Review: ‘This Is The Year,’ starring Lorenzo James Henrie, Vanessa Marano, Jake Short, Bug Hall, Alyssa Jirrels, Gregg Sulkin and Jeff Garlin

October 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Bug Hall, Jake Short, Alyssa Jirrels, Lorenzo James Henrie and Vanessa Marano in “This Is the Year” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“This Is the Year”

Directed by David Henrie

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the romantic comedy “This Is the Year” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: On the verge of graduating from high school, a nerdy student tries to win over his dream girl, even though she already has a boyfriend.

Culture Audience: “This Is the Year” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching predictable and unimaginative teen romantic comedies.

Gregg Sulkin and Alyssa Jirrels in “This Is the Year” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“This Is the Year” is yet another vapid teen romantic comedy about a nerd who’s pining over his dream girl. It rips off the same formula that’s already been done by countless other movies with the same type of story. There’s almost nothing that’s very charming about “This Is the Year,” as it lumbers along to its predictable ending. Expect to see a lot of annoying characters played by people who look too old to be in high school.

Directed by David Henrie, “This Is the Year” is one of those movies that was made primarily by family members so they could give each other jobs in a movie. David Henrie’s brother Lorenzo James Henrie is the movie’s star: He plays the dorky protagonist. James “Jim” Henrie, the father of David Henrie and Lorenzo James Henrie, is one of the movie’s producers. It’s undoubtedly nepotism, but the result is an amateurish movie that has absolutely no originality in the story arc and how everything ends.

David Henrie co-wrote the “This Is the Year” screenplay with Sienna Aquilini, Pepe Portillo, and Bug Hall. All that means is that it took four people to put their names on a screenplay that uses many of the same ideas that numerous other teen romantic comedies have already used. You can predict in your sleep what’s going to happen in this movie.

How many times have we seen this plot in teen romantic comedies? A socially awkward outcast at high school has a secret crush on the girl of his dreams, who’s pretty, popular, and barely knows that he exists, or she wants to put him in the “friend zone.” In many cases, she already has a boyfriend or a love interest who is the nerd’s chief rival. The nerd comes up with a scheme to win over her affections, but various obstacles and embarrassments get in the way.

Meanwhile, if the nerd has a teenage girl who’s his platonic best friend, she helps him in his quest to date the dream girl. However, things happen where it becomes obvious who will eventually end up together at the end. Someone has an “a-ha” moment, and there’s a race against time for someone to reveal true feelings to someone else. It’s all so cliché and boring.

If teen romantic comedies stick to this formula like hack filmmaker glue, the movie can sometimes be enjoyable if the performances are good and if the screenplay has hilarious dialogue. Unfortunately, “This Is the Year” has none of that. Adding to this movie’s lack of authenticity, the filmmakers couldn’t be bothered to cast actors who look believably close to being the ages of high school students when these actors are supposed to be portraying high school students.

In “This Is the Year,” Lorenzo James Henrie is Josh, the geeky central character. Josh is close to graduating from an unnamed high school in an unnamed U.S. city. (“This Is the Year” was actually filmed in Alabama, but no one in this movie sounds like they’re from Alabama.) Josh lives next door to his best friend Molly (played by Vanessa Marano), who is homeschooled. Josh and Molly both work part-time at a local movie theater. Molly is intelligent and has a fun-loving attitude toward life. She completely understands Josh and vice versa. (You know where this is going, of course.)

Josh’s only other close friend is a fellow student named Mikey (played by Jake Short), who can be a little bratty and sarcastic. Josh and Mikey are in the same graduating class at their high school. Mikey lives with his older brother Donnie (played by Bug Hall), who is in his 30s. Donnie became Mikey’s guardian, ever since their widower father ran off with another woman shortly after Donnie and Mikey’s mother died of cancer. This abandonment has left emotional scars on the brothers that they don’t really want to talk about with anyone.

Josh’s last big assignment for an unnamed class is to write an essay about what he learned from his experiences in high school. The teacher of the class is Mr. Elmer (played by Jeff Garlin), who is concerned because Josh hasn’t handed in the essay by the deadline. If Josh doesn’t complete this assignment, he won’t be able to graduate. When Mr. Elmer talks to Josh about it, Josh insists that he can’t finish the essay until he’s experienced the last day of high school.

Why does Josh feel this way? As Josh explains to Mr. Elmer, he’s obsessed with a 1980s teen drama movie called “Fireworks at Beaumont Prep.” In that movie, the teen protagonist had a high school experience that changed dramatically when he got the girl of his dreams on his last day of high school. Josh feels like he can relate to this character, which is portrayed by an actor called Patrick J. Michael (played by “This Is the Year” director David Henrie).

Josh tells Mr. Elmer, “I can’t describe my high school experience yet because it’s not over.” Mr. Elmer gives Josh an extension of a few days to finish the essay. His essay is now due on a Sunday, which we all know will be the same day that will Josh will have something life-changing to write about by the time this movie ends. What could possibly happen in a few days that could change Josh’s life?

It just so happens that Josh has found out that Mikey and Donnie’s cousin Zoey (played by Alyssa Jirrels) has moved back into the area because of her parents’ recent divorce. Josh hasn’t seen Zoey since they were very young kids, and she didn’t make a good impression on him then because Zoey bit him at a party. However, Josh changes his mind about Zoey when he sees what she looks like now: Zoey has blossomed into a stereotypical “dream girl” who’s in these types of movies: blonde, pretty and thin. Josh is instantly smitten.

There’s a big problem for Josh though: Zoey already has a boyfriend. He’s a stuck-up British guy in his 20s named Kale (played by Gregg Sulkin), who is a rich and well-connected aspiring artist. After Zoey graduates from high school, Zoey and Kale have plans to move to Los Angeles, where Kale wants to pursue his artist career.

And what do you know: To Josh’s dismay, Zoey tells him that the school is letting her graduate a few days earlier than the rest of the class, and she’s moving to Los Angeles the next day. The timeline in this movie is weird and makes no sense. In one scene, Josh and Zoey see each other for the first time in several years. When Josh is at school after his awestruck “reunion” with Zoey, he has a meeting with Mr. Elmer about his essay being due. It’s supposed to be about a less than a week before Josh’s last day of high school.

But then, a few scenes later, Zoey tells Josh that she’s graduating early. That means (1) either Josh didn’t know that Zoey was a student at the school for quite some time or (2) Zoey is having one of the shortest school stints ever as a transfer student. The first scenario is highly unlikely since Zoey is the cousin of Josh’s close friend Mikey, who would’ve mentioned it if she had moved back in the area months or weeks ago. The second scenario is more likely what the filmmakers want viewers of this movie to believe.

When Zoey and Josh see each other for the first time in years, he’s carpooling with Mikey, while Donnie is driving. Donnie and Mikey stop over at Zoey’s place to pick her up to take her to school. The timeline is off-kilter and frankly quite stupid in how quickly all of these things have happened to Josh in just a few days: He discovered that Zoey is in his same graduating class, she’s graduating early, and she’s moving to Los Angeles with Kale the next day. And somehow, Josh thinks he’s in love with Zoey and can win her over in this short period of time. It’s not romantic. It’s creepy and obsessive.

Zoey and Kale are taking a road trip for their relocation to Los Angeles. Josh is a big fan of the alternative rock group Lovely the Band, and he finds out that Zoey is a big fan too. And what a coincidence: Lovely the Band is headlining at an upcoming sold-out festival. (Lovely the Band has a cameo performance in the movie, because you already know that the characters are going to this festival.) Zoey doesn’t have the wristband tickets needed to go to the concert, so Josh lies and tells her that he has these wristbands. Josh’s scheme is to somehow find a way to get Zoey to go with him to this concert, which will take place over a weekend. And he doesn’t have a car.

Meanwhile, Donnie has recently bought a dirty and beat-up food truck because he and Mikey have plans to start a food truck business together after Mikey graduates from high school. Donnie says he’s going to refurbish the truck, and he expects Mikey to help him. The truck has a “Star Wars”-inspired name with a bad pun: The Milleniyum Falcon, because the food is supposed to be “yummy.” However, Mikey has a secret: He applied to Texas A&M University and he got accepted. Mikey is afraid to tell Donnie, because he doesn’t want Donnie to feel like Mikey will abandon Donnie for college.

Josh is desperate for transportation to the concert. Apparently, he doesn’t his own car and he doesn’t have the money to rent one. It should come as no surprise that Josh lies to Mikey and Donnie by saying that he has wristbands for all of them to see Lovely the Band, and they should take the Milleniyum Falcon on a road trip to the concert—on one condition: Zoey needs to go with them too. Josh says that the wristbands will be there for him to pick up at the venue’s will call center.

Molly knows about Josh’s deceitful scheme, and she insists on going on the road trip too. Molly says that she wants to make sure that nothing goes wrong with Josh. Sure, Molly. Whatever you say.

And what about Zoey’s boyfriend Kale and their plans to move to Los Angeles? Kale suddenly gets an opportunity to meet with someone who can help him with his career. And the meeting is around the same time that Zoey wants to go on the road trip to the concert. Gee, what a coincidence.

Kale isn’t too pleased about Zoey spending time with what he thinks are a bunch of dorks, but he’s more concerned about advancing his career. Zoey is 18 and a legal adult, so there’s nothing that can stop her from going. (Parents are practically non-existent in this movie.) And so, Zoey ends up going on this road trip with Josh, Molly, Mikey and Donnie in a junkpile food truck named the Milleniyum Falcon. You can easily figure out what happens from then on.

There’s sort of a bizarre subplot with “This Is the Year” director David Henrie portraying a guy in his late 20s or early 30s named Sebastian, who meets these travelers during the trip. Sebastian is supposed to be an exact look-alike for Patrick J. Michael, the “Fireworks at Beaumont Prep” actor whom Josh idolizes. (Josh and other people repeatedly mention the physical resemblance.) Sebastian immediately fixates on Molly and makes it known that he wants to date her. It’s kind of inappropriate because she’s supposed to be a high school student, and he knows it.

Yes, technically Molly could be the age of consent (which is 18 in most U.S. states), but it’s still an icky part of the movie because Molly is not emotionally mature enough to be dating a man that age. Out of all of the movie’s principal actors who are depicting high school students, Marano is the only one who comes the closest to looking like she could be in high school. All the other “high school students” in the movie look old enough to be closer to the age of 30 instead of 18.

There are many other unrealistic and dopey scenarios that take place in “This Is the Year.” The entire movie is built on a flimsy premise anyway. And viewers won’t have much sympathy for Josh and his pathetic lies. Zoey is your basic bland beauty in movies like this one. Josh’s attraction to her is obviously mostly physical, which makes him look almost as shallow as vain and selfish Kale.

The only characters in the movie who don’t come across as people who deserve to have duct tape put over their mouths are Molly and Donnie, but even they have moments that are irritating to watch. Molly goes along with Josh’s horrible con game, which puts her on a certain level of sleazy. Donnie is harmless and goofy, but he really needs to get a life if he’s hanging out this much with high schoolers in his free time.

In addition to the horrendous screenplay, “This Is the Year” doesn’t have any acting performances that rise above mediocre. The movie’s comedy is very phony and forced. And there are absolutely no surprises at all. Well, maybe one big surprise: This movie is so hackneyed and boring, you might be surprised if you can get through it all without falling asleep.

Vertical Entertainment released “This Is the Year” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 24, 2021.

Review: ‘Bergman Island’ (2021), starring Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps, Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie

October 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth in “Bergman Island” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Bergman Island”

Directed by Mia Hansen-Løve

Some language in Swedish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Sweden (primarily on the island of Fårö), the dramatic film “Bergman Island” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British film director and his German screenwriter wife have different experiences while on a getaway trip to Fårö (famous for being filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s home), where she struggles to finish a screenplay, whose plot is depicted in the movie.

Culture Audience: “Bergman Island” will appeal primarily to people who Ingmar Bergman and to people who are interested in talkative arthouse movies that have a story within a story.

Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie in “Bergman Island” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

People watching “Bergman Island” will have a better chance of enjoying the movie if they know in advance that it’s more of a low-key “slice of life” character portrait (with a generous serving of Ingmar Bergman history) than a series of dramatic shakeups. Usually, whenever there’s a drama about a married couple going on a getaway trip together, the plot is about some kind of crisis or reckoning that happens in their marriage. That’s not the case with “Bergman Island,” which has a story-within-a-story that’s introduced in the last third of the film.

Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve, “Bergman Island” has a meandering quality to it that’s reflective of the leisurely pace that one might have when on a tourist getaway trip. Married couple Tony (played by Tim Roth) and Chris (played by Vicky Krieps) are on this type of trip, which they approach in two very different ways. Tony is a well-known British film director in his late 50s. He’s about 25 years older than Chris, a lesser-known screenwriter who is originally from Germany, but she currently lives in the United States with Tony and their daughter June (played by Grace Delrue), who is about 5 or 6 years old.

Tony is a highly respected “auteur” who’s famous-enough to be recognized in public by film aficionados, but he’s not so famous that paparazzi are following him wherever he goes. Chris and Tony have decided to go without June to Fårö (an island off the coast of Sweden), which is nicknamed Bergman Island, because it’s where Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman famously lived in the later years of his life. The island has become a tourist attraction for Bergman fans who take guided tours of Bergman’s former home and places that he liked to go on the island.

This getaway trip isn’t a complete vacation fr Tony and Chris. It’s somewhat of a working trip. Tony has been invited to give a guest lecture, while Chris is trying to get some work done on a screenplay for her next movie. She has writer’s block and is struggling to figure out how to end the film. Viewers will get the impression that Chris and Tony are relatively content with each other, but there’s no real passion in their marriage. They act more like roommates who get along with each other and respect each other.

Chris and Tony aren’t exactly bored with each other, but for a great deal of the trip, they don’t really care to spend a lot of time together. They also make a lot of small talk with each other, as if they’ve run out of meaningful things to discuss. Chris and Tony go on some sightseeing tours together, but at some point, Chris (who gets more screen time than Tony) ends up doing her own activities. It becomes very apparent that Chris and Tony also have very different personalities, which affects how they approach the trip.

A lot of “Bergman Island” is about Chris and Tony meeting some of the local Bergman historians, having dinners with them and going on some sightseeing excursions. However, Chris is a lot more outgoing than introverted Tony. She’s also more interested in meeting new people and having inquisitive conversations with them about their lives, in contrast to to Tony, who limits his conversations with strangers to polite small talk.

Chris is worried about how she’s going to finish her screenplay. Tony doesn’t offer much support because creativity comes easier for him, so he can’t really relate to her writer’s block. It’s implied that Tony doesn’t write a lot of the movies that he directs. He also refrains from giving advice because he thinks that Chris should find her own creative path without interference from him.

While Tony is content to spend time relaxing in their resort room, Chris is more adventurous and spends more time exploring areas on her own and interacting with some of the local people she meets. One of them is a man in his 20s named Hampus (played by Hampus Nordenson), a film student who tells Chris that his grandparents are originally from Fårö. Hampus and Chris end up spending a lot of time alone together, as he shows her places that are not the usual tourist spots.

At one point, Hampus and Chris end up frolicking on a secluded beach with other, in a platonic way. There are hints that Chris and Hampus have a mild attraction to each other, but neither of them acts on it. Hampus and Chris enjoy each other’s company and find out that they have similar tastes in movies and literature.

If “Bergman Island” followed the usual movie formula about a married couple with not much passion in their relationship, someone in Chris and Tony’s marriage would be tempted to commit infidelity on this romantic island. There are hints that Tony has sexual thoughts that he’s not sharing openly with Chris. Shortly after they arrive Fårö, Chris sees in Tony’s journal that he has sketched some drawings of a naked woman in various bondage poses and sexual positions. Next to one of the sketches are these words: “Who are you? You or me?”

Is Tony having an affair? Is he secretly lusting for another woman but hasn’t committed infidelity with her? Or is he just interested in drawing erotic sketches? Don’t expect any answers in this movie. Chris seems somewhat surprised at what she’s discovered in Tony’s journal, but she says nothing to Tony about it because she probably doesn’t want to be accused of snooping.

Chris is more preoccupied with her unfinished screenplay than thinking about infidelity. But it isn’t until the last third of “Bergman Island” that she opens up to Tony and tells him what her screenplay is about, in order to maybe get some feedback or advice from him. When she tells Tony what’s in the screenplay plot so far, the story is depicted on screen in the story-within-a-story part of “Bergman Island.”

The protagonist of Chris’ screenplay is a woman in her 30s named Amy (played by Mia Wasikowska), who’s had a tumultuous on-again/off-again love affair with a guy named Joseph (played by Anders Danielsen Lie), ever since she was 15 and he was 17. It’s unknown if their teenage romance is depicted in Chris’ screenplay. What Chris describes to Tony is the part of the screenplay that is supposed to lead to the ending that Chris has a hard time completing.

After years of not being in contact with each other, Amy and Joseph happen to see each other again because they are guests at a mutual friend’s destination wedding. Amy is now a single mother who is currently not involved in a love relationship. Joseph is not the father of Amy’s child, and Amy doesn’t want to talk about the father of her child.

Meanwhile, Joseph is a never-married bachelor with no children, but he has a serious girlfriend named Michelle back at home whom he says he’s probably going to marry. Amy is not happy to hear this news, because Amy has unresolved feelings for Joseph. It’s enough to say that there are still romantic sparks between Amy and Joseph. Will they or won’t they end up together?

Although all of the principal actors in “Bergman Island” give very good performances (Wasikowska is the standout), the movie seems a little off-kilter by introducing this secondary plot so late in the story. A better narrative structure would have been to weave the secondary story into the main plot in a more seamless way instead of rushing it in toward the last third of the film. Truth be told, Amy and Joseph are a much more intriguing couple than Chris and Tony.

It’s not only because Tony and Chris have settled into a boring marriage. Amy and Joseph just have more interesting things to say to each other. Amy and Joseph are also more passionate with each other and better at expressing themselves, maybe because there’s a lot more at stake with their emotions than “safe” couple Chris and Tony.

“Bergman Island” has some gorgeous cinematography and great scenic shots of Fårö. This movie should be a treat for people who are Bergman fans, since there are plenty of references to his work and personal life in the movie. Without the subplot about Amy and Joseph, “Bergman Island” would not be as compelling to watch. Don’t be surprised if you almost wish that Amy and Joseph’s story had been the main plot, because it seems like Amy and Joseph’s screen time ends too soon.

IFC Films released “Bergman Island” in select U.S. cinemas on October 15, 2021.

Review: ‘Vengeance Is Mine’ (2021), starring Con O’Neill and Sarah-Jane Potts

October 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Con O’Neill in “Vengeance Is Mine” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Vengeance Is Mine” (2021)

Directed by Hadi Hajaig

Culture Representation: Taking place in London in 2019, the action film “Vengeance Is Mine” has a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few people of Indian heritage) representing the working-class, middle-class and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: An embittered middle-aged man goes after the men responsible for the hit-and-run deaths of his wife and 9-year-old daughter.

Culture Audience: “Vengeance Is Mine” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in formulaic and violent vigilante movies.

Perry Jaques, Philip Bulcock and Matt Bainbridge in “Vengeance Is Mine”

“Vengeance Is Mine” does absolutely nothing unique or creative in a story that has been recycled from the dozens of better vigilante movies that have come before it. A grieving husband/father, armed with weapons, is out for revenge. You know exactly what’s going to be in this movie as soon as you find out that this is the entire plot.

Written and directed by Hadi Hajaig, Vengeance Is Mine” not only skimps on originality, the movie also skimps on compelling conversations, since there isn’t much dialogue in this movie. “Vengeance Is Mine” is so by-the-numbers, you practically can do a countdown to the killings and when the movie’s big showdown will happen. It’s also easy to predict what will happen to the suicidal protagonist by the end of the movie. It’s the only conclusion that wouldn’t be controversial, considering all the murders he commits.

The protagonist of “Vengeance Is Mine” is down-on-his-luck Harry Kane (played by Con O’Neill), a widower in his late 40s who has been living by himself in a church’s back room in London. In exchange for free rent, Harry does maintenance work at the church. Not much is revealed about what Harry’s life was like before a traumatic tragedy changed his life forever.

It’s 2019 in this story. Five years earlier, Harry’s 43-year-old wife Elizabeth Kane (played by Annabel Wright) and their 9-year-old daughter Lucy (played by Lucy Pedrero) were killed in a hit-and-run car accident that Harry witnessed. The movie has several flashbacks to when Elizabeth and Lucy were alive, as well as to what happened in the reckless crime that took their lives.

There were several men in the car that killed Elizabeth and Lucy. Harry got a good look at all of them, but they have not been caught. He hired a private investigator named Henderson (played Ricky Grover), who has his own detective agency named after himself. The movie shows Harry glumly looking at some of the letters that Henderson has sent to Harry over the years. In the letters. Henderson says that there is nothing new to report.

Harry is so grief-stricken that an early scene in the movie shows him climbing on a high ledge at the church, with the intention to jump and commit suicide. He changes his mind and goes back to his depressing and lonely existence. Harry is essentially a bitter recluse.

Harry’s quest to find the hit-and-run criminals takes a sudden turn in August of 2019, when he gets a letter from the Henderson Detective Agency. The letter says that Henderson has information and asks Harry to meet him at a nearby cafe at a specific date and time. During this meeting, Henderson says that he heard through an informant that a man, who’s a regular at a local pub, has been bragging about causing the hit-and-run. The criminal braggart usually goes drinking at the pub on Thursdays.

Harry demands to know which pub, and Henderson reluctantly tells Harry. This detective seems to know what Harry wants to do and knows that nothing will stop Harry from doing it. Harry goes to the pub on the day that he knows he will probably see the suspect. And sure enough, Harry immediately recognizes one of the men at the pub as being one of the men who was in the car that killed Harry’s wife and daughter.

Harry notices that the man has a van parked nearby, so he quickly hides in the back of the van to find out where the man will be going after leaving the pub. (Conveniently, the back of the van was unlocked.) When the mystery man drives the van away, he goes to a run-down house in a somehwat remote area. And what do you know: Harry sees a few more men who were in the car that killed his wife and daughter.

It turns out that the men in the car are local criminals who are involved in drug dealing and robberies. The thugs, who are all in their 30s and 40s, are very generic with no backstories or discernible personalities. A few have names, such as Mark (played by Philip Bulcock), Karl (played by Perry Jaques) and Joe (played by Matt Bainbridge), while others don’t even have names. The film’s end credits list Villain 1 (played by Justin Pearson) and Villain 2 (played by Barry Green).

Harry goes home to fume and plan and his next move. Anyone who’s seen the most basic vigilante movies will know what happens next. And it does. “Vengeance Is Mine” tries to thrown in some sentimentality in the story, by giving Joe a potential love interest. Her name is Emma (played by Sarah-Jane Potts), who oversees the church’s soup kitchen and is Joe’s supervisor. Emma is a kind-hearted widow who is also grieving over her dead spouse.

The possible romance between Harry and Emma is just a way to make it look like Harry hasn’t lost his sensitive and emotional side. But make no mistake: Any possible “love story” in this movie is just filler. “Vengeance Is Mine” is all about cold-blooded revenge. The movie puts the most effort in the bloody fight scenes, not in character development.

The problem is that these characters, the action, the story and everything else about this movie are bland and derivative. The acting is mediocre. The direction is clumsy, with hokey music for the slow-motion scenes showing Harry’s awful flashbacks to witnessing the hit-and-run that killed his wife and daughter. Because so much of “Vengeance Is Mine” is predictable junk, viewers won’t find much to care about in this movie. It’s hard to care about a movie that’s so uninspired and forgettable.

Vertical Entertainment released “Vengeance Is Mine” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 8, 2021.

2021 DOC NYC: What to expect at this year’s event

October 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Celebrating its 12th edition in 2021, the annual DOC NYC, which is headquartered in New York City, is one of the world’s leading documentary festivals, with a slate of more than 200 films (of which more than 100 are feature-length films) from a diverse array of topics. In 2021, DOC NYC takes place from November 10 to November 28, and continues the festival’s tradition of offering an outstanding variety of feature films and short films, with several of the movies focusing on under-represented people and marginalized communities.

After being a virtual-only event in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DOC NYC is now a hybrid event in 2021. DOC NYC is returning to in-person screenings at IFC Center, SVA Theatre and Cinépolis Chelsea. The in-person screenings will take place from November 10 to November 18. In accordance with New York City’s COVID-19 policies, all in-person festival attendees ages 12 an older must present proof of being fully vaccinated and a photo ID, in order to be admitted into the venue. People under the age of 12 who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated must wear masks, which are required for everyone inside the festival venues at all times, except when eating and drinking. All of the festival’s movies will be available to view online to the general public from November 19 to November 28. Tickets are available on the official DOC NYC website.

In 2021, DOC NYC is debuting three new competitive categories for DOC NYC awards: “a U.S. Competition for new American non-fiction films; an International Competition for work from around the globe; and the Kaleidoscope Competition for new essayistic and formally adventurous documentaries,” according to a DOC NYC press release. These new competitive categories join DOC NYC’s awards program that includes Metropolis Competition (for feature-length films with a New York City focus); Viewfinders Competition (for feature-length films with a disintinctively unique directorial vision); Audience Award (voted for by DOC NYC attendees); and Shorts Competition for short films. All competitive awards are voted for by appointed juries, except for the Audience Award.

DOC NYC’s annual Short List spotlights movies (features and shorts) that are considered top contenders to get Oscar nominations. The movies on the 2021 Short List are to be announced. The Short List: Features jury gives awards in the categories of Director, Producer, Editor and Cinematographer. The Short List: Shorts jury gives a Director Award.

“Anonymous Sister”

DOC NYC’s selections for the festival’s inaugural U.S. Competition are “Anonymous Sister,” “Be Our Guest,” “Boycott,” “Exposure,” “Grandpa Was an Emperor,” “Newtok,” “Objects,” “Once Upon a Time in Uganda,” “Refuge,” “The Slow Hustle,” “A Tree of Life” and “The United States vs. Reality Winner.”

The movies in the International Competition are “After the Rain,” “Be My Voice,” “The Bubble,” “Comala,” “Come Back Anytime,” “The Devil’s Drivers,” “F@ck This Job,” “The Forgotten Ones,” “Go Through the Dark,” “The Mole,” “On the Other Side” and “Young Plato.”

The selections for the Kaledeiscope Competition are “Cow,” “Edna,” “Invisible Demons,” “The Man Who Paints Water Drops,” “Nothing But the Sun,” “Nude at Heart” and “Three Minutes: A Lengthening.”

“Young Plato”

DOC NYC, which was co-founded by Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen, also has special events in addition to screenings. DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute returns as an in-person invitation-only event, set to take place at Gotham Hall, on November 10, 2021. The honorees for the 2021 DOC NYC Visionaries Tribute are cinematographer Joan Churchill and filmmaker Raoul Peck, who will each receive the Lifetime Achievement Award; filmmaker Peter Nicks, who will get the Robert and Anne Drew Award; and Ford Foundation’s JustFilms senior program officer Chi-hui Yang, recipient of the Leading Light Award.

For the third year in a row, the festival is presenting DOC NYC’s Winner’s Circle collection, which spotlights movies that have won awards at other film festivals, but might be underrated or overlooked for Oscar nominations. Winner’s Circle documentaries this year are “All Light, Everywhere,” “Children of the Enemy,” “A Cop Movie,” “Mr. Bachmann and His Class,” “A Night of Knowing Nothing,” “Option Zero” and “Writing With Fire.”

DOC NYC’s annual Short List spotlights movies (features and shorts) that are considered top contenders to get Oscar nominations. These 2021 Short List selections will be announced on a later date. The Short List: Features jury gives awards in the categories of director, producer, editor and cinematographer. The Short List: Shorts jury gives a Director Award.

Even though most of the movies at DOC NYC have had their world premieres elsewhere, DOC NYC has several world premieres of its own. Here are the feature films that will have their world premieres at DOC NYC. A complete program can be found here.


All descriptions are courtesy of DOC NYC.

“14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible” 
Directed by Torquil Jones

In 2019, Nepalese mountain climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja set out to do the unthinkable by climbing the world’s 14 highest summits in less than seven months.

Nirmal “Nims” Purja in “14 Peaks: Nothing Is Impossible”

Directed by Andy Ostroy

The death of acclaimed actress/filmmaker/screenwriter Adrienne Shelly sends her husband on a search for answers.

Anonymous Sister” 
Directed by Jamie Boyle

Filmmaker Jamie Boyle turns the camera on her own family when her mother and sister become dependent on opioids.

“Be Our Guest” 
Directed by Diane Tsai

A family in a small New Hampshire town learns to balance their needs with their unconventional home life when they open their doors to those recovering from addiction.

Directed by Julia Bacha

Award-winning filmmaker Julia Bacha looks at the recent explosion of laws designed to penalize Americans who push boycotts against Israel.


“The Business of Birth Control” 
Directed by Abby Epstein

Filmmaker Abby Epstein and executive producer Ricki Lake re-team after “The Business of Being Born” to explore the controversial secret history of the birth control pill.

“The Cannons” 
Directed by Steven Hoffner and AJ Messier

Legendary youth hockey coach Neal Henderson, an institution in the Washington, D.C., community, shepherds a new group of teens toward manhood through the game he loves.

“Dean Martin: King of Cool” 
Directed by Tom Donohue

This in-depth biography explores Dean Martin’s varied career, including his complicated relationships with Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and others.

“DMX: Don’t Try to Understand” 
Directed by Christopher Frierson

An intimate look at Earl “DMX” Simmons’ final year, highlighting the complex man, father and musician behind the raucous rapper persona.

DMX in “DMX: Don’t Try to Understand”

“Exposing Muybridge” 
Directed by Marc Shaffer

A complex look into the compelling life and times of the father of cinema: Eadweard Muybridge

“Go Through the Dark” 
Directed by Yunhong Pu

A blind boy in China being raised by a struggling single father displays great skill at the ancient board game Go.

Directed by Alex Contell and Tommaso Sacconi

Featuring professional and amateur photographers, film lab technicians, community organizations, ICP educators, and even Kodak and Lomography representatives, “Grain” explores the stories of those committed to using real, physical film in the digital era.

“Grandpa Was an Emperor” 
Directed by Constance Marks

Yeshi, great granddaughter of famed Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, investigates what happened to her beloved father after the 1974 coup that landed most of her family in prison.

Directed by Tommy Haynes

Two competing high school hockey programs fight for the pride of their communities and a coveted state championship.


Directed by Sandra Alvarez

Filmmaker Sandra Alvarez follows patients and activists as they band together to fight a multi-billion dollar nonprofit hospital system that limits vital care for vulnerable patients.

“The Invisible Shore” 
Directed by Zhao Qi

The audacious tale of Guo Chuan, the first Chinese man to embark on a solo, non-stop circumnavigation of the world—and went missing.

“The Jobs of Songs” 
Directed by Lila Schmitz

Next to the breathtaking cliffs of an Irish coastal village, a tight-knit group of musicians finds joy and community through traditional Irish folk songs.

“Kevin Garnett: Anything Is Possible” 
Directed by Daniel B. Levin and Eric W. Newman

Over the course of a Hall of Fame NBA career, Kevin Garnett transformed from a brash kid fresh off the prep circuit into a grizzled veteran lauded for his trademark passion for the game.

“Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time” 
Directed by Don Argott

Decades in the making, this biography of Kurt Vonnegut covers his years as a struggling writer to his eventual superstardom. The film makes its world premiere on what would have been his 99th birthday on November 1.

“Let Me Be Me” 
Directed by Dan Crane and Katie Taber

Kyle Westphal grows up as an isolated autistic boy whose life is transformed by his fascination with fabric, leading him to become a fashion designer.

“McCurry: The Pursuit of Colour”
Directed by Denis Delestrac

Unravel the world through Steve McCurry’s eyes and discover what these journeys can teach us about our place in the universe.

Directed by Emily Kuester and Brad Lichtenstein

Two Milwaukee area high schools—one black and urban, the other white and suburban—combine their football programs, and tensions rise as the disparities between them become increasingly apparent over the course of the season.

“Mr. Saturday Night” 
Directed by John Maggio

The untold story of Robert Stigwood, the impresario behind “Saturday Night Fever” and its record-breaking disco soundtrack.

Robert Stigwood and John Travolta in “Mr. Satuday Night” (Photo by Brad Elterman/BuzzFoto/FilmMagic, courtesy of HBO)

Directed by Andrew Burton and Michael Kirby Smith

As the effects of climate change become ever more apparent throughout the world, the Yup’ik people and their lands on the western outskirts of Alaska face a much more imminent threat.

Directed by Vincent Liota

An NPR correspondent, a literary author and a graphic designer let us in on the secret life of the special objects they keep as a way to preserve memories, conjure experiences and find meaning in their lives.

Directed by Hugo Perez

Omara Portuondo, internationally beloved grande dame of Cuban music best known from the Buena Vista Social Club, continues to delight audiences on her final world tour.

Directed by Erin Berhardt and Din Blankenship

In a small, uncommonly diverse town in Georgia, a successful Kurdish doctor and a Muslim-hating white supremacist form an unlikely and healing friendship.


“A Tree of Life” 
Directed by Trish Adlesic

Survivors of the deadly white supremacist attack at a Pittsburgh Synagogue in 2018 recount their harrowing experience.

“Young Plato” 
Directed by Neasa Ní Chianáin and Declan McGrath

A visionary headmaster at a Catholic primary school in Belfast teaches ancient Greek wisdom as an antidote for pessimism, violence and historical despair.

“Yung Punx: A Punk Parable” 
Directed by Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller and Jeremy Newberger

The Color Killers, a hard-rocking punk group of tweens, must overcome infighting and jealousies to ace their biggest live-performance ever.

“Yung Punx: A Punk Parable”

Review: ‘Cry Macho,’ starring Clint Eastwood

October 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Clint Eastwood and Eduardo Minett in “Cry Macho” (Photo by Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Cry Macho”

Directed by Clint Eastwood

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1979 in Mexico and briefly in Texas, the dramatic film “Cry Macho” has a cast of white and Latino characters representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: At the request of his former boss, a has-been horse breeder travels from Texas to Mexico to retrieve the boss’ 13-year-old son to live with the boss in Texas, even though the son doesn’t know his father.

Culture Audience: “Cry Macho” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in dull and old-fashioned Western dramas with some hokey dialogue and corny scenarios.

Clint Eastwood and Dwight Yoakam in “Cry Macho” (Photo by Claire Folger/Warner Bros. Pictures)

The Western drama “Cry Macho” is set in 1979, but that doesn’t excuse why this monotonous and outdated movie seems like it was written for a moldy TV Western from 1979. It’s got corny scenarios galore and a story filled with banal clichés. Clint Eastwood is the director and star of “Cry Macho,” where he seems to be going through the motions, giving the impression that he’s gotten tired of trying to do something uniquely creative with his talent. This lethargic type of filmmaking might put people to sleep if they try to watch “Cry Macho.”

The “Cry Macho” screenplay is written by N. Richard Nash and Nick Schenk, who both adapted the screenplay from Nash’s novel of the same name. In the production notes for “Cry Macho,” the filmmakers seem to be very proud that “Cry Macho” is Eastwood’s first movie since his 1991 Oscar-winning Western drama “Unforgiven” where he’s seen riding a horse. But just because Eastwood is riding a horse in a movie doesn’t automatically make it a good movie.

In “Cry Macho,” Eastwood depicts Mike Milo, yet another in Eastwood’s long list of grouchy loner characters that he’s been doing in his most recent films. Mike is a widower who used to be a rodeo star until a rodeo injury decades ago left him with a broken back that led to addictions to painkiller pills and alcohol. Mike has been spending the past several years working as a horse breeder/trainer on a ranch in an unnamed city in Texas. However, he’s way past his prime, and his addictions have negatively affected his ability to do his work well. He’s also past the age when most people have retired.

The movie opens with Mike getting fired from his job. His now-former boss Howard Polk (played by Dwight Yoakam) tells Mike that there used to be a time when Howard was afraid of losing Mike to another employer. Howard bluntly tells Mike when firing him: “I’m not afraid of losing you to anybody now. You’re a loss to no one. It’s time for new blood.”

Mike has some choice words for his ex-boss as Mike leaves the ranch: “I’ve always thought of you as a small, weak and gutless man. But you know what? There’s no reason to be rude.” This is the kind of dialogue that litters “Cry Macho.” It’s like something out of the TV soap opera “Dallas,” which was a popular show around the time that this story takes place. Unfortunately, there’s no one in “Cry Macho” who’s as compelling to watch as “Dallas” villain J.R. Ewing. Even the most secondary characters in “Dallas” had more charisma than anyone in “Cry Macho.”

A few days after Mike gets fired, Howard shows up unannounced in Mike’s home. Howard tells Mike that he wants Mike to do a big favor for him. Howard explains that he has a 13-year-old son named Rafael, nicknamed Rafo, whom he doesn’t know and who lives in Mexico. Rafo’s mother Leta, who is Howard’s ex-wife, has custody of Rafo, but Howard describes Rafo’s living situation as “abusive.” Howard and Leta split up when Rafo was too young to remember Howard, who has not been involved in raising Rafo.

Howard says that Leta is a “nutcase” and a “mess” who used to be fun to party with, and he wants Mike to go to Mexico to take Rafo to come live with Howard in Texas. Howard calls it a “rescue,” but it’s really a kidnapping. Howard says that he can’t do it himself because he has “legal issues” that prevent him from going back to Mexico.

As a way to convince Mike to take on this heavy task, Howard tries to appeal to Mike’s ego. Howard tells Mike that when Mike sees Rafo, “He’ll listen to you. You’re a real cowboy … Tell him he’ll have his own horse. It’s every boy’s dream.”

Mike immediately says no to this request to take Rafo to Texas, but Howard puts Mike on a guilt trip, by reminding him that he could’ve fired Mike years ago when people advised Howard to get rid of Mike. Howard says that he kept Mike employed and therefore helped him out financially for a lot longer than most bosses would. Howard essentially tells Mike that Mike owes it to Howard to do this favor, so Mike reluctantly agrees. Howard gives two things to Mike to help in this mission: Leta’s address and a photo of a 6-year-old Rafo, which is the most recent photo that Howard has of his son.

And the next thing you know, Mike has driven his truck to Mexico and shows up at Leta’s mansion, where she’s having a big party. Based on Howard’s description of his legal problems, his party-fueled past relationship with Leta (played by Fernanda Urrejola), and the dysfunctional living situation that Rafo is in, it should come as no surprise when Mike quickly figures out that Leta is involved in drug trafficking. She also has bodyguard goons to do what she tells them to do.

Mike finds Leta at the party and is up front in telling her that he’s there to take Rafo back to Texas to live with Howard. She says she’s not surprised because it’s not the first time that Howard has tried to get Rafo to live with Howard. Leta has this to say to Mike about Rafo: “My son is wild—an animal who lives in the gutter—gambling, fighting, cock fighting. Take him if you can find him. He’s a monster … He’s like his father. He runs away. He hates his father. He hates me.”

After that cheery little family pep talk, it doesn’t take long for Mike to find Rafo. The teenager is at a cock fight, where Rafo is handling his cock-fighting rooster named Macho. Before things get vicious in the cock fight, Mike pulls Rafo aside and tells Rafo why he’s there. Rafo is immediately suspicious, but Mike is able to prove that he knows Howard. Mike also assures Rafo that Howard is ready and willing to be an attentive father to Rafo.

Rafo is also intrigued by Mike’s promise that Rafo will get to live on a big Texas ranch with his own horse. Rafo’s biggest fear, which frequently comes up in the movie, is that his father Howard will change his mind about wanting Rafo to live with him. Rafo obviously doesn’t like living with his mother Leta, so it doesn’t take long for Rafo to go with Mike to see if he can have a better life with his father Howard. And so, Rafo and his rooster Macho go on a road trip with Mike back to Texas. (“Cry Macho” was actually filmed in New Mexico.)

Rafo actually isn’t the “monster” that his mother described him as. He’s a troubled kid with abandonment issues, and he has a hard time trusting people. However, once someone gains Rafo’s trust, he opens up and shows a friendly side to himself. Part of the movie is predictably about Mike being a temporary father figure to Rafo during this road trip. The movie’s obvious theme is what it means to have a masculine identity.

But since this is a movie, things can’t be as simple as a “teaching this boy to be a man” type of story. After Leta and Mike met for the first time at the party and he left, Leta told one of her henchman named Aurelio (played by Horacio Garcia Rojas) to follow Mike. And you know what that means: Leta doesn’t want to let Rafo go as easily as she says she does.

Because it’s already been established that Howard is a shady character, it’s also not surprising that he has an ulterior motive for wanting Rafo to live with him. That secret (which Howard eventually reveals to Mike) becomes another source of conflict. And the biggest cliché for a road trip movie happens in “Cry Macho”: The car breaks down in a small town, so they’re stuck in an unfamiliar place while waiting to get the car repaired. It’s all just a way to stretch and pad out the already thin plot.

One good thing that “Cry Macho” has going for it is that the story is uncomplicated and easy to understand. The problem is that the movie is almost like a children’s elementary reading book in how it doesn’t go beyond the most basic of plots. The characters are predictable and quite two-dimensional.

A road trip like this one should be filled with more insight and self-discovery. But in this movie, there’s a tedious stretch of the movie where Mike teaches Rafo how to ride horses. Among the movie’s many other Western movie clichés, there’s a bumbling deputy named Diaz (played by Jorge-Luis Pallo), who likes to pretend that he’s the sheriff of the town.

The word gets out that Mike is good with animals. And suddenly, the townspeople go to him with their sick animals, as if Mike is the friendly neighborhood veterinarian. Mike even quips that they must think he’s Dr. Dolittle. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

And what do you know, here comes another Western movie cliché: What’s a lonely cowboy to do when he’s stuck in a small town? He meets a woman who runs the local eating/drinking establishment, which in “Cry Macho’s” case is not a saloon but a diner. Mike’s love interest is a widowed grandmother named Marta (played by Natalia Traven), who is very hospitable and generous to Mike and Rafo, but she is ultimately a generic character.

“Cry Macho” isn’t an atrocious movie, but it’s very disappointing in how little it does with what could have been an intriguing story and instead churns out a hack movie that has very little imagination. Eastwood does absolutely nothing new or interesting with the Mike Milo character. He can do this type of character in his sleep. And it shows, because at times it looks like you’re watching someone who’s sleepwalking through a performance.

And although it’s great that Eastwood cast a relative newcomer in the role of Rafo (“Cry Macho” is Minett’s second feature film), this casting decision could’ve been better because Minett unfortunately does not have the acting skills that his more experienced co-stars have. There are moments when he’s too stiff, and other moments when he’s too melodramatic. “Cry Macho” is like an old show horse that plods along when it’s put out to pasture because it’s lost its vibrancy and just doesn’t seem to care anymore.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Cry Macho” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on September 17, 2021.

2021 Critics Choice Awards: ‘Ascension,’ ‘Summer of Soul’ are the top nominees

October 18, 2021

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

The Critics Choice Association(CCA) has announced the nominees for the Sixth Annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards (CCDA). The winners will be revealed at a Gala Event on Sunday, November 14, 2021 at BRIC in Brooklyn, NY.

The Critics Choice Associationwill once again be honoring the year’s finest achievements in documentaries released in theaters, on TV and on major digital platforms, as determined by the voting of qualified CCA members. 

This year, the Critics Choice Documentary Awards proudly has its first Presenting Sponsor, National Geographic Documentary Films. 

Features by two first-time documentarians, Ascension and Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) lead this year’s nominations with six each. 

Ascension is nominated for Best Documentary Feature, Jessica Kingdon for Best Director, Best First Documentary Feature, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Score.

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is nominated for Best Documentary Feature, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson for Best Director, Best First Documentary Feature, Best Editing, Best Archival Documentary and Best Music Documentary.

Recognized with five nominations each are Becoming Cousteau and The Rescue. 

The nominations for Becoming Cousteau are Best Documentary Feature, Liz Garbus for Best Director, Best Narration, Best Archival Documentary and Best Science/Nature Documentary. 

The Rescue is nominated for Best Documentary Feature, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin for Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Score.

“This has been and continues to be a fantastic year for documentary storytelling. And the number of first-time feature documentarians in the mix of nominees, alongside proven veterans, shows that nonfiction cinema continues to have a very bright future,” said Christopher Campbell, President of the Critics Choice Association Documentary Branch. “Our world, from its most amazing wonders to its greatest challenges, is being reflected back on the screen so immediately and creatively by today’s filmmakers, and it’s a tremendous honor for us to recognize all of their achievements.” 

Last year at the Fifth Annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards, Dick Johnson is Dead took home the CCA’s top award for Best Documentary as well as the Best Director award for Kirsten Johnson.

My Octopus Teacher took home the awards for Best Science and Nature Documentary and Best Cinematography. The film later received many more accolades and awards, including an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

In addition to the 14 award categories and one honor listed below, a most prestigious honor – The Pennebaker Award (formerly known as the Critics Choice Lifetime Achievement Award) – will be presented to esteemed documentarian R.J. Cutler. This award is named for Critics Choice Lifetime Achievement Award winner D.A. Pennebaker, who passed away in 2019. The award will be presented to Cutler by Pennebaker’s producing partner and wife, Chris Hegedus.

R.J. Cutler is the award-winning producer/director whose work includes some of the most acclaimed documentaries of the last thirty years. His most recent film, the Apple Original Film cinema verité documentary Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry, is nominated for Best Music Documentary.

The nominees for the Sixth Annual Critics Choice Documentary Awards Presented by National Geographic Documentary Films are:


  • Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
  • Attica (Showtime)
  • Becoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • The Crime of the Century (HBO Documentary Films)
  • A Crime on the Bayou (Augusta Films/Shout! Studios)
  • Flee (Neon)
  • Introducing, Selma Blair (Discovery+)
  • The Lost Leonardo (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • My Name is Pauli Murray (Amazon Studios)
  • Procession (Netflix)
  • The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)


  • Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin – The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Liz Garbus – Becoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Jessica Kingdon – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
  • Stanley Nelson and Traci A. Curry – Attica (Showtime)
  • Jonas Poher Rasmussen – Flee (Neon)
  • Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson – Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)
  • Edgar Wright – The Sparks Brothers (Focus Features)


  • Jessica Beshir – Faya Dayi (Janus Films)
  • Rachel Fleit – Introducing, Selma Blair (Discovery+)
  • Todd Haynes – The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)
  • Jessica Kingdon – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
  • Kristine Stolakis – Pray Away (Netflix)
  • Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson – Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)
  • Edgar Wright – The Sparks Brothers (Focus Features)


  • Jessica Beshir – Faya Dayi (Janus Films)
  • Jonathan Griffith, Brett Lowell and Austin Siadak – The Alpinist (Roadside Attractions)
  • David Katznelson, Ian Seabrook and Picha Srisansanee – The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Jessica Kingdon and Nathan Truesdell – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
  • Nelson Hume and Alan Jacobsen – The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (Bleecker Street Media)
  • Emiliano Villanueva – A Cop Movie (Netflix)
  • Pete West – Puff: Wonders of the Reef (Netflix)


  • Francisco Bello, Matthew Heineman, Gabriel Rhodes and David Zieff – The First Wave  (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Jeff Consiglio – LFG (HBO Max and CNN Films)
  • Bob Eisenhardt – The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz – The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)
  • Jessica Kingdon – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
  • Joshua L. Pearson – Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)
  • Julian Quantrill – The Real Charlie Chaplin (Showtime)


  • 9/11: Inside the President’s War Room (Apple TV+)/Jeff Daniels, Narrator
  • Becoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)/Vincent Cassel, Narrator; Mark Monroe and Pax Wassermann, Writers
  • The Crime of the Century (HBO Documentary Films)/ Alex Gibney, Narrator; Alex Gibney, Writer
  • The Neutral Ground (PBS)/CJ Hunt, Narrator; CJ Hunt, Writer
  • The Real Charlie Chaplin (Showtime); Pearl Mackie, Narrator; Oliver Kindeberg, Peter Middleton and James Spinney, Writers
  • Val (Amazon Studios); Jack Kilmer, Narrator; Val Kilmer, Writer
  • The Year Earth Changed (Apple TV+)/David Attenborough, Narrator


  • Jongnic Bontemps – My Name is Pauli Murray (Amazon Studios)
  • Dan Deacon – Ascension (MTV Documentary Films)
  • Alex Lasarenko and David Little – The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (Bleecker Street Media)
  • Cyrus Melchor – LFG (HBO/CNN)
  • Daniel Pemberton – The Rescue (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Rachel Portman – Julia (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • Dirac Sea – Final Account (Focus Features)


  • Becoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • The Real Charlie Chaplin (Showtime)
    The Real Right Stuff (Disney+)
  • Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street (HBO Documentary Films)
  • Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)
  • Val (Amazon Studios)
  • The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)


  • Attica (Showtime)
  • A Crime on the Bayou (Augusta Films/Shout! Studios)
  • Fauci (Magnolia Pictures/National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Final Account (Focus Features)
  • Julia (Sony Pictures Classics)
  • My Name is Pauli Murray (Amazon Studios)
  • No Ordinary Man (Oscilloscope)
  • Val (Amazon Studios)


  • Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry (Apple TV+)
  • Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James (Showtime)
  • Listening to Kenny G (HBO Documentary Films)
  • The Sparks Brothers (Focus Features)
  • Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)
  • Tina (HBO Documentary Films)
  • The Velvet Underground (Apple TV+)


  • The Crime of the Century (HBO Documentary Films)
  • Enemies of the State (IFC Films)
  • Four Hours at the Capitol (HBO Documentary Films)
  • Influence (StoryScope, EyeSteelFilm)
  • Mayor Pete (Amazon Studios)
  • Missing in Brooks County (Giant Pictures)
  • Nasrin (Hulu)
  • Not Going Quietly (Greenwich Entertainment)


  • Becoming Cousteau (Picturehouse/National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Fauci (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • The First Wave (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • The Loneliest Whale: The Search for 52 (Bleecker Street Media)
  • Playing with Sharks (National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Puff: Wonders of the Reef (Netflix)
  • The Year Earth Changed (Apple TV+)


  • The Alpinist (Roadside Attractions)
  • Changing the Game (Hulu)
  • The Day Sports Stood Still (HBO)
  • Kevin Garnett: Anything is Possible (Showtime)
  • LFG (HBO Max/CNN Films)
  • Tiger (HBO)


  • Audible (Netflix)
  • Borat’s American Lockdown (Amazon Studios)
  • Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis (Netflix)
  • Day of Rage: How Trump Supporters Took the U.S. Capitol (The New York Times)
  • The Doll (Jumping Ibex)
  • The Last Cruise (HBO Documentary Films)
  • The Queen of Basketball (The New York Times)
  • Snowy (TIME Studios)


  • Ady Barkan – Not Going Quietly (Greenwich Entertainment)
  • Selma Blair – Introducing, Selma Blair (Discovery+)
  • Pete Buttigieg – Mayor Pete (Amazon Studios)
  • Anthony Fauci – Fauci (Magnolia Pictures/National Geographic Documentary Films)
  • Ben Fong-Torres – Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres (StudioLA.TV)
  • Val Kilmer – Val (Amazon Studios)
  • Ron and Russell Mael – The Sparks Brothers (Focus Features)
  • Rita Moreno – Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It (Roadside Attractions)
  • Valerie Taylor – Playing With Sharks: The Valerie Taylor Story (Disney+)

About the Critics Choice Awards

The Critics Choice Documentary Awards are an off-shoot of The Critics Choice Awards, which are bestowed annually by CCA to honor the finest in cinematic and television achievement. Historically, the Critics Choice Awards are the most accurate predictor of the Academy Award nominations.

The Critics Choice Awards ceremony will be held on January 9, 2022 at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Century City, CA and will be broadcast live on The CW.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing almost 500 media critics and entertainment journalists. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the intersection between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit:

2021 CMA Awards: Luke Bryan is the show’s host

October 18, 2021

Luke Bryan arrives (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

The following is a press release from the Country Music Association and ABC:

The Country Music Association and ABC have announced Country Music superstar and “American Idol” judge Luke Bryan will host “The 55th Annual CMA Awards.” Country Music’s Biggest Night broadcasts LIVE from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville on Wednesday November 10, 2021 (8:00-11:00 p.m. EST), on ABC.

“The CMA Awards is one of the biggest nights of the year for Country Music,” says Bryan. “Being asked to host the CMA Awards was definitely something I put a lot of thought into before answering. The pressure that comes along with that can be overwhelming, but knowing I get to help honor and celebrate so many of my friends, I knew it was something I couldn’t turn down. I mean, growing up in Georgia, I remember watching Vince Gill, Reba, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell, to name a few. They were so good. And then becoming a part of this amazing Country Music family and sitting on the front row while Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Darius Rucker took the reins, all of these artists are heroes and friends, and I am honored to have my name included in this group. I’m looking forward to making it fun and memorable and using this platform to continue to make Country Music shine.”

Bryan, a two-time CMA Entertainer of the Year, will make his CMA Awards hosting debut on this year’s stage.

“We are so thrilled to have Luke join us as this year’s CMA Awards host,” says Sarah Trahern, CMA chief executive officer. “His fun and playful energy is something television viewers have welcomed into their homes week after week as a judge on ‘American Idol,’ and I know he has something exciting up his sleeve for the CMA Awards. We cannot wait to bring music fans a magical night of performances and truly some of the most special moments our show has ever delivered in just a few weeks.”

“We are so grateful Luke will host the biggest event in Country Music. That’s my kind of night and it will be yours too,” said Rob Mills, executive vice president, Unscripted and Alternative Entertainment, Walt Disney Television. “I am excited for Luke to bring the same humor, energy and emotion as host of the CMA Awards that he has for the last five years on ‘American Idol.'”

Since his debut, Bryan has garnered 27 No. 1 hits and has more RIAA certified digital singles than any other Country artist with 68.5 million, has 15.6 billion streams worldwide, and has sold nearly 13 million albums. His headline concert tours have played sold-out shows for 12 million fans inclusive of 36 stadium concerts, Farm Tours, Spring Break shows, and seven sold-out “Crash My Playa” destination concert events. He has won over 50 major music awards including five wins as Entertainer of the Year. His third and most recent Entertainer win was awarded by the Academy of Country Music this past April. Additional awards include six recognitions as a CMT Artist of the Year, NSAI Artist/Songwriter of the Year, the first-ever recipient of the ACM Album of the Decade Award for “Crash My Party,” seven CMT Music Awards, five Billboard Music Awards, and four American Music Awards – as well as being named Billboard’s Top Country Artist of the 2010s, the Most Heard Artist of the Decade by Country Aircheck, and the Artist Humanitarian Recipient by the Country Radio Broadcasters this past February. Bryan is set to return as a celebrity judge for a fifth season, alongside Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, on ABC’s “American Idol” in 2022. Airing now, fans can see Bryan’s original five-part docuseries, “Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary,” on IMDb TV, Amazon’s premium free streaming service. Visit or follow Luke on Twitter @LukeBryanOnline, Instagram and Facebook.

Performers and presenters for “The 55th Annual CMA Awards” will be revealed in the coming weeks. Stay tuned to for more details.

Winners of “The 55th Annual CMA Awards” will be determined in a final round of voting by eligible voting CMA members. The third and final ballot is open now for CMA members, with voting for the CMA Awards final ballot closing Wednesday, Oct. 27 (6:00 p.m. CST).  

The application for media opportunities with “The 55th Annual CMA Awards” is now available on The deadline to apply is Wednesday, Oct. 27 (5:00 p.m. CST).

“The 55th Annual CMA Awards” is a production of the Country Music Association. Robert Deaton is the executive producer; Alan Carter is the director, and David Wild is the head writer.

About the CMA Awards  

The first “CMA Awards Banquet and Show” was held in 1967. The following year, the CMA Awards was broadcast for the first time – making it the longest running, annual music awards program on network television. The CMA Awards have aired on ABC since 2006. ABC is the network home of the CMA Awards and CMA’s other two television properties, “CMA Fest” and “CMA Country Christmas.”

About the Country Music Association

Founded in 1958, the Country Music Association (CMA) is the premier trade association of the Country Music industry. Representing professionals making a living in Country Music globally, the organization serves as a critical resource of support and information, honors excellence in the genre and provides a forum for industry leadership. CMA is dedicated to expanding Country Music around the world through a number of core programs and initiatives including the organization’s three annual television properties – the CMA Awards, “CMA Fest” and “CMA Country Christmas,” all of which air on ABC. The organization’s philanthropic arm, the CMA Foundation, works tirelessly to provide equitable access to music education in order to create impactful change for students and teachers across the United States.

About ABC Entertainment

ABC Entertainment airs compelling programming across all day parts, including “Grey’s Anatomy,” the longest-running medical drama in primetime television; riveting dramas “The Good Doctor,” “A Million Little Things,” “Station 19” and fall’s groundbreaking No. 1 new series, “Big Sky”; trailblazing comedy favorites “black-ish,” “The Conners,” “The Goldbergs” and “Home Economics”; the popular Summer Fun & Games programming block, including “Celebrity Family Feud,” “Holey Moley,” “Match Game,” “Press Your Luck” and “To Tell the Truth”; star-making sensation “American Idol”; reality phenomenon “Shark Tank”; “The Bachelor” franchise; long-running hits “Dancing with the Stars” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos”; “General Hospital,” which has aired for more than 55 years on the network; and late-night talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”; as well as two critically acclaimed, Emmy(R) Award-winning “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” specials. The network also boasts some of television’s most prestigious awards shows, including “The Oscars(R),” “The CMA Awards” and the “American Music Awards.” ABC programming can also be viewed on demand and on Hulu.

Review: ‘Yakuza Princess,’ starring Masumi, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Tsuyoshi Ihara

October 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Masumi in “Yakuza Princess” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

“Yakuza Princess”

Directed by Vicente Amorim

Japanese, Portuguese and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Japan and in Brazil, the action flick “Yakuza Princess” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people, black people and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class, wealthy and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A trinket shop worker, who was orphaned as a baby, finds out that she comes from a powerful Japanese crime family, and it’s her destiny to be a samurai-sword-wielding warrior.

Culture Audience: “Yakuza Princess” will appeal primarily to people who interested in violent action movies and don’t care if the plot is an idiotic mess.

Masumi and Jonathan Rhy Meyers in “Yakuza Princess” (Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing)

Japanese women rarely get to star in an action flick, so it’s a shame that “Yakuza Princess” is such mindless junk that isn’t even a worthy showcase for the female protagonist. The men in this incoherent movie actually get most of the screen time. The movie’s title character is more of a sidekick who’s in service of a story that cares more about what happens to a European stranger who ends up in Brazil and in Japan to look for a mysterious and rare sword. In other words, don’t be fooled into thinking that the “yakuza princess” is the only leading character in this horrible movie. It’s a “bait and switch” title where the female protagonist’s fate is largely decided by men.

Directed by Vicente Amorim, “Yakuza Princess,” is based on Danilo Beyruth’s graphic novel “Samurai Shiro,” which would have been a more accurate title for this movie because the film puts a lot of emphasis on a character named Shiro. Amorim co-wrote the “Yakuza Princess” screenplay with Fernando Toste, Kimi Lee and “Yakuza Princess” producer Tubaldini Shelling. Unfortunately, having four people write this movie’s screenplay just means that four people, instead of the usual one or two screenwriters, made a mess of the story.

In “Yakuza Princess,” so much screen time is given in the beginning to Shiro (played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers), viewers will start to wonder at what point they’re going to see the “yakuza princess” part of the movie. There’s a lot of scenes of Shiro getting into fights and trying to find out who he is and his purpose in life before significant time is spent on the identity of the “yakuza princess.” The men of the yakuza (the term used for Japanese mafia) also spend a lot of time fighting with each other before viewers see any of the “yakuza princess,” her fighting skills and her identity journey.

Shiro actually doesn’t have a name for the majority of the film because he’s a European stranger who has amnesia for most of the story. He wakes up strapped to a hospital bed in São Paulo, Brazil, with no idea of who he is and why he’s there. Shiro doesn’t waste time in breaking out of the hospital in his first of many bloody action scenes. He then spends most of the story looking for a rare samurai sword, which has a connection to a Japanese woman in her early 20s named Akemi (played by Masumi), who lives in São Paulo and works as a trinket shop employee.

Akemi is really a “yakuza princess,” who finds out that her immediate family members (her parents and older brother) were killed in a mass murder when she was a baby in Japan. She was kidnapped, and ended up spending most of her life in São Paulo. This isn’t spoiler information because this massacre and kidnapping are shown at the very beginning of the film.

Akemi’s family wasn’t an ordinary family. She came from a family called the Takikawa clan, which had an influential hold on a crime syndicate in Japan. There was a power struggle in the syndicate that resulted in her father’s enemies plotting the massacre to get him and his heirs out of the way so the enemies could take over. These foes know that someone saved Akemi from being murdered along with her family. Whoever kidnapped her did so to put Akemi into hiding under a new identity in São Paulo, which has a large Japanese community.

But here’s why “Yakuza Princess” is so moronic: Akemi is supposed to be shocked when she finds out that she comes from a crime family. And yet, the first scene of her in the movie shows Akemi getting trained in samurai sword fighting skills from a middle-aged man named Chiba (played by Toshiji Takeshima), who has told her that her grandfather brought her to Chiba when Akemi was 6 years old.

And then, when Chiba is training Akemi, Chiba says, “You have the vocation to become a great warrior, but to fulfill it, you must leave your grief and anger.” Akemi replies, “I’m trying.” Chiba then gives her a samurai sword and says, “Let discipline shape your mind. You and your sword must become one. Allow this principle to guide you in your journey. It’s what your grandfather wanted.”

Anyone with common sense can see that all this talk about being destined to be a warrior and Akemi having a grandparent who wanted her to have fight skills all add up to her having a family that wants her to get extensive training to defend herself for a good reason. It’s all pretty obvious, but Akemi is too simple-minded to figure it out. You’d think she’d be curious about why her grandafather wanted Akemi to have these fight skills, since she’s an orphan who’s not in touch with any of her biological family members.

But apparently, Akemi has to wait for Shiro to show up so he can help solve the mystery of her past. It’s all so very patriarchal. And just like a princess fairy tale where an ordinary young woman transforms into a princess during a milestone event, Akemi becomes an ass-kicking warrior on her 21st birthday. It happens when she’s celebrating her birthday by doing karaoke at a bar, and she’s sexually harasssed by a creep. The next thing you know, she’s doing high kicks and martial arts brawling until a cop breaks up the fight. He best friend Samara (played by Ndudzo Siba) also gets involved in the fray.

“Yakuza Princess” is one of those mind-numbing martial arts movies that thinks a bunch of fight scenes strung together are enough to make up for a flimsy plot. Unfortunately, none of the acting is very good either. Rhys Meyers has an “I don’t care, just give me my paycheck” attitude that seeps through his performance. Masumi is best known as a singer and makes her feature-film acting debut in “Yakuza Princess.” All it shows is that Masumi needs to take more acting lessons.

And the feuding villains who want Akemi dead because she’s the rightful heir to her father’s yakuza empire are all so forgettable and generic. There’s some time-wasting scenes showing how a yakuza thug named Takeshi (played by Tsuyoshi Ihara) is competing with another yakuza thug named Kojiro (played by Eijiro Ozaki) to be the top-ranking henchman for their boss, who views this rivalry like watching two schoolboys squabbling. The inevitable torture and fight scenes involving these gangsters are absolutely soulless. And so is this entire movie.

Magnet Releasing released “Yakuza Princess” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.

Review: ‘Masquerade’ (2021), starring Bella Thorne, Alyvia Alyn Lund, Skyler Samuels, Mircea Monroe and Austin Nichols

October 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Skyler Samuels and Alyvia Alyn Lind in “Masquerade” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

“Masquerade” (2021)

Directed by Shane Dax Taylor

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Masquerade” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: While her parents are away from home, an 11-year-old girl is menaced by masked intruders.

Culture Audience: “Masquerade” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching badly made horror movies that have stupid and gimmicky plot twists.

Austin Nichols, Bella Thorne and Mircea Monroe in “Masquerade” (Photo courtesy of Shout! Studios)

“Masquerade” is a trashy film with a gimmicky twist ending that tries to put a different spin on “home invasion” horror movie stereotypes. However, the movie’s conclusion misses the mark because it’s a half-baked and sloppily executed idea. Until viewers get to the ending (assuming that viewers make it that far in watching this terrible movie), “Masquerade” is a tedious slog about home invaders who inflict terror on an 11-year-old girl who’s trapped in the house. Meanwhile, there’s a simultaneous storyline of a married couple being driven home by a party catering employee who has sinister intentions for them.

Written and directed by Shane Dax Taylor, “Masquerade” begins with an upscale fundraising party at a restaurant in an unnamed U.S. city. (“Masquerade” was actually filmed in the Kentucky cities of Louisville, Prospect and Goshen.) The party guests are encouraged to wear masquerade-type masks. The party hosts are happily married couple Daniel (played Austin Nichols) and Olivia (played by Mircea Monroe), who are in their late 30s or early 40s.

A server in her early 20s named Rose (played by Bella Thorne) has been closely observing Daniel and Olivia at the party. At one point, Olivia and Rose happen to be in the restroom at the same time. While they stand near the restroom mirror, Rose compliments Olivia by saying that Olivia has a “dream life. You actually remind me of my mom. She passed away several years ago.” Rose then says she’s sorry for making such a depressing comment at what’s supposed to be a festive occasion, but Olivia is gracious and tells Rose that it’s okay.

Meanwhile, two intruders are lurking in a wooded area as they prepare for a home invasion. These intruders, who are dressed entirely in black, aren’t wearing ordinary masks. They’re wearing helmets with meshed face coverings that are similar to what beekeepers would wear. The home invaders are also wearing devices that disguise their voices.

The intruders are a man (whose identity is later revealed) and a woman (played by Skyler Samuels), who are targeting a well-to-do family’s home that’s near the woods. Inside the home are an 11-year-old girl named Casey (played by Alyvia Alyn Lind) and her babysitter Sophia (played by Joana Metrass), who are watching a horror movie before Casey goes to bed. The burglars are there to steal some valuable art. Most of the movie is about what happens when the intruders break into the home.

Meanwhile, it’s shown early on that Rose is up to no good. During the party, Rose sneaks into a back room of the restaurant to make a secretive phone call, where she tells the person on the other line to disable a house’s security system by cutting the power line. When the party ends, Rose offers Daniel and Olivia a car ride back to the couple’s home because Rose says she needs the money. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Rose is setting up this couple for some type of crime.

When “Masquerade” isn’t showing what happens with Casey trapped inside the house, it shows what’s going on with Rose and her attempts to delay bringing Daniel and Olivia back to their home, in order give her accomplices more time. Rose gets text messages from her cronies asking her to keep stalling Daniel and Olivia. The movie makes it obvious early on that Rose is involved in planning a home burglary. But, without giving away any spoiler information, it’s enough to say that all is not what it first appears to be in “Masquerade.”

Some ridiculous things happen, such as the idiotic burglars deciding to take too much time inside the house to mess around with the art that they’re supposed to be stealing. Instead of finding the art, stealing it, and getting out of the house as soon as possible, they increase their chances of getting caught by overstaying in the house. And of course, things get complicated when the burglars find out that Casey is a witness. The fact that these burglars didn’t make sure ahead of time that no one was in the house before they broke in is all you need to know about how stupid these criminals are.

All of the characters in this movie are very hollow and written with generic and often-insipid dialogue. Lind makes some effort to bring some suspense as the terrified Casey. But so much of “Masquerade” is just bland horror cliché after bland horror cliché. The most intriguing character is supposed to be Rose, but Thorne isn’t a good-enough actress to convincingly portray a mysterious person. Instead of depicting someone who’s enigmatic, she comes across as lethargic.

Most viewers are really going to hate the ending of this movie. When secrets are revealed, it will feel like 95% of the movie was a just a poorly conceived manipulation. Casey isn’t the only person who will feel trapped in this “Masquerade” fiasco. This entire movie holds viewers hostage with its dull and substandard filmmaking. It’s a horror film that ultimately fails at the most basic thing that a horror movie is supposed to do: Be scary.

Shout! Studios released “Masquerade” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Malignant’ (2021), starring Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Brianna White, Jacqueline McKenzie, Jake Abel and Ingrid Bisu

October 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Annabelle Wallis in “Malignant” (Photo by Ron Batzdorff/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Malignant” (2021)

Directed by James Wan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Seattle, the horror flick “Malignant” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: While recovering from an abusive marriage and a pregnancy miscarriage, a woman experiences nightmarish visions and a sinister force that seems to be targeting her for violence.

Culture Audience: “Malignant” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in slightly campy horror movies that are suspenseful and have intriguing twists and turns.

Annabelle Wallis and Maddie Hasson in “Malignant” (Photo by Matt Kennedy/Warner Bros. Pictures)

It’s always refreshing when a horror movie fully commits to an absolutely insane twist ending that viewers will either love or hate. “Malignant” doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s serious about bringing its own quirky spin to the horror cliché of a woman being menaced by an unknown entity. The movie also has sobering (and possibly triggering) portrayals of domestic violence and pregnancy miscarriage. By the end of the movie, “Malignant” reveals that the concept of a mind playing tricks on someone isn’t limited to just the movie’s protagonist.

Directed by James Wan and written by Akela Cooper, “Malignant” sometimes crosses the line into campy territory when depicting the inevitable murders that happen and frequent hysteria that results from these killings. Wan is a horror master who is best known in horror filmmaking for creating “The Conjuring” universe. It’s a movie franchise that’s straightforward about what’s behind the evil mayhem (it’s a cursed doll named Annabelle) that’s unleashed on the victims in “The Conjuring” and related movies. Wan also co-created with “Saw” horror movie franchise with Leigh Whannell. By contrast, the answers to the mystery aren’t so transparent in “Malignant,” which is an original movie that is not related to the “The Conjuring” and “Saw” franchises.

Annabelle Wallis was the star of 2014’s “Annabelle,” a dull and disappointing prequel to 2013’s “The Conjuring.” In “Annabelle,” which takes primarily in 1955, Wallis had a bland and somewhat forgettable role as a housewife who unwittingly brings home the Annabelle doll. In “Malignant,” Wallis has a much better showcase for her acting talent, in a role that is physically and emotionally more demanding. Wallis takes on the role with admirable and convincing gusto.

In “Malignant,” Wallis is Madison “Maddie” Mitchell, an abused wife who has suffered through several miscarriages. When viewers first see Maddie, she is about seven or eight months pregnant with a baby girl whom she has nicknamed Dumpling. Maddie is an aide at a hospital, where she has continued to work through this late stage in her pregnancy because she had her unemployed husband Derek Mitchell (played by Jake Abel) need the money.

Derek has a mean streak and a violent temper. When Maddie comes home from an exhausting day at work, it doesn’t take long for him to pick a fight with her. He berates her for having had previous miscarriages. Derek gets so angry that he punches Maddie in the abdomen very hard, and the force of the punch makes her hits her head against the wall.

Maddie starts bleeding in the back of the head. Like many abusers, Derek is apologetic about the harm that he caused and he offers to get Maddie some ice to treat her injury. Like many abuse victims, Maddie doesn’t call anyone for help or to report the abuse. She locks herself in a room and sobs about her miserable life.

Later that night, Derek is viciously murdered while he’s sleeping on the living room sofa. Maddie was the only other person who was known to be home at the time, so she immedately falls under suspicion for the murder. She insists that a male intruder committed the murder, and she claims the intruder attacked her. However, Maddie’s description of the intruder is so vague (a black shadowy figure) that police officers investigating the case think that Maddie is lying.

It doesn’t take long for the investigation cops—George Young (played by Kekoa Shaw) and Regina Moss (played by Michole Brianna White)—to find out that Derek was abusing Maddie, thereby giving Maddie a motive to kill him. George is more compassionate to Maddie in the interrogations than Regina is. George is more willing to give Maddie the benefit of the doubt, while Regina is more inclined to think that Maddie is guilty of Derek’s murder.

At various times in the story, Maddie is put under psychiatric evaluation. She has nightmares with visions of other murders that are exactly like murders that end up happening. Because she seems to know too much information, George and Regina have no choice but to put Maddie on the top of their list of possible suspects. One person who completely believes in Maddie’s innocence is her younger sister Sydney Lake (played by Maddie Hasson), who is Maddie’s only real source of support.

Maddie’s head injury mysteriously doesn’t heal. Throughout the story, Maddie notices that the back of her head is bleeding again. And coincidence or not, every time she notices this bleeding, something bad usually happens not long afterward. She also starts to act increasingly unhinged and starts babbling about having an imaginary friend.

The opening scene of “Malignant” indicates that there are dark secrets that will eventually be revealed. This first scene takes place at Simon Research Hospital in Seattle in 1993. Someone named Gabriel has been unleashing an attack on the hospital’s staff. This attack includes causing the electricity to go haywire.

Gabriel is eventually subdued. And under the orders of Dr. Florence Weaver (played by Jacqueline McKenzie), Gabriel is strapped to a chair. “You’ve been a bad, bad boy, Gabriel,” Dr. Weaver scolds him. When Gabriel threatens, “I will kill you all,” Dr. Weaver responds, “It’s time to cut out the cancer.” What Gabriel looks like is shown in this scene, but it won’t be described in this review. It’s enough to say that this scene goes a long way in explaining what’s revealed later in the movie.

“Malignant” is the type of gruesome horror movie that tries to inject some comedy in a tension-filled story. There’s a minor subplot about a young police constable named Winnie (played by Ingrid Bisu), who has a crush on her older co-worker George. Winnie’s eager-to-impress attitude with George is looked at with amusement or pity by jaded co-worker Regina. George keeps his relationship with Winnie strictly professional, but Winnie’s obvious crush on him leads to some comedically awkward moments.

For all of its mystery and suspense, “Malignant” is not without its flaws. There’s a kidnapping and attempted murder that happens to a Seattle Underground tour guide (played by Jean Louisa Kelly), who ends up in a coma in a hospital. However, the movie unrealistically has her listed as a Jane Doe, even though it wouldn’t be that hard for the cops to find out who she is, based on her job and the circumstances under which she was found. It’s a minor plot hole that doesn’t ruin the movie because her identity is eventually discovered.

The big plot twist/reveal at the end of the movie isn’t completely shocking, because there were some big clues along the way. However, it still feels a little too rushed in at the movie’s big climactic scene, without giving viewers enough time to absorb the magnitude of this reveal. That might have been the intention to give the plot twist/reveal a maximum shocking effect. However, the way that this reveal was filmed could have been slightly better.

All of the actors in the cast do perfectly fine jobs in their roles, with Wallis being the obvious standout, even though “Malignant” is not the type of movie that’s going to win awards. However, Wallis skillfully portrays a character whose words and actions make her harder to figure out over time. Viewers will start to wonder how much of Maddie’s visions are real and how much are pure insanity. It’s that mystery—rather than the typical horror movie violence that ensues—that will keep viewers of “Malignant” on edge, because what’s in someone’s mind can be scarier than some bloody murder scenes.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Malignant” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on September 10, 2021.