Review: ‘Annette,’ starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg

August 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in “Annette” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Annette”

Directed by Leos Carax

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and various other parts of the world, the musical “Annette” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the wealthy and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A seemingly mismatched stand-up comedian and an opera singer have a passionate romance, get married, and have a daughter named Annette, but then a major tragedy changes their lives forever.

Culture Audience: “Annette” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Sparks, Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, as well as people who like to indulge in pretentious musicals with a weak plot.

Cast members of “Annette,” including front row, from left to right, Simon Helberg, Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver; and second row, Russell Mael (behind Cotillard) and Ron Mael, pictured at far right. (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Don’t believe the hype. The musical “Annette” is one of those annoying, self-indulgent movies that some people will automatically praise just because it looks European and artsy. Underneath the pretentious sheen is a boring and ludicrous story with forgettable songs and a baby that’s really an animatronic doll that looks like a cleaned-up sister of Chucky from the “Child’s Play” horror franchise.

Directed by Leos Carax, “Annette” has an abysmal screenplay and disappointing music written by brothers Russell Mael and Ron Mael, also known as the experimental pop duo Sparks. The Mael brothers have brief cameos in the movie because they’re not very good actors. Visually, the movie looks better than the actual material because the filmmakers had the budget to build some elaborate set pieces and film the movie in Los Angeles, Belgium and Germany.

Here’s how you know if a musical is good or not: Are at least half of the songs memorable? Do the songs fit well with the story? And do the actors look convincing when they perform the songs? If the answer is no to any of these questions, then the musical isn’t very good and could be downright lousy. A lot of people who don’t care about going along with pseudo-hipster groupthink are going to say “no” to “Annette.”

Some credit should be given to Carax for directing “Annette” with gusto and for choosing some noteworthy designs in production and costumes. But so much of “Annette” looks and sounds like a tacky regional theater production that ended up being made into a movie because the filmmakers convinced people with deep pockets to throw money at this train wreck. Just because a movie tries very hard to be “avant-garde” doesn’t automatically mean it’s supposed to be good art.

“Annette” starts out promising in the first half of the movie when it’s about the romance between edgy stand-up comedian Henry McHenry (played by Adam Driver) and elegant opera diva Ann Defrasnoux (played by Marion Cotillard), who live in Los Angeles and are both big stars in their respective careers. But it all goes downhill in the second half of the movie, when themes of death and greed are monotonously repeated until “Annette” ends with a whimper instead of a bang. Simon Helberg, who looks very uncomfortable and out-of-place in this musical, depicts an unnamed supporting character who goes from being an accompanist for Ann to being the conductor of an orchestra.

The best parts of “Annette” are seeing Henry perform on stage. Henry’s stand-up act can best be described as if Mitch Hedberg and the late David Foster Wallace decided to collaborate on a stand-up comedy routine and hire some backup singers. Henry’s material is both self-deprecating and condescending to the audience members, who do group chants and or indivdual shouting in response to what Henry says during his act. However, he has full command of the stage and is utterly fascinating to watch. Ann (who is French, just like Cotillard is in real life) is somewhat of a generic opera singer. No one will be be winning any major awards for acting or singing in this movie.

Henry and Ann’s relationship is breathlessly followed by the tabloid media. Ann and Henry get engaged, then married, and then they become parents to a daughter named Annette. And seriously: This baby-turned-toddler is depicted by a creepy-looking animatronic doll with terrible visual effects. It will get some laughs at first, but after a while, this unnatural-looking doll is just an awful distraction.

The last half of the movie has too much spoiler information to describe, but it’s enough to say that the movie gets a lot worse and reaches the point of no return from stupidity when Henry quits stand-up comedy to become a “stage dad” manager to Annette. There are some tragic crimes and a continual pile-on of horrifically bad dialogue. Not even the acting talent of Driver and Cotillard can save this overrated mess of a movie. Driver is also one of the producers of “Annette,” so he bears more responsibility than the other cast members for how this move turned out to be a disappointing slog of irritating and egocentric posturing.

During the latter half of the movie, Driver and Helberg barely even sing. What a ripoff. By the end of the movie, most viewers might remember one or two songs. There are some musicals that have plots and conversations that are mediocre, but the music is so great, it transcends the dialogue and resonates with audiences to the point where people are recommending the soundtrack to others. That’s not the case with “Annette,” which will find a specific audience, but none of the songs from this movie will have a major cultural impact.

You know a musical is bad when the two lead actors (Driver and Cotillard) are respected talents who should elevate the material, but hardly anyone in pop culture is raving about the songs in “Annette,” except the predictable niche audience of Sparks fans. None of the “Annette” filmmakers should pretend that they didn’t want this musical movie to be popular. If they wanted this movie to be underground, they wouldn’t have had corporate behemoth Amazon pay for it, and they wouldn’t have had a splashy world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Simply put: “Annette” looks and sounds like a musical experiment that ultimately stumbles artistically, but some people will still love it because they’re star-struck by the famous people involved in making this movie.

Amazon Studios released “Annette” in select U.S. cinemas on August 6, 2021. Amazon Prime Video premiered the movie on August 20, 2021.

Amazon aquires MGM for $8.45 billion; deal includes James Bond, Rocky, Pink Panther movies

May 26, 2021

The following is a press release from Amazon:

 Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) and MGM today announced that they have entered into a definitive merger agreement under which Amazon will acquire MGM for a purchase price of $8.45 billion. MGM has nearly a century of filmmaking history and complements the work of Amazon Studios, which has primarily focused on producing TV show programming. Amazon will help preserve MGM’s heritage and catalog of films, and provide customers with greater access to these existing works. Through this acquisition, Amazon would empower MGM to continue to do what they do best: great storytelling.

“MGM has a vast catalog with more than 4,000 films—12 Angry Men, Basic Instinct, Creed, James Bond, Legally Blonde, Moonstruck, Poltergeist, Raging Bull, Robocop, Rocky, Silence of the Lambs, Stargate, Thelma & Louise, Tomb Raider, The Magnificent SevenThe Pink Panther, The Thomas Crown Affair, and many other icons—as well as 17,000 TV shows—including Fargo, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Vikings—that have collectively won more than 180 Academy Awards and 100 Emmys,” said Mike Hopkins, Senior Vice President of Prime Video and Amazon Studios. “The real financial value behind this deal is the treasure trove of IP in the deep catalog that we plan to reimagine and develop together with MGM’s talented team. It’s very exciting and provides so many opportunities for high-quality storytelling.”

“It has been an honor to have been a part of the incredible transformation of Metro Goldwyn Mayer. To get here took immensely talented people with a true belief in one vision. On behalf of the Board, I would like to thank the MGM team who have helped us arrive at this historic day,” said Kevin Ulrich, Chairman of the Board of Directors of MGM. “I am very proud that MGM’s Lion, which has long evoked the Golden Age of Hollywood, will continue its storied history, and the idea born from the creation of United Artists lives on in a way the founders originally intended, driven by the talent and their vision. The opportunity to align MGM’s storied history with Amazon is an inspiring combination.”

Completion of this transaction is subject to regulatory approvals and other customary closing conditions.

About Amazon

Amazon is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. Amazon strives to be Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company, Earth’s Best Employer, and Earth’s Safest Place to Work. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime, Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Career Choice, Fire tablets, Fire TV, Amazon Echo, Alexa, Just Walk Out technology, Amazon Studios, and The Climate Pledge are some of the things pioneered by Amazon. For more information, visit amazon.com/about and follow @AmazonNews.

About MGM

MGM is a leading entertainment company focused on the production and global distribution of film and television content across all platforms. The company owns one of the world’s deepest libraries of premium film and television content. For more information, visit www. MGM.com.

Cautionary Statement Regarding Amazon Forward-Looking Statements

Amazon’s statements related to the proposed acquisition of MGM contain forward-looking statements, including statements regarding expected benefits of the acquisition. Actual results could differ materially from those projected or forecast in the forward-looking statements. Factors that could cause actual results to differ materially include the following: the conditions to the completion of the transaction may not be satisfied, or the regulatory approvals required for the transaction may not be obtained on the terms expected, on the anticipated schedule, or at all; closing of the transaction may not occur or may be delayed, either as a result of litigation related to the transaction or otherwise; Amazon may be unable to achieve the anticipated benefits of the transaction; revenues following the transaction may be lower than expected; the duration and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, including any recurrence, may affect the results of operations; operating costs, customer loss, and business disruption (including, without limitation, difficulties in maintaining relationships with employees, partners, and commercial counterparties) may be greater than expected; Amazon may assume unexpected risks and liabilities; completing the transaction may distract Amazon’s management from other important matters; and the other factors discussed in “Risk Factors” in Amazon’s Annual Report on Form 10-K for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020 and in Amazon’s other filings with the SEC, which are available at http://www.sec.gov. Amazon assumes no obligation to update the information in this press release, except as otherwise required by law. Readers are cautioned not to place undue reliance on these forward-looking statements that speak only as of the date hereof.

Review: ‘I’m Your Woman,’ starring Rachel Brosnahan

December 5, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rachel Brosnahan and Arinzé Kene in “I’m Your Woman” (Photo by Wilson Webb/Amazon Studios)

“I’m Your Woman”

Directed by Julia Hart

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Northeastern city in the U.S. in the 1970s, the dramatic film “I’m Your Woman” has a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans) representing the middle-class and the criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: After a woman’s criminal husband goes missing and she’s told that her life is in danger, she is forced to go on the run with their adopted baby son.

Culture Audience: “I’m Your Woman” will appeal primarily to people who like slow-burn crime dramas that are predictable but have good acting.

Marsha Stephanie Blake and Rachel Brosnahan in “I’m Your Woman” (Photo Wilson Webb/Amazon Studios)

People who are used to seeing Rachel Brosnahan as the fast-talking and witty stand-up comedian in her Emmy-winning Amazon Prime Video series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” are in for a big surprise when they see Brosnahan in the moody and often slow-paced dramatic film “I’m Your Woman,” also from Amazon Studios. Brosnahan stars in both vehicles, but these two projects—and the characters she portrays in each—are very different from each other.

The brightly colored, upper-middle-class 1960s world inhabited by Brosnahan’s sassy Midge Maisel character in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is in stark contrast to the shadowy and gritty 1970s world of Brosnahan’s terrified Jean character in “I’m Your Woman,” who has to quickly adjust to life as a fugitive from gangsters. It’s a transformation that’s a testament to Brosnahan’s enormous talent, even if “I’m Your Woman” is not as well-written and as compelling as “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

“I’m Your Woman” (directed by Julia Hart, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jordan Horowitz) is set in an unnamed Northeastern region of the U.S. in a time period that takes place in the late 1970s. (The movie was actually filmed in Pittsburgh.) In the beginning of the film, Jean seems to be living an easy, pampered life as a suburban housewife. She’s seen lounging in her backyard in a magenta maribou robe, while smoking a cigarette with a glass of wine nearby.

Jean deadpans in a voiceover that sums up her marital life up to that point: “Eddie and Jean met and fell in love. Eddie and Jean got married and bought a house. Eddie and Jean were going to have a kid, but didn’t. So, every morning, Eddie kisses Jean, Eddie leaves the house, and Jean’s alone.”

As a housewife with no children, all Jean has to do is keep the house clean and cook for Eddie. And one of those things she doesn’t do very well. There’s a semi-joke during the movie about how Jean, by her own admission, is a terrible cook. For example, she can’t even make toast without burning it.

Her husband Eddie (played by Bill Heck) is understanding about Jean’s lack of cooking skills. But is this a picture-perfect marriage? Of course not. The first sign that Eddie is into some shady dealings is when he suddenly comes home one day with a baby boy and hands the child to Jean and tells her that the child is now theirs.

Jean doesn’t ask the type of questions that most people would ask. Instead, she tells Eddie, “Is this some kind of sick joke? Because I’m not in the mood.” Eddie replies, “It’s all worked out. He’s our baby.” He then tells Jean that she can name the baby. She names him Harry.

This is the part of the plot where viewers will have to suspend a lot of disbelief, because it’s explained later why Jean immediately wants to become this child’s mother without asking any crucial questions, such as: How did Eddie get the child? Who are the child’s biological parents? Where is the child’s birth certificate?

It becomes quite clear that Jean is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” wife. She knows her husband is a thief and doesn’t really want to know what else he might be up to doing for “work,” as long as he keeps her happy. But it’s revealed later in the story that the one thing in their marriage that has kept Jean very unhappy is that she’s had several miscarriages. She desperately wants to become a mother and has a lot of emotional scars from being unable to carry a baby to childbirth.

The shock of having an “instant” baby takes a while to wear off because Jean is completely unprepared for all the responsibilities of taking care of a newborn baby. It’s a lot harder than she thought it would be. (The role of Harry is played by three different boys: Jameson Charles, Justin Charles and Barrett Shaffer. The movie has the predictable cute baby expressions edited in certain scenes, to make it look like Harry is reacting to something.)

Jean barely has time to adjust to being a new mother when something happens that also drastically alters her life. Very late one night, Jean is woken up by a thug named Jimmy (played by Jarrod DiGiorgi), one of Eddie’s colleagues, who frantically tells her that she has to pack up some things and leave the house with Harry. A shocked and confused Jean asks Jimmy why.

All he tells her is that something happened, she and Harry have to go into hiding, and that Jean has to go with someone named Cal (who is waiting outside the house), and do whatever Cal says. Jimmy also gives Jean $20,000 in cash. Eddie is nowhere in sight, and Jimmy doesn’t seem to know where Eddie is.

Jean only has a light travel bag and Harry with her when she leaves with Cal (played by Arinzé Kene), whose car is parked outside. Cal is a strong, silent type, who also doesn’t know where Eddie is. It’s at this point it becomes very obvious that Eddie is into illegal things that are more serious than stealing.

However, Jean is in deep denial, and she doesn’t understand until Cal literally tells her why she has to go into hiding. Eddie has killed a powerful gangster, Eddie has been a murderer for quite some time, and now he’s gone missing. The cronies of the murdered gangster are out to get revenge on Eddie and his family. Eddie seemed to know that a day might come when he would get into this type of trouble, so he already arranged for a safe house where Jean could go in case she needed to hide.

And how does Cal know Eddie? He tells Jean that he used to work for Eddie. But as the story goes on, there are major signs that Cal and Eddie had some kind of falling out, because Cal gets very tense whenever Eddie’s name is mentioned. Cal also makes an offhand, somewhat snide comment when he says that Eddie must still have friends if Jean was warned to leave and go to a fully furnished safe house.

The safe house is several miles away and it will take more than a day to get there by car. During their road trip, Cal and Jean stay in a motel for one night and try to keep a low profile. However, Harry (who has been crying a lot) seems to have a fever. Against Cal’s objections, Jean insists that they go to a hospital to get medical help for the baby. Hospitals keep records, and Cal doesn’t want any trace of where he and Jean are.

After Harry gets treatment at the hospital, it doesn’t take long for the baby to recover from his fever, so Jean and Cal abruptly leave with the baby, without formally checking out of the hospital. This health scare leaves them exhausted, so during their road trip, they pull over to the side of a road to take a nap.

They are woken up by a racist police officer, who immediately assumes that Cal is up to no good and that Jean might be a kidnapping victim. The cop won’t let Cal talk during the questioning, and he keeps asking Jean if she’s okay, as if expecting her to tell him that this African American man is holding her against her will.

Jean can see where this line of questioning is going, so she lies and says that Cal is her husband and they were just taking a nap because they were worn out from the health scare that the baby had. Jean makes sure to keep the baby’s face covered, so the cop can’t see that the baby is white. The cop lets them go with a warning, while still glaring suspiciously at Cal. As Cal and Jean drive off, she tells him with a certain amount of pride, “I didn’t know I could lie like that.”

At the safe house, Cal tells Jean that there’s a phone upstairs to call only if there is a real emergency. He also gives her a number to call if an emergency happens. Cal says that he can’t watch her 24 hours a day, and he gives Jean strict orders not to talk to anyone except for him while she’s at the safe house. But, of course, you know in a movie like this, rules will be broken, and something is going to go wrong.

Jean begs Cal not to leave because she says she’s never been on her own before. (Jean’s life before she married Eddie is never revealed in this movie.) Cal is fairly even-tempered, but at this moment, he gets irritated with Jean and snaps at her: “I’m doing the best I can!” Then in a calmer voice, as if he regrets losing his temper, he says to Jean: “Let’s do the best we can.” Why is Cal caught up in Eddie’s mess if Cal no longer works for Eddie? That’s explained later in the movie.

Jean breaks the “no talking to anyone else but Cal” rule one evening when the doorbell rings and she answers it. The visitor is a lonely and slightly nosy neighbor named Evelyn (played by Marceline Hugot), an elderly widow who lives two houses down on the same street. Evelyn introduces herself and makes small talk with Jean, who is very guarded and doesn’t want to talk to Evelyn for very long. Jean also lies and says that her name is Mary, but she tells the truth about her baby being named Harry. Before Evelyn walks away, she gives Jean a bouquet of garden flowers as a housewarming gift.

Evelyn, who says she used to know the people who lived in the house, shows up unannounced again at the front door on another evening. Evelyn has brought some homemade lasagna with her. And since Jean is a terrible cook and is longing for a good meal, she lets Evelyn into the house, where they talk some more over their meal at the dining table.

Jean is still wary about telling Evelyn details about herself, but Jean finds herself having a friendly rapport with this neighbor. Evelyn offers to help Jean with anything that she might need. However, Jean still can’t trust Evelyn completely. Jean’s paranoia becomes evident when Evelyn asks to use the restroom upstairs. Jean hears Evelyn walking around upstairs and has panicky thoughts and calls out Evelyn’s name to make sure that nothing suspicious is going on.

At this point in the story, Jean still thinks that Eddie will eventually show up and that their lives might go back to normal. But Jean is in for a rude awakening, when a series of events happen where she has to “toughen up” in order to survive. During the course of the movie (which takes place over an unspecified period of time but it’s definitely less than two weeks), Jean goes from being a sheltered housewife into a street-smart badass. And this evolution is expected and handled in a mostly predictable way, although Brosnahan adds interesting layers of nuance that make the performance worth watching.

What’s less interesting than Brosnahan’s performance is how the pace of the movie sometimes tends to drag. I’m Your Woman” has a running time of two hours, but it could’ve easily been 90 to 110 minutes if some scenes had better editing. And some elements of Jean’s transformation are just a little too convenient for this story.

For example, Jean is supposed to be a wife in deliberate denial about her husband Eddie’s criminal activities that don’t involve stealing. She seems shocked to find out that he was secretly a serial murderer involved in gang activities. However, there’s a scene in the movie before Eddie disappears where he invites some of his goon colleagues over to the house, and everything about them screams “gangsters.”

And based on Jean’s reaction, she’s seen these guys with her husband before. But during the course of the story, Jean’s naïveté suddenly disappears and she’s able to intuitively figure out big secrets in Eddie’s life (that don’t involve murder), just by having a few conversations with certain people. It’s a drastic change that doesn’t always ring true.

It can certainly be left up to interpretation that Jean had these street smarts all along, and her ordeal of being on the run from gangsters helped bring this uncanny intuition out of her. But it all just looks like too sudden, too “on the nose.” One minute, Jean is panicky and can’t think straight. The next minute, Jean is figuring out Eddie’s web of lives as if she’s logical Miss Marple having a big detective “a-ha” moment.

At any rate, the safe house no longer becomes safe, so Cal takes Jean to his family log cabin for protection. It’s here that Jean meets Cal’s wife Teri (played by Marsha Stephanie Blake); Cal and Teri’s son Paul (played by De’Mauri Parks), who’s about 9 or 10 years old; and Cal’s father (played by Frankie Faison), who ends up teaching Jean how to use a gun.

“I’m Your Woman” takes its time to get to some of the action that people might expect to be happening throughout the movie. Instead, there are only sporadic pockets of real action, such as chase scenes or gun fights. Jean and Teri end up forming an unexpected bond with each other, but there are moments where Jean is left wondering how much she can trust Teri or anyone at all.

As for baby Harry, his origins are never really explained. Jean says that Eddie told her that Harry’s young, unwed mother arranged for Eddie to get the child through a private arrangement, which is implied to be an illegal adoption. (Jean never asks to see paperwork.) But considering that Eddie lied about so many things to Jean, who really knows if that’s true? The child could have been kidnapped, but it’s clear that Jean doesn’t care. As far as Jean is concerned, she is now Harry’s mother.

“I’m Your Woman” shares some things in common with writer/director Hart’s 2019 female superhero movie “Fast Color,” which was another slow-paced film that was focused less on fight scenes and more about the interior transformation of a woman gradually coming to terms with and learning to use the power she didn’t really know she had. Jean is not a superhero, but her maternal instinct kicks in fiercely during the story because she begins to understand the type of parental love that puts children above anything else.

The movie’s portrayal of the 1970s is mostly authentic for its production design and costume design (lots of tones in sepia, olive or mustard), except for one scene where people run out of a nightclub where there was a gun shooting, and the entire street looks like a movie set instead of a real Pittsburgh street from the 1970s. And there are some little details that the movie gets right in showing Jean’s maternal instinct to think about the baby before anything else. In one scene, Jean is barefoot in a grocery store because she frantically ran there to get some baby formula for Harry. It’s explained in the movie why she’s barefoot.

Some scenes are a little corny, such as when Jean and Cal are in a nearly-empty diner together soon after they meet, and they end up singing Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” It’s a great song, but very over-used in movies and TV. Other scenes are emotionally resonant, such as when Jean starts to come out of her shell and connect with Teri and her family. And there is some melodrama, such as when Jean has a tearful breakdown in a laundromat.

The movie doesn’t make any heavy-handed commentaries about race relations, but it does show (not tell) how Jean and Teri—two women from very different backgrounds—can form an alliance organically without any bigotry getting in the way of their friendship. Brosnahan and Blake have an authentic rapport with one another that make their scenes together the movie’s definite high points. And it’s refreshing that this movie didn’t resort to catty clichés of the two women bickering before they found a way to get along with each other.

If people hear that “I’m Your Woman” is about a gun-toting mama on the run from gangsters, with her newborn baby in tow, they might be misled into thinking that it’s a fast-paced action flick. It’s not. This is a thoughtfully acted crime drama where the emphasis is on a family’s collateral damage because of a gangster’s misdeeds. The movie shows what happens during one woman’s survival journey during a specific period of time; how she got some unexpected help along the way; and how her life perspective drastically changed.

Amazon Studios released “I’m Your Woman” in select U.S. cinemas on December 4, 2020. Amazon Prime Video premieres the movie on December 11, 2020.

Review: ‘Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,’ starring Sacha Baron Cohen

October 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sacha Baron Cohen in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”

Directed by Jason Woliner

Culture Representation: Taking place in Kazakhstan and in various parts of the United States, the comedy film “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” features a predominantly white cast (with some Asians and a few African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: Borat Sagdiyev, the notorious politically incorrect TV journalist from Kazakhstan, returns to the United States to hep ingratiate Kazakhstan with the Donald Trump administration.

Culture Audience: “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” will appeal to people who like scathing satires on politics and culture, mixed with lowbrow gags that sometime reach gross-out levels.

Maria Bakalova and Sacha Baron Cohen in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Just like most sequels, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” isn’t as good as the original movie, but this satire still has plenty of laugh-out-loud moments that should satisfy people who are fans of Sacha Baron Cohen’s brand of irreverent comedy. Baron Cohen, a British comedian, has made a career out of playing on-camera pranks as various characters. He first reached international fame in the early 2000s with “Da Ali G Show,” which aired on HBO in the United States. But the biggest success so far in Baron Cohen’s career has been the 2006 comedy film “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” which many people consider to be his best creative work.

The first “Borat” movie, which is filmed mockumentary style, introduced the world to Baron Cohen’s character of Borat Sagdiyev, a socially inept and politically incorrect TV journalist from Kazakhstan who traveled to America and played unsuspecting pranks on people while in character. Most of the movie was scripted with actors, while the best parts of the movie did not have actors. However, the success of the first “Borat” movie was a double-edged sword, because Baron Cohen became so famous as Borat, it was difficult to do another “Borat” movie without a lot of people recognizing him dressed as the Borat character.

Now, 14 years since the first “Borat” movie was released, Baron Cohen felt the time was right in 2020 to do a second “Borat” movie, which was partially filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” takes aim at Donald Trump’s presidential administration by skewering Trump supporters, in addition to tackling hot-button issues, such as racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, abortion, sexism, human trafficking and the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie also doesn’t let people on the liberal side of the political spectrum off of the hook, as Borat says that Kazakhstan’s leadership believes that former U.S. president Barack Obama “ruined” the United States and is “an evil man who stood against all American values.”

The opening scenes of “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” give a brief summary of what Borat was up to in the 14 years since the first “Borat” movie was released. The first “Borat” movie brought shame to Kazakhstan and caused the country’s economy to suffer. (Exports of potassium and pubis decreased significantly.) Borat was blamed for the decline of Kazakhstan, so he was banned from being a journalist, and he was sentenced to hard labor in a prison camp.

However, is he let out of prison when he is summoned to the presidential palace and finds out in a meeting with Premier Nazarbayev (played by Dani Popescu) that Kazakhstan wants to align itself with the Trump administration and get Trump’s respect. Borat has experience being in America, so he’s chosen to be somewhat of an ambassador to deliver a gift to Trump. However, Borat defecated in front of a Trump hotel the last time he was in America, so Borat is pretty sure he’s won’t get close to Trump.

Therefore, it’s decided the next best thing would be to give a gift to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, whom Borat describes as such a notorious “pussy hound” that Pence’s wife won’t let Pence be alone in a room with any woman except for her. (It’s a spoof on Pence’s well-known personal policy to not to be alone in a room with a woman who isn’t his wife, in order for him to avoid #MeToo accusations.) Borat is ordered to present Pence with a monkey called Johnny the Monkey, which is Kazakhstan’s minister of culture and No. 1 TV star because this monkey is known for doing pornographic acts on camera.

While he was imprisoned, a neighbor took over Borat’s household and raised his three sons: Huey Lewis “Jeffrey Epstein” Sagdiyev (played by Alin Popa), Bilak Sagdiyev (played by Ion Gheorghe) and Biram Sagdiyev (played by Nicolae Gheorghe), who do not respect Borat. All that’s left for Borat when he comes home are two pigs, a sickly cow and a 15-year-old daughter Tutar Sagdiyev (played by Maria Bakalova), who lives in a filthy pig pen like a farm animal.

Females are considered so unimportant in the household that Borat didn’t even know that he had a daughter until he came home from prison. (Borat’s wife is nowhere to be found in the movie. It’s presumed that she left him.) Throughout the movie, there are parodies of Muslim/Arabic culture that teaches that males are always dominant and superior to females. Tutar thinks it’s normal for herself to be caged up like an animal, so that’s a running gag in the movie.

Borat travels ahead to the United States to wait for the arrival of Johnny the Monkey, which will be sent by crate. And Borat is surprised at some of the new technology that’s become available since the previous time in America. (He thinks smartphones look like “magical calculators.”) Borat isn’t too keen on this technology, so he sticks to using fax machines to communicate with officials back in Kazakhstan. And that’s another running joke in the movie.

The first place Borat goes to during his return to America is Galveston, Texas, where several people recognize him, much to his delight. And he gets a shock when the crate arrives carrying Johnny the Monkey: Borat’s daughter Tutar is in the crate, and she sat on the monkey, so the monkey is now dead. Borat decides the next best thing would be to offer Tutar as a gift to Pence. She undergoes a blonde makeover that makes her look like a woman who could be a Fox News reporter or a cast member of “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”

The rest of the movie involves various hijinks that either show Borat preparing to pimp out his daughter and/or trying to get close to people who are Trump supporters. Some of the people in these scenes are actors, while others are not. Borat visits a bakery shop and asks the owner/manager to put icing on a cake to read “Jews will not replace us,” which is a nod to what the white supremacists chanted during the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

At a pro-life crisis pregnancy center, which is set up for the sole purpose of convincing pregnant females to not have abortions, Borat tells Pastor Jonathan Bright that he has impregnated his daughter Tutar. The pastor’s response is to say that it doesn’t matter how she got pregnant, she can’t terminate the pregnancy: “God is the one who creates life. And he doesn’t make accidents.” The pastor doesn’t seem alarmed by the “incest,” which is a crime that someone in his position would be obligated to report.

Another scene that’s more staged but was still made to make people feel uncomfortable is when Borat and Tutar attend the Macon Debutante Ball in Macon, Georgia. They end up doing a father-daughter dance together, even though Tutar warned Borat that she was having her menstrual period. And the results are shown in explicit details in the movie.

Of course, the most-talked about scenes in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” involve those with real-life Trump cronies. Borat crashes the American Conservative Union’s 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference, which happened in February, before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down businesses and events around the world. Borat arrives at the conference dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit, and he’s heard saying that he’s one of Trump’s senior advisers:, “I’m Stephen Miller! Sorry I’m late!” 

Pence was a speaker at the conference, and during the speech, Borat puts on another disguise, this time as Trump. Borat (in a Trump costume) carries Tutar over his shoulder, caveman-style, and attempts to deliver her to Pence. Borat is thrown out by security, as Pence frowns in disgust from the stage.

Toward the end of the film, Tutar (who poses as a TV journalist) interviews Rudy Giuliani in a hotel suite and gushes over him like a star-struck fan. The interview took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and there were no masks worn or social distancing for this interview, during which Giuliani spouts a conspiracy theory that COVID-19 is a man-made virus created by China. Borat is in disguise as Tutar’s sound engineer.

Giuliani clearly loves the adoring attention that he’s getting from this attractive young woman. He gets touchy-feely with her and drinks alcohol with her. (Giuliani has gone on record saying that he thought she was old enough to drink alcohol and that he was tricked.)

Later, things get flirtatious in a nearby bedroom, where Giuliani asks Tutar for her phone number and address, and pats her on the back. Tutar then removes Giuliani’s microphone sound pack from underneath his shirt. He lies down on the bed and puts his hand underneath the front of his pants. (Giuliani claims he was just tucking in his shirt.)

And then, all hell breaks loose when Borat storms in the room, wearing a woman’s wig and women’s underwear and shouting, “She’s 15! She’s too old for you! Take me instead!” Borat adds, “I was in prison for many years. I have techniques with my mouth.”

A shocked Giuliani gets up and says, “What’s going on with this guy?,” as he makes a quick exit, and his security people take over. As Giuliani leaves down the hallway, Borat shouts after him, “Rudy, Trump will be disappointed! You are leaving hotel without golden shower!”

But for every memorable scene like that in the movie, there’s another one that’s forgettable, as some of the gags are fairly dull and unimaginative, such as a scene where Borat and Tutar consult with a plastic surgeon named Dr. Charles Wallace. Borat thinks Tutar needs plastic surgery, such as breast enlargements and a nose job, to increase Tutar’s chances of of being accepted as a “sexytime” gift. And the ongoing gag about Borat using fax machines to communicate becomes tiresome very quickly.

There’s a fairly long scripted section in the film where Tutar spends time with a babysitter named Jeanise Jones, who doesn’t bat an eye when Borat drops Tutar off at Jenise’s home with a ball and chain and gives instructions to Jeanise as if Tutar is a dog instead of a human being. Jeanise then gives pep talks that are eye-opening to Tutar, such as telling her that it’s perfectly legal for women to be allowed to drive. Jeanise also tries to talk Tutar out of having plastic surgery, such as breast enlargements and a nose job, by telling Tutar that she doesn’t need the surgery because she’s already an attractive girl. 

Even in scenes that aren’t as funny as they could have been, Bakalova proves to be a terrific comedic actress in the role of Tutar. She can hold her own in scenes with Baron Cohen, whereas other actresses in this role might have been too overshadowed by his larger-than-life personality. Tutar has a mixture of naïveté and feistiness that’s entertaining to watch.

Toward the end of the movie, Tom Hanks, who famously caught COVID-19 while he was in Australia, makes a brief cameo as himself, and parodies his COVID-19 experience. There’s also a segment where someone dresses up as a racist “Karen” and fights with a COVID-19 specialist resembling Dr. Anthony Fauci, both in full-body costumes. The “Karen” coughs and spews green bile on the doctor, who’s upset that she’s not wearing a face mask.

Several people are credited with writing the screenplay to “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” In addition to Baron Cohen, the movie’s other screenwriters are Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman and Lee Kern. Too many cooks in the kitchen? Possibly.

Borat has become such a familiar character in pop culture, and so pranks in “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” don’t seem as fresh as they were in the first “Borat” movie. However, there are enough moments that poke fun at right-wing and left-wing politics that people of any political persuasion will get some laughs, as long they have some tolerance for crudeness. And if people don’t know by now how vulgar a “Borat” movie can be, they’re even more out-of-touch than Borat in prison.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” on October 23, 2020.

Review: ‘Time’ (2020), starring Fox Rich

October 14, 2020

by Carla Hay

Fox Rich and Rob Rich in “Time” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Time” (2020)

Directed by Garrett Bradley

Culture Representation: Taking place from the 1990s to the 2010s, the documentary “Time” features a predominantly African American group of working-class and middle-class people discussing Louisiana woman Fox Rich’s quest to get her husband Rob released from prison and reunited with his family.

Culture Clash: Rob Rich was sentenced to 60 years in prison without the possibility of parole for a botched armed robbery, which is a sentence that Fox Rich and others in the documentary say is a punishment that is too harsh for the crime and rooted in racism.

Culture Audience: “Time” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries about people who battle against systemic racism in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Fox Rich in the 1990s (above) and Fox Rich in the 2010s (below) in “Time” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

The gripping and emotionally moving documentary “Time” doesn’t follow the usual formula in a movie about someone on an against-all-odds quest to get someone else released from prison. The convict in this case isn’t someone who proclaims to be innocent of the crime. Nor is there a crusading lawyer who is the hero of the story. Instead, this movie takes a raw and intimate look at the journey of a convict’s wife named Fox Rich, who fights to get her husband Rob G. Rich freed from prison while he’s serving a 60-year sentence without the possibility of parole. It’s a story that’s a true example of extraordinary persistence, love and hope.

“Time,” directed by Garrett Bradley, consists of a great deal of video footage that Fox Rich filmed herself during the family’s ordeal that began in the late 1990s and continued through 2018. In the movie, she also has the names Sibil Verdette Fox (which is her birth name) and Sibil Richardson. Fox (who was born in 1971) does most of the voiceover narration in “Time,” but most of the six sons she had with Rob also narrate the film.

There are no “talking head” legal experts, journalists or other pundits who are interviewed in this documentary. “Time” is essentially a family video album that chronicles the ups and downs of Fox’s determination to emancipate her husband over the course of 21 years. Although the original footage from the early years was filmed in color, everything in “Time” is entirely in black and white. There’s also some footage of the family in happier times before Rob was incarcerated.

The movie is not shown in chronological order, and the year that footage was taken is not shown on screen, although the year is sometimes mentioned by the people in the footage. Viewers can also tell the periods of time that the footage was filmed by how Fox looks and the ages of the children. In the 1990s and early 2000s footage, Fox’s is wavy-haired and more idealistic. In the later footage, her hair is straight and she’s more realistic but still hopeful. She’s also become a businesswoman at a car dealership, as well as a passionate public speaker about reforms in the criminal justice system. In her public speaking, Fox shares her personal stories about how Rob’s incarceration has affected the family.

What happened to cause this prison sentence to devastate the family? In 1997, Fox and Rob were a married couple in their mid-20s who met when they were in high school. They were on their way to living the American Dream, with three sons, their first purchased home and a plan to open the first hip-hop clothing store in Shreveport, Louisiana.

But, as Fox tells it in the documentary, they ran into financial problems in trying to launch the business. And they got desperate. On September 16, 1997, their lives changed forever when they committed this crime: Rob, Fox and Rob’s nephew robbed the Grambling Credit Union in Grambling, Louisiana. Fox says she remembers that her motivation for committing the crime was she didn’t want the business to fail and she was going to do what it took to get the money that they wanted.

Fox was the getaway driver, while Rob and his nephew committed the botched armed robbery in the bank. They ended up with about $5,000 from the robbery, but they were quickly apprehended and pleaded guilty. While Fox pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison (she was released from prison after serving three-and-a-half years of that sentence), Rob lost out on a plea bargain where he would be sentenced to 12 years in prison if he pleaded guilty. Instead, through some bad luck and bad legal advice that are not detailed in the movie, he ended up facing trial and was sentenced to 60 years in prison. By any standard, it’s a very harsh sentence, considering that there are many people who get lesser sentences for murder or rape.

Just like many other people who think the U.S. criminal justice system is corrupt and flawed, Fox believes that the system is very racist, because people of color are more likely to get worse punishments than white people who commit the same crimes. She comments in the documentary: “Our prison system is nothing more than slavery. And I see myself as an abolitionist.”

Fox’s mother, a retired educator who’s not identified by her name in the movie, also says that prisons are another form of slavery. She doesn’t excuse the crime that Rob and Fox committed that landed the spouses in prison, but she believes that Rob’s punishment should have fit the crime. She says, “I’ve always been a firm believer: Right don’t come to you doing wrong.”

Fox’s mother also adds that she always thought her daughter would marry “a doctor or a lawyer or an Indian chief.” She comments, “I’ve got nothing against Rob. I just don’t know him.” Viewers also don’t really get to know Rob either, since Fox doesn’t really describe what her husband’s personality is like, and the movie only shows brief snippets of her talking to him on the phone while he’s in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola.

However, “Life” does have a lot of footage over the years of Fox with her and Rob’s six children, who are all sons: Mahlik, Remington (also known as Remi), Laurence, Justus, Freedom and Rob II. Justus and Freedom (who are identical twins) and Rob II were born while Rob Sr. was in prison. The most heartbreaking parts of the movie have to do with the children not being able to grow up with their father in the home.

But the movie also has plenty of inspirational moments. Defying the negative stereotype that children of prison inmates are doomed to become uneducated criminals, Mahlik, Remi and Laurence (the three oldest sons) are all college-educated and thriving. Remi is shown graduating from dental school. Laurence graduated from high school two years earlier than his classmates and is shown to be an aspiring law student who wants to become a public advocate for criminal justice reform.

Remi comments in the documentary: “My family has a strong image, but hiding behind it is a lot of pain … Time is influenced by a lot of our emotions. It’s influenced by our actions.”

And Fox is the most inspirational of all, with her steely determination to never give up on her goal to get Rob out of prison and reunited with his family. There are moments of despair, hope, defeat and triumph. “Time” shows how Fox evolved into a charismatic public speaker, whether she gives speeches at places like Tulane University or stands up in front of a church audience and asks for forgiveness for the crime she committed.

In one of these speeches, Fox also mentions that she made amends with some of the bank robbery victims when she met with them personally to ask for their forgiveness. In private, she gives pep talks to Rob, their kids and to herself. And she’s often seen on the phone doing what she has to do to get Rob back home with the family.

One thing that might surprise people who watch this movie is that there is very little footage of any lawyers. There’s a brief scene of Fox in a meeting with attorneys in an office, but that’s about it. There are hints that Fox has become disillusioned with lawyers and the legal system in general, because she does as much as she can on her own. Fox says at one point in the movie that she paid a previous lawyer (whose name is not mentioned) about $15,000 in cash for his services, and he ended up telling the family that there was nothing he could do for Rob.

Besides being entirely in black and white, “Time” isn’t a conventional documentary about the U.S. criminal justice system because of director Bradley’s musical choices for the movie. There is no cliché musical score with rousing orchestral music, no traditional gospel songs that chime in at emotionally charged moments, no stereotypical hip-hop music with angry anthems. Instead, the jazzy score by Edwin Montgomery and Jamieson Shaw (taken mainly from 1960s piano compositions by Ethiopian nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou) is a lot like the frequently meandering tone of this film: “Time” flows along with no distinct “acts” or “chapters” because of the non-chronological order of the film.

However, there is a “crescendo” to the film that is an absolute must-see. People who know the Rich family’s story might already know how this film ends, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of seeing certain defining moments captured in this film. As Fox says at one point in the movie, “I came from a people who had a strong desire to have something, to make something of ourselves.” Her unshakeable loyalty to her husband and family in the face of overwhelming obstacles can be an unforgettable inspiration to people who believe in the power of love and the human spirit.

Amazon Studios released “Time” in select U.S. cinemas on October 9, 2020. Amazon Prime Video will premiere the movie on October 16, 2020.

Review: ‘Evil Eye’ (2020), starring Sarita Choudhury, Sunita Mani, Omar Maskati and Bernard White

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Omar Maskati and Sunita Mani in “Evil Eye” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Studios)

“Evil Eye” (2020)

Directed by Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans and Delhi, India, the horror film “Evil Eye” features a predominantly Indian cast (with a few white people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A married, middle-aged mother, who experienced domestic abuse from an ex-boyfriend when she was younger, fears that her abuser has been reincarnated in the man whom her daughter is currently dating.

Culture Audience: “Evil Eye” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in horror movies that have characters and storylines focused on Indian culture and family generational issues.

Bernard White and Sarita Choudhury in “Evil Eye” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Studios)

For better or worse, it’s become a cliché that a great deal of movies with predominantly Indian casts are about families preoccupied with the wedding or marriage of the young adults in the family. Most Indians who follow tradition have arranged marriages where members of the family play matchmaker. The horror film “Evil Eye” adds a cultural blend to this formula by having the story set in two places (the Indian city of Delhi and the American city of New Orleans) that represent the push-and-pull conflict of wanting to follow family tradition and wanting to lead a more modern, independent life. “Evil Eye” might disappoint people who are expecting more action scenes, but the movie is commendable as a sobering reflection on domestic abuse and parents’ fears that their children might be doomed to repeat the same mistakes that the parents made.

“Evil Eye” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Amazon Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. Directed by identical twins Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani, “Evil Eye” is based on the Audible Original production of the same name by Madhuri Shekar, who wrote the “Evil Eye” screenplay. The audible version of “Evil Eye” centered on a series of phone conversations between an Indian mother and her daughter over the mother’s worries about the daughter’s love life and when she’s going to get married.

The movie version of “Evil Eye” obviously goes beyond those phone conversations to actually show the two different worlds and outlooks on life that the mother and daughter have in the story. In the “Evil Eye” movie, Usha (played by Sarita Choudhury) is a happily married mother who is constantly pressuring her daughter Pallavi (played by Sunita Mani) to find a nice man to marry, preferably someone who is also of Indian heritage. Years ago, Usha and her laid-back and pragmatic husband Krishnan (played by Bernard White) immigrated from India to New Orleans, where they raised Pallavi, but the couple moved back to India some years ago because Krishnan (who’s a science professor) was offered a great job at a university.

Despite living so far apart, Usha and Pallavi communicate with each other on a regular basis. Lately though, their relationship has become strained because Pallavi thinks that Usha is putting too much pressure on her to get married. Pallavi is not opposed to the idea of getting married, but she’s not in a rush to find a husband and she would rather do it on her own terms.

Usha is heavily into astrology and the spirit world, which is a belief that Pallavi does not share. Krishnan is very scientific-minded, but he tolerates Usha’s superstitions with mild amusement. (For example, when Usha prays, she will say something like, “Protect my child from the Evil Eye so that she may be married.”) Krishnan also doesn’t interfere in the squabbles that Usha and Pallavi might have over Pallavi’s marital status. He tells his daughter that he’s proud of her no matter what.

Out of respect for her mother, Pallavi allows Usha to arrange for Pallavi to meet eligible Indian bachelors who are in the New Orleans area. One such bachelor (played by Satya Nikhil Polisetti) has recently moved from Houston to New Orleans. Pallavi agrees to meet him for a casual blind date at a café.

When Pallavi arrives at the café, she sees a handsome stranger in his late 20s or early 30s who’s seated at a nearby table. They make eye contact in the way that people do in movies where you know they’re going to end up being together. Pallavi’s date is more than an hour late, so Pallavi decides she’s not going to wait any longer and she gets up to leave.

The handsome stranger sees that Pallavi has been stood up for her date, and he goes over to her table and asks her if he can join her at her table. He introduces himself as Sandeep Patel, who works in the technology industry. The attraction between Pallavi and Sandeep (played by Omar Maskati) is immediate, and they end up staying at the café while they talk about their lives.

Sandeep tells her that his family also lives in India. He mentions that he used to run with a partier crowd in New York City. And he used to be engaged to a beauty contestant who was a runner-up for Miss India. Sandeep says that the relationship ended badly, and she attempted suicide after their breakup. “She wasn’t who I thought she was,” Sundeep comments morosely.

Pallavi and Sandeep inevitably begin dating each other. He’s romantic, attentive and seems like the perfect catch. He also has enough money where he buys sapphire earrings for Pallavi just one month after they begin dating each other. Pallavi politely declines the gift because she thinks it’s too much, too soon. She jokingly comments that Sandeep can give her the earrings when they get engaged.

Sandeep seems to have all of the qualities that Usha wants for Pallavi’s future husband. Pallavi thinks that Usha will be happy when she tells Usha the happy news that she’s been dating someone special and describes Sandeep in detail to her mother. However, Usha has reservations because she thinks Sandeep is too good to be true. And when Usha hears about the sapphire earrings, she feels even more alarmed.

It’s eventually revealed that when Usha was in college, she dated a fellow student, who ended up being very controlling and abusive to Usha, so she broke up with him. He took the breakup hard and began viciously stalking Usha until something happened to him to take him out of Usha’s life: He died by falling off of a bridge, not long before Pallavi was born. (The relationship is shown in flashbacks, with Nupur Charyalu as the young Usha and Asad Durrani as the ex-boyfriend, who does not have a name in the movie.)

And guess which gift this boyfriend gave Usha when they were together? Is it a coincidence that Sandeep wanted to give Pallavi sapphire earrings too? The more that Pallavi tells Usha about Sandeep, the more alarmed Usha becomes because Sandeep’s personality and the way that he courts Pallavi are strikingly similar to how Usha’s abusive ex-boyfriend was in the beginning of their relationship.

Meanwhile, the romance between Sandeep and Pallavi gets more serious when he asks her to move in with him and quit her boring office job so that she can pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Sandeep offers to pay all the expenses while she lives with him. Pallavi considers herself to be very independent, so she’s reluctant at first to accept this offer.

But the more Pallavi falls in love with Sandeep, the more she thinks it’s likely that she and Sandeep will get married, so she ends up moving into his large, upscale apartment. She also quits her job to work on a writing project that she’s always wanted to do. Usha isn’t pleased when she hears this news because she fears that Pallavi might be losing her identity and that Sandeep might be too controlling.

And now, it’s Pallavi’s turn to be upset because she thought that her mother would be happy that Pallavi is on track to get married to the man of Pallavi’s dreams. She argues with her mother and accuses Usha of being someone who will never be satisfied with the choices that Pallavi makes in her love life. But what Usha is really concerned about is her growing suspicion that Sandeep might be the reincarnation of Usha’s abusive ex-boyfriend.

Usha confides in her husband Krishnan about her fears, but he scoffs at her and thinks she’s being ridiculous. Usha is reluctant to tell Pallavi because doesn’t want to alienate her and she doesn’t want Pallavi to think that she’s crazy. But Usha’s inner turmoil and concerns about Sandeep become too much for her to bear, and eventually something is done about it in a dramatic way.

“Evil Eye” is not the type of horror movie where bad things happen to people every 15 minutes. Instead, it’s a no-frills thriller that mostly succeeds in presenting various dichotomies within a cohesive story that’s not cluttered with too many characters. There are the aforementioned dichotomies of Indian culture versus American culture; traditional marriage arrangements versus modern dating choices; and superstition versus science.

But there’s an underlying dichotomy that’s less obvious: how society viewed domestic abuse before the #MeToo movement versus how society has viewed domestic abuse since the #MeToo movement. Since the #MeToo movement, certain laws have been passed in many areas that give abuse survivors more chances to get justice. Abuse survivors are also getting more encouragement to share their stories as part of the healing process, whereas before the #MeToo movement, survivors were more likely to be shamed into silence.

This shaming is what Usha experiences—not just from society’s discomfort in dealing with abuse allegations, but also the shame she puts on herself. Usha mistakenly thinks she was somehow at fault for the abuse that was inflicted on her. And she still finds it difficult to talk about her abuse trauma to her own family members. It’s this unspoken communication barrier that affects Usha’s relationship with her daughter Pallavi, whom she fears might experience the same abuse that Usha went through when Usha was young.

As Usha, Choudhury gives a very nuanced portrayal of this inner conflict in how much of her past she wants to reveal to Pallavi. Mani is also very good in her role, although at times her Pallavi character seems a little bit underwritten. It would’ve helped if Pallavi had more of a backstory for her past relationships, so viewers would know if she’s the type to easily fall for smooth-talking charmers.

As for Maskati, his Sandeep character really does give off “too good to be true” vibes from the moment he appears on screen, so there really isn’t much to do with this character but play the “perfect guy who might have a dark secret.” Sandeep’s over-eagerness with the sapphire earrings gift is a big red flag that something is “off” with him. Therefore, people with enough experience in life and in watching horror movies know that it’s going to be a matter of time before Sandeep’s true nature is exposed.

However, “Evil Eye” directors Elan Dassani and Rajeev Dassani admirably keep the movie focused on the mother/daughter relationship instead of going down the predictable “it’s all about the boogeyman” route that so many other horror films take. The movie’s climactic scene is a little melodramatic and hokey, but “Evil Eye” capably and authentically depicts the cultural and familial conflicts that American children of Indian parents experience when they have to choose one way of life over another. At the heart of Usha’s and Pallavi’s conflicts with each other is their fear that one of them might lose respect for the other. And for many people, not having the respect of your family or a ruined relationship with a beloved family member is a lot scarier than any spirit that might come back from the dead.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Evil Eye” on October 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Nocturne’ (2020), starring Sydney Sweeney, Madison Iseman, Jacques Colimon and Ivan Shaw

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sydney Sweeney in “Nocturne” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Nocturne” (2020)

Directed by Zu Quirke

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Nocturne” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and black people) representing the middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: An evil spirit affects the relationship between fraternal twin sisters who are rival classical pianists.

Culture Audience: “Nocturne” will appeal primarily to people who like teen-oriented horror stories that delivers scares that are effective but not particularly groundbreaking.

Madison Iseman and Sydney Sweeney in “Nocturne” (Photo by courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Nocturne” takes an intense sibling rivalry, mixes it in with a lot well-worn occult tropes, and lets the results slowly seep over the audience like a sticky, poisonous stew that’s hard to clean off. The movie doesn’t do a lot that’s very innovative, but quality performances from the cast and the movie’s ability to maintain an unsettling tone throughout the story make it worth watching for people who want to see a teen horror story that isn’t a predictable slasher movie.

“Nocturne” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Amazon Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. It’s the feature-film debut by British writer/director Zu Quirke, who set “Nocturne” primarily in an elite American arts school called the Lindbergh Academy. The academy, which is in an unnamed city, is also a co-ed boarding school that’s attended by students from mostly well-to-do families. It’s a school that steeped in tradition and classical music. In other words, the school isn’t for wannabe rock stars and wannabe rappers.

Many of the students have ambitions to become professional musicians in prominent orchestras or as solo stars. Such is the case with fraternal twin sisters Vivian “Vi” Lowe (played by Madison Iseman) and Juliet “Julie” Lowe (played by Sydney Sweeney), who are aspiring classical pianists. Even though their parents David (played by Brandon Keener) and Cassie (played by Julie Benz) are supportive of the twins’ dreams, they also warn Vi (pronounced “vee” in the movie) and Julie that the chances are very slim that they can make a career out of being classical pianists.

There’s a rivalry between the sisters that has been simmering for years but boils over with dangerous intensity during the course of the story, which takes place in the last year that the twins are enrolled in the academy before they graduate. Vi, the older twin, is the “golden child” who excels at everything thing she does. She’s been accepted into the prestigious Juilliard School, while Julie has been rejected by Juilliard and has decided to take a “gap year” before she applies again to Juilliard.

Vi has a loving and attentive boyfriend named Max (played by Jacques Colimon), who’s a little bit of a rebel because he does illegal drugs when he parties, and he admits that he only wants to be a musician because he likes the attention that he gets from women. Vi and Max’s relationship seems to be going well, and Vi is considered a “star” student of the school, both academically and socially. By contrast, Julie is a loner who doesn’t date and is a student who’s hard-working but not considered as exceptional as Vi. It’s no wonder that Julie feels overshadowed and jealous of Vi.

Lindbergh Academy has recently been devastated by the suicide of another star student named Moira Wilson (played by Ji Eun Hwang), a violinist who jumped off of the ledge of one of the school’s buildings. The suicide (which is shown in the beginning of the movie) is shocking because Moira had a promising future and wasn’t considered to be a troubled kid. During a school assembly after the suicide, Lindberg Academy administrators announce that the annual senior competition recital, which is the school’s biggest event, will still go ahead as planned.

One day, while a school administrator is cleaning out Moira’s locker, one of Moira’s notebooks accidentally drops on the ground. Julie happens to be nearby and picks up the notebook. She sees many occult-like illustrations and musical compositions in the notebook. And there’s a strange symbol of the sun on the notebook’s cover. This sun symbol plays a big role in many other parts of the story.

After Julie finds and keeps the notebook, mysterious things start to happen. When she’s in a room that’s used for music practice, she hears a violin playing, but no one is there. She starts having hallucinations and blackouts. Julie is on anti-anxiety medication, but is what she experiencing the side effects of the drug, mental illness, or is it something else? This is a horror movie, so the answer is obvious.

Moira’s notebook seems to have other effects on Julie, as she becomes more arrogant and ruthless in her rivalry with Vi. Julie decides that she’s going to play the same composition that Vi chose for the senior competition recital: Giuseppe Tartini’s “The Devil’s Trill.” Vi is understandably furious with Julie for blatantly trying to copy her, so the feud escalates between the two sisters.

Julie’s one-on-one piano instructor is a middle-aged alcoholic named Roger (played by John Rothman), who used to be an important pianist, but it’s implied that his drinking problem ruined his career as a pianist, and now his job is teaching piano to teenage students. Roger’s alcoholism is still an issue, because Julie mentions during their teaching lessons that she can smell alcohol on his breath.

One day, Julie (who is constantly looking for approval) asks Roger, “Are you proud of me?” He tries to tactfully tell Julie that she’s a good student but doesn’t really have what it takes to be a star soloist. Roger says that Julie is a “sensitive accompanist” and that not everyone can be the conductor of an orchestra.

This “damning with faint praise” triggers some anger in Julie, because she then tells Roger that she wants to quit his class. It leads to an argument where something happens that gets Roger fired. Julie is then assigned to take piano lessons from Dr. Cask (played by Ivan Shaw), who’s considered one of the top instructors in the school because he will only teach the best students. Dr. Cask, who is handsome and distinguished-looking, is also in charge of the senior competition recital, which is judged by a panel of school officials.

“Nocturne” is far from subtle in telegraphing what’s behind the horror in this story. Moira’s notebook is filled with demonic drawings. And when Dr. Cask has a piano lesson with Julie, he comments to her about Vi: “You know what makes her a star? She plays like the devil’s at her door.” And he says of dead student Moira: “She played like the devil is in the room.”

There aren’t many “jump scares” in “Nocturne.” Instead, the horror is more gradual and starts to slowly ramp up as the story moves along. It’s easy to figure out what the source of the terror is, but the appeal to the story is to see how this evil presence is going to affect the relationship between these two sisters.

The movie is told from Julie’s perspective, so Sweeney is the main actor who has to carry the story. Her performance is good, but just like her Julie character, she’s not particularly outstanding. Vi is not as complex as Julie, but Iseman capably shows glimmers into Vi’s interior thoughts that don’t always line up with the “perfect student” image that Vi portrays to almost everyone around her.

The best aspects of “Nocturne” are how writer/director Quirke successfully evokes moods such as toxic jealousy and eerie foreboding in the realistic dialogue and increasingly suffocating environment that surrounds Julie and Vi. The movie’s cinematography from Carmen Cabana also persuasively immerses people into this world. “Nocturne” delivers a knockout ending that will make people wonder if certain people can be possessed by evil or if evil is a manifestation of wicked inclinations that people already have inside themselves.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Nocturne” on October 13, 2020.

Review: ‘Black Box’ (2020), starring Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine, Tosin Morohunfola, Charmaine Bingwa and Troy James

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mamoudou Athie and Phylicia Rashad in “Black Box” (Photo by Alan Markfield/Amazon Studios)

“Black Box” (2020)

Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr.

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the sci-fi/horror movie “Black Box” has a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A widowed father suffers from amnesia because of the car accident that killed his wife, and he undergoes a radical scientific experiment to try to recover his memories.

Culture Audience: “Black Box” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies that blend science fiction with family drama and have unexpected twists.

Amanda Christine and Mamoudou Athie in “Black Box” (Photo by Alfonso Bresciani/Amazon Studios)

At first glance, the sci-fi/horror film “Black Box” seems to be a story about how unchecked scientific experiments can wreak havoc on someone’s life. But beneath all the creepy and mind-bending scenes is a story about yearning for chances to start over and renew relationships with loved ones. Directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr., “Black Box” has some familiar influences (the 1990 film “Total Recall” immediately comes to mind), but the movie has its own unique elements that make it a worthwhile offering for people who like horror movies where a lot of terror can exist in someone’s mind.

“Black Box” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Amazon Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. The movie is the feature-film debut of Osei-Kuffour, who co-wrote the “Black Box” screenplay with Stephen Herman. It’s not a straightforward movie that is supposed to be told chronologically. Instead, viewers have to put the pieces of the puzzle together, just like fragmented memories that could become whole.

In “Black Box,” Nolan Wright (played by Mamoudou Athie) is a 33-year-old photographer and widowed father who is struggling physically, financially and emotionally. He is recovering from a car accident that killed his wife Rachel six months ago and left him in a coma. When he emerged from the coma, he found out that he has amnesia, and he is now coping with feelings for guilt over Rachel’s death and the stress of not remembering a great deal of his life.

Because of his injuries and ongoing recovery, Nolan hasn’t been able to work, and the bills are piling up. There’s a wall in Nolan’s living room that looks like it was punched in anger, and it’s later revealed in the movie that he punched the wall because he got frustrated over being hounded by bill collectors. This type of violence goes against Nolan’s mild-mannered nature. He’s also a kind and attentive father.

Nolan’s lively and very precocious daughter Ava (played by Amanda Christine), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, has become the “lady” of their household. She helps Nolan get ready in the morning, makes meals and helps him remember things, since Nolan as short-term and long-term memory loss. Nolan worries that the big chunks of his life that he doesn’t remember are memories that he’ll never get back.

In the beginning of the movie, Nolan is ready to go back to work at the magazine job he used to have before the car accident. He has a meeting with his former boss Cathy (played by Gretchen Koerner), who also used to be the supervisor for Nolan’s late wife Rachel. But Cathy tells him some bad news: She can’t rehire Nolan because her publisher boss doesn’t think that Nolan’s current work doesn’t reach the same quality level as his past work.

Nolan’s best friend is a doctor named Gary (played by Tosin Morohunfola), who offers to lend Nolan money to help pay Nolan’s bills, but Nolan is politely declines to accept this offer. Nolan tells Gary about being rejected by his former job, and Gary comforts Nolan by telling him, “You don’t need to change your career, Nolan. You just need to remember who you are.”

While Nolan is visiting Gary at the hospital where Gary works, Gary recommends that Nolan try undergoing some of the experimental memory treatments conducted by Dr. Lillian Brooks (played by Phylicia Rashad), who is considered a somewhat controversial visionary because not all of her experiments have been government-approved. And it just so happens that a video of Dr. Brooks giving an instructional lecture to an audience is playing in the waiting room where Nolan is sitting.

Feeling he’s got nothing to lose, Nolan makes an appointment with Dr. Brooks, who knows Nolan’s personal and medical history and decides he’s a good candidate for her Black Box memory recovery experiments. Dr. Brooks tells Nolan that the Black Box converts memories into an “immersive virtual experience, like a dream.” Therefore, when Nolan gets a Black Box treatment, he will have a virtual recreation of his memories.

Dr. Brooks puts Nolan under hypnosis, where he sees himself in a house with different rooms. Before he goes into the trance, Dr. Brooks tells him that the first room he will be in is a “safe room.” There are no safes in this room, but it’s supposed to represent the safest room in the house and the room that Nolan has to be in if he wants to emerge safely from the hypnosis.

Nolan can go from room to room by pushing down on the crown of an imaginary analog watch. However, he cannot open the doors in the safe room. If he wants to leave the safe room, he has to use the watch. And what Nolan sees when he goes under hypnosis would be enough for most people to completely call off the Black Box experiment.

While under hypnosis, Nolan has flashes of memories, but the other people in these memories have their faces blurred out and the rooms are usually very shadowy or dark. One vivid memory that Nolan relives is his wedding ceremony in the church where it took place. But what’s supposed to be happy memory turns into a nightmare.

An unwelcome guest emerges from a church pew. It’s an unknown humanoid creature that can contort limbs at sickening angles. The menacing creature is called Backwards Man (played by Troy James), and every time it moves, you can hear the sound of bones cracking. Just like everyone else in these visions, the face of Backwards Man is obscured. Every time Backwards Man sees Nolan, the creature rushes to attack Nolan, who then has to quickly find a way back to the safe room so that he can come out from the hypnosis.

The first time that Nolan has this terrifying experience, he’s hesitant to go back under hypnosis again. But his desire to recover his memories outweighs any fear that he has, so he goes back under hypnosis again. Another vision that he sees is of a bruised and crying woman in a kitchen. It appears that someone in the home has beaten her and she’s afraid of that person.

Nolan has never seen this woman before, but he later finds out that her name is Miranda (played by Charmaine Bingwa), and she doesn’t live very far from Nolan. He also sees in his visions that Miranda has a crying baby in another room. And once again, Backwards Man suddenly appears to try to attack Nolan.

Nolan begins to wonder if the visions he’s seeing are really memories or delusions. He asks Gary if he’s ever had a history of abusing women. Gary tells Nolan absolutely not and says that Nolan and Rachel were an ideal, loving couple. Gary only remembers bits and pieces of his marriage to Rachel, so he has to take Gary’s word for it. (There’s no mention in the story if Nolan has any other relatives. If he does, he doesn’t communicate with them and vice versa.)

The mysteries of Nolan’s strange Black Box visions are explained by the end of the film. Throughout the movie, “Black Box” writer/director Osei-Kuffour achieves a delicate balance between the Nolan who’s trying to keep things together in the “real world” to be a responsible parent and the Nolan who keeps getting pulled back into the dark and murky world of the Black Box memory experiments. Nolan isn’t quite sure what’s being done to his mind but he’s willing to risk everything just to get back his memories.

But the darker world of these memory experiments spills over into Nolan’s real world, as he has nightmares and blackouts that affect his ability to function as normally as he would like. For example, one day he forgets to pick up Ava from school (it’s not the first time it’s happened), and the concerned teacher who brings Ava home threatens to report Nolan to child protective services if it happens again.

As Nolan, Athie does an admirable job of portraying someone who’s torn between these two worlds, while Christine shows a lot of talent as a child who’s perceptive beyond the level of most children her age. Nolan and Ava’s father/daughter relationship is adorable and realistic. Rashad portrays Dr. Brooks as someone who is passionate about her work, but the movie doesn’t really go into details about other patients whom Dr. Brooks has treated. The only work with patients that Dr. Brooks is shown doing in the movie is her Black Box sessions with Nolan.

The Backwards Man in “Black Box” brings some chills, but this contortionist creature looks too human and familiar for it to become a horror villain that people will be talking about for years. (When the face of Backwards Man is finally revealed, it’s no surprise.) Ultimately, the message of “Black Box” is that no matter how advanced technology becomes and how many material possessions people can have, people’s human connections and memories have intangible value and are treasured the most.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Black Box” on October 6, 2020.

Review: ‘The Lie’ (2020), starring Joey King, Peter Sarsgaard and Mireille Enos

October 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Peter Sarsgaard and Joey King in “The Lie” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios)

“The Lie”

Directed by Veena Sud

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the suspenseful drama “The Lie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A divorced couple go to extreme lengths to cover up a crime committed by their troubled teenage daughter.

Culture Audience: “The Lie” will primarily appeal to people who are interested in movies that have very Lifetime TV type of concepts but with higher budgets and a higher caliber of actors.

Mireille Enos and Peter Sarsgaard in “The Lie” (Photo by Jasper Savage/Amazon Studios)

When parents cover up a crime that their child committed, who’s worse? The child or the parents? These are questions that the dramatic thriller “The Lie” wants viewers to think about and possibly change their minds about the answer several times during the course of the movie. Unfortunately, “The Lie” (written and directed by Veena Sud) is so caught up with trying to fool viewers with twists and turns in the story (including an ending that people are going to either love or hate) that the movie could be considered one big lie if viewers are expecting a coherent plot. Above-average acting from the lead actors in the cast can’t quite save this convoluted mess of a movie.

“The Lie” is part of Blumhouse Television’s “Welcome to the Blumhouse” series partnership with Amazon Prime Video to showcase horror/thriller movies directed by women and people of color. “The Lie” definitely has a strong female point of view, since two of the three main characters are female: troubled 15-year-old Kayla (played by Joey King) and her mother Rebecca (played by Mireille Enos), a former homicide cop who’s now a corporate executive for an unnamed company. (Sud and Enos used to work together on the crime drama series “The Killing.”)

The other main character in “The Lie” is Kayla’s rock singer/musician father Jay (played by Peter Sarsgaard), who’s been divorced from Rebecca for about five or six years. Jay and Rebecca have moved on to new love partners. Jay is dating his bandmate Trini (played by Dani Kind), while Rebecca’s boyfriend Greg (Alan Van Sprang) is planning to move in with Rebecca and Kayla. Jay doesn’t know it yet though, and Rebecca wants to postpone telling him this big news.

It’s established early on in the movie that Rebecca has primary custody of Kayla because she’s the more reliable parent with the steadier income. The income disparity is obvious, since Rebecca and Kayla live in a spacious, upper-middle-class home, while Jay lives in a cramped apartment. Jay isn’t a complete deadbeat dad, but there’s tension between Jay and Rebecca because he’s been an irresponsible, inattentive parent in the past (a lot of it has to do with him being a musician), so Rebecca often has a hard time trusting him. She also thinks that Jay can be too lenient with Kayla, maybe out of guilt for being a sometimes-absentee father.

Kayla’s relationship with Jay is less resentful than how Rebecca feels about him, but there’s still some tension between Kayla and Jay because Kayla wishes that her father paid more attention to her. Jay is the type of musician who’s still trying to make it big. He’s not completely broke, but he’s not at a level where he has a comfortably steady income. He’s the lead singer of an indie rock band that releases its own music and doesn’t get played on the radio, but is able to make money by playing nightclubs. Viewers of “The Lie” will get the impression that he’s been at this level for his entire career.

On the fateful winter day that the lives of Kayla, Rebecca and Jay change forever, Jay is driving Kayla to a ballet retreat that she doesn’t really want to go to but is being pressured to attend by Rebecca. There’s a lot of ice and snow outside, and when Kayla sees a teenage friend named Britney (played by Devery Jacobs) standing alone at a bus stop, Kayla asks Jay to pull over so they can talk to Britney, who’s going to the same ballet retreat.

Britney (who sometimes goes by the name Brit) says that she’s taking the bus because her father backed out on his promise to drive her to the retreat, so Kayla asks Jay if they can give Britney a ride to the retreat. Britney mentions that she and her divorced father haven’t been getting along lately, and that’s probably why he bailed out of driving her to the retreat. It’s later revealed in the movie that Britney moved to the area with her father Sam about two or three months ago. Britney’s mother abandoned Britney and Sam years ago.

As Kayla and Britney sit in the back of the car and make small talk, Kayla notices that Britney has a bruise on her chin. When she asks Britney about it, Britney avoids answering the question and jokingly tries to make Kayla feel intrusive by calling Kayla a “stalker.” The drive goes by fairly uneventfully on a deserted road near the woods until Britney and Kayla ask Jay to stop the car so they can go in the woods and relieve themselves. Jay obliges their request, but he’s reluctant because it’s cold outside and he’s wary about the two girls being in an isolated wooded area. Jay doesn’t go with them into the woods, out of respect for their teenage privacy.

After a reasonable period of time has passed, the girls still haven’t come back to the car, so Jay goes into the woods to find out what’s going on. To his horror, he sees Kayla, who looks like she’s in a state of shock, on a small bridge overlooking icy and treacherous water. Britney is nowhere in sight. When Jay frantically asks where Britney is, Kayla says that they were “joking around,” and Britney fell off of the bridge into the water.

A few minutes later, after Jay tries desperately to find Britney in the water, Kayla changes her story and makes a darker confession to Jay: She says that she and Britney actually had an argument, and Kayla deliberately pushed Britney off of the bridge. Kayla and Jay decide to stop looking for Britney, who is presumed to be dead. Kayla, who’s asthmatic, also seems to be having an asthma attack, so Jay decides that they’re going to leave the scene of the crime and pretend that they never saw Britney that day.

Kayla is too distressed to go to the ballet retreat, so Jay also decides that he will just take her back home and they will pretend that she was sick and use that as an excuse for why she didn’t show up for the ballet retreat. Jay also decides that he and Kayla will fabricate an alibi for the time that they were on the road, by saying that during that time, she was with Jay at his place before he drove her back to the house where Kayla lives with Rebecca.

While Kayla and Jay are near the parked car, a truck passes by, and Kayla and Jay duck down quickly, so they won’t be seen. It’s a possible problem with their fake alibi if anyone in the truck remembers seeing Jay’s car on the road at that specific time. There are other things that happen later in the story that could unravel and expose the lie.

But before that happens, Kayla and a panicked Jay go to Rebecca’s office. Rebecca is furious to see that Kayla is not at the ballet retreat. But Jay pulls Rebecca aside and tells her that she needs to go back to her house. He will bring Kayla there and explain everything. When Rebecca arrives at the house and finds out what happened, she is shocked, but she has a very different idea on how they should handle the situation.

Rebecca wants to go immediately to the police and report what happened, as well as try to see if a search team can look for Britney. Jay insists that it’s a bad idea because Britney is probably dead already, and he will get in trouble for not going to the police sooner. It’s also why Jay rejects Rebecca’s suggestion that they tell police that it was an accident: If it were an accident, Jay would’ve called 911 for help in trying to rescue Britney from the water.

Jay thinks the best thing to do is to stick to the lie and get a good lawyer for Kayla. After much arguing back and forth, Rebecca agrees to Jay’s idea to tell the lie to cover up for Kayla. They agree to craft an airtight alibi for Kayla and stick to the story no matter what.

And what does Kayla think about what’s going on? At first, she seems to feel guilty about what happened and wants to go to the police. But then, when she sees that her parents have joined forces to protect her, she seems to find comfort in that situation, and Kayla lets her parents handle everything. They coach Kayla on what to say when the police inevitably start questioning Kayla, who seems to be one of Britney’s closest friends.

But the morning after the incident, Kayla is oddly calm and acts like nothing really happened. She exhibits this nonchalant behavior several times throughout the movie. But then other times, she loses control of her emotions, such as she when she has a public meltdown outside the house and her father has to restrain her.

Kayla’s meltdown in the front yard is loud enough for neighbors to see and hear, but there are conveniently no neighbors who report suspicious activity coming from Kayla’s home. And the police certainly don’t find out about it, because the meltdown is written in this movie for melodrama purposes only.

Later in the story, Kayla reveals to her father Jay that she’s been cutting herself. “It helps take away the pain,” Kayla tells Jay, as she shows him the cutting scars on her wrist. “No one likes me at school,” she adds.

Jay seems disturbed by finding out that Kayla is a cutter. And he’s in for more of a shock when he finds out that Kayla has been cutting herself for a few years, and Rebecca has known about it too. Rebecca gives Jay a weary excuse that she tried to get Kayla help for this self-harm problem, but nothing worked.

If it isn’t obvious enough, Kayla is deeply troubled. But is she a sociopath? Is she bipolar? The movie plays guessing games with viewers over what Kayla’s state of mind really is. Her parents know that something is very wrong with her, but they’re more concerned with covering up the crime that she confessed to rather than trying to get her professional help for her mental problems.

Britney’s father Sam (played by Cas Anvar) eventually comes over to Rebecca’s house to see if he can talk to Kayla about where she thinks Britney might be. It isn’t the first time that Britney has disappeared for a few days without telling anyone, so Sam isn’t too worried when he first goes over to the house to talk to Kayla. Rebecca stalls Sam, with the excuse that Kayla has been sick. Rebecca plays the part of a concerned parent by giving Sam her personal cell phone number so that he can contact Rebecca, but it’s really Rebecca’s way of finding out what Sam is going to do about Britney’s disappearance.

Rebecca and Jay do everything possible to prevent Kayla from talking to Sam and other people, by lying and saying that Kayla is too sick to talk to anyone. Rebecca and Kayla also avoid returning Sam’s messages. As Britney’s disappearance stretches into more than 48 hours, Sam gets more frantic and suspicious that Kayla and her parents might be hiding something.

Rebecca and Jay end up doing some despicable and extreme things to throw any suspicion off of Kayla and possibly put the blame on someone else. Rebecca gets in touch with Detective Kenji Takada (played by Patti Kim), a former colleague at the police department, and manipulates her into thinking that someone else could be involved with Britney’s disappearance. Kenji just happens to be part of the investigation with her cop partner Detective Rodney Barnes (played by Nicholas Lea), who shows more than a hint of racism when he suspiciously asks Britney’s father Sam (who’s Pakistani American) what his ethnicity is.

One of the big flaws in the screenplay is in all the illogical decisions made by Rebecca and Jay. By keeping Kayla isolated at home and preventing her from continuing her routine school activities, it actually makes Kayla look even more guilty and suspicious. At one point, Jay and Rebecca tell Sam that Kayla is at a doctor’s appointment, but since that’s a lie, there are no medical records to back it up in case Sam tells the police this information. And Jay and Rebecca’s attempts to prevent Sam from talking to Kayla just makes it look like Kayla has something to hide. Sam senses it too.

And about that lawyer that Jay said should be hired to help Kayla. It’s one of the reasons why Rebecca agreed to go along with Jay’s idea to cover up for Kayla. However, it’s not a spoiler to say that a lawyer is never hired for Kayla, although Jay and Rebecca are going to need attorneys, based on all the illegal things that Rebecca and Jay do to cover up for Kayla and all of their lies. The non-existent lawyer is one of many ways that “The Lie” dangles something in front of viewers and then just leaves it hanging.

And the ending of the movie is basically undermined by the fact that earlier in the film, the police investigating Britney’s disappearance found some important email between two people involved in the case. In order for the ending of the movie to be plausible, viewers would have to believe that the police overlooked other email and cell phone records from the same two people. And that investigator oversight doesn’t seem logical or plausible, considering the email between those two people that was already discovered by the police. Even if text and email messages are deleted, they can still be retrieved on hard drives through computer forensics that are available to police investigators.

Although the screenplay is problematic, “The Lie” does have very good acting from King, Enos and Sarsgaard, who do the best they can with the flawed script that they’ve been given. There are plenty of suspenseful moments, but too often they are followed by another ludicrous and extreme act by one of the loathsome main characters.

And what makes the cover-up worse in this story is that Rebecca is a former cop who makes some dumb decisions that no self-respecting person with police training would make. Main characters in a suspense thriller don’t have to be likable heroes, but they should at least be believable. And because the movie has too many characters who do too many incredibly stupid things, “The Lie” lacks credibility as a suspense thriller.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “The Lie” on October 6, 2020.

Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 for fall 2020 collection headed to Amazon Prime Video

Rihanna at the Savage X Fenty Fall/Winter 2019 Show at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on September 10, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Amazon Prime Video)

The following is a press release from Amazon Prime Video:

Amazon Prime Video presents the highly anticipated Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2, a unique fashion show celebrating the new Fall 2020 collection from music and fashion icon Rihanna. The extraordinary fashion experience features a combination of models, actors and dancers wearing the latest savage styles, with special performances from some of the hottest names in music. Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 will stream exclusively on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide beginning Friday, October 2.

As a follow up to last year’s ground-breaking event, this year’s Savage X Fenty Show is raising the bar. Debuting the bold and fearless Fall 2020 line, Savage X Fenty Show Vol. 2 will include performances from an all-star lineup including hip-hop icon Travis Scott and international superstars Bad Bunny, Ella Mai, Miguel, Mustard, Roddy Ricch, and Rosalia during the experience. Savage X Fenty Show veterans Bella Hadid, Big Sean, Cara Delevingne, Christian Combs, Normani, and Paloma Elsesser return, walking alongside newcomers Lizzo, Demi Moore, Erika Jayne, Gigi Goode, Irina Shayk, Laura Harrier, Paris Hilton, Rico Nasty, Shea Couleé, Willow Smith, Chika, Miss 5th Avenue, Jaida Essence Hall and many more, wearing the latest savage styles and debuting Savage X Fenty’s fierce and unapologetic Fall 2020 collection.

For the release of Vol. 2, the Savage X Fenty Fall 2020 Collection will be available to shop in Amazon Fashion’s store and at Savage X Fenty. All Savage. Zero Apologies. The high-voltage collection is packed with unexpected pairings and surprising new styles that push the boundaries of individuality. With sizes ranging from 30A-42H/46DDD and XS-3X, customers can shop the collection at Amazon.com/savagexfenty and Savagex.com.

Rihanna served as Executive Producer and Creative Director of Savage x Fenty Show Vol. 2.

Music and fashion icon Rihanna embarks on her newest venture: lingerie designer. Inspired to create a line of intimates that complements a variety of shades and shapes, Savage X Fenty celebrates fearlessness, confidence, and inclusivity. In partnership with a team assembled from the industry’s elite, the label has disrupted and redefined the marketplace with its accessible price point and extensive assortment. “We want to make people look good and feel good,” explains Rihanna, who approaches Savage X with the same mentality she does all her projects – to make something new and fresh that everyone can relate to and feel confident in. “We want you to feel sexy and have fun doing it.” With sizes from 32A – 42H in bras, and XS-3X in undies and sleepwear, Savage X Fenty is available for purchase at www.SavageX.com.