Review: ‘The Marksman’ (2021), starring Liam Neeson

January 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Liam Neeson and Jacob Perez in director “The Marksman” (Photo by Ryan Sweeney/Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

“The Marksman” (2021)

Directed by Robert Lorenz

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the United States (especially the Southwest) and briefly in Mexico, the action flick “The Marksman” features a racially diverse cast of white people and Latinos, with a few African Americans and Asians.

Culture Clash: A former Marine-turned-rancher, who lives in Arizona, helps an orphaned boy, who’s an undocumented Mexican immigrant, as they try to hide from drug cartel gangsters who want to kill the boy.

Culture Audience: “The Marksman” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Liam Neeson and to viewers who like violent and cliché chase movies.

Liam Neeson in “The Marksman” (Photo by Ryan Sweeney/Open Road Films/Briarcliff Entertainment)

By now, Liam Neeson has made so many mediocre-to-bad action schlockfests that he could do them in his sleep. Audiences can also predict in their sleep what’s going to happen in these movies. Does Neeson play a loner who’s got something to prove? Is he an anti-hero who breaks the law as a means to an end? Is there a formulaic and sometimes nonsensical plot amid all the chase scenes, fist fights and gun shootouts? The answer is “yes” to all of these questions. “The Marksman” falls right in line in Neeson’s long list of these types of forgettable flicks.

Directed with little imagination by Robert Lorenz (who co-wrote the derivative screenplay with Chris Charles and Danny Kravitz), “The Marksman” tries and fails to be more socially relevant than the average action movie. “The Marksman” throws in the hot-button issues of undocumented Mexican immigrants and Mexican drug cartels, who have been used in divisive political debates on how the United States should or should not change immigration laws. The movie panders to the worst negative stereotypes of Mexicans who cross over into the U.S. border. And the film pushes another “white savior” narrative that makes a crusading white person as the only person in the story who has the conscience and the courage to do the “rescuing” of someone who isn’t white.

In “The Marksman,” Neeson portrays Jim Hanson, a former Marine who is now a rancher in Naco, Arizona. Neeson keeps his native Irish accent in the movie, so it’s clear to viewers that Jim is an Irish immigrant. Jim sometimes tries to talk like an American cowboy, but it doesn’t sound believable, partly because much of this movie’s screenplay has badly written dialogue.

Jim is a grouchy and sad widower who lives alone, and his life isn’t going so well. In addition to grieving over his wife (who died of cancer), he’s also having major financial problems because his ranch is on the brink of going into foreclosure. Jim gets a visit from a bank official (played by Alex Knight), who tells Jim that he has 90 days to come up with the back payments, or else the bank will take ownership of the property. And it looks like Jim could very well lose his ranch, because when he tries to come up with ways to earn more money, all of his attempts fail.

Jim’s only real companion is his Border Collie mix dog named Jackson. Jim also has an adult stepdaughter named Sarah (played by Katheryn Winnick), who works as a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Jim has been hiding his financial problems from Sarah. But after the visit from the bank official, Jim meets up with Sarah at a bar, where he tries to drown his sorrows in drinking alcohol, and he confesses to her about being close to losing the ranch and feeling very scared about his uncertain future. Sarah is sympathetic and comforting. She drives Jim home because he’s too drunk to drive.

Meanwhile, the beginning of the movie shows the Mexican boy who will unexpectedly come into Jim’s life. His name is Miguel (played by Jacob Perez), who’s about 12 or 13 years old. Miguel lives in Mexico with his widowed mother Rosa (played by Teresa Ruiz) in a modest house. Miguel is shown going to another house to look for an older girl named Lola, whom he has a crush on, but Lola’s brother (played by Harry Maldonado) tells Miguel to leave immediately because Lola is too old for him.

Rosa and Miguel don’t have an entirely squeaky-clean life. Miguel’s uncle Carlos (played by Alfredo Quiroz) helps look after him, but Carlos is a member of a drug cartel. Carlos has stolen a lot of cash from the cartel, so he’s captured and tortured by some of the gang members. The cartel’s boss is named Angel (who’s never seen or heard in this movie), but he has a goon named Mauricio Carrero (played by Juan Pablo Raba) as one of the chief henchman tasked with “making an example” out of Carlos.

Before Carlos is caught by the other cartel thugs, he makes a frantic phone call to Rosa and tells her that she and Miguel must leave the house immediately because people will be looking for them and will want to kill them. Rosa takes a travel bag full of cash (which is presumably the stolen cash) and follows Carlos’ orders. She and Miguel barely manage to escape from the house before Mauricio and his cronies show up. The gangsters have tracked Rosa down because they took Carlos’ phone and saw her number in the phone.

Rosa has enlisted the help of a guide to take her and Miguel to the U.S. border. But shortly before they get to the border, the guide changes his mind when he sees that they’re being followed in a Chevrolet Suburban SUV, and he figures out that Rosa is running away from gang members. He tells Rosa and Miguel that they’re now on their own. He advises them to find the part of the border’s wire fence that can be loosened so that they can cross over.

With Mauricio and his thugs (he has two with him, including his brother) quickly catching up, Rosa and Miguel frantically race to the fence and find the part of the fence that they can go through to get to the U.S. border. However, one of Rosa’s legs accidentally gets cut on the fence wire. Miguel is running ahead of her into the middle of a road, where he almost gets hit by a beat-up Chevy truck. Who’s driving the truck? Jim, of course.

Jim knows immediately that the woman and boy he’s encountered have entered the U.S. border illegally, so he calls the U.S. Border Patrol to report them. His plan is to hold them until the Border Patrol agents can arrive and take over. But then, Mauricio and his thugs show up and demand that Jim (who has a gun) hand over Rosa and Mauricio. Jim refuses by saying, “Sorry, Pancho, these illegals are mine. I suggest you just turn around and say ‘adios’.”

This leads to a shootout and chase scene that includes Mauricio hopping on the truck and trying to get Jim to run off the road. However, Mauricio is thrown off of the truck. And in the end, Mauricio’s brother and Rosa end up dying from gunshot wounds. Mauricio leaves in defeat with his remaining cohort. But, of course, Mauricio will be back for revenge.

The Border Patrol agents take Miguel to the nearest detention center, and they plan to deport him back to Mexico, since they were able to track down some relatives who are willing to take custody of Miguel. As Jim is driving away, he notices that Rosa left behind a bag full of cash in his truck, along with a slip of paper that has a street address in Chicago. There’s no name with this address, but Jim immediately figures out that Rosa intended to flee with Miguel to this address.

Jim suddenly has a change of heart and decides that he’s going to take Miguel to this address. He calls his stepdaughter Sarah, finds out that Miguel is going to be deported, and Jim asks her if there’s anything she can do to stop it. She firmly says no and tells him it would be against the law for anyone to stop the deportation.

But that doesn’t prevent Jim from showing up at the Border Patrol detention center, pretending that Sarah gave her permission for Jim to visit Miguel, and talking his way into the room where Miguel is being held. Jim has been told that Miguel blames Jim for his mother’s death, but somehow Miguel doesn’t show much hesitation in trusting Jim when Jim tells Miguel to leave with him.

Jim and Miguel sneak out of the detention center. Is it kidnapping or is it doing the right thing? Jim thinks it’s the latter. And that’s when they go on the road trip that takes up the rest of the movie.

At first, Jim thinks Miguel doesn’t speak English, so there are some tense moments where he tries to communicate with a sullen Miguel. But then, lo and behold, Miguel reveals that he can speak and understand English perfectly. A very ignorant Jim is surprised to find out that Miguel learned English in school. It’s as if Jim thinks Mexico is a backwards country where the only language that’s taught in school is Spanish.

“The Marksman” has some very ludicrous plot holes to explain what happens next in the story. Mauricio and three of his thugs have crossed the U.S. border (by bribing a border patrol agent) and have been staking out the Border Patrol detention center to find out what happens to Miguel. It’s actually pretty dumb that they’re sitting in their car and hanging out conspicuously in a parking lot where they could be easily caught by Border Patrol agents.

Because of this stakeout, Mauricio and his thugs happen to see the exact moment when Jim and Miguel drive away in Jim’s truck. They follow Jim to his remote ranch. (Jim doesn’t notice that he’s being followed, even though he should be paranoid about being caught for kidnapping.) Jim and Miguel have left the ranch and have started their road trip by the time the thugs show up at the ranch. Mauricio and his cronies snoop around the house, and that’s how the gangsters find out personal information about Jim.

Mauricio uses his connections with computer hackers to track Jim’s movements, based on Jim’s credit card activity. Later in the story, Mauricio enlists the help of some other criminals during this cat-and-mouse game that takes place in various U.S. states, including Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Arkansas. (The movie was actually filmed in Ohio and New Mexico.) These other criminals are just bit players, because for the most part, the gang doing the actual chasing consists of just four thugs (Mauricio and his cronies) who are in a SUV to track down Jim and Miguel.

“The Marksman” is one of those dumb action flicks where during a big showdown with guns or other weapons, people stand around talking to their targets, instead of using the weapons immediately on their targets. There are some “close calls” where Jim and Mauricio could have been easily killed immediately in real life. But since this is a fictional movie, that type of realism would cut the story too short, so the plot is dragged out in very unimaginative ways.

There’s almost no suspense in “The Marksman” because it plays out exactly how most people expect it to play out. The violence is utterly predictable. Perez’s portrayal of Miguel is adequate (the character doesn’t do much talking), while Neeson is clearly just going through the motions and brings nothing unique or charming to this role. Raba’s Mauricio character is very generic, while the other criminals in the movie have no discernable personalities.

There are moments when Jim starts to doubt his decision to “rescue” Miguel. And there’s a brief interlude where Jim and Miguel express very different views on religion: Miguel is religious and believes in heaven, while Jim is a staunch atheist. This difference in opinion leads to a scene where Jim shows he does have a heart underneath his gruff exterior. But that’s the closest thing to “emotional depth” that this banal movie has.

“The Marksman” isn’t a relentlessly horrible film. It’s just a very lazy film because it does nothing for the genre of action-oriented Westerns. The movie’s depiction of Mexican men could be considered offensive by some people. The only people who might like this movie are those who can’t get enough of Neeson recycling his same “defiant loner” persona in yet another stale action flick.

Open Road Films and Briarcliff Entertainment released “The Marksman” in U.S. cinemas on January 15, 2021.

Review: ‘One Night in Miami…,’ starring Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree

January 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. in “One Night in Miami” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“One Night in Miami…”

Directed by Regina King

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Miami on February 25, 1964, the dramatic film “One Night in Miami…” has a predominantly African American cast (with some white people) portraying celebrities, the middle-class and the working class.

Culture Clash: A social gathering of Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown leads to ego conflicts and differing opinions on race relations.

Culture Audience: “One Night in Miami…” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a dramatic interpretation of what it would be like for four of the biggest African American heroes of the 1960s to spend time together as friends and sometimes adversaries.

Kingsley Ben-Adir (with camera), Aldis Hodge (in brown tie), Eli Goree (in tuxedo) and Leslie Odom Jr. (raising glass) in “One Night in Miami” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

It’s always tricky to do an entire story about hypothetical conversations between famous people who are well-respected and admired. If handled incorrectly, this portrayal could be considered very insincere or offensive. Imagine doing an entire story about four African American celebrities who, in their own different ways, weren’t just famous but were also inspirations to millions of people. And then you put all of four of them together (Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown) and have them hang out as if they’re old friends.

It happened in real life one night in Miami in 1964, but this story imagines what these four famous men talked about when they spent time together that night. The actors portraying these four friends are Eli Goree as Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X (whose real name was Malcolm Little) and Aldis Hodge as Brown. “One Night in Miami…,” the feature-film directorial debut of Oscar-winning actress Regina King, mostly succeeds in depicting this compelling story, but it takes a while to get there, since the second half of the movie is much better than the first half.

The movie is based on the play “One Night in Miami…,” which was written by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay. In many ways, the movie still looks like a play, since the second (and more intense) half of the film is mostly set in a hotel. However, the cinematic version of this story does a very good job of bringing a broader scope of locations that can’t be done in a stage play.

The audience is briefly taken into the lives of each of the four central characters to get a glimpse of what they’re like in public before their private selves are revealed later in ways that leave an impact on the characters as well as the audience. It’s a movie where the social cancer of racism is never far from the story, and it’s felt, seen and heard in various ways throughout the movie. “One Night in Miami…” skillfully shows the uncomfortable reality that how to deal with racism can divide African Americans and other people who are targets of racism, because the reality is that not everyone agrees with what it means to have “black power” and how to use it.

The beginning of the movie is essentially a montage of scenes showing why each man is famous and how their race impacts their life’s work. The boastful and charismatic boxing champ known as Cassius Clay (who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali after he became a Muslim) is shown in 1963 at a boxing match at London’s Wembley Stadium, where he soundly defeats his opponent Henry “The Hammer” Cooper. However triumphant this victory is for Cassius, it’s still shown in the movie that white people are the ones who control boxing and make the most money from it, while the boxers are just pawns in the game.

R&B singer Sam Cooke is shown on stage at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City, where he’s getting a chilly reception from an all-white audience who don’t seem to want a black person to be entertaining them. Some of the audience members leave in disgust while Sam is on stage. Sam performs the Debbie Reynolds song “Tammy” to try to appeal to the crowd, but deep down, he’s fuming at being booked at a place filled with racists.

Backstage in the dressing room after the show, Sam’s white manager tells him, “Boy, you really did bomb tonight, Sam.” Sam explodes in anger and yells, “Have you ever made a million dollars singing? Well, I have! So, until you do, keep your fucking mouth shut!” One of Sam’s backup musicians witnessing this tantrum then says somewhat jokingly about the manager’s comment: “He ain’t wrong though.” Later in the movie, there are cameos from singer Jackie Wilson (played by Jeremy Pope), “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson (played by Christopher Gorham) and “Tonight Show” sidekick Ed McMahon (played by Alan Wells) in the depiction of Sam’s life.

Cleveland Browns star Jim Brown is shown visiting a wealthy football benefactor named Mr. Carlton (played by Beau Bridges) at Carlton’s mansion on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia. The two men chat amiably on the mansion’s front porch, while Mr. Carlton’s star-struck daughter Emily (played by Emily Bridges) gushes over Jim, as if she can’t believe her luck that this major NFL star is at her home. Mr. Carlton tells Jim that if he never needs anything, don’t hesitate to ask. As Jim starts to follow Mr. Carlton into the house, Mr. Carlton turns to him with a smile and says to Jim that he can’t come in because black people (he uses the “n” word) aren’t allowed in his house.

Malcolm X’s fiery brand of racial ideology made him controversial in the U.S. civil rights movement because of his belief that all white people are the “enemy.” In the beginning of the movie, he’s shown coming home late and telling his wife Betty (played by Joaquina Kalukango) some news that he’s not happy about at all: Louis Farrakhan, a prominent influencer in the Nation of Islam who was likely to become the group’s leader, did not approve Malcolm’s request to leave the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad (played by Jerome Wilson), who was the Nation of Islam’s leader at the time, was like a mentor to Malcolm, who felt some trepidation of being perceived as a traitor.

It’s shown throughout the movie that this story takes place during a time when Malcolm wanted to start his own civil rights group and was grappling with insecurity and anger over how he was being treated by the Nation of Islam. He was feeling doubts about how much loyalty he owed to the Nation of Islam and also concerned about leaving the group because some of his allies could turn into enemies. The movie shows that Malcolm was worried enough that he traveled with security personnel, not just for protection against white supremacists but also for protection against anyone in the Nation of Islam who might come after him for wanting to leave the group.

The rest of the movie is then primarily set in Miami on February 25, 1964. Cassius, who was just 22 years old and soon to be known as Muhammad Ali, wins the world heavyweight boxing champ title against Sonny Liston (played by Aaron D. Alexander), who’s knocked out and gives up in the fight. Sam, Malcolm and Jim (who are in the audience) meet up with Cassius later, and they all go to the Hampton House Motel in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. It’s a motel that allowed African Americans because Miami was still segregated.

The four friends are all in a jovial mood and ready to party. Malcolm has brought a Rolleiflex 3.5 German twin lens reflex (TLR) camera, and he enjoys taking pictures with it. They horse around, almost like fraternity guys, and take turns using the camera. But the mood eventually turns more serious, as insecurities and differences of opinion rise to the surface.

At first, the disagreements are fairly superficial. Sam is disappointed that they can’t stay at a more upscale establishment, and he complains to the others about it. Jim and Cassius, who are bachelors, want to go looking for women to party with, while the married men in the group (Sam and Malcolm) are more hesitant. And as the night wears on, it becomes apparent that each man is at a crossroads in his life.

Jim has plans to retire from football and wants to become a movie star. He already has a Western film lined up, but Cassius scolds Jim for wanting to quit football. Cassius tells Jim that portraying a “sacrificial Negro” in a Western isn’t the same as being paid by the NFL. Sam is more encouraging of Jim’s showbiz ambitions and tells Jim that Los Angeles is like the Promised Land. Malcolm, who lives in New York City, vehemently disagrees with that belief.

Cassius has become close to Malcolm, who has influenced Cassius to convert to Islam and to be more outspoken about civil rights for African Americans. However, Cassius’ manager Angelo Dundee (played by Michael Imperioli) has been pressuring Cassius to distance himself from Malcolm, who is considered to be too radical for mainstream society. Angelo tells Cassius that white investors and sponsors are very nervous about Cassius’ association with Malcolm. It should come as no surprise what decision Cassius makes, because it started a new chapter in his life as Muhammad Ali.

While Cassius looks up to Malcolm as a pillar of strength, Malcolm isn’t feeling very secure about his life because he suspects that he could be in real danger. Malcolm is paranoid that he’s being followed. He frequently looks out the window, and his suspicions are confirmed when he sees strange men lurking about who could be government spies. Malcolm has a trusted bodyguard with him named Brother Kareem also known as Kareem X (played by Lance Reddick), a stoic employee who is accompanied by a younger assistant bodyguard named Cliff White (played by Kipori Woods), who is in awe of Malcolm.

Sam is a successful music entrepreneur (he owns his own music publishing and record label) in addition to being a famous singer. However, Sam is grappling with what it means to “cross over” to a mainstream (mostly white) audience. Will he be perceived as “selling out” and leaving behind his African American fan base? Or is he just making a good business decision to reach as wide of an audience as possible?

It’s this issue of racial integration that sparks a heated and extended argument between Sam and Malcolm. This arguing leads to the movie’s most memorable scenes and impressive performances from Odom and Ben-Adir, while Hodge and Goree sort of fade into the background. Jim and Cassius mostly just stand by and watch Sam and Malcolm verbally rip each other apart, but Cassius and Jim occasionally interject and try to make the peace when things get too problematic.

Malcolm’s choice words for Sam include: “You bourgeois Negroes are too happy with your scraps to really understand what’s at stake here … You will never be loved by the people you’re trying so hard to win over … You’re a monkey dancing for an organ grinder to them!”

Sam then criticizes Malcolm for kowtowing too much to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. The R&B crooner also makes a verbal jab at Malcolm by telling him that Malcolm is the only one of the four friends who isn’t as financially successful as the others, thereby implying that Malcolm doesn’t have a real career. It’s a criticism that stings Malcolm because he knows that by leaving the Nation of Islam, he will be leaving behind much of his livelihood for an uncertain future.

Sam also points out that, unlike many black artists, he owns his own work, he invested in buying other artist’s music publishing, and he has the power to hire black people for jobs. “Everybody always talks about how they want a piece of the pie,” Sam declares defiantly. “Well, I don’t. I want the goddamn recipe!”

Jim is more inclined to side with Sam, who believes there’s nothing wrong with racial integration and working with white people. Jim comments on Malcolm’s views that black people need to think like militants: “We’re not anyone’s weapons, Malcolm.” Malcolm replies to Jim, “You need to be, for us to win.”

The issue of colorism is also brought up, as Jim confronts Malcolm about being light-skinned and using his lighter skin tone to his advantage. Jim essentially says that it’s easy for Malcolm to be so militant when his light skin gives him more privileges than darker-skinned black people. Malcolm responds by reiterating that black people’s authenticity should be judged by how black people help other black people, not by skin tone.

Because the characters of Sam and Malcolm have the most emotionally charged dialogue in the movie, Odom and Ben-Adir stand out the most in the film. Odom has the additional talent of doing his own singing in the movie, and his portrayal of Cooke is that of a man with a strong sense of self who’s unapologetic for how he wants to live his life. Ben-Adir’s portrayal of Malcolm X is of a more tortured soul, and the performance comes closer to showing a more human side to the real person. Both performances are outstanding in their own ways, but most people watching this movie, just like in real life, will probably feel more comfortable watching a smooth entertainer like Cooke instead of a restless firebrand like Malcolm X.

The character of Jim Brown is written as a fairly bland and passive person, so Hodge can’t really do much but react to what’s going on around him. However, since Jim is the one who’s the mostly like to be the “peacemaker” in the group, his character is crucial in the moments where the four friends find common ground and have positive interactions with each other. Jim is the “nice guy” of the group, but unfortunately his character also seems two-dimensional. There’s very little indication of what Jim is passionate about, since he wants to leave football behind to become an actor, not for the love of the craft but just so he can become a movie star.

People who know Muhammad Ali as a larger-than-life personality will be surprised to see that he’s not really written as the character who outshines everyone in this movie. Malcolm and Sam definitely upstage everyone else. And that’s because it’s made pretty clear that this boxing champ wasn’t known yet as outspoken activist Muhammad Ali. He was Cassius Clay, a guy in his early 20s who was still finding his identity. Goree’s portrayal of Cassius sometimes veers into a try-hard impersonation that could have devolved into a terrible parody, but he shows enough restraint not to turn the character into an embarrassing caricature.

King’s direction of the movie is solid and gives viewers a clear sense of each location’s atmosphere in each scene. The production design and costume design are well-done, while the cinematography makes the scenes feel observational yet intimate. Although adapting this stage play into a movie results in some extra thrills for the singing and boxing scenes, the movie’s most powerful moments are inside a simple hotel room with just the four main characters. Everything else just seems like frosting on the cake. “One Night in Miami…” is by no means a completely insightful portrait of the four men at the center of the story, but the movie serves as an effective snapshot of what their interpersonal dynamics might have been like in their leisure time together.

Amazon Studios released “One Night in Miami…” in Miami on December 25, 2020, and expanded the release to more U.S. cinemas on January 8, 2021. Amazon Prime Video premiered the movie on January 15, 2021.

2020 IFP Gotham Awards: ‘Nomadland’ is the top winner

January 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

With two prizes, including Best Feature, “Nomadland” was the top winner at 2020 IFP Gotham Awards. The winners were announced in New York City on January 11, 2021. “Nomadland,” a drama directed by Chloé Zhao and starring Frances McDormand as a widow who lives out of her van, also received the Gotham Audience Award, which is voted on by IFP members. On January 6, 2021, it was announced that Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) is renaming itself the Gotham Film & Media Institute, also known as The Gotham.

Best Actress went to Nicole Beharie of “Miss Juneteenth,” while Best Actor went to Riz Ahmed of “Sound of Metal.” Breakthrough Actor (a category for people of any gender) was awarded to  “One Night in Miami…” actor Kingsley Ben-Adir, who portrays Malcolm X in the movie.

There were two categories that resulted in ties in winners: Best Documentary was awarded to director Ramona S. Diaz’s “A Thousand Cuts” (about Filipina journalist Maria Ressa’s battles with government backlash in the Philippines) and director Garrett Bradley’s “Time,” a movie spanning decades about Louisiana woman Fox Rich’s quest to get her husband released from prison. The Best Screenplay award also resulted in two winners: Radha Blank’s “The Forty-Year-Old Version” (a comedy about a female playwright who decides to become a rapper at 40 years old) and Dan Sallitt’s “Fourteen,” a comedy about a mentally ill woman.

This was the first Gotham Awards show to have TV categories. The winners were both from HBO: the superhero drama “Watchmen” for Breakthrough Series – Long Format and the #MeToo drama “I May Destroy You” for Breakthrough Series – Short Format.

In non-competitive categories, the Film Tribute Award went to actress Viola Davis, actor Chadwick Boseman, filmmaker Steve McQueen and the Netflix drama “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” “Westworld” actor Jeffrey Wright received the Made in New York award, which is given to entertainers who were raised in New York City or have strong ties to New York.

The Western drama “First Cow” went into the ceremony with the most nominations (four), but ended up not winning any IFP Gotham Awards.

Here is the complete list of nominees and winners of the 2020 IFP Gotham Awards:

*=winner

Best Feature

The Assistant

Kitty Green, director; Kitty Green, Scott Macaulay, James Schamus, P. Jennifer Dana, Ross Jacobson, producers (Bleecker Street)

First Cow

Kelly Reichardt, director; Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, producers (A24)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Eliza Hittman, director; Adele Romanski, Sara Murphy, producers (Focus Features)

Nomadland*

Chloé Zhao, director; Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Chloé Zhao, producers (Searchlight Pictures)

Relic

Natalie Erika James, director; Anna Mcleish, Sarah Shaw, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, producers (IFC Midnight)

Best Documentary

76 Days

Hao Wu, Weixi Chen, Anonymous, directors; Hao Wu, Jean Tsien, producers (MTV Documentary Films)

City Hall

Frederick Wiseman, director; Frederick Wiseman, Karen Konicek, producers (Zipporah Films)

Our Time Machine

Yang Sun, S. Leo Chiang directors; S. Leo Chiang, Yang Sun, producers (Passion River Films)

A Thousand Cuts* (tie)

Ramona S. Diaz, director; Ramona S. Diaz, Leah Marino, Julie Goldman, Christopher Clements, Carolyn Hepburn, producers (PBS Distribution | FRONTLINE )

Time* (tie)

Garrett Bradley, director; Lauren Domino, Kellen Quinn, Garrett Bradley, producers (Amazon Studios)

Best International Feature

Bacurau

Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles, directors; Emilie Lesclaux, Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt, producers (Kino Lorber)

Beanpole

Kantemir Balagov, director; Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergey Melkumov, producers (Kino Lorber)

Cuties (Mignonnes)

Maïmouna Doucouré, director; Zangro, producer (Netflix)

Identifying Features*

Fernanda Valadez, director; Astrid Rondero, producer (Kino Lorber)

Martin Eden

Pietro Marcello, director; Pietro Marcello, Beppe Caschetto, Thomas Ordonneau, Michael Weber, Viola Fügen, producers (Kino Lorber)

Wolfwalkers

Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart, directors; Paul Young, Nora Twomey, Tomm Moore, Stéphan Roelants, producers (Apple)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Radha Blank for The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix)

Channing Godfrey Peoples for Miss Juneteenth (Vertical Entertainment)

Alex Thompson for Saint Frances (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Carlo Mirabella-Davis for Swallow (IFC Films)

Andrew Patterson for The Vast of Night (Amazon Studios)*

Best Screenplay

Bad Education, Mike Makowsky (HBO)

First Cow, Jon Raymond, Kelly Reichardt (A24)

The Forty-Year-Old Version, Radha Blank (Netflix)*

Fourteen, Dan Sallitt (Grasshopper Film)*

The Vast of Night, James Montague, Craig Sanger (Amazon Studios)

Best Actor

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal (Amazon Studios)*

Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix)

Jude Law in The Nest (IFC Films)

John Magaro in First Cow (A24)

Jesse Plemons in I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix)

Best Actress

Nicole Beharie in Miss Juneteenth (Vertical Entertainment)*

Jessie Buckley in I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix)

Yuh-Jung Youn in Minari (A24)

Carrie Coon in The Nest (IFC Films)

Frances McDormand in Nomadland (Searchlight Pictures)

Breakthrough Actor

Jasmine Batchelor in The Surrogate (Monument Releasing)

Kingsley Ben-Adir in One Night in Miami… (Amazon Studios)*

Sidney Flanigan in Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)

Orion Lee in First Cow (A24)

Kelly O’Sullivan in Saint Frances (Oscilloscope Laboratories)

Breakthrough Series – Long Format (over 40 minutes)

The Great, Tony McNamara, creator; Tony McNamara, Marian Macgowan, Mark Winemaker, Elle Fanning, Brittany Kahan Ward, Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding, Josh Kesselman, Ron West, Matt Shakman, executive producers (Hulu)

Immigration Nation, Christina Clusiau, Shaul Schwarz, Dan Cogan, Jenny Raskin, Brandon Hill, Christian Thompson, executive producers (Netflix)

P-Valley, Katori Hall, creator; Katori Hall, Dante Di Loreto, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping, Liz W. Garcia, executive producers (STARZ)

Unorthodox, Anna Winger, Alexa Karolinski , creators; Anna Winger, Henning Kamm, executive producers (Netflix)

Watchmen, Damon Lindelof, Creator for Television;  Tom Spezialy , Nicole Kassell , Stephen Williams, Joseph E. Iberti, executive producers (HBO)*

Breakthrough Series – Short Format (under 40 minutes)

Betty, Crystal Moselle, Lesley Arfin, Igor Srubshchik, Jason Weinberg, executive producers (HBO)

Dave, Dave Burd, Jeff Schaffer, creators; Dave Burd, Jeff Schaffer, Saladin K. Patterson, Greg Mottola, Kevin Hart, Marty Bowen, Scooter Braun, Mike Hertz, Scott Manson, James Shin,  executive producers (FX Networks)

I May Destroy You, Michaela Coel, creator; Michaela Coel, Phil Clarke, Roberto Troni, executive producers (HBO)*

Taste the Nation, Padma Lakshmi, David Shadrack Smith, Sarina Roma, executive producers (Hulu)

Work in Progress, Abby McEnany, Tim Mason, creators, Abby McEnany, Tim Mason, Lilly Wachowski, Lawrence Mattis, Josh Adler, Ashley Berns, Julia Sweeney, Tony Hernandez, executive producers (SHOWTIME)

Review: ‘Lost Girls,’ starring Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie, Lola Kirke and Gabriel Byrne

January 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Oona Laurence, Amy Ryan, Thomasin McKenzie and Miriam Shor in “Lost Girls” (Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Netflix)

“Lost Girls”

Directed by Liz Garbus

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in New York state and partially in New Jersey, the dramatic film “Lost Girls” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class in depicting the real-life people involved in the Long Island Serial Killer (LISK) murder mystery.

Culture Clash: Mari Gilbert, whose murdered daughter Shannan is believed to be a LISK victim, fights for justice with her daughters and family members of other LISK murder victims, who believe that law enforcement isn’t properly investigating these crimes.

Culture Audience: “Lost Girls” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in dramatic portrayals of true crime stories and don’t mind if some scenes in the movie are unrealistic.

Thomasin McKenzie, Amy Ryan and Oona Laurence in “Lost Girls” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The ongoing investigations into the unsolved murders of at least 16 people who are believed to have been victims of the Long Island Serial Killer (also known as LISK, the Gilgo Beach Killer or the Craigslist Ripper) are too complex to condense into a scripted movie. Almost all of the murder victims were women who worked as prostitutes, they advertised themselves on Craigslist, and their bodies were found on New York state’s Long Island from the 1990s to the 2010s. Instead of telling all of these murder victims’ stories, the Netflix dramatic feature film “Lost Girls” focuses on the perspective of one real-life mother whose eldest daughter is believed to be one of the LISK murder victims. As of this writing, no suspects have been arrested in the murders.

Directed by Liz Garbus, “Lost Girls” is a well-acted but ultimately a by-the-numbers and often-melodramatic depiction of Mari Gilbert’s struggle to get justice for her murdered 23-year-old daughter Shannan Gilbert, who disappeared on May 1, 2010, in Oak Beach, New York, shortly after Shannan visited a prostitution client. Shannan’s body was found on December 13, 2011, about half of a mile from where she was last seen in public. Investigators have concluded that she died of strangulation sometime in the after-midnight hours when she disappeared. 

Michael Werwie wrote the “Lost Girls” screenplay as an adaptation of Robert Kolker’s 2013 non-fiction book of the same title. It’s fairly obvious that much of the movie was fabricated for dramatic purposes, particularly in depicting the police investigation and by showing Mari suddenly turning into a supersleuth. People who like the type of “crusading mother” clichés that are often seen in Lifetime movies won’t have as much of a problem with the unrealistic aspects of the “Lost Girls” movie as much as people who might be looking for a grittier and more authentic depiction of what really happens in murder investigations. (And there’s a Lifetime movie about Mari Gilbert called “The Long Island Serial Killer: A Mother’s Hunt for Justice,” starring Kim Delaney as Mari Gilbert. The movie is set to premiere on Lifetime on February 13, 2021.)

Garbus gives “Lost Girls” solid direction, and the talented cast led by Amy Ryan (who portrays Mari Gilbert) elevates the movie slightly above the type of forgettable crime thrillers that are usually made for basic cable networks. Because “Lost Girls” is based on a true crime story that got a lot of publicity, many people watching this movie already know how it’s going to end. By making Mari the central character of the movie, “Lost Girls” sticks to the same “angry mother looking for justice” formula that’s been seen in many other movies just like it.

However, the real Mari Gilbert was much more controversial in real life than this movie makes her out to be. Airing all of her dirty laundry in this movie wouldn’t make her look as sympathetic as the filmmakers want her to look. For example, there were long-standing allegations that she brought up her daughters in an abusive home, where Mari’s boyfriend at the time was accused of sexually abusing her two middle daughters Sherre and Sarra.

The “Lost Girls” movie leaves out a lot of information about the real-life Mari Gilbert and her family. Mari was a single mother with four daughters, but only three of her daughters are mentioned in the movie: eldest daughter Shannan, second-eldest daughter Sherre and third-eldest daughter Sarra. Mari’s youngest daughter Stevie Smith is not seen nor mentioned in the movie. In real life, Sarra was a teen mother to a son named Hayden at the time of Shannan’s disappearance, but the movie makes it look like Sarra was never a mother. 

Mari’s daughters Sherre and Sarra were teenagers at the time that Shannan disappeared, so they weren’t as involved as Mari was in hounding the police to properly investigate Shannan’s disappearance. Sherre (played by Thomasin McKenzie) is portrayed as stoic and introverted during this family ordeal. Sarra (played by Oona Laurence) is portrayed as a troubled and rebellious child who’s been suspended from school for lighting paper towels on fire in the school’s bathroom. Sarra is also on various medications for her mental health.

At the time of Shannan’s disappearance, the movie shows that Mari was living in Ellenville, New York, and holding down two jobs—a forklift operator and a waitress—making her too busy to have a love life. The father(s) of her children are not seen in the movie, and it’s implied that these biological fathers have no contact with Mari and her children. “Lost Girls” shows that Mari being a working-class single mother and Shannan being a prostitute had a lot to do with how the police investigated the case. Mari thinks she’s being treated like a second-class citizen and she’s very angry about it.

The movie’s depiction of Shannan only comes in snippets. There’s a home video shown a few times portraying Shannan at 8 or 9 years old (played by Austyn Johnson), singing “Beautiful Dreamer” in a talent contest. There are also brief flashbacks of an adult Shannan (played by Sarah Wisser), with her face obscured, depicting the last-known moments before she disappeared.

According to several eyewitness accounts, the last time Shannan was seen alive in public, she was frantically running alone on a neighborhood street after midnight and incoherently begging for help. There was a 23-minute phone call to 911 from Shannan’s phone, but what was heard on the caller’s end was hard to decipher. Concerned citizens called 911 too, but by the time police arrived more than an hour later, Shannan had disappeared. Because the movie doesn’t have any flashback scenes of what the adult Shannan was like except for this moment of trauma, she’s like a mysterious ghost in the story.

The “Lost Girls” filmmakers don’t reveal anything significant about Shannan’s personality. Viewers will just have to speculate or just go by the tiny hints that are shown in the movie. It’s implied from the way that Mari talks about what Shannan used to be like as a child that Shannan was thought of as a “golden child” and the “star” of the family. Shannan had a lot of potential, but she didn’t live up to those expectations. How and why Shannan became a prostitute is never explained, although the movie does mention that Shannan had a much more troubled home life than Mari was willing to talk about publicly.

For years, Mari had a rocky relationship with Shannan. The movie mentions that Shannan hadn’t lived with her mother since Shannan was 12 years old, because Shannan was put in foster care by Mari, who considered Shannan to be an unruly child. Mari giving up custody of Shannan to put Shannan in the foster care system led to Shannan having abandonment issues and a lot of resentment toward her mother.

The movie doesn’t gloss over this information, but puts more emphasis on this narrative: Shannan (who lived in New Jersey) and Mari were still fairly estranged at the time of her disappearance, but mother and daughter were taking steps to mend their relationship. The movie depicts that Shannan was supposed to have dinner with Mari, Sherre and Sarra in Mari’s home on the day that Shannan disappeared. And when Shannan didn’t show up, they didn’t think much of it at first because it wasn’t that unusual for Shannan to skip appointments and not show up when she was expected.

But something odd happened that turned out to be a crucial part of the investigation. On the day that Shannan disappeared, Mari gets a phone call from a stranger who identifies himself as a doctor who runs a home for wayward women. Mari doesn’t know at the time that Shannan was missing and was last seen running frantically and begging for help. In his phone call to Mari, the doctor says that he is looking for Shannan, because Shannan is one of the women he’s been helping, but Mari tells this stranger over the phone that she doesn’t know where Shannan is either. Mari is so distracted that she can’t fully remember the doctor’s name when she’s asked about it later.

As the hours pass and the Gilberts get more concerned about where Shannan is, they find out that Shannan’s live-in boyfriend Alex Diaz (played by Brian Adam DeJesus) hadn’t heard from her either. (Alex had an alibi at the time Shannan disappeared and was never a suspect.) The family began to suspect that Shannan had run into foul play, but they couldn’t file a missing person report until Shannan had been missing for 48 hours. The movie makes it look like Mari and her daughters didn’t find out that Shannan was working as a prostitute until she disappeared and Alex (who was also Shannan’s pimp) told them that Shannan was a prostitute. 

However, Alex expresses skepticism that Mari didn’t at least suspect that Shannan was involved in illegal activities because Mari allegedly demanded that Shannan give her money to help pay Mari’s bills, even though Shannan was supposedly unemployed. When the Gilberts go to where Alex and Shannan lived to question Alex about her disappearance, it’s clear that they blame him for Shannan’s problems. Sherre also makes an angry comment to Alex that indicates that he was physically abusive to Shannan and the family knew it.

Shannan’s prostitution driver Michael Pak (played by James Hiroyuki Liao), who witnessed Shannan frantically running away when she disappeared, also hints that Mari already knew that Shannan was a prostitute before Shannan disappeared and that Mari didn’t care about Shannan being a sex worker, as long as Shannan was giving money to Mari. He comes right out and says that Shannan despised her mother, whom Michael describes in the movie as money-hungry and demanding. Michael (who was also cleared as a suspect) claims that Shannan refused to get in the car and she ran away when he tried to help her during her fateful after-midnight ordeal. He says that he drove around looking for her but eventually gave up and drove away.

“Lost Girls” doesn’t try to make Mari Gilbert look like Mother of the Year, but there’s a definite sense in watching the movie that more could’ve been told about Mari, but this information about her was deliberately left out because the filmmakers didn’t want the audience to feel alienated from the story’s main character. There are predictable scenes of tough-talking Mari storming into police stations and yelling at detectives because she thinks they’re incompetent or not acting fast enough. 

Joe Brewer (played by Matthew F. O’Connor), the prostitution client whom Shannan met with before she disappeared, was quickly cleared as a suspect after he passed a polygraph test. Shannan was last seen far from his house. The eyewitnesses who saw Shannan running down the street and desperately going to people’s houses to beg for their help say that she was too incoherent to describe what was wrong. She gave the impression that someone was after her, although the eyewitnesses say they saw no one chasing after Shannan.

Just like in real life, the movie depicts that the investigation into Shannan’s disappearance led to the discovery of more murder victims who were dumped in the same marshy areas near Long Island’s Ocean Parkway. However, Mari was convinced that Shannan was still alive until Shannan’s remains were found more than a year after she disappeared. Many of the people who saw last Shannan, when she was in a hysterical state of mind, assumed that Shannan was on drugs at the time, but an autopsy later revealed that she had no drugs in her system. 

Much of “Lost Girls” shows either one of two things: (1) Mari feuding with the investigating police (including holding press conferences that are meant to shame them) and (2) Mari doing her own investigations. It’s the movie’s latter depictions that come across as less authentic. Mari goes snooping around people’s front yards, she looks in windows of places where she’s trespassing, and she interviews neighbors and local business owners, as if she’s a middle-aged Nancy Drew.

“Lost Girls” also has a “good cop/bad cop” cliché that’s frequently used in crime dramas. In this case, the “good cop” is Richard Dormer (played by Gabriel Byrne), who’s leading the investigation into Shannan’s disappearance and murder. The “bad cop” is Dean Bostick (played by Dean Winters), one of Richard’s underlings who’s tasked with doing a lot of the legwork. Richard is portrayed as flawed but willing to help Mari, even when she berates and insults him. Dean is portrayed as a mean-spirited and crude sexist who’s not afraid to show it when he’s rudely dismissive of Mari. At one point, Dean says to a co-worker: “Honestly, who spends this much time looking for a hooker?”

During the investigation, Sherre goes on social media to connect with family members of other suspected LISK murder victims. Eventually, some of these family members travel to New York state to pressure the police to do more in the investigation. The family members also hold vigils and participate in press conferences so that the cases can continue to get media attention. Sherre thinks it’s a good idea for the Gilbert family to meet these other family members who are victims’ advocates, but Mari initially refuses because she thinks that Shannan is still missing and isn’t murdered like the other victims.

Mari doesn’t want to be lumped in with the other victims’ families, and she feels somewhat superior to them. “Lost Girls” author Kolker, who interviewed Mari for the book and followed the case closely, says that Mari was like this in real life too. And just like in real life, the movie shows that Mari aligned herself with the other victims’ families only after she decided that it would be an advantage to show strength in numbers, rather than Mari trying to get media attention all by herself. At one point in the story, Mari exclaims: “It’s our job … to make sure these girls are not forgotten!”

“Lost Girls” portrays Mari as being standoffish yet domineering when she first meets some of the murder victims’ family members (who are all women), who have gathered in a diner. They are:

  • Missy (played by Molly Brown), a woman from Connecticut whose sister Maureen was a murder victim.
  • Lorraine (played by Miriam Shor), whose daughter Megan was a murder victim.
  • Lynn (played by Anna Reeder), a woman from Buffalo, New York, whose daughter Melissa was a murder victim.
  • Amanda (played by Grace Capeless), who is Lynn’s daughter and Melissa’s sister.
  • Kim (played by Lola Kirke), an on-again/off-again prostitute from North Carolina whose sister Amber was a murder victim.

It doesn’t take long for Mari to make herself the leader of the group. Gradually, she becomes less aloof and more open to making friends with them. Mari bonds the most with easygoing Lorraine and clashes the most with feisty Kim. Sherre often acts as a peacemaker when Mari gets irritated with other members of the group. At times, Mari acts like she wants to distance herself from the group, but Sherre is usually the one to smooth things over and convince Mari that these other women can be allies. 

The movie depicts Mari as being the chief organizer of the group’s press conferences and the mastermind of staging events, such as having this group of women march through neighborhoods where the murder victims were last seen. It’s a bit of credibility stretch to believe that Mari singlehandedly did all the things in real life that she’s depicted as doing singlehandedly in the movie. However, one of the most authentic aspects of “Lost Girls” is Mari’s emotional ambivalence over who to trust in her quest for justice. It’s not an easy issue for anyone to deal with, especially if it’s compounded by the trauma of looking for a missing child and feeling let down by authorities who are supposed to help.

“Lost Girls” also has a character named Joe Scalise (played by Kevin Corrigan), an Oak Beach neighbor of cleared suspect Joe Brewer. Joe Scalise is portrayed as being the first to tip off Mari that a physician named Dr. Peter Hackett (played by Reed Birney), another Oak Beach resident, should be looked at as a prime suspect. Dr. Hackett is a prominent member of this gated community, but Joe Scalise says that the doctor has a weird fascination with helping prostitutes, whom Dr. Hackett treats as his patients in the doctor’s home office.

Dr. Hackett’s backyard also leads to the marsh where many of the bodies were found. Mari puts two and two together and figures that this is the same mystery doctor who called her on the day that Shannan disappeared. Dr. Hackett denied it, but phone records later proved it.

Through her investigation, Mari also finds out that the doctor’s home office has a surveillance camera outside that would have recorded Shannan on the street the night she disappeared. But when Mari shows up at the office unannounced to interrogate Dr. Hackett, his wife/office manager tells Mari that any video recording from that camera on that night was automatically recorded over. Mari personally confronts Dr. Hackett, who is creepy, smug and evasive. Mari is also infuriated when she finds out the police never even asked for the video surveillance footage.

“Lost Girls” repeatedly portrays Mari as someone who uncovers evidence or tips that the police then express skepticism about or completely ignore. The movie implies in subtle and not-so-subtle ways that one of the main reasons why Shannan’s case remains unsolved is because the police have been unwilling to thoroughly investigate the privileged and influential people of Oak Beach. It’s an age-old issue of criminal justice being different for people who can afford great lawyers and those who can’t.

Mari continues to get tips from Joe Scalise (who seems to be a composite of real-life people), and the more she finds out, the more she’s convinced that Dr. Hackett knows more than he’s telling. When Mari pleads with the police to further investigate Dr. Hackett, she’s told that Joe Scalise is a questionable source since Scalise has been feuding for years with Dr. Hackett and appears to have personal vendetta against the doctor.

Joe Scalise warns Mari: “The good people of Oak Beach live by one thing: Be wary of those who could ruin a good thing. You are the wayfarer they’ve been dreading.” The movie certainly gives the impression that Mari and the victims’ families are fighting an uphill battle against people who are actively protecting the murderer or murderers.

Because it’s a well-known fact that these murders remained unsolved and no suspects were arrested at the time that “Lost Girls” was made, there’s a feeling of doom while watching the movie that Mari and all of the victims’ loved ones won’t get the justice that they’re seeking by the end of the film. People who watch this movie who never heard of these murders before might be surprised that there’s really no cathartic ending for “Lost Girls.” The Gilbert family also suffered another tragedy that’s not shown in the movie but is mentioned in the movie’s epilogue, which includes details on what people can do if they have information that they think can help solve this real-life mystery of the Long Island murders.

Ryan is a very talented actress who excels in every role that she does, so her performance carries this movie to transcend some of its flaws. McKenzie and Kirke also have some standout moments, with McKenzie’s adept portrayal of Sherre’s quiet heartbreak and Kirke’s memorable portrayal of Kim’s fiery cynicism. Byrne and Winters give adequate portrayals of the two cops who have the most contact with Mari. These types of cops have been seen before in many crime dramas, although Byrne’s Richard Dormer character is written to have more compassion than his police colleagues in this investigation.

“Lost Girls” can get faulty when the movie presents an unrealistic depiction of Mari’s sleuthing and how much access she had in the police investigation. A fairly ludicrous scene in the movie is when police allow her to enter a crime scene while they’re investigating, as if she’s law enforcement too. In real life, that access wouldn’t be given to someone like Mari, and it never happened in real life with Mari, who was very antagonistic to the police.

The movie also doesn’t give any room to consider other possible suspects, since the filmmakers make it look like Peter Hackett was the one whom Mari thought was the most likely to be guilty of the crimes. The real Peter Hackett, who has denied any connection to the murders and was never named by police as a suspect, moved out of Oak Beach in 2016, and reportedly lives in Florida. There’s a scene in the movie where Mari confronts him again when she finds out he’s moving out of Oak Beach—and it’s a scene that looks “only in a  movie” fake.

“Lost Girls” tends to oversimply many aspects of these complicated Long Island murder cases, but the movie admirably doesn’t lose sight of its intent of trying to get justice for these murders. It’s not a typical murder mystery where the killer or killers get caught and punished in the end. And in that sense, it’s the most harrowing type of true crime story that can be told.

Netflix premiered “Lost Girls” and released the movie in select U.S. cinemas on March 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Black Bear,’ starring Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon

January 9, 2021

by Carla Hay

Aubrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott in “Black Bear” (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

“Black Bear”

Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine

Culture Representation: Taking place in upstate New York, the dramatic film “Black Bear” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman with apparent emotional problems is at the center of chaos during a potential love triangle.

Culture Audience: “Black Bear” will appeal primarily to people who like well-acted independent films that make people question what is real in the story and what might be the imagination of a character in the story.

Sarah Gadon in “Black Bear” (Photo courtesy of Momentum Pictures)

People who prefer movies with a straightforward narrative probably won’t like “Black Bear” very much, because the movie is divided into two very distinct stories, with one abruptly transitioning into the other without any explanation until the last few minutes of the movie. The three main actors in the movie portray different characters with the same names in each story. And this switch in characters might confuse viewers. Written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, “Black Bear” is nonetheless worth watching for anyone who wants to see some good acting with compelling dialogue, even if the movie is somewhat erratic.

That uneven tone is because the movie’s first story, titled “Part One: The Bear in the Road,” is much better than the second story, titled “Part Two: The Bear by the Boat House.” Each story takes place at a lake house in the same wooded area in an unnamed part of upstate New York. (“Black Bear” was actually filmed in Long Lake, New York.) In each story, someone hears bear noises nearby. And then, a black bear shows up at a pivotal moment.

Each story begins with a scene of a woman (played by Aubrey Plaza) wearing a red one-piece swimsuit, looking contemplative and sitting cross-legged on a pier, with mist swirling around her. She then goes into a nearby house, sits down at a table, and opens what looks like a journal. Is this real or is it a dream?

In “The Bear in the Road” story, viewers find out that the woman is named Allison, an independent filmmaker who has rented the cabin-styled house as a retreat space to get over her writer’s block. Or so she says. Allison, who is also an actress, became a film director somewhat out of necessity because, as she says a little later in the story, she didn’t quit acting; she just stopped getting hired as an actress.

Allison is renting the house from an unmarried couple named Gabe (played by Christopher Abbott) and Blair (played by Sarah Gadon), who used to live in Brooklyn but the couple moved to upstate New York because they could no longer afford to live in Brooklyn. Gabe owns the house, which has been in his family for years. Blair is pregnant with her and Gabe’s first child together, and Blair is in her third trimester. There’s simmering tension between Blair and Gabe that eventually boils over to the surface.

Gabe is the one who greets Allison when she arrives at the house. It’s their first time meeting each other. And from the get-go, it’s obvious that Gabe and Allison are attracted to each other. Allison and Gabe have a mutual friend named Mike (who is not seen in the movie), who has told Gabe that Allison is married. When Gabe asks Allison why her husband isn’t with her, Allison tells Gabe that she doesn’t have a husband.

Blair notices the way that Gabe has been looking at Allison. And so, when Gabe introduces Allison to Blair, one of the first things that Allison says to Blair is that Blair is pretty, while Blair returns the compliment. Astute viewers will notice that this is Allison’s way of trying to dispel any insecurities that Blair might be feeling about Allison being an attractive stranger who has caught Gabe’s attention. Ironically, Allison later tells Gabe that she doesn’t like getting compliments about herself.

Gabe, Blair and Allison have dinner together during Allison’s first night at the house. What starts out as a polite “let’s get to know each other” gathering turns into a highly emotional standoff with Gabe and Blair arguing and Allison being somewhat caught in the middle. During this tension-filled situation, viewers find out that Blair has issues with Gabe’s chosen profession as a musician. Because he makes very little money as a musician, Blair doesn’t think Gabe should call himself a “professional” musician. He’s very defensive about it in a way that he thinks any criticism that Blair makes about his career is a direct attack on his masculinity.

Blair also announces to Allison that Gabe believes in traditional gender roles, which Gabe denies. Blair frequently accuses Gabe of being sexist, which he also denies. However, Gabe admits that he has this belief: “The erosion of traditional communities is part of why things are so chaotic right now. I’m not saying feminism is bad.”

During this escalating agitation between Gabe and Blair, there are hints that Allison wants to take Gabe’s side. When Blair berates Gabe for supposedly being against feminism, Allison chimes in by saying that feminism is “fucked up.” Allison and Gabe also seem to have the same sense of humor, because she laughs at Gabe’s jokes that Blair thinks are silly.

While Gabe and Blair are working out their relationship issues in this very hostile way, they also try to get a read on Allison, who comes across as someone who is mysterious and might not always be telling the truth about herself. At one point in the conversation, when Allison mentions that she never learned how to cook, Blair asks her in a surprised tone of voice why Allison’s mother never taught her how to cook. This is the same Blair who insults Dave for believing in traditional gender roles, even though Blair obviously assumes all women should know how to cook. Can you say “hypocrisy”?

Allison’s reply is to tell Blair that Allison’s mother died when she was a child. Instead of expressing remorse at her thoughtless comment, Blair continues to pick apart Gabe and then turns some of her vitriol on Allison too. When Allison says that she doesn’t think about her films after she makes them, Blair accuses Allison of being “selfish.” When Gabe accuses Blair of not letting him have his own thoughts, Blair responds by saying: “It’s not that I can’t stand that you have thoughts about the world. It’s that I can’t stand the thoughts about the world that you have.”

Meanwhile, Gabe chastises Blair for drinking wine during the dinner. He believes that Blair shouldn’t be drinking any alcohol during her pregnancy, while Blair thinks he’s being unreasonable and that a little wine won’t hurt the baby. Of course, their arguing isn’t really about the wine but about their conflicting outlooks on life. And their impending parenthood has forced Blair and Gabe to think about how they are going to raise their child when they can’t even agree on how they should live as a couple.

It’s later revealed that Blair is probably feeling very insecure because the pregnancy was unplanned and she might be thinking that Gabe is only staying in the relationship because of the child. And now, Allison has come into the picture, and a very pregnant Blair can’t help but notice that there’s a mutual spark between Gabe and Allison. It comes as no surprise that Blair begins to have doubts over whether or not Gabe still loves her. Before this story is over, some secrets are revealed, and there’s some more messy drama that leads to a big confrontation.

“The Bear by the Boat House” story has more characters but it’s not as interesting as “The Bear in the Road” story. In “The Bear by the Boat House,” Allison is now a character who is an actress who’s been married for six years to a director named Gabe. The story takes place on the last day of a film shoot of a movie that they are doing together. The name of the movie is “Black Bear.” It’s being filmed at the same pier and house that were in “The Bear in the Road” story.

In “The Bear by the Boat House” story, Allison (not Blair) is the character who is very emotionally fragile with jealousy tendencies, while Blair is a self-assured co-star in the film who might or might not be the third person in a love triangle. There’s sexual tension between Gabe and Blair. Gabe wants Allison to think that he’s having an affair with Blair so that he can get the necessary emotions out of Allison in their last day of making the movie.

Blair is in cahoots with Gabe over this emotional manipulation. There are scenes of Gabe and Blair having secret meet-ups in hushed voices to plot how they can trick Allison and possibly other people on the film set into thinking that Gabe might be cheating on Allison with Blair. Gabe and Blair plan it in such detail that they decide in advance how to look at each other and when to exit and leave the room, to make it look like they’re trying to cover up an affair.

Blair seems to feel a little bit guilty over these mind games, but in the end, she gleefully goes along with this scheme because she wants Gabe’s approval. Gabe has already been showing obvious favoritism to Blair on the film set, in order to plant the seeds of jealousy in Allison’s mind. Gabe also belittles Allison on the film set, in order to make her feel even more insecure.

The emotional distress is too much for Allison, and it leads to a long, drawn-out sequence where she gets stoned on an unnamed drug and has a hard time completing the last scene that they have to film. Gabe didn’t expect this damper on his carefully laid plan. Viewers will then have to wonder if Allison can finish the movie in the way Gabe wanted and if Gabe will tell Allison the truth about how he manipulated her.

Some of the members of the film crew who are caught up in this drama include a script supervisor named Nora (played by Jennifer Kim), a production assistant named Cahya (played by Paola Lázaro) and a cinematographer named Baako (played by Grantham Coleman). Plaza has some over-the-top melodramatics in this story, but she handles it with a certain authenticity so that it doesn’t go off the rails into becoming a campy performance. There are indications that the Allison character in this story has some underlying issues with mental health that can’t be blamed on Allison’s drug use.

“Black Bear” the movie (not the movie within the movie) is essentially a showcase for Plaza’s dramatic range as an actress. Plaza, who is one of the producers of “Black Bear,” is mostly known for her roles in comedies, but she is a clear standout in expressing the wide gamut of emotions that she does in “Black Bear.” Each “Allison” is at the center of the chaos in each story, but these two Allison characters are very different from each other. The Allison in the first story is a manipulator who likes to be in control, while the Allison in the second story is the one who’s being manipulated and is out of control.

Gadon also gives an impressive performance in her role as the shrewish Blair in “The Bear in the Road” story, but the Blair character in “The Bear by the Boat House” is unfortunately quite bland. Abbott’s Gabe character is also more nuanced and more interesting in “The Bear in the Road” story, whereas the Gabe character in “The Bear by the Boat House” doesn’t have much character development beyond being a conniving and selfish person.

“Black Bear” should be given a lot of credit for attempting not to be a typical “mumblecore” independent film, which is what it first appears to be if people judged the movie by its trailer. “The Bear in the Road” story crackles with energy because the characters and dialogue are written so well. However, “Black Bear” falls a little flat in the second half in “The Bear by the Boat House” story, because Allison’s meltdown becomes a little too repetitive and predictable.

Plaza’s acting talent shines throughout the movie, but the way that “The Bear by the Boat House” is written could have been improved by giving more depth to the characters of Gabe and Blair, who come across as very shallow in that story. People who have the patience to sit through this movie to find out what it all means will at least get answers to some questions in the last five minutes of the film. However, “Black Bear” still has enough “fill in the blank” moments that give viewers the freedom to interpret the movie in a variety of ways.

Momentum Pictures released “Black Bear” in select U.S. cinemas and on digital and VOD on December 4, 2020.

2021 Puppy Bowl: see photos and videos

January 6, 2021

Puppy Bowl (Photo by Elias Weiss Friedman/Discovery+/Animal Planet)

 

The following is a press release from Discovery Networks:

“We need puppies now more than ever!” said everyone. Have no fear because television’s cutest sports competition and the original call-to-adoption TV event “Puppy Bowl” returns on Sunday, February 7, 2021 for the biggest, most exciting game to date, now as a 3-hour event that can be viewed on both Discovery+, the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service that features a landmark partnership with Verizon that gives their customers with select plans up to 12 months of Discovery+ on Verizon, and Animal Planet on February 7, 2021, at 2PM ET/11AM PT. Join Discovery+ and Animal Planet for this special three-hour event to experience all the fuzzy puppy faces from Team Ruff and Team Fluff who go paw to paw to win the Chewy “Lombarky” trophy in “Puppy Bowl’s” all-new venue, a ‘stadium within a stadium’ that’s bigger and better than ever before. Be sure to be on the lookout for Team Ruff who is looking to reclaim their title after last year’s loss – they’re coming back with a vengeance! Gear up because it’s officially the most wonderful time of the year for the biggest game of the year – “Puppy Bowl XVII”!

“Puppy Bowl” celebrates adoptable pups in all their cuteness and showcases the incredible shelters and rescues, as well as their staffers, who dedicate their lives to helping animals find their loving homes. In years past, “Puppy Bowl” is 16 for 16 with the adoption rate at 100% as all puppies and kittens featured in “Puppy Bowl” to date have found their forever homes with loving families. And even though this past year has been different from year’s past, one thing is for certain—there will be a “Puppy Bowl”—and discovery+ and Animal Planet continue this annual tradition to highlight these special puppy players and kittens so that they can finally find the place they are meant to call ‘home.’

This year, 22 shelters and rescues from nine Northeastern States are enlisted to bring 70 incredible adoptable puppy players out for “Puppy Bowl” to sport their Team Ruff ‘Tail Mary Tangerine’ and Team Fluff ‘Bark Blue’ bandana colors. What genetic traits are these pups bringing to the game? With the Wisdom Panel™ dog DNA test, we’ll find out what’s beyond those big puppy dog eyes and how each dog’s breed mix might give them an advantage on the field. We’ll see their skills playout in the brand-new Geico Stadium, where these adoptable players have even more room to rumble and fumble!  Fan-favorite elements, including slow motion replays, nose-to-nose action from the famous water bowl cam, and aerial shots of the field from the brand-new Temptations Sky Box are all back this year, along with epic drone shots of puppy players across the arena that bring audiences as close as possible to all the game-play action. The Home Depot goal post nets serve as the backdrop to every touchdown and field goal as audiences have a front row seat view through lens of the cameras in the Chewy end zone pylons.

Joining this year as “Puppy Bowl XVII” announcers are ESPN’s Monday Night Football play- by- play announcer Steve Levy and SportsCenter host Sage Steele who will be providing puppy analysis throughout the game! The “Puppy Bowl XVII” Pre-Game Show begins at 1 PM ET/ 10 AM PT where long-time “Puppy Bowl” sports correspondents Rodt Weiler, James Hound and Sheena Inu, and field reports Brittany Spaniel and Herman Shepard pump up the crowd with pup insights on the furry matchups before the big game. Sponsored by [ yellow tail ]® wine, the Pre-Game Show will also offer ideas on how to create a “Puppy Bowl” “tail”gate party for the perfect viewing experience. The game opens with a special performance of the National Anthem by singing-group and internet sensation, Boys World, before kicking off with the pups of the Pedigree Starting Lineup, who are giving it their all to compete for the one and only Bissell MVP (Most Valuable Puppy) award by scoring the most touchdowns. Who will take home the title this year to join the greats of puppies past in the Puppy Bowl MVP Hall of Fame? Tune in to find out this and which lucky pup will also take home the coveted Subaru of America Inc. Underdog Award!

Joining the game for the 10th year in a row is America’s favorite “Rufferee,” Dan Schachner, who, after a decade, is ready to call the puppy penalties, ruffs & tumbles, and pawsome touchdowns for a game unlike any other. Award-winning animal advocate and television correspondent Jill Rappaport also returns to introduce the Subaru of America, Inc. Pup Close and Personal segments that shine a light on some of these adorable athletes and other adoptable puppies across the country, in addition to the special Senior Spotlight stories which showcase that age is just a number with senior dogs who are ultimately puppies at heart.

This year’s Pup Close and Personal highlights include a special profile of actress and animal advocate Kristen Bell who has teamed up with Annenberg PetSpace in Los Angeles to spend time with Java, a Labrador mix puppy looking for a fur-ever home to snuggle in; Biscuit, a very special Maltese mix pup from Paw Works in LA, who gets a special day out with one lucky kid baker from Food Network’s ‘Kid Baking Championship,’ where we’ll also hear from hosts Valerie Bertinelli & Duff Goldman; Fozzie, a Foster Dogs Inc. Norwegian Elkhound who experiences his first ever grooming from Harlem Doggie Day Spa; and Foofur, a Shepherd mix puppy who is cared for by a very special foster under the PAWS Chicago foster program. Other in-depth profiles include Marshall, a deaf Boston Terrier mix rescue pup who’s training with Green Dogs Unleashed to be a therapy dog, where at a local hospital, he will provide a group of COVID ER nurses with a much-needed mental break in the midst of the pandemic; Jett, a double front amputee Labrador mix from Pets With Disabilities in Maryland, who is prepping for the big game with regular jaunts along the countryside with his fellow special needs cat and dog companions; and Stitch, a Hound mix, who at Wilburton Inn-New England dog friendly resort in Vermont, enjoys a special day out at the Inn on a mission to meet an adopter, before getting scrappy on the field.

Audiences will also see four incredible Senior Spotlight profiles that include Scoobert, an 8-year-old Chihuahua Boxer mix from mix from Young at Heart Sanctuary in Chicago who even though is a senior pooch with medical needs, has a special zest for life; veterinarian Dr. Kwane Stewart, aka @thestreetvet, who treats homeless dogs off the streets of Los Angeles at no cost; Mona, a 10-year-old Toy Poodle mix who undergoes reiki healing sessions at Den Retreat in Los Angeles for a more peaceful state of mind; and Blossom, an American Staffordshire Terrier, who has become the poster pup for the ‘Pitbulls in flower crowns’ series by rescue advocate and photographer Sophie Gamand. Puppy Bowl XVII will also feature five special needs players who are looking forward to finding their loving home including Jett, and four hearing impaired pups including Marshall, a Boston Terrier; Fletcher, an American Bull Dog; Theodore, a Pyr Border Collie; and Rumor, a Heeler mix.

Additionally, for the first time ever on the sidelines, our Team Ruff and Team Fluff players will be cheered on by none other than adoptable puppy cheerleaders who will root and howl for their favorite players. These cheerleading pups will turn up the volume with cuteness overload by shaking their pom poms as the Puppy Bowl XVII players make their way down the field! Midway through the game, get ready to turn up the beat and put on your dancing shoes for the Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal™ Kitty Half-Time Show. Audiences will experience the neon dance party they’ve been waiting for all year and rave to the purr-fect beats dropped by senior rescue cat DJ Grand Master Scratch. As an after-party treat, viewers will even be able to see a special adoption update on where these dancing felines found their loving new homes with their loving new forever dance partners.

As a bonus treat for this year’s Puppy Bowl XVII, audiences will also see exciting new ‘Adoptable Pup’ segments, hosted by Dan Schachner and sponsored by Chewy. Sprinkled throughout the program, 11 shelters from around the country will feature one of their special pups (and a few kittens during Kitty Half-Time!) that are all up for adoption during the game!

Puppy Bowl digital audiences can point their paws to PuppyBowl.com to vote for their favorite pup in the ‘Pupularity Playoffs’ bracket style tournament featuring photos by Instagram sensation @TheDogist. Audiences can also check out an exciting live puppy playtime scrimmage on Animal Planet’s TikTok in the lead up to Puppy Bowl XVII. Fans may also be able to see their own animal featured in a photo gallery on PuppyBowl.com when they post a pic of their fur-baby watching Puppy Bowl XVII and tag #PuppyBowl. For more fun social content, head to FacebookInstagramTwitter, and TikTok for original videos, GIFs, Instagram Stickers, a Puppy Bowl AR Filter, and more. Audiences can also follow discovery+ on InstagramFacebook and Twitter.

Fans can also access even more furry fun and exclusive content by downloading Discovery+. Leading up to “Puppy Bowl,” Discovery+ and Animal Planet GO users will find exclusive in-app original programming, including the “Puppy Bowl” midform series “Pupclose & Personal”, where NFL stars Chris Godwin, Ronnie Stanley, and Ryan Kerrigan reveal their personal pup adoption stories to share why they’re so passionate about canine causes. Pus, we’ll also see Dan the Ref take us down memory lane, highlighting the very best and firsts of “Puppy Bowl’s” 17-year history. Additionally, fans are also invited to Tweet along with game day commentator Meep The Bird and vote in real time, for the winner of the Most Valuable Puppy award. Results will be revealed during the epic program.

Official “Puppy Bowl XVII” sponsors include Arm & Hammer Clump & Seal, Bissell, Chewy, Geico, The Home Depot, Pedigree, Subaru of America Inc., Temptations, Wisdom Panel dog DNA test and [ yellow tail ]® wine.

For more information about the shelters, rescues and organizations that participated in “Puppy Bowl XVII” Animal Planet audiences can visit Puppybowl.com/Adopt.

“Puppy Bowl XVII” is produced for Animal Planet by Bright Spot Content, an All3Media America company. Simon Morris is executive producer and showrunner with Cindy Kain and Sandy Varo Jarrell also serving as executive producers. For Animal Planet, Dawn Sinsel serves as senior executive producer and Pat Dempsey is supervising producer.

Review: ‘Herself,’ starring Clare Dunne, Harriet Walter, Conleth Hill, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann

January 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Clare Dunne, Ruby Rose O’Hara and Molly McCann in “Herself” (Photo by Pat Redmond/Amazon Studios)

“Herself”

Directed by Phyllida Lloyd

Culture Representation: Taking place in Dublin, the drama “Herself” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single mother, who has broken up with her abusive ex, decides to build her own house, but she has to hide these activities from the government’s social services department that is handling her case.

Culture Audience: “Herself” will appeal primarily to people interested in emotionally realistic dramas about women who rebuild their lives after a traumatic breakup.

Clare Dunne, Molly McCann and Ian Lloyd Anderson in “Herself” (Photo by Pat Redmond/Amazon Studios)

The concept of a woman who tries to move on from a toxic relationship has been the plot of too many movies to count. However, the compelling drama “Herself” (directed by Phyllida Lloyd) truly has something unique to offer: It’s a story of a single mother who metaphorically and literally rebuilds her life by deciding she’s going to build a house where she and her two underage daughters will live. The movie (which was filmed on location in Dublin) has some moments that are a bit predictable, but there are other parts of the story that admirably avoid clichés. Thanks to skillful direction and impressive performances from the cast members, “Herself” is a cut above the typical “single mother trying to make it on her own” movie that’s become a subgenre of a lot of female-oriented entertainment.

Clare Dunn, who co-wrote the “Herself” screenplay with Malcolm Campbell, stars in the movie as Sandra Kelly, a loving and devoted single mother to two daughters: sassy and inquisitive Emma (played by Ruby Rose O’Hara), who’s about 6 or 7 years old, and sweet-natured and friendly Molly (played by Molly McCann), who’s about 4 or 5 years old.

The movie opens with a scene of all three of them seemingly in domestic bliss in their house’s kitchen, where Emma and Molly are applying makeup to their mother’s face. Sandra explains to her daughters that the birthmark below her left eye (the birthmark looks like a bruise) is God’s way of marking her uniqueness. And then, Sandra and her daughters dance and sing in the kitchen while Sia’s “Chandelier” is playing in the background.

Suddenly, Emma’s and Molly’s father Gary Mullen (played by Ian Lloyd Anderson) comes home. Molly and Emma run to him and eagerly greet him. Gary seems happy to see them too, but he’s not happy to see Sandra, who is his live-in girlfriend. Gary tells Emma and Molly to step outside for a moment because he wants to talk to their mother. And that’s when things get ugly.

Sandra senses that all hell is about to break loose when Gary waves some paperwork and cash and angrily tells Sandra that he found out she’s going to leave him. Before Emma leaves the room to go outside, Sandra frantically whispers to Emma to do something that was a pre-arranged emergency plan. Emma runs to a playhouse in the backyard (where Molly is hiding), grabs a lunchbox, and runs to a nearby convenience store.

When Emma arrives at the store, she opens the lunchbox to show it to the store clerk. Inside the lunchbox is a written message that says: “Call 999. My life is in danger. Sandra Kelly. 14 Hazelwood Road.”

Back at the house, Gary has begun viciously assaulting Sandra. He throws her to the ground and starts punching her and grabbing her hair. And then, he stomps hard on her left hand while she cries out in agony.

The next scene shows Sandra, Emma and Molly temporarily moving into a motel. Sandra has left Gary for good, and it’s later revealed that she had him arrested for domestic violence. Sandra has been granted full custody of the children, but Gary (who works in construction) has visitation rights. Gary is currently living at home with his parents Michael (played by Lorcan Cranitch) and Tina (played by Tina Kellegher) because he doesn’t get enough steady work in construction to be able to afford his own place.

Because this case involves family court and because Sandra doesn’t have enough money to rent her own place, Sandra has to apply for council housing. She’s assigned to a sympathetic social worker named Jo (played by Cathy Belton), who is very willing to help her. Sandra has two jobs (she works as a restaurant/pub waitress and as a housecleaner), but she doesn’t make enough money at both jobs to be able to pay her bills without government assistance.

Sandra’s messy breakup from Gary, as well as her housing issues, aren’t the only problems that Sandra is dealing with right now. When Gary stomped on her left hand, it left nerve damage that might be permanent. And considering that Sandra works in jobs where she needs the use of both hands, she’s concerned about how her injury might affect her livelihood. Emotionally, Sandra is also having a rough time because she’s grieving over her beloved widowed mother, who died six months ago.

Sandra’s mother was the housecleaner for a retired medical doctor named Peggy (played by Harriet Walter), a frequently stern and moody widow who lives alone. When Sandra’s mother died, Sandra inherited the housecleaner job. In the movie’s early scenes with Peggy and Sandra, it’s shown that Peggy is a demanding and very cranky boss, whose bad temper seems to be exacerbated because she’s recovering from hip surgery. When Sandra tries to help Peggy (who uses a walker) physically move about the house, Peggy snaps at her and says she doesn’t like to be treated as if she’s old.

One day, while reading a storybook to her kids about someone who builds a house, Sandra gets curious about what it would take to get a low-cost home built. When she’s at Peggy’s house, Sandra secretly uses Peggy’s laptop computer to look up the information. Sandra finds online videos of a do-it-yourself home building expert, who describes how to build a low-cost house. The videos inspire Sandra, but without owning any land to build a home, she thinks it’s an unattainable dream for her.

However, Peggy finds out about Sandra’s online searches and surprises Sandra by telling her that Sandra can use Peggy’s spacious backyard as the place to build her home. Sandra, who is the type of person who is too proud to look for pity or accept “handouts” from people she knows, initially refuses the offer because she doesn’t want to be thought of as a charity case. She’s also hesitant because Sandra already applied for council housing. Building her own house would forfeit that application.

Sandra asks Peggy why she is suddenly being so generous to her. Peggy confides in Sandra that Sandra’s mother was more than an employee; she was also a very good friend who got Peggy through some tough times. This revelation is why Sandra changes her mind to accept Peggy’s offer, because Sandra now knows that in order to honor her deceased mother, she should start thinking of Peggy as a friend too. This housing agreement gradually thaws Peggy’s cold attitude toward Sandra, and they eventually grow to like and respect each other.

Peggy’s adult daughter Grainne (played by Rebecca O’Mara) is very skeptical of this housing arrangement, because she doesn’t think the land should be given so freely to someone whom Peggy barely knows. But Peggy impatiently brushes away those concerns and says she has a right to do what she wants with the land that she owns. Peggy makes it clear that she’s determined to help Sandra fulfill her dream of building her own home, which Peggy offers to fund as a loan.

With donated land and enough money to buy building materials, Sandra’s next step is to research what she can do on her budget. She goes to a hardware store to get price estimates and ask questions. Sandra doesn’t get much help from the store clerk, but she meets someone at the store named Aidan “Aido” Deveney, a no-nonsense, middle-aged man who owns his own construction and civil engineering company. It’s not a big company, but Aido has the experience that Sandra needs for this project.

Sandra asks for Aido’s help to build the house, but he declines for three reasons: (1) He says that he rarely does contract work; (2) Sandra wouldn’t be able to afford him if he did; and (3) He’s been having recent heart problems. Sandra doesn’t have the budget to afford a team of construction workers, and Aido warns her that it will be difficult for her to find people who will build the house for little or no payment. Sandra plans to do a lot of the hands-on construction work, but obviously she can’t do it alone.

Despite getting rejected by Aido when she initially asks for his help, Sandra is persistent and won’t take no for an answer. She has a hunch that Aido might know Gary and might know what an awful person Gary is. When she tells Aido that Gary Mullen is her ex and that she’s in desperate need of a home for her and her daughters, Aido seems to understand why Sandra might need the help that she’s requesting.

And so, Aido eventually agrees to do the contract job for less than his usual salary. Aido’s young adult son Francis (played by Daniel Ryan), who happens to have Down syndrome, works with Aido and gives Sandra an old pair of construction work shoes that she ends up wearing during the build. The close-ups of Sandra putting on the shoes are a little heavy-handed in showing how the shoes are a metaphor for her stepping outside her comfort zone and trying something that she’s never done before.

Some of “Herself” is a little corny, but the movie is so earnest in its intentions that it’s easy to forgive these minor flaws. For example, on the day that Aido and Sandra break ground on the construction site, Aido hands Sandra a shovel and says, “We’ll let herself do the honors.” (It’s at this point that viewers know this line is the inspiration for the movie’s title.)

Later in the movie, during another teamwork construction scene that’s supposed to be inspirational, the dance-pop hit “Titanium” (by David Guetta featuring Sia) is turned up to full volume on the movie’s soundtrack. The song’s chorus is “You shoot me down, but I won’t fall. I am titanium.” It’s an obvious anthem reflecting Sandra’s gradual self-empowerment.

It should come as no surprise that the construction of the house doesn’t always go smoothly. Sandra only has time to work on the house on weekends, which makes the process slower. Aido gets frustrated and threatens to quit unless Sandra can find more people to work on the house.

As luck would have it, Sandra has a waitress co-worker named Amy (played by Ericka Roe), who lives in a self-described “squat” with several people. Amy recruits three of her squat mates to help with the construction: Dariusz (played by Dmitry Vinokurov), a tall and muscular guy who has experience as a construction worker; Yewande (played by Mabel Chah), an outgoing and friendly woman; and Tomo (played by Aaron Lockhart), a jokester who sometimes likes to goof off on the job, much to the annoyance of construction boss Aido.

Sandra also asks for help from a single mother named Rosa (played by Anita Petry), whose daughter Miriam is a friend of Emma and Molly. Rosa politely declines because she’s intimidated by the thought of doing construction work. But what do you know, Sandra finds out that Rosa changed her mind when Rosa just happens to show up on the same day as Amy’s friends. Stranger things have happened in real life, so viewers will have to suspend disbelief at this lucky coincidence that Sandra gets an instantly expanded construction crew on the same day.

Before construction begins, Sandra tells her daughters Emma and Molly that building the house has to be a secret until the house is finished. Sandra knows she could get in trouble for housing fraud because she applied for council housing and claimed she had no other housing options. Sandra also doesn’t want Gary to know about the house’s construction for the same reasons.

While all of this is going on, Gary tries to get back together with Sandra. He tells her that he’s in counseling and that he’ll never abuse her again. He also tries to make her feel guilty by reminding her of happier times and telling her that she’s making a mistake by breaking up their family. These are typical tactics used by abusers, and it’s why many abused people in toxic relationships find it difficult to leave.

A big problem occurs in the visitation arrangement with Gary. Molly becomes increasingly upset at being told that she has to visit with her father. In one incident, Molly locks herself in a closet in an attempt to get out of the visitation. And eventually, Molly refuses to get out of the car when Sandra takes Molly and Emmy to visit Gary. Molly cries and seems afraid of Gary, but she won’t tell Sandra why. Meanwhile, Emma still has a loving relationship with her father and doesn’t seem afraid of him.

Sandra hates to see Molly get so emotionally distressed. And so, over a period of time, Sandra lies to Gary and uses an excuse that Molly is sick, in order to get Molly out of visiting with Gary. But after Molly misses seven or eight visitations, Gary gets suspicious, and a series of events leads him to file a breach of access petition and ask for full custody of Molly and Emma. (This custody battle isn’t spoiler information, since it’s in the movie’s trailer.) It’s eventually revealed why Molly is afraid of her father.

“Herself” accurately shows the gray areas of abusive relationships that explain why abused partners often go back to their abusers. While Gary tries to win back Sandra, she has doubts about whether or not she made the right decision to leave him. He has a charming side, and she knows that her financial situation would be less difficult if she moved back in with Gary. And she still has feelings for him, but she is unsure if he’s really changed his abusive ways.

Like many abused love partners, Sandra has to decide if the person she fell in love with is redeemable and will really stop being abusive, or if the person she fell in love with is gone forever and will eventually become abusive again if they get back together. She admits this confusion when she confides in Peggy over her mixed feelings about giving Gary another chance: “I miss the person he was.”

“Herself” is anchored by Dunne’s above-average performance, because she is able to convey vulnerability and grit with equal aplomb. Sandra is not a saintly mother. She makes mistakes and is sometimes impatient with her children. But there’s no doubt that her motherly love is deep and fierce. It’s what guides almost all of Sandra’s decisions, because she’s thinking of what’s best for her children more than what she thinks is best for herself.

Something happens in the last third of “Herself” that sets the movie apart from how viewers might think the story is going to end. It’s why “Herself,” despite a few hokey moments, ends up being grounded in the realism of life throwing some unexpected curveballs. It speaks to the movie’s larger message of how dealing with setbacks or challenges is much more important than the type of dwelling where someone lives.

Amazon Studios released “Herself” in select U.S. cinemas on December 30, 2020. Amazon Prime Video will premiere the movie on January 8, 2020.

Discovery+ announces cooking TV series ‘Mary McCartney Serves It Up’

January 4, 2021

Mary McCartney

The following is a press release from Discovery+

British photographer and cookbook author Mary McCartney invites audiences into her London kitchen on Thursday, February 4, 2021, on Discovery+ as she prepares delicious, accessible, and picture perfect meals with her celebrity friends on the new discovery+ series “Mary McCartney Serves It Up.” In each of the six half-hour episodes, Mary shares her sincere love of cooking and her family’s favorite recipes and the stories behind them, showcasing her accessible vegetarian food philosophy for all to enjoy. In each episode, Mary will be joined by her famous friends, at home and over video conference, to celebrate food and friendship with transatlantic cook-alongs, taste-tests, cocktail classes and fun food Q&As. From easy dinners to comforting eats, moreish modern meals, and scrumptious desserts, Mary serves up incredible eats proving every day and special occasions can be vege-licious.

“I’m honored to be launching my new show on Discovery’s amazing new streaming service. With the help of a few friends, I want to show that meat free eating can be varied, delicious and accessible to everyone,” said Mary McCartney. “The recipes are simple, easy and rewarding. I can’t wait for you to be able to join me and my super talented guests for food and fun.”

It’s good food and great company on every episode, from Maple Vodka Grilled Peaches with Kate Hudson, Meatless Marinara Sub Sandwiches with Mark Ronson, and Deluxe Hash Brown Skillet piled high with spicy beans and delicious fixings for brunch with Cameron Diaz and Nicole Richie. But no brunch is complete without a cocktail, so the ladies show Mary their special take on a spritzer. Plus, Liv Tyler is Mary’s official nachos taste tester, and Dave Grohl teaches Mary the secret to his legendary lasagna, while she makes Smokey Dogs and a chef’s salad with homemade dressing to round out the meal. Mary also arranges a food delivery for a virtual party with Gayle King, who famously doesn’t cook, filled with Sticky Crispy Cauliflower Bites, Pea & Mint Dip, and Roasted Tomato & Butterbean Toasts. Together they mix up a delicious mocktail, to toast to their friendship and to sharing a delicious meal.

“Mary McCartney serves up a passion for cooking, a unique culinary perspective showcased with every mouthwatering meal, and a love for connecting with friends over good food which is at the core of every episode,” said Courtney White, President, Food Network.

Mary McCartney is a British photographer, filmmaker and cookbook author and advocate of vegetarianism as part of sustainable plant-based living. Her cookbooks include “Food: Vegetarian Home Cooking,” in which she offers easy, family-friendly meat-free dishes that will appeal to everyone, as well as “At My Table: Vegetarian Feasts for Family and Friends,” offering more than 75 recipes, with recollections of specific celebrations, gatherings, and family highlights through the years. She is also a co-founder of Meat Free Monday, a not-for-profit organization that campaigns for sustainable, meat-free living.

“Mary McCartney brings her passion for food to Discovery+ at the perfect time to offer our global audience ideas for cooking delicious meals for their families,” said Lisa Holme, Group SVP Content and Commercial Strategy Discovery+.

Follow #MaryMcCartneyServesItUp for even more of Mary’s tried-and-true recipes that are perfect for special occasions and everyday dinners alike, as well as behind-the-scenes videos of Mary and her celebrity guests. Fans can visit www.discoveryplus.com, and follow along on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more.

Discovery+ is the definitive non-fiction, real life subscription streaming service. The new service will launch with a landmark partnership with Verizon that gives their customers with select plans 12 months of Discovery+ on Verizon. At launch in the U.S., Discovery+ will have the largest-ever content offering of any new streaming service, featuring a wide range of exclusive, original series across popular, passion verticals in which Discovery brands have a leadership position, 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. Discovery+ will offer more than 55,000 episodes all in one place, with over 2,500 current and classic shows from Discovery’s iconic portfolio of networks, including HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet. For more about Discovery+, click here.

###

About Discovery:

Discovery, Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is a global leader in real life entertainment, serving a passionate audience of superfans around the world with content that inspires, informs and entertains. Discovery delivers over 8,000 hours of original programming each year and has category leadership across deeply loved content genres around the world. Available in 220 countries and territories and nearly 50 languages, Discovery is a platform innovator, reaching viewers on all screens, including TV Everywhere products such as the GO portfolio of apps; direct-to-consumer streaming services such as discovery+, Food Network Kitchen and MotorTrend OnDemand; digital-first and social content from Group Nine Media; a landmark natural history and factual content partnership with the BBC; and a strategic alliance with PGA TOUR to create the international home of golf. Discovery’s portfolio of premium brands includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, MotorTrend, Animal Planet, Science Channel, and the forthcoming multi-platform JV with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Network, as well as OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in the U.S., Discovery Kids in Latin America, and Eurosport, the leading provider of locally relevant, premium sports and Home of the Olympic Games across Europe. For more information, please visit corporate.discovery.com and follow @DiscoveryIncTV across social platforms.

Discovery+ launches in U.S.; new platforms added

The following is a press release from Discovery+:

Discovery+, the definitive non-fiction, real-life subscription streaming service from Discovery, Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK), is now live in the U.S. as the company announced major new distribution agreements that will make the product one of the most widely distributed streaming services at launch. Discovery+ is available on the following platforms and devices:

· Amazon Fire TV streaming devices, Fire TV Edition smart TVs and coming later to Prime Video Channels

· iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV, and the app is fully integrated with the Apple TV app

· Google devices and platforms including Android(TM) phones and tablets, Chromecast with Google TV(TM) and other Android TV(TM) OS devices, and Google Chromecast(TM) and Chromecast built-in(TM) devices

· Microsoft Xbox One and Series S/X devices

· The Roku(R) platform

· 2017 and newer Samsung Smart TVs

In addition to previously announced Discovery+ partnerships with Verizon in the U.S. and Sky in the U.K. and Ireland, it was announced today that Discovery and Vodafone have signed a new long-term, multi-platform agreement that includes a collaboration to make discovery+ available to existing Vodafone TV and mobile customers in 12 markets across Europe. The multi-year deal, which covers Vodafone’s subscriber bases in the UK*, Germany, Turkey*, Italy, Spain, Romania, Portugal, Greece, Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland and Iceland, gives Discovery access to 100M Vodafone homes to which discovery+ can be made available for a promotional period that will vary by market.

David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery, Inc., commented:

“As we go live with Discovery+ today in the U.S., we are thrilled to be working with best-in-class partners to make it available everywhere our fans are. Our ambition is simple: bring consumers the definitive and most complete destination for real life entertainment at a price point that makes this the perfect companion for every household’s streaming and TV portfolio. There is nothing like it in the market today. We launch with significant advantages, including the world’s greatest collection of non-fiction brands and content, built over more than 30 years across popular and enduring verticals, as well as powerful partnerships with leading distributors and platforms.”

Discovery+ brings to market the most comprehensive collection of real-life programming available anywhere and the largest-ever content offering of any new streaming service. Discovery+ features more than 55,000 episodes of current and classic shows from Discovery’s iconic portfolio of networks, including HGTV, Food Network, TLC, ID, OWN, Travel Channel, Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and the forthcoming Magnolia Network. The service also offers top non-fiction content from A&E, The History Channel and Lifetime, as well as the definitive offering of nature and environmental programming, headlined by exclusive streaming access to the largest collection of natural history from the BBC.

Discovery+ also features more than 50 original titles and over 150 hours of exclusive content at launch, with 1,000 hours of original content in its first year across fan-favorite, real-life genres. Starting today, viewers in the U.S. have access to new series from iconic franchises and personalities such as Chip and Joanna Gaines; 90 Day Fiancé; Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis; Amy Schumer; David Schwimmer; Sir David Attenborough; Ben Napier; Joe Kenda; Mike Rowe; and many others. For the list of original titles available to stream today, click here.

Verizon Partnership

Under a landmark partnership between Discovery and Verizon announced last month, new and existing Verizon wireless customers with a Play More or Get More Unlimited plan will get 12 months of Discovery+ on Verizon*; customers with Start or Do More Unlimited plans will receive six months of streaming on Verizon. New customers who sign up for Verizon 5G Home Internet or Fios Gigabit Connection can receive 12 months of Discovery+ on Verizon; new Fios customers may also be eligible for three to six months depending on their plan*. The offer adds access to thousands of hours of valuable premium video and a leading industry partner to the nation’s most-awarded network.

Discovery+ Features

Discovery+ will make it easy for subscribers to browse the largest offering of real life content anywhere with world class features to create one of the best streaming experiences:

· The “For You” section will always feature shows that are most relevant to the subscriber and provides immediate access to series and shows from across the entire content library; their favorite networks; and interactive hero images on connected TV’s, without ever leaving the home screen.

· For the first time, Discovery+ combines the most loved brands in entertainment and makes it easy for subscribers to explore each one with customized “Brand Hubs” that feature the best series, shows and episodes.

· The Discovery+ navigation is designed to allow subscribers to dive deep into “Top Genres” including lifestyle, home, food, true crime, adventure, relationships, nature and animals, science and tech, natural history, paranormal and more. Subscribers can easily search across passion verticals and scroll through an abundance of choices.

· The Discovery+ “Browse” and “Search” experiences are among its most powerful features. Subscribers can quickly and easily find what they want to watch and take a deep dive into a vast array of content that is instantly filtered by new, trending and timely topics.

· Finally, Discovery’s favorite personalities, like Joe Kenda, Randy Fenoli and Ben and Erin Napier, will provide curated, custom “Collections” that feature their favorite discovery+ shows and personal stories.

Launch Sponsors

Newly announced Discovery+ launch sponsors include La-Z-Boy, Aflac, Campbell’s, Subaru of America, Inc. and Ace Hardware. They join the streaming service’s inaugural advertisers Boston Beer Company, Kraft Heinz, Lowe’s and Toyota. The unique, incremental reach offered by Discovery+, along with lighter ad loads, a younger demographic and data-driven cross-platform capabilities, has been enthusiastically received by the marketplace.

Pricing

Discovery+ is available in the U.S. starting at $4.99 per month, with an ad-free version available for $6.99 per month. Each account will include up to five user profiles and four concurrent streams, among the most offered in the streaming video category.

Global Rollout

Internationally, Discovery is leveraging its massive library of local-language content, as well as its broad portfolio of live sports, to drive its direct-to-consumer offering across more than 25 key markets in 2021, including the Nordics, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain. Discovery+ will also launch in Latin American markets, including a planned launch in Brazil, and in parts of Asia.

In the European markets launching in 2021, Discovery+ will be supported by Eurosport’s unrivaled, premium and locally-relevant multi-sport offering, which includes the tennis Grand Slams, cycling Grand Tours, motorsport, football and winter sports. Beginning with the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year, it will become the streaming Home of the Olympics* in Europe with access to every minute, every medal, and every hero live and on demand.

About Discovery:

Discovery, Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is a global leader in real life entertainment, serving a passionate audience of superfans around the world with content that inspires, informs and entertains. Discovery delivers over 8,000 hours of original programming each year and has category leadership across deeply loved content genres around the world. Available in 220 countries and territories and nearly 50 languages, Discovery is a platform innovator, reaching viewers on all screens, including TV Everywhere products such as the GO portfolio of apps; direct-to-consumer streaming services such as discovery+, Food Network Kitchen and MotorTrend OnDemand; digital-first and social content from Group Nine Media; a landmark natural history and factual content partnership with the BBC; and a strategic alliance with PGA TOUR to create the international home of golf. Discovery’s portfolio of premium brands includes Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery, Travel Channel, MotorTrend, Animal Planet, Science Channel, and the forthcoming multi-platform JV with Chip and Joanna Gaines, Magnolia Network, as well as OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network in the U.S., Discovery Kids in Latin America, and Eurosport, the leading provider of locally relevant, premium sports and Home of the Olympic Games across Europe. For more information, please visit corporate.discovery.com and follow @DiscoveryIncTV across social platforms.

About Discovery+:

Discovery+ is the definitive non-fiction, real-life subscription streaming service. Discovery+ will launch with a landmark partnership with Verizon that gives their customers with select plans up to 12 months of Discovery+ on Verizon. At launch in the United States, Discovery+ will have the largest-ever content offering of any new streaming service, featuring a wide range of exclusive, original series across popular, passion verticals in which Discovery brands have a strong leadership position, 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.

*Android, Android TV, Google Chromecast, Chromecast built-in and other marks are trademarks of Google LLC.

*Roku is a registered trademark of Roku, Inc. in the U.S. and in other countries. Trade names, trademarks and service marks of other companies appearing in this press release are the property of their respective holders.

*Restrictions apply. See verizon.com/discoveryplus for terms and conditions.

*Discovery+ will only be available to Vodafone mobile customers in the UK and Turkey.

*Olympic rights exclude Russia. Eurosport will be an Official Broadcaster in France and the UK for Tokyo 2020.

Review: ‘Run’ (2020), starring Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen

January 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kiera Allen and Sarah Paulson in “Run” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Hulu)

“Run” (2020)

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty 

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Pasco, Washington, the dramatic thriller “Run” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A wheelchair-bound teenager finds out that her overprotective mother might not have her best interests at heart.

Culture Audience: “Run” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories about mother-daughter relationships that have serious conflicts.

Sarah Paulson and Kiera Allen in “Run” (Photo by Allen Fraser/Hulu)

The well-acted and taut thriller “Run” explores a very well-worn concept—a mother and a teenage daughter have a power struggle and become increasingly alienated from each other—and still manages to make it a captivating and enthralling story. Some of the movie’s plot twists and reveals are more predictable than others. However, the filmmakers seem very aware of the specific target audience for this type of movie and deliver the suspenseful moments that this audience expects.

“Run” is the second feature film directed by Aneesh Changaty, who made his feature-film directorial debut with the critically acclaimed 2018 thriller “Searching,” another intriguing movie about a relationship between a single parent and the parent’s only child, who is a teenage daughter. In “Searching,” a widowed father is on a desperate hunt to find his missing teenage daughter. In “Run,” the source of the tension is because the parent of the teenage daughter is clinging too much to her child.

The beginning of “Run” (which was written by Changaty and Sev Ohanian) shows a distraught mother in a hospital. She has just given birth to a premature baby, who is unhealthy enough that doctors are seen trying to resuscitate the child on an operating table. The mother is taken by wheelchair to see her newborn daughter in an incubator, where the baby is breathing through an oxygen tube.

A list of ailments is then listed on screen: arrhythmia (a heart problem); hemochromatosis (a bloodstream problem); asthma (a breathing problem); and paralysis (a muscle problem). And then, the story fast-forwards 17 years later to Pasco, Washington (a city about 226 miles east of Seattle), where single mother Diane Sherman (played by Sarah Paulson) and her 17-year-old daughter Chloe (played by Kiera Allen) live. Diane is the mother who was shown fretting over her sick baby in the movie’s opening scene.

Diane now belongs to a support group for parents of special-needs children. During a group meeting, she expresses some trepidation but also excitement about Chloe going to college and doing things that Diane hasn’t been able to do since Diane became a mother—partying and having fun. Diane mentions that Chloe (who is home-schooled) has applied to several colleges, and they’re waiting to find out which schools have accepted her.

At home in Diane and Chloe’s two-story house, it’s revealed that Chloe’s is a paraplegic in a wheelchair who is on numerous medications for her health problems. Chloe also has a very claustrophobic existence, because her mother controls every aspect of Chloe’s life. Chloe has no friends, and the only person she’s in contact with on a regular basis is her mother, who won’t allow Chloe to have a phone.

There’s no television or radio in the Sherman household. When Diane isn’t home, Chloe is locked inside the house. When Chloe goes outside, her mother always accompanies her. Diane never talks about Chloe’s father.

Diane doesn’t have a job other than taking care of Chloe, and so viewers can presume that Diane lives off of government assistance that’s provided for parents of kids with special needs. One day, Chloe discovers something very strange when she looks in a bag of groceries that her mother left in the kitchen. In the bag is a prescription bottle of pills that Chloe has been taking, but the bottle actually has Diane’s name on the bottle label.

When Chloe mentions this discrepancy to her mother, Diane gives the excuse that what Chloe saw was a receipt with Diane’s name, and the receipt was taped to the bottle. Observant viewers will immediately know that Diane is lying because what Chloe saw was clearly a label on the prescription bottle, not a taped receipt. The green and white pills in the bottle are supposed to be Trigoxin. It’s a fictional drug fabricated for this movie, but Trigoxin and its effects are very similar to the real-life drug Digoxin, which is heart medicine.

About 70% of “Run” has spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review. But it’s enough to say that when Chloe tries to go on the Internet to get more details on Trigoxin, she finds out that the house computer has no Internet service. This sets off a chain of events where Chloe begins to suspect Diane of having secrets and ulterior motives. Meanwhile, Diane becomes increasingly controlling of Chloe.

People who are fans of Paulson’s work in the anthology TV series “American Horror Story” already know how well she can portray characters who seem harmless on the outside but might have very dark and disturbing secrets on the inside. It’s pretty obvious from the trailer for “Run” that Diane is going to end up being the villain of the story. The big mystery is: “What is Diane hiding and what’s going to happen to Chloe?”

Allen makes an impressive feature-film debut as the innocent and sheltered Chloe, who is book smart but definitely naïve compared to other typical 17-year-olds. However, Chloe has to grow up fast when reality starts to sink in that she might not be safe in her own home with her mother. The role of Chloe is physically and emotionally challenging, but Allen is able to convey acting range in all the right places to make a very believable and sympathetic heroine.

“Run” has plenty of mystery and suspense, but there are a few minor inconsistencies in the movie’s plot and characterizations. Chloe is obviously a smart and inquisitive child, so it seems a little strange that it took her so long to find out some of the secrets that she finds out in the movie. Chloe might be someone who spent almost all of her life passively following her mother’s orders, but it’s a little hard to believe that Chloe never thought about snooping around the house while her mother was away, until Chloe began to have suspicions about Diane because of the prescription discrepancy.

For example, even though the movie doesn’t reveal what Diane told Chloe about Chloe’s father, it’s hard to imagine that Chloe wouldn’t be curious enough to find out details about her father that Diane wouldn’t tell her. This curiosity would lead to Chloe looking for information around the house a lot sooner than she does in this story. There’s also another scene in a hospital that’s a tad far-fetched in how hospitals operate, in terms of hospital security.

These flaws don’t take away from the overall plot of “Run.” It’s definitely a movie for fans of “women in peril” stories. However, “Run” doesn’t come across as a generic TV-movie of the week, because the film has some artsy cinematography (by Hillary Spera) and better-than-average performances by the stars of the movie. (Lionsgate was going to release “Run” in cinemas, but then sold the movie to Hulu.) “Run” isn’t a masterpiece, and the movie has some ideas that are recycled from other films, but it’s a satisfying thriller for anyone intrigued by stories about one family member pitted against another.

Hulu premiered “Run” on November 20, 2020.