HBO Max debuts streetwear fashion competition series ‘The Hype’

July 21, 2021

Marni Senofonte, Offset, and Bephie Burkett of “The Hype” (Photo courtesy of HBO Max)

The following is a press release from HBO Max:

HBO Max has released the trailer and key art for “The Hype,” a streetwear competition series debuting Thursday, August 12, 2021, where fashion visionaries elevate their designs and entrepreneurial sense to avoid elimination while remaining authentic to their style. Produced by the Emmy®-winning team at Scout Productions, Speedy Morman hosts the eight-episode season, which will feature co-signers, including Grammy nominated recording artist and designer, Offset; creative director and founder of Bephies Beauty Supply,  Bephie Birkett; and Emmy® nominated costume designer and renowned stylist, Marni Senofonte. The panel of judges will critique the competing streetwear’s unique DNA, combining fashion, music, art and lifestyle to refine the idea of a “runway” and the balance between art and commerce. The series will also feature special guests including A$AP Ferg, Cardi B, Dapper Dan, and Wiz Khalifa.  

“The Hype” is produced by Scout Productions, the team behind the Max Original ballroom competition series “Legendary” and Emmy®-winning series “Queer Eye.” Scout’s David Collins, Rob Eric and Michael Williams developed the series with Emmy® winner Rachelle Mendez (“Undercover Boss,” “Leah Remini: Scientology & the Aftermath”). Collins, Eric and Williams will also executive produce with Mendez, Jay Brown and Tyran “Ty Ty” Smith. Emmy® and Grammy®-winning producer Rikki Hughes (HBO Max’s “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air Reunion Special”) will showrun and executive produce.

Review: ‘Sweet Thing’ (2021), starring Lana Rockwell, Nico Rockwell, Jabari Watkins, Karyn Parsons, ML Josepher and Will Patton

July 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Nico Rockwell, Lana Rockwell and Jabari Watkins in “Sweet Thing” (Photo by Lasse Tolboll/Film Movement)

“Sweet Thing” (2021)

Directed by Alexandre Rockwell

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Bedford, Massachusetts, the dramatic film “Sweet Thing” features a cast of white, African American and biracial people representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A 15-year-old aspiring singer and her 11-year-old brother run away from home after a violent incident involving the boyfriend of their divorced mother. 

Culture Audience: “Sweet Thing” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in realistic dramas about adolescent angst and dysfunctional families.

ML Josepher and Nico Rockwell in “Sweet Thing” (Photo by Lasse Tolboll/Film Movement)

The dramatic film “Sweet Thing” is in black and white, but the movie aptly shows how problems of abuse, parental neglect and family dysfunction are experienced in life’s shades of gray. It’s a movie where kids grow up too fast and learn very early about harsh realities, but they try to find some kind of normalcy by fleeing into a fantasy world where they think they have total control. “Sweet Thing” takes place over less than nine months, but viewers will be left wondering how the fateful summer that’s presented in this movie will have long-term effects on these troubled kids in the future.

Written and directed by Alexandre Rockwell, the siblings at the center of “Sweet Thing” are 15-year-old Billie (played by Lana Rockwell) and 11-year-old Nico (played by Nico Rockwell), who are very close and protective of each other in their messed-up family life in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Lana and Nico Rockwell are director Alexandre Rockwell’s real-life children. Lana and Nico also starred as different characters in their father’s 2013 movie “Little Feet.” In interviews, Alexandre Rockwell has said that “Sweet Thing” is not biographical, but some elements of the movie are what he experienced in his own childhood.

Billie and Nico both have rebellious sides (they play pranks, such as putting nails in the tires of strangers’ cars), but Billie is the more responsibly minded sibling. She’s sensitive, strong-willed and intelligent. Nico has a more extroverted and talkative personality than Billie. But on the flip side, Nico is more likely than Billie to make rude comments to his peers and authority figures. Billie and Nico have an unstable home life, but their loyalty to each other is unwavering.

Billie is a poetry-loving singer and guitar player who dreams of becoming a professional music artist. When she’s having a bad day, Billie retreats into a fantasy world where her namesake Billie Holiday (played by Kelly Charpent) is taking care of her and is like a fairy godmother to her. In one of these fantasy visions (which is one of the movie’s rare scenes that’s in color), Billie Holiday comforts Billie by combing Billie’s hair.

It’s easy to see why Billie would want to escape into these fantasies, because life isn’t going so well for Billie and Nico. Their bickering parents are divorced. Billie and Nico’s father Adam (played by Will Patton), who has custody of the kids, is an alcoholic who gets cranky and impatient when he’s drunk, which seems to be every day. Billie is really the mature “parent” in the household, because she often has to help Adam to his bed when he’s drunk and it’s time for him to go to sleep.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s around the Christmas holiday season. Adam is dressed as Santa Claus. And he’s drunk, as usual. And you know what that means: He’s probably going to ruin his children’s Christmas with his alcoholic ways.

Meanwhile, a teen named Darla (played by Naejaliesh Pierre) has a crush on Nico. Billie likes to tease Nico about it. When Darla shows up at the family home to look for Nico so that she can give him a Christmas present, Nico pretends that he isn’t home, much to Billie’s amusement.

Billie has gotten a Christmas gift that she absolutely loves: an acoustic guitar. But when an angry alcoholic is in the household, it’s only a matter of time before something bad will happen to that guitar. Nico and Billie’s Christmas is about to go downhill for another reason: They’re going to see their mother Eve (played by Karyn Parsons), who’s in and out of the children’s lives and doesn’t seem to want custody of them. (In real life, Parsons is married to director Alexandre Rockwell and is the mother of Lana and Nico Rockwell.)

Adam brings Billie and Nico to a parking lot so that the kids can meet up with Eve. She introduces them to her new live-in boyfriend Beaux (played by ML Josepher), who seems to be a shady “ne’er do well” type. Eve isn’t much better, since viewers will see that she’s very flaky, although she does make a few attempts to be a good mother. While Billie and Nico are waiting in the car, Adam gets into a physical tussle with Beaux. Needless to say, the rest of the short time that the kids have with Eve that day is filled with tension.

When Adam takes the kids home, he’s in a very foul mood. Adam suddenly decides that he wants to give Billie a haircut, but Billie doesn’t want him to do it. Billie and Adam start arguing, Adam flies into a rage, and he locks Billie and Nico in the bathroom and accidentally breaks Billie’s new guitar.

Adam forces Billie to get a haircut from him, as he says sternly, “Think of it as a Christmas trim.” After this ordeal is over, Billie sees that Nico has cut his own hair, as a way to show solidarity to his sister. Nico says to Billie, “I did it for you. I didn’t want you to be alone. Daddy didn’t mean it. He’s just sad. I promise.”

Adam will have even more reason to be “sad,” because he’s arrested for a crime he committed outside the home, and he’s sent to court-ordered rehab. And so, Nico and Billie reluctantly have to live with Eve and Beaux at Eve’s summer house by the beach. It’s never really made clear what Eve and Beaux do for a living, but they spend their days drinking heavily. Eve and Beaux also like to sun themselves on the beach a lot.

For the most part, Eve and Beaux let Nico and Billie spend a lot of unsupervised time together. Beaux even takes some time alone with Nico to teach him how to fish. However, Beaux soon shows that he’s a very nasty person.

Beaux becomes abusive to Eve, Nico and Billie. He’s the type of mean drunk who yells and gets physically aggressive. For example, Beaux orders Nico to get him a beer, and slaps Nico when Nico replies, “Get it yourself.” Beaux then flings whipped cream on Eve, Billie and Nico. Eve doesn’t do anything to defend herself and her children. In fact, she blames the kids when Beaux takes out his anger on them.

Things get even more disturbing when one day, Nico tells Billie that Beaux sexually molested him. A horrified Billie tells Eve, who doesn’t believe her and ends up slapping Billie. The tension in the household escalates into a violent incident that won’t be described here, but it’s enough to say that it causes Nico and Billie to run away.

Most of “Sweet Thing” shows what happens during Billie and Nico’s experiences as runaways. On the beach, they meet a skateboarding, runaway teen named Malik (played by Jabari Watkins), who’s about the same age as Billie. Malik, who also comes from a troubled family, becomes fast friends with Billie and Nico. In many ways, Malik is even more rebellious than Billie and Nico, and he’s usually the one who comes up with the ideas for any mischief making.

“Sweet Thing” is a minimalistic independent drama that shows the ripple effects of growing up in a very damaged family. Viewers will only see less than a year in the lives of Nico and Billie, but it’s a snapshot of how a traumatic cycle of abuse can be passed down to a family’s next generation. Questions that will be raised that the movie can’t answer are: “How it will all affect Nico and Billie as adults? Will they be able to stop the cycle of abuse when they’re old enough to not be under parental supervision?”

And although it would be easy to say that Nico and Billie’s parents should lose custody, and the kids should be put in foster care, the harrowing reality is that many kids (but not all) in foster care experience even more abuse. There’s some melodrama toward the end of the film, but it doesn’t come across as overly contrived. (Van Morrison’s song “Sweet Thing” is used in the movie in an effective way.)

“Sweet Thing” doesn’t glorify or glamorize the experience of being a runaway, because Nico, Billie and Malik are still “trapped” by fear and paranoia of getting caught. Their “freedom” is just an illusion and comes at a heavy price. Alexandre Rockwell’s unpretentious direction of “Sweet Thing” is very much like what you would expect of a low-budget drama where the acting is naturalistic and doesn’t look over-rehearsed. And although the adult actors have their compelling moments, the children are really the heart and soul of the movie.

Film Movement released “Sweet Thing” in New York City and in U.S. virtual cinemas on June 18, 2021.

Review: ‘Love Type D,’ starring Maeve Dermody and Oliver Farnworth

July 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Oliver Farnworth and Maeve Dermody in “Love Type D” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Love Type D”

Directed by Sasha Collington

Culture Representation: Taking place in London, the romantic comedy “Love Type D” features a predominantly white cast (with a few black people and people of Indian heritage) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s gets dumped by her boyfriend, finds out that it’s in her DNA to get dumped, and she tries to reverse this DNA gene by getting all of her ex-boyfriends to fall for her again, so that she can dump them. 

Culture Audience: “Love Type D” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching silly and convoluted romantic comedies.

Maeve Dermody, Rory Stroud and Samuel Jones in “Love Type D” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Someone should’ve told the filmmakers of “Love Type D” that it’s neither funny nor cute to do a romantic comedy about a woman who spends most of the movie stalking an ex-boyfriend who dumped her. It’s pathetic. Why is she stalking him? Because she wants to make him fall back in love with her, just so she can break up with him.

Why does she want to do go to all this trouble? Because she wants to reverse a DNA gene that makes her pre-disposed to get rejected in life. Does this make any sense or sound like it’s any fun to watch? No. It’s meant to be a high absurdist concept for the movie, but it’s filmed in a very lowbrow and clumsy way.

“Love Type D” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Sasha Collington. Everything about this movie screams “first-time director.” Although viewers can certainly appreciate the efforts of the movie’s cast members to be as charming as possible, the actors are stuck in an appalling mess of a movie where the concept is flimsy, the “desperate bachelorette” trope is outdated, and the comedic timing is awkward.

If you want to waste your time watching this treacly drivel, here’s a summary of what to expect: Frankie (played by Maeve Dermody) works at a very boring office job at an instruction manual company in London. Her birth year is 1993, which means that she’s in her late 20s when this story takes place. Remember that she’s in this age bracket when Frankie acts like a petulant, delusional and immature teenager for most of the movie.

In the beginning of the story, Frankie thinks that her life is going very well. She’s madly in love (the operative word here is “madly”) with her good-looking boyfriend Thomas (played by Oliver Farnworth), who’s about the same age as Frankie, maybe a few years older, and definitely more emotionally mature than Frankie. Thomas’ occupation isn’t stated in the movie.

In the movie’s opening scene, Frankie says in a voiceover, and it’s shown in a flashback, that she met Thomas a year ago on the Piccadilly subway line while she was getting dumped by someone else. Thomas was kind and sympathetic when he witnessed this breakup. Thomas and Frankie started talking to each other, one thing led to another, and they’ve been dating each other ever since. As far as Frankie is concerned, Thomas is “the one.”

While Frankie is reminiscing about her “meet cute” moment with Thomas and how “sweet” he is, she’s waiting for him at a restaurant for what she’s sure will be a romantic lunch date with Thomas. Instead, a bespectacled 11-year-old boy in a school uniform approaches Frankie because he has a message from Thomas to deliver to her. The boy introduces himself as Thomas’ brother Wilbur (played by Rory Stroud), and the message from Thomas is that Thomas is breaking up with Frankie, effective immediately.

Frankie is in shock and can’t believe that Thomas didn’t have the courtesy to break up with her himself in person. She’s in such denial that she tries to find Thomas to see if this breakup is some kind of joke. When she goes to Thomas’ apartment and places where he’s known to hang out, she can’t find him. More likely, he’s doing a very good job of hiding from her.

On the same day she got dumped, Frankie randomly sees Wilbur buying a bouquet of flowers on the street and chases after him like a crazy person. She essentially grabs this innocent boy and demands Wilbur to tell her where Thomas is. Wilbur says that he doesn’t know. In the ruckus, Wilbur has dropped a small greeting card (presumably to go with the flower bouquet) that has a message in Thomas’ handwriting. Frankie immediately picks up the card and reads it.

The greeting card is addressed to someone named Cecilia, and the message says that Thomas can’t wait to see Cecilia that night at a nightclub called Opal 8. Frankie forces Wilbur to tell her who Cecilia is, and Wilbur says that Cecilia is Thomas’ new girlfriend, whom Thomas met four days ago. (That was fast.) Cecilia (played by Alexandra Evans) is also an astronaut, just to make it clear to viewers that Cecilia is much smarter and more accomplished than Frankie will ever be. Guess who’s going to Opal 8 to spy on Thomas?

At the nightclub, Frankie sees Thomas and Cecilia together and acting like a very amorous couple. Frankie confronts Thomas and asks why he dumped her and berates him for sending Wilbur to do Thomas’ dirty work. Thomas’ response is to give her the old “it’s not you, it’s me” breakup excuse. He also tells Frankie that it was nice knowing her, but that she needs to stop stalking him. It soon becomes very obvious why he no longer wants anything to do with her: Frankie is scary-level obsessive.

Frankie spends most of the movie pining over Thomas and stalking him over the phone, on social media and in person. Thomas gets increasingly irritated with her intrusiveness. Thomas eventually gets a restraining order against Frankie, but it doesn’t stop her. There’s no one in Frankie’s life to tell her, “Yes, Frankie, you really have been dumped in an embarrassing way. Scrape together whatever dignity you have left and leave him alone.”

So why does she want him back after being treated so disrespectfully by Thomas, and he’s moved on to someone new? It’s one of the fundamental failures of this movie. A romantic comedy is supposed to have a protagonist whom audiences should be rooting for, not a protagonist who is such an insufferable obsessive that most viewers can’t relate to this person.

The fateful day when Wilbur told Frankie the news that Thomas was breaking up with her, Wilbur commented to Frankie that there are two kinds of people in this world: dumpers and dumpees. Considering that all of Frankie’s ex-boyfriends broke up with her, she knows she’s in the “dumpee” category. The next day at her job, while she’s wallowing in self-pity, Frankie takes an informal survey of her office co-workers to find out which ones are “dumpers” and “dumpees.”

She gets reactions that range from “dumpers” bragging that they’ve never been dumped to “dumpees” who are embarrassed or confused over why she’s asking them such personal information. Eventually, she identifies five other unlucky-in-love co-workers who are “dumpees”: Andy (played by Philip Duguid-McQuillan), Debra (played by Elin Phillips), Deepak (played by Asif Khan), Jenny (played by Ruth Bratt) and Kevin (played by Emeka Sesay).

None of these co-workers is in the movie long enough for viewers to get a sense of who they really are. Debra seems to be Frankie’s closest thing to having a friend at work. Debra takes a liking to the newly hired office intern John (played by William Joseph Firth), and they hook up with each other. But since Debra is a “dumpee,” things will not end well for her. Frankie is sympathetic to Debra because Frankie has plenty of experience being dumped.

Not long after Thomas broke up with her, Frankie has another encounter with Wilbur, who is with a classmate named Barnaby (played by Samuel Jones), another school-uniform-wearing boy who is essentially Wilbur’s sidekick for the rest of the movie. This time, Frankie sees Wilbur and Barnaby at a convenience store. Wilbur tells her about a company called Epigenica that is conducting a scientific study to prove that people have a DNA gene that determines if they will be a “dumper” or “dumpee.”

Frankie doesn’t believe it at first, until Barnaby shows her the study results in a Scientist Today magazine that he happens to have with him. By reading the article, Frankie finds out that the Epigenica scientist in charge of the study is named Dr. Elsa Blomgren (played by Tovah Feldshuh), who has developed a test (which looks lot like a home pregnancy test) where people find out if they are a “dumper” or “dumpee.” People who test positive for the Type D gene are “dumpees.”

And you know that that means: Frankie wants to take that test to find out for sure if she’s got the Type D gene. More time is wasted in the movie as Frankie schemes for a way to get the test, which is not available for sale to the public yet. She finds out that people who attend a seminar retreat led by Dr. Blomgren can get tested for the Type D gene. But Frankie doesn’t get far with this plan, because her credit card is declined when she’s at the retreat, so she’s asked to leave.

Frankie’s next scheme is to pretend to be a Scientist Today journalist doing an article on Dr. Blomgren’s study. She calls up Dr. Blomgren’s office and asks for a free sample of the test. Eventually, Frankie gets enough free samples so that her other “dumpee” co-workers can take the test too. Not surprisingly, they all test positive for the Type D gene.

Frankie feels relieved that being a “dumpee” is genetic. In other words, she uses it as an excuse to not take responsibility for anything she might have done to get dumped. But now, she wants a way to “reverse” this gene. Wilbur has a theory that the gene is triggered by the first romance someone has. If someone’s first romance ended with that person being dumped, then that person will be a “dumpee” for life.

And so, Frankie decides she’s going to go further down this rabbit hole of ridiculousness by thinking that the Type D gene can be reversed if she follows this plan: Find all of her ex-boyfriends, starting with her first ex-boyfriend, get them to fall in love with her, and then dump them, so she can become a “dumper.” Mind you, it’s only supposed to work if she does this in the chronological order of each ex-boyfriend that she had.

Meanwhile, because this movie thinks this crazy plan isn’t enough to tangle up the plot, Frankie has encouraged all of her “dumpee” co-workers to do the same things for their exes, so that they too can get their Type D genes reversed. And there’s some nonsense about luring all of these exes into one big room on the same night to get it all over with in one fell swoop.

How do they lure all these people into the same room on the same night? By giving them a fake notice that they’ve won sweepstakes prize money. Not surprisingly, Thomas is the most difficult of Frankie’s ex-boyfriends to lure into her trap. And so, more time-wasting shenanigans occur.

Frankie shames Wilbur for agreeing to be Thomas’ messenger for the breakup, thereby making Wilbur feel so guilty, that he’s pressured into helping Frankie with her schemes. How much of a loser do you have to be to force an 11-year-old child to help fix your love life? The movie has gone so far off the deep end at this point, that it’s sunk into an unending abyss of berserk stupidity, which is about the same way that anyone can describe Frankie’s mind.

There are plenty of cringeworthy moments in the movie, including Frankie’s attempts to make Thomas jealous. Wilbur sets her up on a blind date with a nerdy scientist bachelor named Roland (played Dan Starkey), but Frankie is irritated because Roland is not the hunk that she thought he would be. Considering that Frankie is the worst type of desperate bachelorette, and she’s gotten dumped by every boyfriend she’s ever had, she’s got some nerve being so picky. And because every bad romantic comedy seems to have a karaoke scene, “Love Type D” has that cliché too. The karaoke scene is abysmal.

As terrible as “Love Type D” is, it’s not a complete train wreck. The character of Wilbur is adorable and quite patient to put up with a disaster like Frankie. Some of Frankie’s “dumpee” co-workers seem like nice, decent people. And there are moments when Farnworth can bring much empathy to his Thomas character, even though Thomas is supposed to be the “villain” of the story.

The problem is that a detestable character like Frankie is front and center for almost the entire movie, which has a sitcom-ish musical score that is almost as irritating as this clueless main character. Dermody’s acting doesn’t help, because she plays the Frankie role like a 16-year-old, not as a grown woman. There’s an attempt to have a “female empowerment” message at the end of the film. But it’s a very phony message, considering that viewers have already seen Frankie’s true nature. No amount of reverse-DNA experiments can reverse her annoying personality.

Vertical Entertainment released “Love Type D” on digital and VOD on July 9, 2021.

Review: ‘The God Committee,’ starring Kelsey Grammer, Julia Stiles, Janeane Garofalo, Dan Hedaya and Colman Domingo

July 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

Kelsey Grammer and Colman Domingo in “The God Committee” (Photo by Matt Sakatani Roe/Vertical Entertainment)

“The God Committee”

Directed by Austin Stark

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2014 and 2021, mostly in New York City, the dramatic film “The God Committee” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A hospital committee has a limited time to decide which patient will get a life-or-death heart transplant; years later, one of the committee members ends up being involved in a controversial heart transplant experiment. 

Culture Audience: “The God Committee” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in medical dramas about ethical dilemmas and won’t mind too much that there’s a far-fetched sci-fi aspect to the film.

Julia Stiles and Kelsey Grammer in “The God Committee” (Photo by Matt Sakatani Roe/Vertical Entertainment)

The medical drama “The God Committee” has enough gripping suspense that it didn’t need a futuristic subplot about experiments to use pig hearts in heart transplants for humans. Although this type of medical advancement could happen in an unknown future, it’s a part of the movie that’s an unnecessary distraction from the real story: the debates and dealings that go on behind the scenes when medical committees decide which people deserve organ transplants the most.

Austin Stark directed and wrote the screenplay for “The God Committee,” which is based on Mark. St. Germain’s play of the same name. Stark does an admirable job of making this story as cinematic as possible, with numerous realistic set pieces and compelling cinematography by Matt Sakatani Roe. There’s nothing in this movie that looks like a theater stage at all.

“The God Committee,” which is set mostly in New York City, jumps back and forth in time between two years: 2014 and 2021. The movie opens in Buffalo, New York, in 2014, when 18-year-old Eli Gurny (played by Daniel Taveras) is shown being accidentally hit and killed by a car while riding his bicycle on the street. He was a healthy organ donor, and his heart has been made available in November 2014 to an unnamed hospital in New York City.

Dr. Andre Boxer (played by Kelsey Grammer), an influential and arrogant surgeon at the hospital, has been told that one of his patients has priority to get the heart. The patient’s name is Selena Vazquez (played by Patricia Mauceri), a widowed grandmother who desperately needs a heart transplant to stay alive. She’s already been told that she’s getting this new heart, so she’s relieved and elated.

However, Dr. Boxer has other plans for that heart, and he shares this information with his much-younger secret lover, another doctor who works at the same hospital. Her name is Dr. Jordan Taylor (played by Julia Stiles), who hasn’t been working at the hospital for very long. Dr. Taylor and Dr. Boxer, who are both unmarried, have agreed to keep their fling a secret because they don’t want it to taint their professional reputations.

The morning after Dr. Boxer and Dr. Taylor have spent the night together at his place, Dr. Boxer tells her that he’s not going to let his patient Selena Vazquez have the young, healthy donor heart that she was promised, because Dr. Boxer thinks that Selena is too old to deserve this heart. Dr. Taylor reacts with dismay and disgust, but Dr. Boxer has already made up his mind. It’s the first sign that Dr. Boxer has a “god complex,” where he knows that he has considerable power to make life-or-death decisions.

Dr. Taylor isn’t just disappointed with Dr. Boxer for this decision. She also seems to want more from the relationship than he’s willing to give her: possibly some real love or at least enough respect to act like he’s not embarrassed to be seen with her in public. When Dr. Boxer drives himself and Dr. Taylor to the hospital, he makes sure to drop off Dr. Taylor far enough away from the hospital entrance, to minimize the chance that any co-workers will see that Dr. Boxer and Dr. Taylor took the same car to work. She reacts by saying in an exasperated tone about their secret relationship: “Boxer, the only person I’m silently judging on in this—whatever this is—is myself.”

Now that Dr. Boxer has made up his mind that his patient Selena Vazquez won’t get the heart, who will get this organ transplant? Most of the movie is a riveting debate among the five people on the hospital’s organ transplant committee who will vote to make the decision. Dr. Taylor is the committtee’s newest member, who will be replacing Dr. Boxer on the committee, much to Dr. Boxer’s annoyance. He’s being replaced because he had already announced his resignation from the hospital to join the private sector.

Dr. Boxer had no say in who would replace him on the hospital’s organ transplant committee. He doesn’t hesitate to let Dr. Taylor and other colleagues know that he doesn’t think Dr. Taylor is a good choice to replace him on the committee because he doesn’t think she has enough experience as a doctor to make organ transplant decisions. Needless to say, it’s very easy to see that the fling between Dr. Taylor and Dr. Boxer isn’t going to last much longer.

Dr. Boxer won’t have long to complain about Dr. Taylor replacing him on the committee, because he will be leaving the hospital in December 2014, just one month after the committee makes the decision about who will get Eli Gurny’s donated heart. In the movie’s scenes that take place in 2021, viewers see what Dr. Boxer was doing for work after leaving the employment of the hospital: He became the lead scientist for an experiment called X-Origins, which would allow organs from different species to be transplanted into each other.

Back in November 2014, the issue of who will get Eli Gurny’s donated heart will be decided in a matter of a few hours. The five people on the organ transplant committee are:

  • Dr. Boxer, who is stubborn and the most hardline about making decisions based on science, statistics and logic, not sentiment or emotions.
  • Dr. Taylor, who is compassionate and open to take other factors into consideration besides science, statistics and logic. She also thinks ethics are essential in making her decision.
  • Dr. Valerie Gilroy (played by Janeane Garofalo), a tough-talking bureaucrat, who is well-aware of the financial problems that the hospital is facing. She’s also feeling pressure because a national medical publication recently downgraded the hospital’s rating, and she wants to bring the rating back up.
  • Nurse Wilkes (played by Patricia R. Floyd), a somewhat gossipy and very outspoken person, who is most likely to know a patient’s day-to-day actions in the hospital and the most likely to let a patient’s personality be a factor in her decision.
  • Dr. Lau (played by Peter Kim), a psychiatrist who is very analytical and is the least-talkative committee member.

A sixth member is normally part of the committee, but that person is unvailable. However, a sixth person will be sitting in, but not voting, on this committee’s deliberation over who will get Eli Gurny’s donated heart. This sixth person is Father Charlie Dunbar (played by Colman Domingo), who has been a priest for only three years. Before becoming a priest, Father Dunbar was a defense attorney for 15 years, and he was married.

Father Dunbar’s purpose for sitting in on this meeting is to provide any advice or opinions if anyone on the committee is struggling with moral or ethical issues in making their decision. He’s there because the hospital’s board of directors felt it was necessary that morality and ethics should not be overlooked when making these life-or-death decisions, in case any outside people question the committee’s decisions. Father Dunbar is available to counsel the committee members as a group and on an individual basis.

Dr. Boxer strongly believes that religion or spirituality should play no role in the committee’s medical decisions, so he thinks that Father Dunbar has no business sitting in on any of the committee’s meetings. There’s nothing Dr. Boxer can do about it though except try to ignore what Father Dunbar has to say. Dr. Boxer and Father Dunbar predictably clash during this committee deliberation.

Later, it’s revealed that Father Dunbar left the legal profession under a cloud of suspicion and scandal before he became a priest: He was disbarred in 2006 for doing something illegal that isn’t fully explained in the movie. And he avoided prison by “finding God” and cutting a deal with the district attorney. You can bet that this scandal will be brought up when the inevitable arguments happen during these committee meetings.

There are three patients at the hospital who’ve been moved to the top priority list to get the next available heart transplant. The problem is that due to a shortage of available hearts, only one can get an immediate transplant, and that person will get Eli Gurny’s heart. The other two patients will have to wait for a heart transplant for an undetermined period of time.

The three patients whose future health will be decided by this committee are:

  • Trip Granger (played by Maurizio Di Meo), a 30-year-old scion who hasn’t done much with his life but party a lot and live off of his rich father’s money. Trip is a recovering drug addict who has recently been admitted to the hospital after having a heart attack. If the toxicology reports find that his heart attack was drug-related, he will be ineligible for the heart transplant, because he’s been hospitalized before for overdosing on cocaine.
  • Walter Curtis (played by Kyle Moore), a 48-year-old married father who has a steady job, which he needs to help support his family. Those factors are to his advantage in getting the committee members to vote for him. However, what works against Walter is that he’s overweight and bipolar, which are two factors that make some of the committee members think he won’t be a good risk for the heart transplant.
  • Janet Pike (played by Georgia Buchanan), a 59-year-old wealthy widow with no children and no living relatives. To her advantage, she doesn’t have any problems with her weight or mental health. But to her disadvantage, she doesn’t have a support system of family members; a younger candidate could be considered a better option; and she has expressed resistance/hesitation in the past about getting an organ transplant.

There are more than just statistics that factor into the decision making, so there are plenty of arguments and debates on the committee. Trip’s wealthy mogul father Emmett Granger (played by Dan Hedaya), who accompanied Trip when Trip was taken to the hospital’s emergency room, has met with Dr. Gilroy privately and made a very tempting offer: He’s told her that his non-profit Granger Foundation is willing to donate $25 million to the hospital if Trip gets the heart transplant.

It’s money that the hospital desperately needs for important equipment upgrades and other improvements. Dr. Gilroy is also eager to do anything she can to boost the hospital’s industry rating, which directly impacts her career at the hospital. But what Emmett is offering is essentially a bribe. And would Trip deserve to get the heart transplant, even if no money was being offered?

Certain members of the committee are leaning toward Walter getting the transplant because he has a family to support and he seems to be the most willing to get the transplant. However, other committee members express doubts about Walter because it’s revealed that Walter attempted suicide, before he was diagnosed with being bipolar. He has responded well to his bipolar medication since then, which some people on the committee think is encouraging, while others think Walter’s past suicide attempt should disqualify him, no matter what.

The main issues that certain people on the committee have with Janet are that she’s the oldest candidate, she has no family members, she’s ambivalent about getting an organ transplant, and one of the people on the committee describes Janet as a “bitch.” This derogatory name calling gets Dr. Boxer very irritated because he thinks that the committee’s decision should not be based on which patient has the nicest personality. Although she is wealthy, Janet has not hinted that she’s willing to bribe the hospital so that she can get the transplant, and it’s unlikely that she would ever make that unethical offer.

Trip has been unconscious since he was brought to the hospital, so no one in the hospital really knows what he has to say for himself about getting a heart transplant. But someone who knows Trip very well was hospitalized at the same time as Trip was: his girlfriend Holly Matson (played by Elizabeth Masucci), who has mysterious lacerations and bruises on her body. Because Holly is awake and able to talk, Dr. Taylor has an empathetic conversation with Holly to find out if Trip was using drugs before having his heart attack and to find out why Holly is physically injured. Holly seems terrified to say how she got her injuries, but she tells Dr. Taylor some important information that could affect how the committee members will vote.

The committee’s debate over who should get the heart transplant comes with some intriguing twists and turns. Many details, including Trip’s toxicology test results, are revealed that can sway people’s decisions. And each person on the committee brings personal agendas and biases. However, not much backstory is given on these characters because the movie’s main focus is on what these characters do in 2014 and 2021.

There’s an early scene in 2014, when Dr. Taylor is talking to a hospital colleague, who knows that Dr. Taylor’s mother is a well-known plastic surgeon. When the colleague asks Dr. Taylor why she didn’t become a plastic surgeon too, Dr. Taylor says she wanted to become an organ transplant surgeon because “I watched a friend from college die, waiting for a heart [transplant].” It’s implied that this tragic personal experience influences how Dr. Taylor thinks and acts on the committee.

What’s less interesting about “The God Committee” is the time spent in the 2021 scenes on Dr. Boxer’s lab experiments for X-Origins. It’s not spoiler information to say that one of the results of these experiments is that he discovers that a pig’s heart can be successfully transplanted into a human. Considering that this type of transplant is not medically possible in 2021, it gives “The God Committee” a science fiction tone that the movie doesn’t need.

There’s a lot more that’s revealed in the 2021 scenes about what happened to Dr. Boxer and Dr. Taylor since they stopped working together at the hospital. They are both still living in New York City in 2021, so there are scenes where they cross paths again. The decision that the committee made about which patient got Eli Gurny’s donated heart has ripple effects that have continued into 2021 and beyond. There’s a plot development in the 2021 part of the movie that’s a little bit like a soap opera, but it would be entirely plausible in real life.

If the “God Committee” had left out all the sci-fi medical experiments, it would have been a much better movie. It could easily stand on its own as an engaging medical drama, solely based on the dilemmas faced by the committee in deciding which patient should get Eli Gurny’s donated heart. Since it’s the main plot of the film and because all the principal cast members give very good performances, any other flaws of the movie are overshadowed by these assets.

No matter what scientific and technological advances there will be health care, “The God Committee” takes a fascinating and sometime disturbing look at the human foibles that are inevitable when human beings make medical decisions. Needless to say, socioeconomic factors are also directly related to what type of health care an individual receives. But the movie’s intention is to make people think more about which medical professionals get to make life-or-death decisions for organ transplants and how much power these people should really have.

Vertical Entertainment released “The God Committee” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Too Late’ (2021), starring Alyssa Limperis, Ron Lynch, Will Weldon, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Fred Armisen

July 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ron Lynch and Alyssa Limperis in “Too Late” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Too Late” (2021)

Directed by D.W. Thomas

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the horror comedy film “Too Late” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A stand-up comedy booker has a cannibal monster for a boss, and her secret job is to find comedians for him to eat. 

Culture Audience: “Too Late” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring, low-quality comedies that aren’t funny.

Alyssa Limperis and Will Weldon in “Too Late” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The only thing scary about the horror comedy “Too Late” is that people thought this painfully unfunny dud was good enough to make into a movie. The plot is ridiculous, even by lowbrow standards, and not even the presence of some fairly well-known cast members can save this awkward mess of a film. “Too Late” is the first feature film from director D.W. Thomas and writer Tom Becker, who both have extensive backgrounds as film editors. This movie is proof that having experience in one area of filmmaking doesn’t automatically make people skilled in other areas.

“Too Late” (an 80-minute movie that feel like longer because of the sluggish pacing) has a group of actors who seem to be trying their best to salvage this horrendous movie, but there’s only so much they can do when they’ve been given such cringeworthy dialogue to say. The movie is set in the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene, but there isn’t one single comedian in this movie who is genuinely funny. There’s also a tiresome runnng gag in the film where the chief villain keeps saying that comedians aren’t real people.

Unfortunately, there’s too much interruption of the main story with several cutaways to very amateurish and mediocre-to-bad stand-up comedy routines on stage, from people making cameos that have nothing to do with the main story. It’s appalling, low-quality work from “Too Late” director Thomas, who also edited this movie. As someone with a film editing background, she should know better than to have these choppy and distracting edits in the first feature film that she’s directed.

However, it’s not as if the main story of “Too Late” is all that compelling. It’s downright dumb. The gist of the main plot is that an overworked and underappreciated stand-up comedy booker/assistant named Violet Fields (played by Alyssa Limperis) has a tyrant boss named Bob Devore (played by Ron Lynch), and they both have a secret: Bob is really a cannibal monster, and Violet’s real job with him is to book stand-up comedians so that Bob can kill and eat them. He eats them whole, so their bodies aren’t found.

Violet is afraid to quit because Bob has told her that he’ll kill her if she quits. At one point in the movie, Bob ominously says to Violet, “Violet would never leave me, would you Violet? … In fact, you would probably die without me.” Bob also keeps telling Violet, as if he’s some kind of cannibal self-help guru: “Life’s too short.”

The plot of “Too Late” immediately raises questions that the movie never bothers answering. Wouldn’t it be obvious for the police to figure out that the missing stand-up comedians all worked for Bob, thereby making him a person of interest? Even though several people are murdered in the movie, there are no police investigations. And why should viewers root for Violet, who’s an accomplice to murder?

According to what’s said in the movie, she’s been working with Bob for several years, which makes Violet even more despicable for participating in and covering up these murders over such a long period of time. Violet has a housemate friend named Belinda (played by Jenny Zigrino), who keeps telling Violet that Violet should quit working for Bob, but Violet ignores this advice. Violet’s work as Bob’s assistant requires her to be at his constant beck and call. It’s taken a toll on Violet’s love life, which Belinda calls “a drought.”

Belinda comments to Violet about Bob: “He’s never going to let you go!” Violet responds, “I feel like I’m on an island. I feel like there’s a million bridges off of it, but every single one burns the second I try to leave.” You know it’s a bad comedy when the lines that are supposed to be funny aren’t funny, and the lines that are supposed to be serious might unintentionally make people laugh because they’re so cheesy.

Bob is the promoter of a stand-up comedy series called Too Late, which is held at a small theater called The Hayworth. It’s supposed to be one of the hottest comedy promotions in Los Angeles. Well, apparently not, because comedians can get murdered by Bob shortly after they’re booked to perform at Too Late. And no one in this silly movie figures it out, so people keep getting murdered.

Meanwhile, Violet books her own stand-up comedy series at a tiny coffee shop. It’s here that she meets an obnoxious aspiring stand-up comedian named Dax Hanlan (played by Billy Breed), who says he’s originally from Boston. Dax sidles up to Violet as she’s watching a comedian on stage and tries to flirt with her. Once he finds out that she’s the booker for Too Late, he tries to weasel his way into getting her to book him.

Violet is cold and dismissive when she repeatedly tells Dax that he can apply on the Too Late website. He won’t take the hint and still desperately tries to get Violet to pay attention to him. Finally, Violet tells Dax that it’s not a good idea to alienate the person who’ll decide whether or not he’ll be booked at Too Late. As she walks away, Dax mutters underneath his breath, “Stuck-up bitch.” Violet doesn’t hear him say this derogatory comment, but it’s at this point in the movie that you know that Dax is going to be an upcoming meal for Bob.

The comedians whom Violet books and sometimes hangs out with are very untalented and have shallow personalities. The worst is David Zeller (played by Jack De Sena), who’s the type of loser who throws a costume party with a mass suicide theme, so people come dressed to the party as cult members. Yes, this heinous movie tries to make mass suicides a comedic plot gimmick.

David hasn’t gotten on Violet’s bad side, so she’s decided she’s not going to feed him to Bob. Is that supposed to make her look classy? During the course of the story, Violet makes promises to some other comedians to book them for Too Late: Andy Jocelyn (played by Paul Danke), Chase Morrow (played by Brooks Wheelan) and Jimmy Rhodes (played by Will Weldon). These unskilled hacks might or not become murder victims of cannibal Bob and his cowardly assistant Violet.

Jimmy actually becomes Violet’s love interest, but their romance is so boring, it might put viewers to sleep. It isn’t until Violet starts developing feelings for Jimmy that she tries to deter him from wanting to be booked for Too Late. Violet and Jimmy have a not-so-meet-cute moment when Violet finds herself hiding in David’s bedroom closet during David’s “mass suicide” party, because David has unexpectedly gone into the room to have a sexual tryst with a female party guest. Violet doesn’t want David to know she was in his room to have some time alone, so that’s why she thinks it’s better to hide in the closet like a creep, rather than politely excuse herself and walk out of the room with some dignity.

While hiding in this closet, Violet meets Jimmy, who tells her that he’s renting the closet from David as a place to live. (As far-fetched as these living conditions might be to some people, there are many real-life examples of people who pay rent to live in a closet because it’s all they can afford, usually in big cities where the cost of living is much higher than in other places.) And what do you know, Jimmy is an aspiring stand-up comedian too. Based on the way this terrible screenplay is written, the only men Violet can meet in Los Angeles are aspiring stand-up comedians. It’s pathetic.

If anyone is wondering if Violet books any female comedians, the answer is yes, but she’s never actually shown booking any female comedians or talking to any female comedians about booking them. There’s a fairly even mix of male and female comedians shown on stage in the annoying and unfunny performance clips that are inserted throughout the movie. But apparently, Violet only chooses male comedians to be cannibal victims for Bob.

Wait, isn’t that gender discrimination in this fake feminist movie? You know it’s a fake feminist movie because the filmmakers try to make it look like when a woman wants men to be killed, it’s supposed to be “female empowerment.” Real feminism is about gender equality, not hating on men and wanting them to be murdered. This movie is so despicable.

Mary Lynn Rajskub plays experienced and jaded comic Gina Obispo, one of the Too Late comedians who does a terrible stand-up comedy routine that this movie wants viewers to think is funny. It’s a small and useless role, because all Gina does when she meets Violet for the first time is try to get Violet to admit to two things: (1) that Bob is horrible and (2) that Violet wants to become a stand-up comedian.

Throughout the movie, people keep asking Violet if she’s a stand-up comedian, even though there’s absolutely nothing that indicates that dull-as-dirt Violet has a sense of humor. Violet keeps denying that she has an interest in being a stand-up comedian. It’s all just an obvious set-up for what comes later in the movie, in some very phony pandering to feminism.

And in a disservice to this movie’s so-called “feminist” message, Violet only cares about hanging out with and mentoring male comedians, not female comedians. The only female comedian whom Violet interacts with in this movie is Gina, and it’s for less than five minutes. Gina seems like she’s been doing stand-up comedy longer than Violet has been alive. In other words, Gina doesn’t need Violet to mentor her.

Another pointless role in “Too Late” is the one played by Fred Armisen. His character in the movie is dorky Fredo Muñoz, a sound/lighting engineer at The Hayworth. The Fredo character adds nothing to the story, unless you think it’s important to watch scenes where Bob berates Fredo for not having the type of blue tint that Bob wants for the stage lighting. Someone must’ve called in a big favor to have a well-known actor like former “Saturday Night Live” star Armisen be in this cesspool movie, which is a big step down from the work that he’s capable of doing.

As for “boss from hell” Bob, the movie doesn’t bother to describe his origins on how and why he’s a cannibal. He looks human, but he can, of his own free will, transform into a monster with long nails, fangs and decrepit-looking flesh. He sleeps in a coffin, but he’s not a vampire. He keeps yapping to Violet about the “dark of the moon,” but he’s not a werewolf. The visual effects are as tacky and unconvincing as you would expect them to be in this garbage film.

The filmmakers try very hard to make Violet look like she’s some kind of heroine, but she’s not. It’s as if viewers are supposed to forget that Violet has actively participated in serial murders. The entire concept of this movie is simply awful, just like the screenwriting and direction. “Too Late” should’ve been titled “Too Little, Too Late,” because that’s an accurate description of the quality of this movie.

Gravitas Ventures released “Too Late” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 25, 2021.

2021 Cannes Film Festival: ‘Titane’ wins Palme d’Or; complete list of winners

Cannes Festival logo

July 17, 2021

The 74th annual Cannes Film Festival (which took place in Cannes, France) has announced its award winners. The event took place from July 6 to July 17, 2021, with the prize winners announced on July 17, 2021. The awards were voted for by appointed juries.

FEATURE FILMS – COMPETITION

PALME D’OR (Best Picture)

TITANE directed by Julia Ducournau

The award was presented by Sharon Stone and Spike Lee.

GRAND PRIX (tie)

GHAHREMAN (A Hero) directed by Asghar Farhadi


 HYTTI N°6 (Compartment N°6) directed by Juho Kuosmanen

The award was presented by the American director Oliver Stone.

BEST DIRECTOR

Leos Carax for ANNETTE

The award was presented by Italian actress and director Valeria Golino.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR

Caleb LANDRY JONES in NITRAM
directed by Justin Kurzel

The award was presented by French actress Adèle Exarchopoulos.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS

Renate Reinsve in VERDENS VERSTE MENNESKE (The Worst Person in the World)
directed by Joachim Trier

The award was presented by South Korean actor Lee Byung-hun.

JURY PRIZE (tie)

MEMORIA directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul


HA’BERECH (Ahed’s Knee) directed by Nadav Lapid

The award was presented by British actor Rosamund Pike.

BEST SCREENPLAY

Hamaguchi Ryusuke & Takamasa Oe for DRIVE MY CAR

The award was presented by British director and screenwriter Andrea Arnold.

UN CERTAIN REGARD

UN CERTAIN REGARD (Best Picture)

RAZZHIMAYA KULAKI (Unclenching the Fists)

directed by Kira Kovalenko

PRIZE OF ORIGINALITY

LAMB

directed by Valdimar Johannsson

COUP DE COEUR (COURAGE) AWARD

LA CIVIL

directed by Teodora Ana Mihai

JURY PRIZE

GROSSE FREIHEIT (Great Freedom)

directed by Sebastian Meise

ENSEMBLE PRIZE

BONNE MÈRE (Good Mother)

directed by Hafsia Herzi

SPECIAL MENTION

NOCHE DE FUEGO (Prayers for the Stolen)

directed by Tatiana Huezo

CAMÉRA D’OR

MURINA directed by Antoneta Alamat KUSIJANOVIĆ unveiled in the frame of LA QUINZAINE DES RÉALISATEURS

The Caméra d’or was presented by Mélanie Thierry, President of the Jury of this First Film Selection.

SHORT FILMS – COMPETITION

PALME D’OR

TIAN XIA WU YA (All the Crows in the World) directed by Tang Yi

SPECIAL DISTINCTION BY THE JURY

CÉU DE AGOSTO (August Sky) directed by Jasmin Tenucci

CINEFONDATION

FIRST PRIZE

L’ENFANT SALAMANDRE (The Salamander Child)

directed by Théo Degen Insas, Belgium

SECOND PRIZE

CICADA

directed by Yoon Daewoen, Korea National University of Arts, South Korea

THIRD PRIZE (tie)

PRIN ORAS CIRCULA SCURTE POVESTI DE DRAGOSTE (Love Stories on the Move)

directed by Carina-Gabriela Dașoveanu, UNATC “I. L. CARAGIALE”, Romania

CANTAREIRA

directed by Rodrigo Ribeyro, Academia Internacional de Cinema, Brazil

HIGHER TECHNICAL COMMISSION (CST)

CST ARTIST-TECHNICIAN PRIZE

Vladislav OPELIANTS (Russia), Chief Director of Photography, PETROV’S FLU, by Kirill Serebrenniko

CST YOUNG FILM TECHNICIAN AWARD

Armance DURIX, Head Sound Engineeer MI IUBITA, MON AMOUR, by Noémie Merlant.

Review: ‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,’ starring Anthony Bourdain

July 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Anthony Bourdain in “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” (Photo courtesy of CNN/Focus Features)

“Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”

Directed by Morgan Neville

Culture Representation: Taking place in various places around the world, the biographical documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” features a predominantly white group of people (with some Asians) discussing the life and career of celebrated food expert/TV host/writer Anthony Bourdain, an American of French-Jewish heritage who lived on America’s East Coast for his entire life.

Culture Clash: Bourdain, who committed suicide in 2018 at the age of 61, struggled with many personal demons in his life, including being a recovering alcoholic/drug addict and his battles with depression.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of Anthony Bourdain fans, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in stories about famous world travelers and stories about celebrities who struggle with mental health issues.

Anthony Bourdain in “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” (Photo courtesy of CNN/Focus Features)

What does it take for someone to be truly happy? The answer depends on the individual person. Not everyone can find true happiness, even when people have all the outward appearances of success. Award-winning TV host/food expert/writer Anthony Bourdain had fame, fortune, physical health and many people in his personal life who loved him. But in private, he struggled with finding long-term true happiness and inner peace within himself, according to the people who knew him best.

It’s one of the main takeaways of the riveting and emotionally poignant documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” which focuses on how Bourdain dealt with becoming a celebrity in his middle age. Even with all of his achievements, admiration from fans around the world, and having a great support system of loved ones, Bourdain found that all of it wasn’t enough to make him truly happy and content. All the people interviewed for this movie are either Bourdain’s family members, close friends or work colleagues, who all call him Tony.

Directed by Oscar-winning documentarian Morgan Neville, “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” is respectful but does not sugarcoat the emotional damage left behind by Bourdain’s suicide by hanging. At the age of 61, a little more than two weeks before his 62nd birthday, Bourdain killed himself on June 8, 2018, in his hotel room in Kaysersberg-Vignoble, France. Several people in the documentary share their thoughts on what they think went wrong.

But make no mistake: “Roadrunner” is mostly a celebration of Bourdain’s life, which was unpredictable, wild and filled with extreme ups and downs. The documentary (which includes a lot previously unreleased archival footage) isn’t fully biographical, because there’s not much discussion of Bourdain’s youth. Bourdain was born in New York City, on June 25, 1956, to French American father Pierre Bourdain and Jewish mother Gladys Bourdain. Anthony and his younger brother Chris Bourdain (who’s interviewed in the documentary) went to school in New Jersey. By all accounts, they had a happy childhood and loving parents.

Chris remembers, “We didn’t do a lot of traveling when we were kids because my parents were not rich.” According to Chris, the Bourdain family visited France a few times in his and Anthony’s childhood, because their father had relatives there. It was in France that Anthony first began to appreciate the art of making cuisine. Chris also says that he and Anthony were big fans of Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s “Tin Tin” graphic novels, about a globetrotting young journalist named Tin Tin who solved mysteries.

It’s also mentioned in the documentary that Anthony had a fascination since childhood with novels and movies about adventures and risky experiences in foreign countries. Joseph Conrad’s 1899 novella “Heart of Darkness” and director Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War film “Apocalypse Now” were particularly impactful on Anthony. The influence of these “danger in the jungle” stories can be seen in a lot of episodes of Anthony’s TV shows.

After high school, Anthony attended Vassar College for two years before dropping out to pursue a career as a chef. He paid his dues working as a cook in Massachusetts restaurants. Known for his acerbic wit and rebellious streak, Anthony also developed an addiction to drugs (especially cocaine and heroin), which he publicly revealed years ago when his 2000 memoir “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” was published. In several interviews in his life, Anthony said that he quit hard drugs in 1988, without ever going to rehab.

The Bourdain biography in the “Roadrunner” documentary really begins in the early 2000s, when Anthony found fame in his 40s as the best-selling author of “Kitchen Confidential.” The book detailed a lot of “dirty laundry” about what goes on behind the scenes at top restaurants, as well as Anthony’s own personal misdeeds. At the time that “Kitchen Confidential” was published, Anthony was the executive chef at Brassierie Les Halles, a French eatery in New York City’s Manhattan borough. (The restaurant went out of business in 2017.)

The “Roadrunner” documentary includes an interview with former Brassierie Les Halles owner Philippe LaJaunie, who says about the “Kitchen Confidential” book: “I didn’t know it was being written. I didn’t know it was being published.” LaJaunie also comments on what Anthony was like when he was a Brassierie Les Halles employee: “He was always behind on the rent … and living paycheck to paycheck. So, when there was this opportunity [to become rich and famous], he was ready.”

Anthony eventually quit the restaurant business to become a full-time TV host/world traveler. And just like how quickly he became a book author, Anthony didn’t spend years pursuing TV fame, because other people approached him first with this opportunity, shortly after the best-selling success of “Kitchen Confidential.” It’s mentioned in the documentary that although Bourdain was a celebrity chef, he didn’t like to cook at home until he became a father and reveled in doing stereotypical “dad” things, such as cooking for backyard barbecues.

During the rise of the #MeToo movement, Anthony expressed remorse over being a part of a restaurant culture that enabled abuse. “Kitchen Confidential” was the inspiration for the short-lived 2005 “Kitchen Confidential” comedy series, which starred Bradley Cooper and was televised in the U.S. on Fox. The “Roadrunner” documentary has a very brief clip of from this failed sitcom.

According to several people interviewed in the documentary, although Anthony had a public persona of being brash and outspoken, he was actually a very shy and romantic person in private. He also never felt completely comfortable with his celebrity status, since he didn’t plan to become a world-famous writer and TV personality. In fact, getting his first book published was an opportunity that came to him very easily because his writer friend Joel Rose happened to be married to someone who worked for Bloomsbury Publishing, which ended up publishing “Kitchen Confidential.”

As Rose tells it in the documentary, the idea for Anthony to write a book came to Rose when he showed one of Anthony’s storytelling emails to his wife Karen Rinaldi. In the “Roadrunner” documentary, Rinaldi remembers her reaction to that email: “I read it, and I was like, ‘That is fucking awesome!’ I’m going to make him an offer he basically can’t fucking refuse!” And just like that, Anthony got a book deal, without ever experiencing years of rejections from book publishers, which is what most first-time book authors experience.

One of the things that’s very noticeable about the people interviewed in “Roadrunner” is that almost all of them were in Anthony’s life for decades, which is a testament to their mutual loyalty. Throughout the documentary, an interesting editing technique is used for these longtime friends and colleagues, by showing archival footage of the interviewee (going as far back as the late 1990s or 2000s) and then fading to new interview footage that the person did for the documentary.

“Kitchen Confidential” made Anthony famous, but becoming a TV host of an international food show made him a bona fide rock star of the culinary world. He hosted several TV shows in his career, beginning with “A Cook’s Tour,” which was on the Food Network from 2002 to 2003. That was followed by two series on the Travel Channel: “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” (from 2005 to 2012) and “The Layover” (from 2011 to 2013). His last TV series was CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” which was on the air from 2013 to 2018.

Zero Point Zero production company co-founders/spouses Lydia Tenaglia and Chris Collins, who were Anthony’s creative partners for his entire TV career, talk about coming up with the idea for Anthony to star in his own TV show. Anthony, Tenaglia and Collins traveled to several countries for six weeks, beginning in December 2000, to film test footage for a possible TV pilot episode. The “Roadrunner” documentary includes some that footage.

At this point in his life, Anthony was far from being a world traveler. He had only been outside the U.S. a handful of times. As Collins describes this six-week journey: “Lydia and I had just gotten married. And then we had Tony, a guy who we barely knew. It was like three idiots trying to figure each other out.”

Tenaglia says that even though Anthony had no experience hosting a TV show at the time, he was up for the challenge. Traveling to various countries over a six-week period tapped into his adventurous side. Tenaglia remembers, “I think he was excited to go on this journey to see if reality matched the imagination.”

However, things didn’t go smoothly. It might surprise some people to know that Anthony’s gift for gab didn’t come easily to him on camera during the filming of that test footage. Collins explains, “Tony was naturally a very shy human being. And to get him to make contact or interact [with strangers] wasn’t his natural state.”

The first country they went to was Japan. Tenaglia says that Japan has a formality to its culture that made it difficult for Anthony to relax when interacting with people on camera. Tenaglia and Collins remember thinking that Anthony was so quiet and reserved in the Japan footage that they began to wonder if it was a huge mistake to think he would make a great TV host.

But when they arrived in the less-formal Vietnam, Anthony began to loosen up on camera and found his groove, according to Collins and Tenaglia. Anthony’s fascination with “Apocalypse Now” certainly helped. His TV shows were not about presenting food in a slick and shiny TV studio. He liked to get down and dirty with the locals.

In terms of food TV hosts, he was groundbreaking. His mass appeal had a lot to do with the fact that he wasn’t a food snob: He was equally comfortable at small, greasy eateries as he was at the most lavish and highest-rated restaurants. He was very open about his love for cheap fast food as well as exotic and gourmet cuisine. He was endlessly curious in talking to local people about their customs and cultures. His conversations and commentaries were often more interesting than the food that was on the show.

And he was fearless in eating almost anything. One of the more notorious things that Anthony ate on camera was a cobra heart that was still beating. The documentary includes that footage, as well as some footage of Anthony and other people killing animals to eat. This is not news to anyone who’s familiar with his TV shows. However, vegans, vegetarians and other people who don’t like to see animals killed for food might want to avoid this documentary or cover their eyes during these scenes in the movie.

Celebrity chef David Chang, who was one of Anthony’s closest friends, says in the documentary that he was fascinated by Anthony’s far-reaching fame. Chang states that no matter where they went in public, there was a “non-stop barrage” of attention on Anthony, from people who treated Anthony like a star. Chang remembers asking Anthony how he handled this lack of privacy with such composure. Chang says that Anthony’s response was: “Being nice to someone and being gracious to them, if that’s my job, it certainly beats being a middling line cook at a struggling restaurant.”

This “man of the people” image didn’t necessarily make him the most easygoing and most pleasant co-worker behind the scenes. Although former co-workers praise him in the documentary for being generous, witty and loyal, they also say that he could be rude, stubborn and egotistical. There’s archival footage of Tenaglia on the six-week “test footage” trip where she privately calls Anthony a “pain in the ass” over his “lack of communication.”

He demanded excellence from himself and from people around him because he hated mediocrity. As his longtime agent Kim Witherspoon says, “I don’t think Tony was afraid of failure. And that was hardwired [in his personality].” He took risks in his career, but he was never the type of celebrity who precisely plotted to have worldwide fame. People in the documentary say that his attitude toward taking new opportunities was, “Why not? If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”

In the “Roadrunner” documentary, celebrity chef/restaurateur Eric Ripert fondly remembers the first time he met Anthony, who was a great admirer of Ripert even before meeting him. Instead of it being a private meeting, Ripert says with a laugh, “He showed up with a TV crew.” Ripert says of Anthony’s on-screen persona: “The challenge was to be real and at the same time be the host of a TV show.”

Tragically, Ripert was the one who found Anthony’s dead body in the hotel room. In the documentary, Ripert says he won’t publicly talk about that day or his thoughts on the suicide. And it’s very understandable that he won’t. People have different ways of trying to heal from that kind of trauma. In the documentary, Ripert talks about the good times that he had with his longtime pal. There’s some endearing footage of them together that’s in the movie.

Other friends who are interviewed in the documentary include musician Josh Homme (of Queens of the Stone Age fame), artist Dave Choe, musician Alison Mosshart, artist John Lurie and Big Gay Ice Cream co-founder Doug Quint. Anthony’s former TV colleagues who share their thoughts include producer Helen Cho, cinematographer Todd Liebler and directors Tom Vitale, Mo Fallon and Michael Steed. Vitale hints at all the hell-raising that went on behind the scenes when he comments, “What made it into the show was—as far as I was concerned—the least-interesting parts of the trip.”

Anyone who’s seen Anthony’s TV shows already knows that traveling to all these different countries to eat the local cuisine did not exist in a glamorous bubble for him. He was deeply affected by tragedies going on in many of these countries. When the TV crew was in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake, they saw how a simple act of giving the starving locals some leftover food from the TV shoot turned into a feeding frenzy with some people pushing each other out of the way to get in line for the food. The documentary includes footage from that incident.

The documentary also includes footage from 2006 of Anthony and several of the crew members having the surreal experience of lounging out by a hotel pool in Beirut as war aircraft swarmed in the sky. Everyone was temporarily stuck in the hotel because it was too dangerous to leave at the time. In the footage, Anthony quips, “Basically, we got caught in a war.” Liebler adds, “We were spending all our time at the pool, watching helicopters come in and out. It was just a waiting game for us.”

In the documentary, Collins says that Anthony (who was an executive producer of his TV shows) was vehemently against doing an “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” episode of their experiences in Beirut, out of respect for the people whose lives were destroyed by the war violence happening while the TV crew was there. However, as Collins says, “The network felt differently,” and the episode was televised. Anthony had clout as an executive producer, but his clout on his TV show only went so far, since the TV network owned the show.

As for Anthony’s personal life, he was married twice. His marriage to first wife Nancy Putkoski (his high school sweetheart) lasted from 1985 to 2005 and ended in divorce. He was married to second wife Ottavia Busia-Bourdain (a mixed-martial artist) in 2007, and they separated in 2016. Anthony and Ottavia’s daughter Ariane was born in 2007.

Putkoski is not interviewed in the documentary, but she’s briefly shown in some of the archival footage. Anthony’s brother Chris comments on why the marriage fell apart: “Nancy had no interest in fame or being tied to fame, but it was a new birth for Tony. It was like he died and was reborn.”

The documentary includes personal footage of Anthony at a strip club somewhere in Asia. The footage was filmed during his divorce from Putkoski. He looks at the camera and sarcastically quips in true Anthony Bourdain style: “Nancy, I hope your divorce lawyer is paying attention to any of this footage.”

Busia-Bourdain (an Italian native who met Anthony because she used to work for his close friend Ripert) is interviewed in the documentary. She describes their early courtship as a “friends with benefits” situation that eventually turned into love. “We were the perfect match for the occasional rendezvous. I was expecting this bad boy, a little bit arrogant. Nowhere was I expecting endearing.” After getting involved with Busa-Bourdain, Anthony became a martial arts enthusiast and went through extensive training.

Several people (including Anthony in archival footage) say that for years he did not want to have children because he didn’t think he would be a good father. But when Ariane was born, it changed him and his life for the better. Busia-Bourdain comments about Anthony becoming a father later in his life: “Any doubts I had kind of dissipated when I realized how happy and excited he was that he was going to become a father.”

There are several clips of home video footage of Anthony with Ariane over the years. (His close friend Ripert calls him a very attentive father.) There’s also a more recent clip of Ariane spending time with her mother after his death. The camera is at a certain angle so that her face is not on camera, out of respect for her privacy. Not surprisingly, Ariane is not interviewed for this documentary.

Friends of Anthony say that becoming a father gave him a sense of “normalcy” that he craved and needed to have a balance for his celebrity jetset lifestyle. Homme says that he and Anthony talked a lot of about what it was like to be fathers who had to frequently be away from home because of their work. Homme gets a little emotionally choked up when he remembers that he and Anthony made plans to take a father-daughter trip together someday when their daughters got older.

In the documentary, no one really talks about why Anthony’s second marriage failed. However, people have plenty to say about Anthony falling madly in love with Italian actress/filmmaker Asia Argento, who was his lover for the last year of his life. She and Anthony met in 2017, when he filmed an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” in Rome, and they got together not long after meeting.

Argento is not interviewed in the documentary, but there’s a general sense from what people say about the relationship that it was passionate in ways that were good and bad. The highs were really high and the lows were really low. Mosshart says she knew early on in Anthony’s relationship with Argento that the relationship was “going to end very, very badly.”

Just like Anthony became obsessed with martial arts because of his second wife, he became obsessed with being an ally in the #MeToo movement because of Argento’s involvement as a #MeToo activist. Argento is one of numerous women who have publicly accused disgraced entertainment mogul (and convicted rapist) Harvey Weinstein of rape and other forms of sexual assault. She says the first time that Weinstein raped her was in 1997. There’s archival footage of her in the documentary speaking out against Weinstein, and also privately telling Anthony that she has a hard time being a happy person.

Busia-Bourdain and other people in the documentary say that Anthony getting involved in #MeToo activism was a big change for him, because he previously avoided being publicly outspoken over social justice issues. He abruptly cut off people in his life whom he thought were guilty of sexual misconduct in the past. He gave interviews and posted messages on social media to express his outrage over #MeToo injustices.

Argento had considerable influence over other aspects of his life. She began directing episodes of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” And that didn’t sit too well with several of Anthony’s longtime colleagues. Many of them stop short of saying that Argento was a destructive force in Anthony’s life, but the implication is there, judging by the way that they talk about her.

Zach Zamboni, a cinematographer for “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” from 2013 to 2017, experienced some of the fallout. Anthony reportedly fired Zamboni because Zamboni disagreed with Argento over aspects of the show. (Zamboni is not interviewed in the documentary.) Former “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” producer Cho says in the documentary that when Zamboni got fired, that’s when she knew that anyone in Anthony’s longtime loyal inner circle could be abruptly cut off in a callous way that she’d never seen before with Anthony.

Cho doesn’t even try to hide her disgust about Argento when she describes how she thinks Argento had a negative influence on the show and on Anthony’s life. Cho says that Argento’s overly stagy directing style was the polar opposite of the documentary directing style Anthony wanted for his shows. Instead of letting filmed conversations flow naturally, which was the way that it had always been done, Argento’s direction changed the show so that when people were talking to Anthony on camera, they would be told to do multiple takes of dialogue, as if they were actors following a script. The documentary includes outtake footage from the show as an example.

After Anthony got involved with Argento, many people in his inner circle became alarmed at how he drastically changed. According to his artist friend Lurie, Anthony began to become agoraphobic and more paranoid about his celebrity status. Quint offers this insight: “People think he had the greatest job in the world, but it was one there was no way to ever escape from. You couldn’t ever really go home for a day and not be Anthony Bourdain [the celebrity].”

Collins says that in the last year of Anthony’s life, Anthony wanted to do something he never had wanted to do before: quit TV entirely. Collins states that when Anthony told him he wanted to quit TV so that he could move to Italy and be with Argento, he gave his friend unwavering support to do what he needed to do to be happy. But in the end, Anthony changed his mind and didn’t go through with this idea to quit TV and move to Italy.

Shortly before he committed suicide, the celebrity gossip media published photos of Argento on an obvious romantic date with another man. Vitale said he saw firsthand how distraught Anthony was over these “affair” photos, because Anthony expressed anger that Argento couldn’t be more discreet. The documentary doesn’t mention that after Anthony died, Argento gave interviews saying that she and Anthony had mutually agreed to have an open/non-monagamous relationship. No one in the documentary blames Argento for Anthony’s death, but it’s clear that many people close to him did not think that Argento’s relationship with him was healthy.

However, several people in the documentary make it clear that Anthony had personal demons long before he met Argento. He would frequently talk in a joking manner about having thoughts of physically hurting himself and other people. (And he says that in one of the documentary’s archival clips.) And, by his own admission, he had an addictive personality that caused him to get obsessive over things that he thought would bring him some kind of happiness.

“Roadrunner” actually begins with archival footage of Anthony talking about death. It’s very much like addressing the elephant in the room right away, since most people watching this documentary already know how he died. He says in a voiceover: “It’s considered useful, enlightening and therapeutic to think about death for a few minutes a day.”

And then, he’s shown talking to longtime friend Ripert and saying, “What actually happens to my remains is of zero interest to me. I don’t want anyone seeing my body. I don’t want a [funeral] party … unless it can provide entertainment value in a perversive, subversive way. If you can throw me into a wood chipper and spray me into Harrods in the middle of rush hour, that would be epic. I wouldn’t mind being remembered in that way.”

As much as Anthony would joke about his own death, the documentary makes a point of showing that for all of the therapy or caring support from loved ones that he had, he felt that he couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to anyone about his suicidal thoughts on the day that he took his life. The documentary mentions that he was in professional therapy toward the end of his life, but he wasn’t entirely comfortable with therapy. It’s not too surprising, considering that he said he kicked his addictions to cocaine and heroin without going to rehab.

The documentary also lays bare the emotional trauma experienced by the people left behind. Several of the interviewees (including Busia-Bourdain, Chang, Choe and Witherspoon) break down and cry on camera when they talk about Anthony, All the stages of grief except denial are seen in this film.

Chang cries when he describes one of his most painful memories of being Anthony’s friend: “He said I would never be a good dad. That really hurt.” Mosshart comments on the suicide: “I don’t think he was cruel, but there’s a cruelty to that.” Others express guilt over not seeing any signs of suicidal distress or wishing they could’ve done more to help Anthony.

Some of the people say that the suicide affected them in ways that they didn’t expect. LaJaunie was one of the people who was in Vietnam during Anthony’s six-week journey in the early 2000s to test his TV hosting skills. LaJaunie was in Vietnam when he heard the news about the suicide, and he decided to permanently live in Vietnam on that day.

Homme said after the suicide, he didn’t work for two years. Choe didn’t cut his hair for two years after hearing about the suicide. Choe finally shaved off some of his hair on camera for the documentary, almost as if talking about his dear, departed friend was therapeutic and helped him feel comfortable to get his hair cut.

It’s evident that “Roadrunner” director Neville has compassion for the loved ones who were left behind. The documentary might also help people understand that suicides often have no logical explanation. There were no drugs or alcohol in Anthony’s system at the time of his death. And even though he was someone who wrote about his feelings for a living, he didn’t leave a suicide note.

Some of the people close to him say in the documentary that there were no big warning signs that he would do something as extreme as killing himself. Any plans that he might have had to commit suicide were kept well-hidden by Anthony. Toward the end of the documentary, there’s some haunting footage of Anthony filming something for “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” where he’s surrounded by people, but the sad expression on his face as he stares at the camera shows that he looks like one of the loneliest people in the world. It’s a somber reminder that people who look like they “have it all” can sometimes feel empty inside and mistakenly think that their lives aren’t worth living.

Focus Features released “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” in U.S. cinemas on July 16, 2021.

Review: ‘A Perfect Enemy,’ starring Tomasz Kot, Marta Nieto and Athena Strates

July 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tomasz Kot and Athena Strates in “A Perfect Enemy” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“A Perfect Enemy”

Directed by Kike Maíllo

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Paris, the dramatic film “A Perfect Enemy” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While on a business trip in Paris, a famous Polish architect becomes acquainted with a mysterious young woman, who ends up stalking him and telling him disturbing things while they’re waiting for a plane flight at an airport.

Culture Audience: “A Perfect Enemy” will appeal primarily to people who like psychological thrillers and are willing to overlook some bad acting and overly talkative screenplays with a lot of scenes that don’t really go anywhere.

Marta Nieto in “A Perfect Enemy” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“A Perfect Enemy” keeps a certain level of suspense, but too much of this psychological thriller is undone by subpar acting, dialogue that rambles and a sluggish pace during the middle of the movie. The movie’s ending is a big disappointment. Viewers will be kept guessing over the real identity of a young female provocateur who latches on to a famous male architect, who’s more than twice her age, and she refuses to leave him alone. The two of them spend most of the movie waiting for a flight at an airport. Yawn.

In other words, don’t expect there to be a lot of action in this movie, since much of the film consists of conversations in the airport. Any expectations of “A Perfect Enemy” being a heart-pounding, mind-bending “cat and mouse” chase will come to a screeching halt when viewers have to sit through numerous scenes of the young stalker telling her prey some disturbing but mostly boring flashback stories.

Directed by Kike Maíllo, “A Perfect Enemy” might turn off some viewers from the beginning, because of the movie’s opening scene, which has some very wooden acting from Tomasz Kot. He portrays “A Perfect Enemy” protagonist Jeremiasz Angust, a famous architect in his 40s, who’s originally from Warsaw, Poland. In this scene, Jeremiasz is doing a speaking appearance at an unnamed conference in Paris. Watching this scene is almost painful, because Kot’s speech patterns are so stilted and awkward.

In the speech, Jeremiasz says that early on his career, he was obsessed with designing beautiful buildings. But about 20 years ago, Jeremiasz says that he went through a “crisis” that made him re-think the meaning of his work. “The uncomfortable truth is,” Jeremiasz adds, “what we call architecture, it’s really the business of designing for the wealthiest 1% of the population. It’s not only wrong, in terms of social justice, it’s also a clumsy business strategy.”

Jeremiasz continues by saying that when he had this socially conscious epiphany, he changed his priorities in architecture. Instead of serving the wealthiest “one percenters,” he decided to serve the underprivileged. For example, he traveled to Rwanda to build hospitals. Jeremiasz comments, “I truly believe that great architecture can heal, as long as it’s focused on what’s truly essential and forgets everything else.”

Jeremiasz’s speech is well-received; he gets enthusiastic applause from the audience. Outside in the lobby area, as he’s about to leave, he has fans waiting for him, and they ask for his autograph and request photos with him. He willingly obliges and seems to appreciate the admiration. But Jeremiasz can’t stay and mingle with his fans for long because he’s got a plane to catch out of Paris, and his service car with a driver is waiting for him.

On the way to the airport, it’s pouring rain and there’s a traffic jam. While stuck in traffic, a woman in her early 20s who’s on a nearby sidewalk gets Jeremiasz’s attention and asks him if he’s going to the airport because she’d like to share his ride. She explains that she’s very close to missing her plane flight. She desperately needs a ride because she’s been trying in vain for several minutes to find an available taxi.

Jeremiasz says he’s going to the airport too, but he hesitates to let this stranger in the car. When she turns away in a defeated manner and says, “Forget it,” Jeremiasz feels sorry for her and tells her that she can share the ride with him to the airport. Her demeanor changes from dejected to grateful, and she thanks him profusely.

Who is this woman? She has an unusual name: Texel Textor (played by Athena Strates), and she says she’s Dutch. In fact, every time she talks to someone new, she introduces herself using the exact same words and always mentions that she’s Dutch. It’s almost like she’s programmed to introduce herself in this way, but (this isn’t spoiler information) Texel is not a robot.

Texel and Jeremiasz make small talk in the back of the car. She’s very chatty, and she seems to be an upbeat free spirit. Texel is also very observant, because she immediately notices Jeremiasz’s name and address on his luggage. He tells her that he’s an architect and that he’s in Paris on business. Texel shows the first sign that she’s going to ruin Jeremiasz’s trip when, a few minutes after getting into the car, she says that she left a piece of her luggage out on the sidewalk where she had been trying to hail a taxi.

Going back to retrieve the luggage, especially in this traffic jam, means that Jeremiasz will definitely miss his flight. Jeremiasz asks her if she can find another ride to go back for her luggage. Texel gets a little snippy by saying that she already spent too much time trying to hail a taxi before, and she doesn’t think the lack of available taxis will change now. And so, Jeremiasz tells his driver to turn around so Texel can get her luggage. Luckily, the luggage is still right where she left it.

By the time they get to the airport, Jeremiasz is slightly irritated that he missed his flight, but he seems to be relieved to not have to see Texel again, as they say goodbye and go their separate ways. After he rebooks to be on the next available flight, which will take off in about two hours, Jeremiasz settles into the VIP lounge to relax and listen to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones.

It should come as no surprise that Texel shows up in the lounge and makes her way to Jeremiasz, who is surprised to see her there. And what do you know, she’s waiting for the exact same flight. Is this a weird coincidence or something else? There would be no “A Perfect Enemy” if it were just a weird coincidence.

Texel strikes up another conversation with Jeremiasz, but she can’t take the hint that he doesn’t want her to bother him. When he tells her that he just wants to spend some time by himself, she acts insulted. Texel won’t go away, and her attitude changes from friendly to bizarre and menacing.

For example, at one point, Texel says to Jeremiasz, “Have you ever killed anyone? I killed someone when I was little.” And in another part of the conversation, she says she knows about an “inner enemy” who’s “a thousand times more powerful than a wimp like God.” Jeremiasz tells her that he’s an atheist.

In case it isn’t clear by now, Texel’s “damsel in distress” persona was all an act. And, for a reason that’s revealed in the last third of the movie, she wants to have Jeremiasz’s full attention. And so, for the majority of the movie, it’s about Texel saying things that will annoy or shock Jeremiasz. But they’re sitting in an airport lounge while she does much of the talking, so there’s very little “terror” that can happen in this setting.

Jeremiasz is growing increasingly uncomfortable being in the presence of Texel. But she says something that intrigues him and makes him curious enough to continue listening to her unhinged ramblings. Texel says she’s going to tell Jeremiasz a three-part story. According to Texel’s description of the story, the first part is “disgusting,” the second part is “scary,” and the third part is “filled with love.” The storytelling is told in flashbacks.

In the first part of the story, Texel talks about her childhood and growing up in a household with an abusive stepfather (played by Götz Vogel von Vogelstein) and an uncaring mother. Texel goes into detail about the nauseating food slop that her mother and stepfather made her prepare for the animals on their farm. And you know what that means: There’s going to be a scene of Texel eating that slop too.

The airport where Jeremiasz and Texel are just happens to be an airport that Jeremiasz co-designed in 2002 with two other architects. There are model replicas of the airport in the airport’s main entrance and in the VIP lounge. When Jeremiasz tells Texel that he co-designed this airport, she seems impressed, but she’s much more impressed with what she has to tell Jeremiasz.

There are clues that something is very wrong in this airport, because every time Jeremiasz looks at this model replica, he sees red stains that look like blood on the outside entrance of the model replica. The stains grow larger as the movie continues. One of the more effectively eerie aspects of “A Perfect Enemy” is how this model replica has miniature human figurines that look like Jeremiasz and Texel and posed to re-enact a scene that was just shown in the movie. The mini-figurines are also dressed exactly like how Jeremiasz and Texel are dressed.

“A Perfect Enemy” wants to keep viewers wondering what Texel really wants from Jeremiasz and if her stories are really true. However, by making Texel and Jeremiasz “stuck” together in the same limited space in an airport for most of the movie, it actually makes “A Perfect Enemy” duller than it should be. The movie’s screenplay, which is based on Amélie Nothomb’s 2001 novel of the same name, was adapted by “A Perfect Enemy” director Maíllo, Cristina Clemente and Fernando Navarrro. Judging by the way this movie’s mystery was mishandled in the screenplay, viewers can see too early that something is “off-kilter” when an architect who designed the airport doesn’t go somewhere in the airport to hide from this stalker, who seems to have come out of nowhere.

Strates sometimes goes too over-the-top and too campy in playing this obviously demented person. It makes for an awkward match with Kot’s almost-robotic acting style. In other words, better actors would have made this movie more enjoyable. One cast member whose acting isn’t a detriment to the movie is Marta Nieto, who convincingly portrays a troubled woman named Isabelle, who has at least one big secret. Isabelle’s story is a major plot development that won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s eventually revealed in the movie. Unfortunately, Nieto doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as Kot and Strates, who both drag the movie down with their sometimes amateurish acting.

Strates demonstrates better acting skills than Kot does. He doesn’t have the actor charisma that’s necessary for viewers to emotionally connect with this film’s main character, in order for the ending to have more of an impact than it does. In the last 15 minutes of the film, Jeremiasz has some big, dramatic moments. But by then, viewers won’t care about Jeremiasz because he didn’t show much personality for most of the movie. And that’s ultimately a flaw that’s too big for “A Perfect Enemy” to overcome. A movie’s protagonist should keep viewers interested, not be so dull that viewers will want to stop watching the movie before it’s over.

Brainstorm Media released “A Perfect Enemy” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 11, 2021.

Review: ‘Kid Candidate,’ starring Hayden Pedigo

July 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

L’Hanna Pedigo and Hayden Pedigo in “Kid Candidate” (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

“Kid Candidate”

Directed by Jasmine Stodel

Culture Representation: The documentary film “Kid Candidate” features a predominantly white group of people (with some black people) discussing the 2019 political campaign of Hayden Pedigo, who campaigned to become a city council member in Amarillo, Texas.

Culture Clash: Many people doubted the legitimacy of Pedigo’s campaign because he was 24 at the time, he had no political experience, and he made the unusual decision not to accept campaign donations.

Culture Audience: “Kid Candidate” will appeal mostly to people are interested in documentaries about local Texas politics and young people who run for political office.

Hayden Pedigo in “Kid Candidate” (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

The documentary “Kid Candidate” takes a fascinating look at how a musician in his mid-20s launched an unorthodox political campaign to become a city council member in Amarillo, Texas. What started as a joke turned into an experience that changed people’s lives. Directed by Jasmine Stodel, “Kid Candidate” is a lot like the independent rock musician Hayden Pedigo, who decided to become an unlikely political candidate: The movie is lean, scrappy and kind of messy with neurotic quirks. But there’s no doubt that its heart is in the right place, which makes this documentary inspiring to watch without it being overly sappy.

At 68 minutes long, “Kid Candidate” is a fairly brisk chronicle of Pedigo’s journey into Amarillo politics. What would cause someone with previously no interest in politics to launch this long-shot campaign? A longtime Amarillo resident, Pedigo had a strict upbringing by his parents, whom he describes in the documentary as people who used to have wild lifestyles but at some point decided to turn their lives in the opposite direction and became religious Christian conservatives.

Pedigo and his sister were homeschooled for their entire education. In the documentary, he talks about how music was his salvation and emotional comfort when he was growing up in a very repressive household. Pedigo’s biological family members are not in the documentary, because he was estranged from them at the time. He says that these family members (especially his parents) were embarrassed by his political campaign.

However, Hayden’s supportive wife L’Hanna Pedigo is in the documentary. She says that Hayden has had lifelong insecurities and a deep fear of failure because his parents were overly critical of him. From an early age, Hayden had a rebellious streak. He says that his father described him as a caged wild animal when Hayden was growing up. L’Hanna observes that when Hayden’s family disapproved of him running for political office, it motivated Hayden even more to continue the campaign, which she says was almost like a “fuck you” to his family.

Hayden gets emotional when he remembers a criticism that his father had for him that Hayden admits still hurts Hayden to this day: When Hayden was a child, his father would call Hayden an “unplugged alarm clock”—even when plugged in, it keeps blinking and information could not be retained because it’s not programmed correctly. It’s basically an insulting way of telling someone, “You’re not very smart” or “There’s something mentally wrong with you.”

In the documentary, Hayden admits that his political campaign started off as kind of a lark. He and his best friend Alex Fairbanks (who’s interviewed in the documentary) would make goofy short films inspired by eccentric director Harmony Korine’s 1997 avant-garde film “Gummo.” Hayden would portray a fictional Amarillo city council member as a recurring character and do spoofs of what city council members might do when they walk around the city.

A few of these videos would go viral on social media, including one that landed on the front page of Reddit. People began to wonder, “What if Hayden really did run for a seat on the Amarillo city council?” Fairbanks, who was one of those people, remembers saying to Hayden, “I was like, ‘Dude, maybe you should go for city council. People are really liking this. You could probably follow through and win.'”

The idea stuck, and in 2019, Hayden declared his candidacy when he was 24 years old. (He turned 25 during the making of this movie.) The documentary includes footage of him officially registering as a candidate for Amarillo’s city council. At the time that Hayden declared his candidacy, Amarillo (the largest city in the Texas Panhandle) had a population of a little more than 269,000 people, according to the Texas State Department of Social and Health Services.

Hayden explains the fundamental reasons why he wanted to run for political office in Amarillo: “I felt there was a lack of representation, especially amongst my age group … Even if I don’t get elected, I want this to at least inspire somebody—just to get them to vote would be a major step.”

L’Hanna, whose job in the documentary is described as a “theatrical scene and lighting designer,” says that Hayden definitely had doubts about whether or not he should go through with the campaign: “He asked, ‘Would I look stupid doing it?’ … To me, that’s the only qualification—that you’re genuine and that you care about the city and that you care about the people.”

“Kid Candidate” shows that Hayden learns, sometimes the hard way, that it takes more than enthusiasm and lofty ideals to connect with voters. He gets help from civil rights/criminal defense attorney Jeff Blackburn, a grizzled and sometimes gruff political expert who becomes Hayden’s friend, mentor and sometimes biggest critic during the campaign. Blackburn, who is a founder of the Innocence Project of Texas, is an outspoken liberal in a city that is mostly politically conservative.

At times, Blackburn expresses frustration at Hayden’s naiveté in running a political campaign. Among his criticisms of Hayden is that Hayden is willfully ignorant about certain issues that Hayden would need to be knowledgeable about if he were on the city council. Blackburn also admonishes Hayden for getting too caught up in thinking that social media “likes” and anonymous people giving praise in a comments section will translate into votes and other real support.

Hayden finds out this harsh reality in a somewhat embarrassing way, when he announces that he’s having a rally that he’s sure will be well-attended, based on all the positive responses that he got on social media. But in the end, less than 30 people showed up. Hayden also seems awkward when greeting people at his own rally. Like a parent reminding a child to be polite, Blackburn literally has to tell Hayden to say hello to individual people at the rally and thank them for attending.

However, Hayden’s strengths as a candidate are his compassion and his ability to clearly articulate his ideas (as generic as they might be) when he seems to have memorized what he is going to say. His biggest weakness as an aspiring politician is that he seems more comfortable addressing a crowd than having one-on-one interactions with strangers. While doing door-to-door campaigning, Hayden openly admits that he hates this type of campaign work. Blackburn bluntly asks why Hayden he’s running for an elected office, if he doesn’t want to talk to potential voters face-to-face at their homes.

Even though Hayden sometimes disagrees with Blackburn and often doesn’t take his mentor’s advice, they have genuine respect for each other. It’s not mentioned if Hayden belongs to any political party, but the ideas that he put forth during the campaign are for a moderate-to-liberal political agenda. He’s especially concerned about the economic disparities between the northern part of Amarillo (a low-income area populated mostly by people of color) and the southern part of Amarillo, where the city’s wealthiest (mostly white) residents live.

And speaking of the wealthiest Amarillo residents, the documentary frequently mentions Amarillo Matters, a politically conservative and highly influential coalition that donates campaign funds and endorses candidates that it wants to have in power in Amarillo. Claudia Stravato, a civil rights activist and political science instructor, describes Amarillo Matters this way: “The elites formed an organization, pooled their money, and made sure that their elitist friends got elected.”

The documentary mentions that Amarillo Matters declined to have any of its members or representatives interviewed for this movie. However, “Kid Candidate” does a good job of including a diverse group of people to get their perspectives on Hayden’s campaign and Amarillo’s ongoing issues. This variety of viewpoints and opinions make this a fairly well-rounded documentary.

But one of the documentary’s flaws is that it offers no explanation for why none of Hayden’s political opponents is shown in the film, except for brief footage of them in a “town hall” type of panel discussion. Four people, including Hayden, were running for Seat 1 of Amarillo’s city council in 2019. Hayden’s three other opponents were Elaine Hays (the incumbent candidate), Jay Kirkman III and Rich Herman. Even if none of these other candidates wanted to be interviewed for the documentary, the filmmakers should have included information on each of these rival candidates. It would give viewers a better sense of what these candidates were like and what type of campaigns that Hayden would be up against in this election.

One way that Hayden distinguished himself from his competitors and from most politicians in general is that he refused to accept campaign donations. Any campaign videos that he made had no budget or very low budgets. He had no staffers and no promotional merchandise for his very unusual campaign. As he says in the documentary: “I don’t need the money, I don’t need the [campaign] signs, I don’t need the T-shirts.”

Hayden’s main ways of promoting his campaign were by doing media interviews, speaking to groups of voters, and going on social media. He shows a sarcastic sense of humor when he privately mocks other candidates’ campaign wording. He’s also able to laugh at himself when he reacts to Amarillo Matters’ unflattering description of him in an Amarillo Matters statement where he was listed as a “not recommended” candidate. He considers this snub by Amarillo Matters to be a badge of honor.

Even though he got a lot of criticism for having no political experience, it’s very apparent that Hayden didn’t have a specific platform of policies for his campaign. He was running a campaign on general ideas of wanting to implement change, such as increasing diversity in the city’s government and giving better access to resources to Amarillo’s underprivileged residents. Because of his youth, inexperience and his refusal to take money for his campaign, Hayden was also running a campaign where he promoted himself as an “outsider” candidate who could think “outside the box,” shake things up in a positive way, and not be easily corrupted.

During his campaign, Hayden did some traveling outside of Amarillo. He went to Los Angeles to be interviewed on Tim Heidecker’s Talkhouse podcast. Hayden also went to the SXSW Festival in Austin, to perform as a musician. His SXSW rehearsals are briefly shown in the documentary, whose soundtrack has several original songs written and performed by Hayden. Like most unknown musicians, Hayden has a day job—he was a supervisor at Santa Fe Credit Union at the time this documentary was filmed—but that part of his life is not in the movie.

Some of the other people interviewed in the documentary include Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson, a lawyer/artist who gets tearful when she talks about she says is the unfair and inaccurate criticism that she’s gotten as mayor. Nelson says that one of the misconceptions about her is that she’s a rich elitist who doesn’t care about the people of Amarillo. Nelson, who is endorsed by Amarillo Matters, says that it’s untrue that she comes from “old money” and that she actually came from a middle-class background.

Nelson says she decided to run for mayor of Amarillo because “I felt that God was asking me to step into an arena of influence to love people.” Nelson mentions God multiple times when she talks about how it relates to her political career, and how she will always take the high road when it comes to her critics and opponents. Meanwhile, her husband Kevin Nelson says in the documentary that anyone who goes into politics has to be prepared for others being ready to tear them down.

Hayden is shown meeting with various groups of people to get their support for his campaign. These groups include ultra-conservative Tea Party supporters (Hayden experiences some hostility at this Tea Party meeting when he says he has “progressive” plans for Amarillo); members of a South Sudanese church; and the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. But the one campaign event that he says was the most meaningful to him was when he was invited to an all-night cultural celebration held by people in Amarillo’s South Sudanese community.

The event, which looks like it was held at a public community center, is not a large celebration (only 10 to 20 people seem to be in attendance at any given time), but Hayden says it was the first group of people he met with during his campaign that didn’t laugh at him. Hayden and L’Hanna, who are the only white people at this event, are shown mingling with the sparse crowd and dancing past midnight, when Hayden gave a brief speech of gratitude to the approximately six people who were left in the room.

After the event, L’Hanna talks about how getting to know people in the South Sudanese community was eye-opening for her and Hayden. She begins to cry when she talks about how she found out that even though life in Amarillo might be difficult for the South Sudanese refugees, many of them told her that they were grateful to live in a place where they could sleep at night without fear of being killed by marauding military soldiers.

Hayden was invited to this event by a mass communications student/South Sudanese refugee named Agol Aloak, who became an ardent supporter of Hayden because he wasn’t a typical politician. Aloak says she has this opinion of most politicians: “You don’t know my struggles. You don’t want to help me … I really want change.” She also describes how many people in Amarillo’s South Sudanese community work for corporate meat company Tyson Foods in dead-end factory jobs with unsafe and grueling conditions. She describes it as slightly better than “slave labor.”

Other people interviewed in the documentary are residents of Amarillo’s economically troubled north side, such as Tremaine Brown, owner of Shi Lee’s BBQ and Soul Food Cafe; Bol Ngor, chairman of Amarillo’s South Sudanese community and assistant supervisor at Tyson Foods; David Lovejoy, KGNC radio program director and first vice-president of the Amarillo chapter of the NAACP; and “self-employed” hip-hop artist Randolph Sims, also known as Koola. They all talk about the discrepancies in how the Amarillo city council treats their part of the city, compared to the wealthier southern part of the city.

The documentary interviewees also include dentist/Amarillo city council member Eddie Sauer; The 806 Coffee + Lounge owner Courtney Brown; Six Car Pub and Brewery owner Colin Cummings; local businessman Craig Gualtree; Hayden’s friend Grayson Carter; Texas Monthly senior editor Randy Barkett; HITTS magazine president Karen Glauber; and Hayden’s friend/street artist Malcolm Byers, who paints an impressive street wall mural of Hayden, just days before the election.

“Kid Candidate” doesn’t sugarcoat that this campaign at times took a heavy emotional toll on Hayden, who seems to have bouts of anxiety and depression. In one scene in the movie, a conversation of text messages between Hayden and “Kid Candidate” documentary director Stodel is shown, where Hayden sounds like he’s in such an emotionally dark place that he doesn’t want to even be seen on camera. Later that night, Hayden ends up going to the South Sudanese cultural event, which he says lifted his spirits considerably.

Hayden is certainly not the first person in the world to run for political office before the age of 30 or with no experience in politics. However, his unique journey as a political candidate can be used as a memorable example of someone who decided to not just talk about change but tried to make change happen—even if it meant stepping outside of personal comfort zones and risking a lot of humiliation and rejection. Regardless of how people might feel about politics, anyone watching “Kid Candidate” will appreciate that having the right to express opinions and other personal freedoms shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Gunpowder & Sky released “Kid Candidate” on digital and VOD on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘Escape Room: Tournament of Champions,’ starring Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Indya Moore, Holland Roden, Thomas Cocuerel and Carlito Olivero

July 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Taylor Russell, Logan Miller, Holland Roden, Indya Moore and Thomas Cocquerel in “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions”

Directed by Adam Robitel

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the horror film “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” features a mostly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Six people are trapped by diabololical forces in an elaborate escape room, where they are forced to solve different puzzles in a limited time, or else they might die.

Culture Audience: “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” will appeal primarily to people who saw 2019’s “Escape Room” and to people who don’t mind watching silly horror movies that have nonsensical plots.

Holland Roden, Carlito Olivero, Thomas Cocquerel, Indya Moore, Taylor Russell and Logan Miller in “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” (Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures)

What’s really escaped from “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” is good filmmaking. Viewers will feel trapped in this badly made horror sequel, which consists mostly of idiotic scenes of people yelling at each other while they unrealistically solve convoluted puzzles in a very short period of time or else they could die. In real life, people who are panicking this much wouldn’t be able to have the near-psychic powers that these trapped characters seem to have when they quickly make over-the-top, elaborate deductions. The so-called “problem solving” in the movie doesn’t feel earned, because it looks exactly like what it is: overly staged nonsense from a poorly written screenplay.

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” is the sequel to 2019’s “Escape Room,” both directed by Adam Robitel. “Escape Room” had two screenwriters (Bragi Schut and Maria Melnik), while “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” has four: Melnik, Will Honley, Daniel Tuch and Oren Uziel. It could be a case of “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Just like most movie sequels, “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” is inferior to the original.

In “Escape Room,” six strangers were unwittingly chosen by a mysterious and sinister group called Minos to be in a life-or-death escape room. If you don’t know what happened at the end of “Escape Room,” you’ll be forced to know this spoiler information when watching “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions.” Two people who survived at the end of “Escape Room” are physics student Zoey Davis (played by Taylor Russell) and grocery store stocker Ben Miller (played by Logan Miller), who became friends after their traumatic ordeal.

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” begins with Zoey and Ben, who have traveled by plane to New York City, trying to find the unlisted building in Manhattan that Zoey thinks could be the headquarters of Minos. It’s a clue that she found at the very end of “Escape Room.” “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” wastes time in the beginning with a terror scene of Ben being trapped somewhere, but it turns out to be a nightmare. This “it was only a nightmare” trick is used in a lot of horror movies as a way to fill up the time when the writers can’t think of anything else to further the plot.

It isn’t long before Zoey and Ben arrrive at the abandoned building that they’re sure can give them answers to who’s behind the escape room that they endured. Inside the building is a scruffy-looking guy (played by Matt Esof), who appears to be a homeless junkie. He claims to know nothing about the escape room. But he’s observant enough to see the pocket watch that Zoey has, so he lightly cuts her with a knife and steals the watch.

Zoey and Ben chase after this thief, but he’s able to escape. Out of breath and feeling defeated, Zoey and Ben go on a subway train to figure out what to do next. And this is the part of the movie where you know the “escape room” antics will start and that the other people in the same subway car will be trapped in the game too.

Sure enough, the subway car starts rocking like it’s been hit by an earthquake. There’s no train conductor in sight. And in a dumb movie like this one, the subway conveniently doesn’t have emergency brakes or a way to call for emergency services. The subway car detaches from the rest of the train, as it hurtles off the train tracks.

The six people trapped in this subway car are:

  • Zoey, the smartest one in the group who’s the most likely to figure out solutions to the puzzles.
  • Ben, a somewhat passive follower who keeps reminding everyone that Zoey saved his life.
  • Theo (played by Carlito Olivero), the loudest and most panic-stricken person in the group.
  • Rachel Ellis (played by Holland Roden), who’s very sarcastic and the one most likely to tell the terrible jokes that fall flat in the movie.
  • Brianna Collier (played by Indya Moore), the one most likely to run into a booby trap so that she can predictably scream and wail.
  • Nathan (played by Thomas Cocquerel), an alcoholic who seems to have given up on life until he has to fight for his life in this new escape room scenario.

Theo is an athletic-looking guy who tries to pound and kick his way out of the subway car, to no avail. He’s upset because he tells everyone that today is his wife’s birthday, and there’s no way he’s going to miss celebrating her birthday with her. It doesn’t take long for these six people trapped in the subway car to figure out that they were brought together for a reason: They all survived previous escape rooms that were masterminded by Minos. And if the reason for this gathering of survivors isn’t clear enough to viewers (because the filmmakers must think everyone watching is as dumb as this movie), Rachel announces that this must be the “tournament of champions.”

Suddenly, it looks like an electrical storm has appeared in the subway car. It’s a race against time to figure out the puzzle or else they’ll die. Underneath a seat, a purse is found with a pedal that the trapped people use for purposes that won’t be revealed in this review. The subway car’s overhead electronic announcement sign gives ominous messages with clues on how to solve the life-or-death puzzle in a very limited of time.

These clues are extremely and unnecessarily complicated to stretch out each scene into a tangled web of people shouting out theories that they think will solve the puzzle. They see an announcement that says “Beware of False Advertising.” Zoey immediately figures out that means they should look for misspelling on the ads in the subway car. Somehow, these missing letters are linked to obsolete subway tokens that mysteriously show up and have to correspond with the number of passenger handles located on the upper rails in the subway car.

Zoey has quickly figured out that there are 26 of these passenger handles in the subway car, so of course they correspond with the 26 letters of the English alphabet. One of the passenger handles has a green stripe and another handle at the opposite end of the car has a red stripe. In lightning-quick speed, Zoey deduces that the green-striped handle stands for the letter “a,” and the red-striped handle stands for the letter “z.”

And so, when certain misspelled or missing letters are found on the subway ads, there’s a mad dash to find the passenger handles that correspond with that letter of the alphabet. When these handles are pulled, they reveal tokens that have to be put in a token slot box before time runs out. They’re supposed to do all of this in about 10 minutes, which is a ridiculously short amount of time for even the most logical, genius-level person to figure out while tapped in a subway car filled with electrical lightning that could kill anyone at any moment.

Conveniently, the subway car has a trap door that opens if they figure out the puzzle in time. And you know that this puzzle will be solved, because if it wasn’t solved, “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” would be a very short movie. Other puzzle scenarios in “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” include figuring out elaborate codes in a deserted bank with deadly security lasers; trying not to get trapped in quicksand on an idyllic-looking beach; and figuring out how to get protection when stuck out on a street where it’s literally pouring acidic rain.

“Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” has a semi-obsession with burning or electrocuting the people who are trapped in this moronic game. And the movie has moments that are unintentionally funny because they’re so badly written. None of the acting in this movie is outstanding. It’s all very formulaic.

And forget about getting to know the characters in the movie, because they’re as hollow as hollow can be. Except for Zoey and Ben, none of the characters has a significant backstory. People who saw the first “Escape Room” movie will learn nothing new about Zoey and Ben in this sequel.

It’s mentioned that Brianna is a travel vlogger, but she’s such a stereotypical screaming ninny in a horror movie that she couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag. Carlito is a lunkhead who foolishly thinks he can strong-arm his way out of the escape room. Nathan has a vaguely mentioned troubled past that he’d like to forget, while Rachel is just forgettable.

Instead of having actual personalities, the characters in “Escape Room” are just lines of horribly written dialogue and just spend a lot of time shouting at each other about what they think they should do next. Because they don’t always agree, the bickering wastes even more time. And there’s always one second left in the countdown when anyone survives in time to go on to the next puzzle. It all becomes so tedious and predictable after a while.

Perhaps the most awful part of “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” is that it tells viewers that any death that happens in this movie series might not be a real death. One of the people who “died” in the first “Escape Room” movie suddenly shows up to help in “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions.” Because this is such a terrible movie, there’s no logical reason given for why or how this person survived, even though the death was clearly shown in the first “Escape Room” movie.

Zoey and Ben are shocked to see this person, who has this vapid explanation when Zoey and Ben ask why this person isn’t dead: “If you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.” In other words, more mindless excuses to have plot holes. And that means more ridiculousness if the “Escape Room” movie series continues. The dimwitted end of “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” makes it clear that the filmmakers want to dump more “Escape Room” movies into the world. That’s a trap that fans of good horror movies can avoid.

Columbia Pictures will release “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” in U.S. cinemas on July 16, 2021.