie doesn’t offer easy answers—just like the lives of the main characters and people in real life who exist in the margins of degradation and turmoil, and they have a hard time getting out.

2023 Puppy Bowl: See photos and videos

January 25, 2023

Effie in “Puppy Bowl XIX” (Photo by Elias Weiss Friedman)

The following is a press release from Animal Planet:

Puppy Bowl returns for its 19th year on Sunday, February 12, 2023, at 2:00PM ET / 11:00AM/PT, and for the first time will be simulcast across Animal Planet, Discovery Channel, TBS, HBO Max and discovery+ — a rare opportunity for new viewers to experience the original and longest running call-to-adoption TV event. This year’s program will feature Bleacher Report host Taylor Rooks, sports commentator Steve Levy, Egypt Sherrod and Mike Jackson (“Married to Real Estate”), Faruq Tauheed (“Battlebots”), Zak Bagans (“Ghost Adventures”), Alex Guarnaschelli (“Supermarket Stakeout”) along with talent from Discovery Channel’s “Street Outlaws” franchise, New Line Cinema’s upcoming film “Shazam! Fury of the Gods,” and some of the biggest sports personalities from Warner Bros. Discovery Sports.

With more puppies and more inspiring adoption stories than ever before, Puppy Bowl XIX will highlight the incredible work of rescue and shelter workers who dedicate their lives to helping animals find their forever homes. Puppy Bowl XIX will feature 122 puppies, 67 shelters and rescues across 34 states — and for the first-time will feature a Native American animal organization and a puppy player from Dominica, West Indies.

Puppy Bowl XIX will start with a pre-game show at 1:00PM ET/ 10:00AM PT to give audiences the inside scoop on the Puppy Bowl draft with exclusive interviews with coaches and players. Audiences will also learn more about each puppy player’s breed mix and other unique traits from Wisdom Panel™ dog DNA test that could help determine which puppy player will have a furry leg-up on the field. The pre-game show will also provide a first-look at the ARM & HAMMER™ SLIDE™ Kitty Halftime Show.

The game kicks off when the PEDIGREE® Starting Lineup players take to the field and as the game progresses, it will be revealed which puppy player has what it takes to be named the BISSELL® MVP (Most Valuable Puppy) or to win the SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. Underdog Award.

Puppy Bowl referee Dan Schachner returns for his 12th year of overseeing the stumbles & tumbles and calling all the puppy penalties and touchdowns while sportscasters Steve Levy and Taylor Rooks return to provide play-by-play commentary. Audiences will also see the return of Puppy Bowl’s ‘Adoptable Pup’ segments sponsored by PEDIGREE ®. Sprinkled throughout the program, 11 shelters from around the country will feature one of their puppies (and 3 shelters with kittens during KITTY HALF-TIME) that are all up for adoption during the game! Other fan-favorite elements return, including the Puppy Cheer Squad, the coveted water-bowl cam, the slo-mo cam, end zone pylon cameras to catch all the action, in addition to an all-new backstage look at the puppy players’ red-carpet arrivals ahead of the game.

Also returning are the SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC. “Pup Close and Personal” segments that share the back stories of the adorable star athletes. Viewers will meet Cooper, a Boston terrier/ boxer mix from Seattle Humane, who marks the Emerald City’s debut in Puppy Bowl with a visit to the Seattle Seahawks’ Training Camp where Defensive End Shelby Harris coaches Cooper on his signature moves, and Inya, a Chihuahua/ miniature Pinscher mix rescued by the Phoenix-based NAGI Foundation working to restore the sacredness of the Native American community by uniting people and animals. For more “Pup Close and Personal” stories featured in Puppy Bowl XIX, please click HERE.

During the game, audiences will also meet eleven special needs puppy players looking for their forever homes that will include Julius, a hearing-impaired Dalmatian, Marmalade, a sight and hearing-impaired Border Collie/ Australian Cattle Dog; Mykonos, a American Staffordshire Terrier/ Bulldog with a cleft palate, among others.

Official Puppy Bowl XIX sponsors include BISSELL®, WAYFAIR®, ARM & HAMMER™ SLIDE™, NEXGARD®, The PEDIGREE® brand, SUBARU OF AMERICA, INC., TEMPTATIONS™, and WISDOM PANEL™ pet DNA test.

Viewers can join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #PuppyBowl and following Animal Planet on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok for the latest updates.

Keep checking PuppyBowl.com for more information on the participating pups and to learn how you join in on the fun.

Puppy Bowl XIX is produced for Animal Planet and discovery+ by Bright Spot Content, an All3Media America company.

About Animal Planet

Animal Planet, one of Discovery, Inc.’s great global brands, is dedicated to creating high quality content with global appeal delivering on its mission to keep the childhood joy and wonder of animals alive by bringing people up close in every way. Available to 360 million homes in more than 205 countries and territories, Animal Planet combines content that explores the undeniable bonds forged between animals and humans, optimized across all screens around the world. For more information, please visit www.animalplanet.com.

About Discovery

Discovery Channel is dedicated to creating the highest quality non-fiction content that informs and entertains its consumers about the world in all its wonder, diversity and amazement. The network, which is distributed to 100.8 million U.S. homes, can be seen in 224 countries and territories, offering a signature mix of compelling, high-end production values and vivid cinematography across genres including, science and technology, exploration, adventure, history and in-depth, behind-the-scenes glimpses at the people, places and organizations that shape and share our world. For more information, please visit www.discovery.com.

About TBS

TBS, a Warner Bros. Discovery brand, is a top-rated destination for television among young adults and known for escapist, good-time entertainment, featuring smart, imaginative characters with heart and comedic edge. From unscripted and scripted comedy series to game shows, and animated programming, TBS’ Originals slate is comprised of some of the most popular shows on cable — “AEW: Dynamite,” “American Dad!,” “Miracle Workers,” “Wipeout,” “Friday Night Vibes,” and “The Cube” along with upcoming series “Stupid Pet Tricks”. TBS’ lineup also includes comedy hits like “Young Sheldon” and “The Big Bang Theory,” classic sitcom favorites such as “Friends,” blockbuster movies, and live event coverage of Major League Baseball, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship and “ELEAGUE,” Warner Bros. Discovery’s eSports gaming competition. Website: www.tbs.com

About HBO Max

HBO Max™ is a streaming platform that offers best in class quality entertainment, delivering the greatest array of series, movies, and specials from the iconic brands of HBO, Warner Bros., and DC, as well as Max Originals and blockbuster films. The platform launched in the United States in May 2020 and introduced a lower priced, advertising-supported tier in June 2021. Currently available in 61 countries, HBO Max began its global rollout launching in markets across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021, followed by European launches in the Nordics, Iberia, the Netherlands and Central and Eastern Europe.

About discovery+

discovery+ is the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service from Warner Bros. Discovery. With the largest-ever content offering at launch, discovery+ features a wide range of exclusive, original series across popular passion verticals including lifestyle and relationships; home and food; true crime; paranormal; adventure and natural history; as well as science, tech and the environment, and a slate of high-quality documentaries. For more, visit discoveryplus.com, or find the discovery+ app on most mobile and connected TV devices.

About WBD Sports

WBD Sports is a global leader in premium sports content across all platforms, engaging fans in more than 200 markets and in over 20 languages. The WBD Sports U.S. portfolio includes multi-platform partnerships with the National Basketball Association (“NBA”), Major League Baseball (“MLB”), National Collegiate Athletic Association (“NCAA”), National Hockey League (“NHL”) and United States Soccer Federation (“USSF”). WBD Sports Europe features Eurosport, the leading sport destination and the Home of the Olympic Games in Europe, as well as Global Cycling Network (GCN), Global Mountain Bike Network (GMBN) and Golf Digest. In 2022, Eurosport UK combined with BT Sport to create an extensive collection of live sports coverage for fans in the UK and Ireland.

WBD Sports’ owned-and-operated platforms include Bleacher Report – the #1 digital destination for young sports fans, reaching more than 175 million users each month – Eurosport.com, Europe’s #1 online sports news website, House of Highlights, HighlightHER and a full suite of digital and social brands. TNT Sports is WBD’s sports content brand in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Several regional sports networks, serving fans live sports in each of the respective U.S. markets, are also owned and/or operated by WBD Sports in the U.S.

Review: ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything,’ starring Little Richard

January 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Little Richard in “Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Photo courtesy of CNN Films)

“Little Richard: I Am Everything”

Directed by Lisa Cortés

Culture Representation: In the documentary film “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” a group of African Americans and white people discuss the impact of rock and roll pioneer Little Richard, who died in 2020, at the age of 87.

Culture Clash: Little Richard experienced homophobia, racism, cultural appropriation, drug addiction and showbiz ripoffs during his many ups and downs. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the target audience of fans of Little Richard, “Little Richard: I Am Everything” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching documentaries about music legends who influenced countless entertainers.

Little Richard in “Little Richard: I Am Everything” (Photo courtesy of CNN Films)

“Little Richard: I Am Everything” vibrantly captures the spirit of rock music pioneer Little Richard and doesn’t shy away from exploring his many contradictions. The documentary stumbles by adding sparkly visual effects to make him look “magical,” but these corny embellishments don’t ruin the movie. “Little Richard: I Am Everything” can at least be applauded for not sticking to an entirely predictable format, since the movie does a few other things in its effort to not be a typical biographical documentary.

Directed by Lisa Cortés, “Little Richard: I Am Everything” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The documentary unfolds in chronological order and has an expected mixture of archival footage of Little Richard (who died in 2020, at the age of 87) and exclusive documentary interviews with family members, associates, celebrity admirers and various culture experts. People don’t have to be fans of rock music to know that Little Richard was one of the originators of the genre. However, may people who are unfamiliar with him as an artist might be surprised by how his life went from one extreme to the other, often by his own doing.

People knowledgeable about rock history will also know already that Little Richard—just like other African American artists who were pioneers in rock music—was frequently ripped off creatively and financially. He was never fully appreciated by the industry when he was in the prime of his career. It was only after he loudly complained for years about not getting the recognition he deserved that he started to receive many industry accolades.

For example, Little Richard never won a Grammy Award in a competitive category (the Grammys Awards were launched in 1960, after Little Richard’s hitmaking career peaked), but he did receive a non-competitive Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1993, long after he stopped making hit records. He was in the first group of artists inducted into the Rock and Roll of Fame in January 1986, but he couldn’t attend the ceremony because he had the bad luck of being seriously injured in a car accident in October 1985. (He fell asleep behind the wheel of the char.)

Born in Macon, Georgia, in 1932, Richard Wayne Penniman (Little Richard’s birth name) knew from an early age that he wanted to be a flamboyant entertainer, starting from when he used to dress up in his mother’s clothes when he was a child. Little Richard, who grew up in a strict Christian household, was the third-youngest of 12 children. His mother Leva Mae Penniman accepted him for who he was, but his Charles “Bud” Penniman would brutally abuse Richard for being effeminate.

Bud Penniman was also a study in contradictions: He was church deacon and a brick mason, but he was also a bootlegger who owned a small nightclub and a house where he sold alcoholic drinks, which were illegal at the time. Ralph Harper, a former neighbor of the Penniman family, has this memory of Little Richard: “He was always banging on the piano, anytime you see him.”

Muriel Jackson, head of the Middle Georgia Archives, comments on Macon’s culture: “Macon is known for its churches. It’s a conservative, religious town.” Therefore, Little Richard wasn’t just bullied at home for being who he was. He also got a lot of abuse from other people in the community.

Specialty Records historian Billy Vera says, “They called him a sissy, a punk” and much worse. Emmy-winning and Tony-winning entertainer Billy Porter (who is openly gay) adds, “I can only imagine. I’ve lived a version of that. It’s debilitating. It’s soul-crushing. And it can be deadly.”

Little Richard spent the early years of his entertainment career in that vortex of contradictions: He would play the piano or sing in the choir in the stern atmosphere of conservative church gatherings, but he would also perform in the much-less restrictive (and taboo at the time) gay-friendly nightclubs in Macon and later Atlanta. He would often appear in drag at these shows under the stage name Princess LaVonne. In those days, it was illegal for men to go in public in drag, unless they it was part of an entertainment act.

One of his frequent hang-outs was Ann’s Tic Toc in Macon. And as a teenager, Little Richard worked at the Macon City Auditorium, where it made a huge impact on him to see many artists up close and backstage. The documentary mentions that when Little Richard saw his idol Sister Rosetta Tharpe (a guitar-playing vanguard in rock music) do a concert at the Macon City Auditorium in 1945, it changed his life. His piano-playing style was influenced by how Ike Turner played piano on Jackie Brenston’s 1957 song “Rocket 88.”

Little Richard was influential to countless artists, but there were people who influenced him on his artistic image/persona. In addition to Tharpe, another performer who helped shape Little Richard’s entertainment style was an openly gay drag performer named Billy Wright, who met Little Richard at the Gold Peacock nightclub in Atlanta in 1950, and they eventually became close friends. Wright had a pompadour hairstyle, wore heavy makeup, and had a thin moustache, which all eventually became signature looks for Little Richard. Did Little Richard copy Wright? Not really, as scholar Zandria Robinson explains: “They were kind of like mirrors that come into your life and show you who you really are.

In the early 1950s, black artists were limited to performing R&B, blues, jazz and gospel. The documentary mentions that when Little Richard was looking for a record deal, he didn’t quite fit in with any of these music genres, even though he was repeatedly told that he should perform blues, according to his longtime drummer Charles Connor. Instead, Little Richard was part of a small but growing number of black artists pioneering a new form of music that combined blues and R&B and made it more energetic, raucous and sexually frank. At first, this new form of music was called “race music” (to indicate that it was performed by black artists) but eventually became known as rock and roll.

Little Richard signed a deal with Signature Records. And his music as a rock artist eventually became hits not just on the R&B charts, but made their way to crossover into the pop charts. It’s mentioned that cars being made with radios had a big impact on people, especially the young people who tended to be rock fans, being able to listen to rock music away from their parents at home. It was during the 1950s that Little Richard had his biggest and most famous hits, including “Tutti Frutti” (a song that he later admitted was about anal sex, but he changed the lyrics before recording it), “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Lucille.”

His stage act became known for his “let it all hang out” style of banging on the piano (often with a leg propped up on the piano) with passionate sexual energy that wasn’t often seen in piano players at the time. Little Richard was sexually ambiguous at a time when it was very dangerous for performers, especially male performers, to be sexually ambiguous. It’s noted in the documentary that Little Richard’s father eventually came to accept him after Richard became a local star in the Georgia music scene. Tragically, Bud Penniman was shot to death in 1952, outside his Tip In Inn nightclub. No suspect was ever charged with this murder, but Little Richard said for years that the culprit was Frank Tanner, who was Little Richard’s best friend at the time.

By 1956, Little Richard had moved to Los Angeles and brought many of his siblings with him. Several people in the documentary talk about how generous he was with family, friends and associates. Throughout it all, Little Richard’s mother was one of his biggest fans. Little Ricard’s longtime drag-queen friend Sir Lady Java (an activist/entrepreneur) says in the documentary about Leva Mae Penniman: “She was such a beautiful person. She knew who he was and what he was. And she loved him in spite of it.”

Tom Jones says in the documentary that out of the five artists who are considered the first megastars of rock and roll—Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis—”Little Richard was the strongest.” By the early 1960s, Little Richard was usually named as one of the biggest influences of a slew of British artists who were making their mark in rock and roll. The Beatles (who hung out with Little Richard in the band’s pre-fame nightclub stint in Liverpool, England, and in Hamburg, Germany) and the Rolling Stones jumped at the chance to perform on the same bill with Little Richard.

Robinson says that Little Richard’s upbringing in the South both tormented him and was inherent to who he was: “The South is the home of all things queer, of the different, of the non-normative, of the other side of gothic, of the grotesque. Note that queerness is not just about sexuality but about a presence and a space that is different from what we require or expect.” In other words, it doesn’t mean that queerness is more likely to be found in the South but that during Little Richard’s youth, the issues of race, social class and sexuality were more dangerous for people in certain parts of the South, such as his hometown of Macon, than in other parts of the United States.

After he became famous, Richard would change the descriptions of his sexual identity many times. Sometimes, he identified as gay. Sometimes, he identified as straight, during the periods of time when he became a born-again Christian who renounced any sexual identity that wasn’t heterosexual. Sometimes, he identified as bisexual or queer. Regardless of what his sexual identity was or was perceived to be, Little Richard could not be reasonably confused with any other entertainer because he had such a strong and distinct persona.

Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, who says Little Richard was one of his biggest influences, comments on Little Richard’s persona: “It was almost like having a split personality.” The Rolling Stones were the opening act for Little Richard at the beginning of the British band’s career in the early 1960s. Jagger said he used that opportunity to study Little Richard’s onstage persona: “I would be at the side of the stage to watch him. Richard would work that audience.” Jagger, who started his career with a performing style of standing still a lot on stage, changed that style and took on some of the same techniques that Little Richard used, and which Jagger still uses today.

Tony Newman, drummer of the British band Sounds Incorporated, has fond memories of working as a backup musician for Little Richard, whom he met in London in 1962. “Nearly every night,” Newman says, “it escalated into a full-blown riot in the theater. I remember coming off of that and thinking, ‘Now this is rock and roll!”

A great deal of the documentary repeats information that music historians already know but other people might not know about how much white artists and music companies owned by white people benefited and often ripped off the work of innovative black artists such as Little Richard. Elvis Presley and Pat Boone were two of the white artists who’ve famously done cover versions of Little Richard songs. The documentary points out that while Presley often acknowledged Little Richard for being an influence that was crucial to Presley’s success (Presley publicly called Little Richard the “real king of rock and roll”), Boone was not as gracious in admitting how much Boone was profiting off of music originally made by black artists such as Little Richard. In most cases, white artists got more money and recognition for performing songs originally performed by black artists.

This documentary didn’t have to do any real investigating to reveal any big secrets about Little Richard when it came to sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, because Little Richard told secrets about himself years ago in numerous interviews. The documentary includes clips of TV and radio interviews where he openly talks about indulging in sex orgies and experiencing drug addiction in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He also participated in Charles White’s 1984 non-fiction tell-all book “The Life and Times of Little Richard,” which had a lot of details of Little Richard’s decadent lifestyle. The only viewers of this documentary who might be surprised by all this information are people who don’t know much about Little Richard.

As hedonistic as he admittedly was, there were periods of time in his life in the 1950s and the 1970s, when he denounced his “sinful” lifestyle and became a religious fanatic who gave up rock music to perform gospel music. In the late 1950s, he attended Oakwood University, a Seventh-day Adventist school in Huntsville, Alabama. These born-again Christian phases in his life often included Little Richard claiming that he was drug-free and no longer condoning of non-heterosexuality. This self-shame about his sexuality seemed to come and go in Little Richard’s life, which made him someone who was unpredictable and difficult for many people to figure out.

“Little Richard: I Am Everything” includes interviews with Lee Angel, who famously told the world decades ago that Little Richard seduced her in 1955, when she was 16 years old, and he asked her to marry him, but she said no. In the documentary, Angel says she’s not convinced that Little Richard was ever 100% gay. “He slept with me, and I’m all woman,” she declares proudly, although she admits she was initially surprised that he was sexually attracted to her because she thought he was more sexually interested in men. (Angel passed away in 2022.) The documentary does not have interviews with any of Little Richard’s male ex-lovers.

During one of his born-again Christian phases, Little Richard married Ernestine Harvin, (also known as Ernestine Campbell) in 1959. They divorced in 1964. Harvin is interviewed in the documentary (audio only, not on camera) and says of her marriage to Little Richard: “Richard was the kind of husband most women would want: always positive, loving and caring.” Was Little Richard sexually confused? As scholar Jason King sees it: “He was very good at liberating other people through example. He was not good at liberating himself.”

“Little Richard: I Am Everything” also includes some mention of Little Richard’s battles and complaints about being cheated out of royalties, due to signing recording contracts and publishing deals where he received little to no money. Music attorney John Branca says that a lot of these legal issues had to do with Little Richard breaching his contracts during the periods of time when he refused to perform rock music and only wanted to do gospel. However, it’s a common story that many famous music artists, regardless of their race, regret signing deals that they later said were ripoffs where the artists didn’t get paid and sometimes ended up owing money.

Regardless of how much money or how little money Little Richard made from record sales or songwriting royalties, he still managed to be a popular live act and would tour regularly until the later stages in his life. Little Richard also dabbled in acting, usually making guest appearances and cameos in movies and TV shows. His more memorable film roles were in the 1986 comedy “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and the 1993 action film “Last Action Hero.” The documentary does not mention the 2000 NBC TV-movie biopic “Little Richard,” starring Leon, who is not interviewed in the documentary.

One of the ways that “Little Richard: I Am Everything” tries to be different from the usual music documentary is by having artists who aren’t very famous do performances of songs that helped influence or define Little Richard. Valerie June performs Tharpe’s “Strange Things Are Happening Every Day” in the segment that talks about Tharpe. Cory henry recreates Little Richard’s performance of “Tutti Frutti” at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans. John P. Kee performs “Standing in the Need” during the segment talking about one of Little Richard’s gospel music phases.

During these performances and in some footage of Little Richard, the documentary has visual effects of glowing dust that floats through the air, as if it’s some kind of magical aura from Little Richard that’s being passed though the ether. It’s not as cringeworthy as sparkling vampires in the “Twilight” movies, but it looks very over-the-top and quite unnecessary. Little Richard did not lead a fairytale life. There’s no need to conjure up images that he spread some kind of mystical dust, as if he’s a character some kind of Disney animated movie. The fascinating stories told about Little Richard by himself and other people are more than enough to be intriguing.

Other people interviewed in the documentary include his cousins Newt Collier and Stanley Stewart; Little Richard’s former manager Ramon Hervey; filmmaker John Waters; ethnomusicologist Gredara Hadley; entertainment agent Libby Anthony; singer Nona Hendryx; historian Tavia Nyong’o; former Oakwood University classmate Dewitt Williams; former Little Richard road manager Keith Winslow, whose other was a teacher at Oakwood University; bass player Charles Glenn, who was in Little Richard’s band; booking agent Morris Roberts; and producer/songwriter Nile Rodgers, who says that David Bowie wanted Bowie’s 1983’s smash hit “Let’s Dance” album (which Rodgers produced) to be heavily influenced by Little Richard. The documentary could have used more interviews with female musicians other than Hendryx, but it’s an overall diverse mix of people.

“Little Richard: I Am Everything” keeps the storytelling lively, thanks to some great editing by Nyneve Laura Minnear and Jake Hostetter. There’s a particularly powerful montage near the end of the film that juxtaposes archival footage of Little Richard and all the artists who have been directly or indirectly influenced by him over the years, including Elton John, Bowie, Jagger, Prince, Lady Gaga, Lizzo, former “Pose” star Porter and Harry Styles. “Little Richard: I Am Everything” is a perfect title for this movie, because it shows how Little Richard was at times (often to a fault) all things to many people. However conflicted he might have been in his personal life and career, this documentary eloquently demonstrates how Little Richard represents the glory and pain of expressing yourself freely, no matter what the consequences.

Magnolia Films will release “Little Richard: I Am Everything” in select U.S. cinemas on a date to be announced. CNN and HBO Max will premiere the movie on dates to be announced.

2023 Academy Awards: ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once’ is the top nominee

January 24, 2023

by Carla Hay

Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Photo by Allyson Riggs/A24)

With 11 nominations, A24’s sci-fi/action film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” is the top contender for the 95th annual Academy Awards, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on March 12, 2023. ABC will have the live U.S. telecast of the show, which will be hosted by Jimmy Kimmel. Netflix’s German-language World War I drama “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Searchlight Pictures’ 1920s Irish comedy/drama “The Banshees of Inisherin” garnered nine nominations each. All three films are nominated for Best Picture, a category that—for the first time in Oscar history—is now required to have no less than 10 nominations per year.

The other nominations for Best Picture for the 2023 Academy Awards are 20th Century Studios’ sci-fi epic “Avatar: The Way of Water,” Warner Bros. Pictures’ drama “Elvis,” Universal Pictures’ drama “The Fabelmans,” Focus Features’ drama “TÁR,” Paramount Pictures’ action film “Top Gun: Maverick,” Neon’s comedy/drama “Triangle of Sadness” and Orion Pictures’ drama “Women Talking.”

The Academy Awards (or Oscars) are voted on and presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. The 95th annual televised Oscar ceremony will be headed by executive producers/showrunners Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner and executive producer Molly McNearney.

Snubs and Surprises

Columbia Pictures’ action film “The Woman King,” which has been getting nominations (mostly for lead actress Viola Davis) at other awards shows, was completely shut out of the Oscar nominations. Also getting snubbed was Danielle Deadwyler, who has been getting nominated elsewhere for her lead actress performance in the Orion Pictures drama “Till,” which failed to get any Oscar nominations. And although James Cameron got a Best Picture nod for being a producer of “Avatar: The Way of Water,” he missed out on getting a Best Director nomination for the movie, even though he’s been nominated for Best Director at most other major award shows.

Surprises included a Best Actress nomination for Andrea Riseborough of the Momentum Pictures drama “To Leslie,” which has not been getting nominated at any other major award shows. “All Quiet on the Western Front” received nine Oscar nominations, which has never happened before for a German-language film. The only other major award show that has given “All Quiet on the Western Front” several nominations is the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTAs), which bestowed 14 nominations on the movie. “Triangle of Sadness” also made it

Here is the complete list of nominees for the 2023 Academy Awards:

Best Picture

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Malte Grunert, Producer

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin and Martin McDonagh, Producers

“Elvis,” Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Gail Berman, Patrick McCormick and Schuyler Weiss, Producers

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert and Jonathan Wang, Producers

“The Fabelmans,” Kristie Macosko Krieger, Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner, Producers

“Tár,” Todd Field, Alexandra Milchan and Scott Lambert, Producers

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Tom Cruise, Christopher McQuarrie, David Ellison and Jerry Bruckheimer, Producers

“Triangle of Sadness,” Erik Hemmendorff and Philippe Bober, Producers

“Women Talking,” Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner and Frances McDormand, Producers

Best Director 

Martin McDonagh (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) 

Daniel Kwan, Daniel Scheinert (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) 

Steven Spielberg (“The Fabelmans”) 

Todd Field (“Tár”) 

Ruben Östlund (“Triangle of Sadness”)

Best Lead Actor

Austin Butler (“Elvis”) 

Colin Farrell (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) 

Brendan Fraser (“The Whale”) 

Paul Mescal (“Aftersun”) 

Bill Nighy (“Living”) 

Best Lead Actress

Cate Blanchett (“Tár”) 

Ana de Armas (“Blonde”) 

Andrea Riseborough (“To Leslie”)

Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”) 

Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

Best Supporting Actor

Brendan Gleeson (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) 

Brian Tyree Henry (“Causeway”) 

Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”)

Barry Keoghan (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) 

Ke Huy Quan (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) 

Best Supporting Actress

Angela Bassett (“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”) 

Hong Chau (“The Whale”) 

Kerry Condon (“The Banshees of Inisherin”) 

Jamie Lee Curtis (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”) 

Stephanie Hsu (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”)

Best Adapted Screenplay

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Screenplay by Edward Berger, Lesley Paterson & Ian Stokell

“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” Written by Rian Johnson

“Living,” Written by Kazuo Ishiguro

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Screenplay by Ehren Kruger and Eric Warren Singer and Christopher McQuarrie; Story by Peter Craig and Justin Marks

“Women Talking,” Screenplay by Sarah Polley

Best Original Screenplay

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” Written by Martin McDonagh

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Written by Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert

“The Fabelmans,” Written by Steven Spielberg & Tony Kushner

“Tár,” Written by Todd Field

“Triangle of Sadness,” Written by Ruben Östlund

Best Cinematography 

“All Quiet on the Western Front”, James Friend

“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” Darius Khondji

“Elvis,” Mandy Walker

“Empire of Light,” Roger Deakins

“Tár,” Florian Hoffmeister

Best Film Editing

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” Mikkel E.G. Nielsen

“Elvis,” Matt Villa and Jonathan Redmond

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Paul Rogers

“Tár,” Monika Willi

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Eddie Hamilton

Best Original Score 

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Volker Bertelmann

“Babylon,” Justin Hurwitz

“The Banshees of Inisherin,” Carter Burwell

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Son Lux

“The Fabelmans,” John Williams

Best Sound

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Viktor Prášil, Frank Kruse, Markus Stemler, Lars Ginzel and Stefan Korte

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” Julian Howarth, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Dick Bernstein, Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers and Michael Hedges

“The Batman,” Stuart Wilson, William Files, Douglas Murray and Andy Nelson

“Elvis,” David Lee, Wayne Pashley, Andy Nelson and Michael Keller

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Mark Weingarten, James H. Mather, Al Nelson, Chris Burdon and Mark Taylor

Best Original Song 

“Applause” from “Tell It Like a Woman,” Music and Lyric by Diane Warren

“Hold My Hand” from “Top Gun: Maverick,” Music and Lyric by Lady Gaga and BloodPop

“Lift Me Up” from “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Music by Tems, Rihanna, Ryan Coogler and Ludwig Goransson; Lyric by Tems and Ryan Coogler

“Naatu Naatu” from “RRR,” Music by M.M. Keeravaani; Lyric by Chandrabose  

“This Is a Life” from “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Music by Ryan Lott, David Byrne and Mitski; Lyric by Ryan Lott and David Byrne 

Best Animated Feature Film 

“Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” Guillermo del Toro, Mark Gustafson, Gary Ungar and Alex Bulkley

“Marcel the Shell With Shoes On,” Dean Fleischer Camp, Elisabeth Holm, Andrew Goldman, Caroline Kaplan and Paul Mezey

“Puss in Boots: The Last Wish,” Joel Crawford and Mark Swift

“The Sea Beast,” Chris Williams and Jed Schlanger

“Turning Red,” Domee Shi and Lindsey Collins

Best International Feature Film 

“All Quiet on the Western Front” (Germany) 

“Argentina, 1985” (Argentina) 

“Close” (Belgium)

“EO” (Poland) 

“The Quiet Girl” (Ireland) 

Best Documentary Feature Film 

“All That Breathes,” Shaunak Sen, Aman Mann and Teddy Leifer

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” Laura Poitras, Howard Gertler, John Lyons, Nan Goldin and Yoni Golijov

“Fire of Love,” Sara Dosa, Shane Boris and Ina Fichman

“A House Made of Splinters,” Simon Lereng Wilmont and Monica Hellström

“Navalny,” Daniel Roher, Odessa Rae, Diane Becker, Melanie Miller and Shane Boris

Best Makeup and Hairstyling 

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Heike Merker and Linda Eisenhamerová

“The Batman,” Naomi Donne, Mike Marino and Mike Fontaine

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Camille Friend and Joel Harlow

“Elvis,” Mark Coulier, Jason Baird and Aldo Signoretti

“The Whale,” Adrien Morot, Judy Chin and Anne Marie Bradley

Best Costume Design 

“Babylon,” Mary Zophres

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Ruth Carter

“Elvis,” Catherine Martin

“Everything Everywhere All at Once,” Shirley Kurata

“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” Jenny Beavan

Best Production Design 

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Production Design: Christian M. Goldbeck; Set Decoration: Ernestine Hipper

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” Production Design: Dylan Cole and Ben Procter; Set Decoration: Vanessa Cole

“Babylon,” Production Design: Florencia Martin; Set Decoration: Anthony Carlino

“Elvis,” Production Design: Catherine Martin and Karen Murphy; Set Decoration: Bev Dunn

“The Fabelmans,” Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara

Best Visual Effects

“All Quiet on the Western Front,” Frank Petzold, Viktor Müller, Markus Frank and Kamil Jafar

“Avatar: The Way of Water,” Joe Letteri, Richard Baneham, Eric Saindon and Daniel Barrett

“The Batman,” Dan Lemmon, Russell Earl, Anders Langlands and Dominic Tuohy

“Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” Geoffrey Baumann, Craig Hammack, R. Christopher White and Dan Sudick

“Top Gun: Maverick,” Ryan Tudhope, Seth Hill, Bryan Litson and Scott R. Fisher

Best Documentary Short Film 

“The Elephant Whisperers,” Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga

“Haulout,” Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev

“How Do You Measure a Year?” Jay Rosenblatt

“The Martha Mitchell Effect,” Anne Alvergue and Beth Levison

“Stranger at the Gate,” Joshua Seftel and Conall Jones

Best Animated Short Film

“The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse,” Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud

“The Flying Sailor,” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

“Ice Merchants,” João Gonzalez and Bruno Caetano

“My Year of Dicks,” Sara Gunnarsdóttir and Pamela Ribon

“An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It,” Lachlan Pendragon

Best Live Action Short Film

“An Irish Goodbye,” Tom Berkeley and Ross White

“Ivalu,” Anders Walter and Rebecca Pruzan

“Le Pupille,” Alice Rohrwacher and Alfonso Cuarón

“Night Ride,” Eirik Tveiten and Gaute Lid Larssen

“The Red Suitcase,” Cyrus Neshvad

Review: ‘Everything Under Control,’ starring Hins Cheung, Ivana Wong, Jeffrey Ngai Tsun Sang, Michael Ning and Kaho Hing

January 22, 2023

by Carla Hay

Hins Cheung, Michael Ning and Jeffrey Ngai Tsun Sang in “Everything Under Control” (Photo courtesy of Trinity Filmed Entertainment)

“Everything Under Control”

Directed by Ying Chi-Wen

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the action comedy film “Everything Under Control,” a remake of the 2004 South Korean horror comedy “To Catch a Virgin Ghost,” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: After a jewelry heist goes wrong, two armed guards and a robber go to a remote jungle to find the armed guard who stole the jewelry, and they all encounter a strange commune that appears to be protected by a ghost.

Culture Audience: “Everything Under Control” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “To Catch a Virgin Ghost” and action movies that have a lot of moronic comedy that just isn’t funny.

Ivana Wong in “Everything Under Control” (Photo courtesy of Trinity Filmed Entertainment)

“Everything Under Control” squanders the potential to be an entertaining and zany heist film, by overloading on repetitive gimmick jokes, tacky visual effects, and nonsensical, time-wasting scenes that lower the quality of this already bad movie. The cast members try too hard to funny, giving “Everything Under Control” a forced and awkward tone. The movie also goes off on some bizarre tangents that don’t fit the intended comedy at all.

Directed by Ying Chi-Wen, “Everything Under Control” (which takes place in Hong Kong) is a remake of the 2004 South Korean horror comedy “To Catch a Virgin Ghost,” which had another remake with the 2021 Taiwanese film “Trick or Treat.” “Everything Under Control” is much more of an action film than a horror movie, since there’s nothing remotely scary about “Everything Under Control,” unless you think it’s scary that people actually thought this awful movie was worth getting made.

“Everything Under Control” begins by showing a group of employees who work for a company called So Good Security, whose specialty is armored vehicle transportation. The company’s drivers (who are all men in their 20s and 30s) look up to the “alpha male” of the group: Yau Shing (played by Hins Cheung), who is a cocky and rebellious guy. Yau Shing has been tasked with training a rookie named Penguin (played by Jeffrey Nagai Tsun Sang), who is very nervous and insecure.

One day, a group of So Good Security employees are driving in an armored van for a delivery of valuable diamonds. In the vehicle are Yau Shing, Penguin, an awkward misfit named Jelly (played by Kaho Hung) and a loudmouth named Pig Blood (played by Hou Dee). During this ride, Yau Shing brags that he’s “seen it all” in this security job, except that he’s never experienced a robbery.

As soon as Yau Shing says that, you just know a robbery is going to happen. The leader of the armed robbers is an ill-tempered buffoon named Monk (played by Michael Ning), who isn’t as tough as he’d like to think he is. The real menacing thug in this gang of thieves is Monk’s boss Mr. Lai (played by Juno Mak), who is sadistic and ruthless. Mr. Lai isn’t actually at the scene of the robbery, by he’s the mastermind behind this heist.

A chaotic shootout occurs during the robbery. Jelly tries to be a flashy hero by spinning around a shotgun, but the shotgun ends up landing on his head. It’s enough to knock him temporarily unconscious. The robbers are so inept, they don’t notice until it’s too late that they don’t have any of the diamonds. Jelly has suddenly disappeared, so Yau Shing, Penguin, Pig Blood are kidnapped by the robbers and taken to the back of a butcher shop, where Mr. Lai orders that these captives undergo water torture to try to force them to tell the robbers where the diamonds are.

What happened to the diamonds? Jelly stole the diamonds. When it becomes obvious that Yau Shing, Penguin, Pig Blood don’t have the diamonds, and Jelly stole these jewels, Mr. Lai decides that Monk will accompany Yau Shing and Penguin to look for Jelly. Pig Blood is left behind in the butcher shop and will experience more torture unless Yau Shing and Penguin can find Jelly and the diamonds.

During his getaway, Jelly accidentally crashes his car in a remote jungle area. He makes his way through the jungle and finds a weird commune of five people (two women and three men), who have rituals that look very much like these commune members are in a cult. The group’s domineering leader is Wong Cool (played by Ivana Wong), who tells Jelly that the group doesn’t want to help him because they don’t trust outsiders.

While Jelly is using a toilet on the commune’s premises , he makes the mistake of leaving his phone outside with the commune members. When the phone rings, one of the commune members answers it and finds out that it’s a very agitated Yau Shing looking for Jelly and the diamonds. The commune now knows that Jelly wants to go into hiding, so they hold him captive.

Monk, Yau Shing and Penguin somehow find out that Jelly is in this wooded area and go looking for him. The rest of “Everything Under Control” involves a battle between the commune members and this search party. There’s also a very mishandled subplot involving a young woman ghost named Chi (played by Suey Kwok), who appears to be haunting the commune’s property and scaring off unwanted visitors. An artist painter named Poussin (played by Angus Yeung) offers some clues about the mystery behind the ghost.

“Everything Under Control” has some gross-out comedy involving defecation and farting that is so unnecessary, it’s really pathetic. It’s the type of slapstick set-up that looks like it came from the mind of a 10-year-old child. All of the movie’s characters are hollow—either too ridiculous to be relatable or too generic to be interesting. The title “Everything Under Control” is a contradiction of this mess of a movie, which is an example of filmmakers who let a potentially hilarious action flick descend into mindless chaos.

Trinity Filmed Entertainment released “Everything Under Control” in select U.S. cinemas on January 20, 2023. The movie was released in Hong Kong on January 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Hong Kong Family,’ starring Teresa Mo, Tse Kwan-Ho, Edan Liu, Hedwig Tam, Angela Yuen and Anson Lo

January 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Tse Kwan-Ho, Hedwig Tam, Leung Cho Yiu, Teresa Mo, Fung So Bar, Luk Sze Wong and Edan Lui in “Hong Kong Family” (Photo courtesy of Edko Films Ltd.)

“Hong Kong Family”

Directed by Eric Tsang

Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hong Kong, the dramatic film “Hong Kong Family” features an all-Asian cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: During a winter solstice family dinner, a violent fight tears the family apart, and eight years later, a visiting relative hopes to bring the estranged family members back together for another winter solstice dinner.

Culture Audience: “Hong Kong Family” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in capably acted dramas about family relationship problems, even if some of these issues have been presented in similar ways in much better movies.

Teresa Mo and Angela Yuen in “Hong Kong Family” (Photo courtesy of Edko Films Ltd.)

Sometimes realistic, sometimes overly melodramatic, “Hong Kong Family” is saved from an uneven story by good acting from most of the cast members. It’s yet another movie about family members who gather for a holiday meal, start arguing, and then let resentments fester for a long time. The big question these types of movies usually have is: “Will the feuding family members reconcile?” “Hong Kong Family” has an authentic-looking portrayal for the way the movie answers this question. Viewers will have to wait until the end of the movie to find out if there is any reconciliation.

Directed by Eric Tsang (who co-wrote the “Hong Kong Family” screenplay with Shiu-Wa Lou and Leung Chuen Yeung), “Hong Kong Family” begins with a Hong Kong family of four driving in a car to a grandmother’s house for a family gathering to celebrate winter solstice. During this drive, tension is brewing between the two spouses. Outspoken wife Ling (played by Teresa Mo), who works as a housecleaner, is complaining because her mild-mannered husband Chun (played by Tse Kwan-Ho), who’s a taxi driver by trade, is currently unemployed.

Ling gripes about being the family’s sole source of income: “Don’t just depend on me.” Chun suggests that they sell their apartment for which they still have a mortgage, but this idea gets Ling even more agitated. Finally, to get Ling to calm down, Chun says that he has an upcoming job interview. Also in the car are this couple’s children: 20-year-old daughter Ki (played by Hedwig Tam) and son Yeung (played by Edan Liu), who’s about 17 or 18.

The family is driving to the house of Ling’s mother (played by Fung So Bar), who does not have a name in the movie. Also at this family gathering are Ling’s brother Ming (played by Leung Cho Yiu) and Ming’s wife Samantha (played by Luk Sze Wong). Ming’s mother dislikes Samantha so much, she won’t call Samantha by her first name and will only call her “that woman.” Ming and Samantha have an underage daughter, who is not at this family gathering, because Ming and Samantha won’t let Ming’s mother see this grandchild.

Not long after the family has gathered, the arguments start. Ming sees his mother furtively counting a hidden stash money in another room. Ming accuses her of counting the money because he thinks she’s suspicious that he stole cash from her. Ming’s mother denies it, but then she verbally lashes out at him because she gave money to Ming and Samantha for a start-up business that failed. Ming’s mother also has a lot of anger over not being able to see the daughter of Ming and Samantha.

After having a somewhat tense meal with the family, Ming eventually storms out of the house because his mother keeps calling Samantha “that woman,” after Ming tells his mother to stop doing that. And soon, two other members of the family will be leaving the house with bad feelings. One of them will stay away for eight years.

Ling and Chun are in a room together when Ling tells Chun that she wants a divorce. A stunned Chun has what can best be described as a meltdown that contradicts his usually easygoing personality. At first Chun, who doesn’t want to get divorced, tries to reason with Ling. When she says she won’t change her mind, he becomes infuriated, takes a knife and waves it in her face in a threatening manner as he yells at her.

Yeung hears the commotion and bursts into the room. He tries to defend and protect his mother. Chun and Yeung get into a scuffle that ends when Chun slaps Yeung hard in the face. A terrified Ling and Yeung then run way from the house.

The movie then fast-forwards eight years later. Chun and Ling are still married but are very emotionally distant from each other. It’s then revealed that after the violent fight with his father, Yeung immediately moved out of his parents’ apartment and has not been back to visit any family member’s home for the past eight years. Yeung will occasionally talk to Ling and Ki, but Yeung refuses to speak to Chun.

Meanwhile, Ki is now divorced and has moved back in with her parents. Chun has gone back to being a taxi driver, while Ling is still a housecleaner. In a conversation that Ki has with a potential new boyfriend, Ki says that she got married in her early 20s to move out of her parents’ home, but the marriage lasted only two years. Ki is currently drifting with no real goals or plans for her life.

As for Yeung, he graduated from college, and he is now a developer for a technology start-up business that he founded with his talkative and hyper best friend Birdy (played by Anson Lo), who is the company’s only other employee. The two pals want their company’s specialty to be video games. However, Yeung has invented a virtual-reality experience where people wearing a headset can have two-way conversations with a hologram of anyone they want.

This invention is a clunky part of the story that isn’t explained very well and is sort of dropped into the movie like a science-fiction subplot. Yeung is still working out some bugs in the invention’s artificial intelligence, and he really doesn’t want this game to be made available to the public. Birdy disagrees and thinks this invention should be marketed as a fun game.

In private, Yeung tests out the invention to “talk” to someone and confess his true feelings. (You don’t need to be a genius to figure out who that someone is.) Meanwhile, Birdy and Yeung meet with a wealthy potential client: a famous video gamer, who uses the alias Brother Love (played by Chow Chi Fai). Brother Love has got some family heartache of his own.

Meanwhile, Ling has a niece in her 20s named Joy (played by Angela Yuen) who is visiting Ling and Chun from the United Kingdom. Joy’s widower father, who was Ling’s brother, has recently died. And so, Joy has come to Hong Kong to be with her closest living relatives. When Joy finds out why Yeung has stayed away from family gatherings for the past eight years, she becomes motivated to try to reunite Yeung with the family for the upcoming winter solstice dinner.

Ki has stayed out of the conflicts between her brother Leung and their parents, because she’s got issues of her own with their parents. Ki thinks Ling is overbearing, while Ki thinks Chun doesn’t express his feelings very well. At a train station, Ki meets a stranger from Malaysia named Norman (played by Wong Po Cheung), and they strike up a mildly flirtatious conversation. Norman is a drifter who sells decorative rocks on the streets. He says he collects these rocks from places where he has been.

Norman and Ki go their separate ways at the train station without exchanging contact information. However, Norman tells Ki that she can look him up on Instagram, which is how she finds out where Norman is selling his rock collection in Hong Kong. Ki surprises Norman with a visit while he’s selling on the street, and they begin a low-key romance.

Some of the scenes in “Hong Kong Family” work very well, such as anything involving the dynamics between Chun and Ling, or the estrangement of Chun and Yeung. Other scenes are lackluster, awkward or sometimes seem out of place. Some characters outside of the main family are also underdeveloped. And for an unexplained reason, Ming and Samantha are never seen or talked about again after that winter solstice family dinner near the beginning of the movie.

Some of the scenes that could have used better character development are when Ling cleans the home of her affluent brother-in-law LK (played by Cheung Max Tat-Lun), who has an adorable nephew named Jayden (played Wong Tsz Lo), who’s about 6 or 7 years old. Ling likes spending time with Jayden, but LK makes Ling uncomfortable. It’s probably because LK treats Ling more like a housekeeper than a family member. She also can’t help but be envious that LK is better-off financially than Ling and Chun. These financial issues continue to put a strain on the couple’s marriage.

“Hong Kong Family” has ebbs and flows in the storyline. Some of it has meaningful and well-performed emotional scenes. Other parts of the movie look like “filler” scenes. Seasoned actors Mo and Tse give the best performances as Ling and Chun, who feel trapped in a marriage where the passion and trust have died. “Hong Kong Family” also credibly shows how family feuds can drag on when there’s a lack of communication or miscommunication.

Will family member Joy be the catalyst for a possible reconciliation between Chun and Yeung? And what about all of Ling and Chun’s marital problems? What will happen to Ki’s budding romance with Norman? Don’t expect the movie to answer all of these questions, because some things are left to a viewer’s speculation. However, by the end of “Hong Kong Family,” viewers will get a better sense of how these family members deal with the past, who they want in their present lives, and what they hope the future will hold for them.

Edko Films Ltd. released “Hong Kong Family” in select U.S. cinemas on January 6, 2023. The movie was released in Hong Kong on November 24, 2022.

Review: ‘New Gods: Yang Jian,’ a fantasy adventure about a mythic figure from China

January 21, 2023

by Carla Hay

Yang Jian in “New Gods: Yang Jian” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

“New Gods: Yang Jian”

Directed by Zhao Ji

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

Culture Representation: Taking place in China in the years 420 to 589 (during the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern Dynasties), the animated film “New Gods: Yang Jian,” a sequel to 2021’s “New Gods: Nezha Reborn,” features an all-Chinese cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and royalty.

Culture Clash: A formerly powerful god, who is now a poor bounty hunter, competes with his long-lost nephew and other rivals to find the treasure of a magical lotus lantern. 

Culture Audience: “New Gods: Yang Jian” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “New Gods: Nezha Reborn” and any fantasy film involving a hunt for hidden treasure, no matter how substandard the storytelling is.

Chenxiang in “New Gods: Yang Jian” (Image courtesy of GKIDS)

The animated film “New Gods: Yang Jian” is just a mess of fantasy adventure clichés about a hero looking for a hidden treasure, and spells that must be broken. Eye-catching visuals can’t disguise the erratic storytelling and stupid dialogue. The movie’s world building is inadequately explained. The choppy editing seems intended for viewers with short attention spans, yet it still makes the story very dull.

Directed by Zhao Ji and written by Mu Chuan, “New Gods: Yang Jian” is a sequel to the 2021 animated film “New Gods: Nezha Reborn,” also directed by Zhao and written by Mu. Both movies are loosely connected to each other in having the same concept of reincarnation/reinvention for their respective protagonist heroes, but both movies have completely self-contained plots. In other words, it’s not necessary to know anything about “New Gods: Nezha Reborn” before seeing “New Gods: Yang Jian.”

“New Gods: Yang Jian” takes place in China in the years 420 to 589 (during the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties), but most of the story really takes place within a year in a place called the Immortal Realm. The movie has numerous flashbacks that jump around from different decades, thereby further muddling the already poorly constructed plot. A story about finding a hidden treasure should be fairly uncomplicated, but “New Gods: Yang Jian” gets sidetracked with many detours and convoluted explanations that are get quite irritating after a while, in this 126-minute movie that becomes a chore to watch.

In “New Gods: Yang Jian,” Erlang Shen, also known as Erlang Mu, is a poor bounty hunter who used to be a powerful god named Yang Jian. Thirteen years ago, when he was Yang Jian, he trapped his sister Yang Chan beneath a mountain, and Yang Jian was stripped of his powers. (It’s explained why in the last third of the movie.) Yang Jian’s sister has a 13-year-old son named Chenxiang. In the beginning of the movie, Yang Jian has not seen Chenxiang since Chenxiang was a baby.

One day, Erlang/Yang Jian is visited by a mysterious woman named Wanluo, who hires him to find her sister, who disappeared 12 years ago. Wanluo says that the Lamp of Universal Contentment, also known as a magical lotus lamp, was stolen from her sister, and she wants Erlang/Yang Jian to find this magical lamp too. Guess who else is looking for the lamp? Chenxiang, because he thinks getting the lamp will free his mother from the cave.

Other rivals want the lamp too. Erlang/Yang Jian’s adversaries include a hulking duo called the Mo Brothers and a powerful but drunken military general named Shen Gongbao, who used to be a mentor to Chenxiang. Shen Gongbao also has a grudge against Yang Jian. Some other characters appear along the way. One of them is Master Yuding, an elderly and wise teacher of Gold Sunset Cave. Yang Jian used to be a student of Master Yuding.

A major problem with “New Gods: Yang Jian” is that it zips around from one elaborately created location to the next in the Immortal Realm—sometimes with editing that’s so fidgety, a location is shown for less than three minutes before it’s on to the next location. Viewers will feel like visitors who are being rushed through a tour without getting enough time or enough explanation to learn more about each location in the Immortal Realm. These locations include Penglai Fairy Island, Square Pot, Yingzhou and Smuggler’s Point.

“New Gods: Yang Jian” has some unnecessary characters that have no real bearing on the main plot. For example, the beginning of the movie shows bounty hunter Erlang on Penglai Fairy Island, where he narrowly escapes death when a monster named Boss Hai comes after him with an axe. Erlang captures a teenage boy, who is called a “snake oil peddler” and listed as Medicine Boy in the movie’s end credits. Erlang puts Medicine Boy in jail on a ship. None of this action ultimately has any revelance to the outcome of the story. “New Gods: Yang Jian” shows this jailed teenager enough times, it looks he will play an important role in the movie, but he doesn’t.

“New Gods: Yang Jian” also has very unimpressive and sexist portrayals of the movie’s few women and girls, who are either depicted as femme fatales or subservient airheads. Another very unnecessary character is a teenage girl named Xiaotian, who is infatuated with Erlang/Yang Jian. Xiaotian worships him so much, she crawls on all fours when she’s around him, as if she’s a pet animal. The male characters treat her like a pathetic “fangirl” or “groupie.” This Xiaotian character is ultimately not needed at all in the movie, and neither is the misogyny that went into creating this degrading female character.

The hunt for the Lamp of Universal Contentment doesn’t feel like a treasure hunt in the movie but more like plot objective that gets shunted to the side when the movie has more rambling expositions and flashback scenes that clutter up the story. A huge chunk of the movie takes place on a ship (probably the least interesting location), when more time could have been spent in more fascinating-looking places, such as the Fairy Palace or the Square Pot Casino. All of the movie’s fight scenes, except for the final showdown, are very forgettable. As for the characters’ personalities, they are filled with stereotypes and have simple-minded conversations. There isn’t enough comic relief to make watching this shambling movie any easier.

The voices of the “New Gods: Yang Jian” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on the version of “New Gods: Yang Jian.” The original Chinese version (with English subtitles) has Wang Kai as Yang Jian, Li Lanling as Chenxiang, Ji Gwanling as Wanluo, Li Lihong as Master Yuding and Zhao Yi as Shen Gongbao. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Nicholas Andrew Louie as Yang Jian, Luke Naphat Sath as Chenxiang, Christine Lin as Wanluo, Parry Shen as Master Yuding and James Sie as Shen Gongbao.

“New Gods: Yang Jian” is the type of animated film that was made to appeal to a wide range of age groups. However, this movie is not going to be very enjoyable to most children under the age of 10, who will easily get restless or bored by a jumbled plot that requires comprehension usually found in people older than the age of 10. Even people who are old enough to understand the plot will get annoyed about how “New Gods: Yang Jian” takes a little over two hours to tell a story that could have been told in a movie that’s 45 minutes or less. “New Gods: Yang Jian” is a treasure-hunt movie that is ultimately not work seeking out by viewers who want to watch a thrilling animated adventure that tells a story in a cohesive and clever way.

GKIDS released “New Gods: Yang Jian” in select U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022, and re-released the movie in U.S. cinemas on January 20, 2023. “New Gods: Yang Jian” was released in China on August 19, 2022.

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