Review: ‘Limbo’ (2023), starring Simon Baker, Rob Collins, Natasha Wanganeen and Nicholas Hope

April 15, 2023

by Carla Hay

Simon Baker and Nicholas Hope in “Limbo” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)

“Limbo” (2023)

Directed by Ivan Sen

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Australian Outback fictional town of Limbo, the dramatic film “Limbo” features a cast of white and First Nations/indigenous characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A police detective travels from an unnamed Australian city to Limbo to review a cold case about a teenager who disappeared from Limbo 20 years ago. 

Culture Audience: “Limbo” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Simon Baker and well-made, “slow burn” crime dramas about missing people and fractured families.

Pictured from left to right: Simon Baker, Andrew Dingaman and Rob Collins in “Limbo” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films)

The spellbinding and atmospheric crime drama “Limbo” moves at a pace that might be too slow for some viewers. But beneath this unhurried tone are simmering tensions and resentments over racism and generational trauma. Viewers expecting a format that’s similar to a TV series crime procedural will be disappointed by “Limbo,” which offers no easy answers to the mystery at the center of the story. However, by the end of the film, there is at least one outcome that shows the reality of how people can expect one thing and end up getting something else.

Ivan Sen is the chief creative force of “Limbo,” since he is the movie’s director, writer, cinematographer, editor, composer, colorist and visual effects supervisor. He is also one of the movie’s producers. “Limbo” had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival and made the rounds at other film festivals that year, including the Toronto International Film Festival. “Limbo” earned three nominations for the 2024 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards—Best Indie Film, Best Lead Actor (for Simon Baker) and Best Supporting Actor (for Rob Collins)—and won the prize for Best Indie Film.

“Limbo” takes place in the Australian Outback fictional town of Limbo, but the movie was actually filmed in Coober Pedy, Australia, whose main industries are mining and tourism. “Limbo” was filmed in black and white, which makes the desert atmosphere look even more stark and at times even more foreboding than if the movie had been in color. In this remote area depicted in “Limbo,” feels of isolation and stagnation seep into the tone of the movie as well as the character performances.

“Limbo” begins with the arrival of police detective Travis Hurley (played by Baker), who drives into Limbo and stays at the only motel in town: the Limbo Motel. It’s an unusual motel because it’s partially inside a cave. (Several of “Limbo’s” scenes take place inside or near caves.) Therefore, Travis’ room looks like a cave room.

Travis is in Limbo for a few days to review the missing person case of Charlotte Hayes, a First Nations/indigneous person who lived in Limbo and who disappeared when she was a teenager 20 years ago. The case has gone cold, but Travis has been assigned to investigate the case and to find out if there are any new clues that can be uncovered. During his investigation, Travis gets more emotionally involved with Charlotte’s family than he expected when he first arrived in town.

Viewers soon find out that Travis is not a squeaky-clean police officer. One of the first things that he does when he goes in his motel room is melt an unnamed opioid powder in a spoon and shoot up the substance in his arm with a hypodermic needle. Most people will assume that the drug is heroin or Fentanyl, based on how Travis has a “nodding out” reaction after injecting this drug.

Travis’ drug addiction is not mentioned or shown again in the movie, until he has a private conversation with someone where he confesses that he uses drugs. It’s during this conversation that Travis also mentions that he was formerly an undercover narcotics officer and used drugs as part of this job. It’s unknown if he got hooked on drugs directly because of his narcotics officer job or if he had already been addicted. However, what’s clear is that his drug addiction is a secret from almost everyone Travis knows. He tells the person he confesses this secret to that this is the first time Travis has told anyone that he currently uses drugs.

Most of “Limbo” shows Travis doing interviews with Charlotte’s family members and other potential witnesses. The people he spends the most time with are Charlotte’s older stepbrother Charlie (played by Collins) and Charlie’s sister Emma (played by Natasha Wanganeen), who is a single mother raising three kids. The parents of Charlotte, Charlie and Emma are all deceased.

The family is still haunted by Charlotte’s disappearance and have become disillusioned about ever finding out what happened to her because police have treated cases of missing indigenous people as inferior to cases of missing white people. The indigenous people in the area call themselves “black” people. Charlie tells Travis that in Charlotte’s missing person case, police delayed investigating until a week after Charlotte disappeared. Charlie and Emma believe that if Charlotte had been white, police would have investigated Charlotte’s disappearance immediately.

Two of the children whom Emma is raising are actually Charlie’s biological kids: rebellious and sullen son Zac (played by Marc Coe) is about 12 or 13 years old, while cheeky and inquisitive daughter Ava (played by Tiana Hartwig) is about 9 or 10 years old. Emma’s biological daughter Jessie (played by Alexis Lennon), who is about 11 or 12 years old, has an absentee father, and she is often bluntly rude and brutally honest. For example, Jessie tells Travis that he looks like a drug dealer instead of a cop.

Charlie is a bachelor who lives alone. Why is Emma taking care of Charlie’s children? The movie doesn’t mention what happened to the mother(s) of Zac and Ava, but Emma tells Travis that Charlie had some type of guilt-ridden mental breakdown after Charlotte disappeared. For a while, Charlie was under suspicion for Charlotte’s disappearance, but he insists that he was falsely accused by two local indigenous men, one of whom had a personal grudge against Charlie. Charlie says he was at a cousin’s house when Charlotte disappeared. Charlie has been estranged from his children for years and doesn’t talk to them, but he will often drive by in his truck and look at his children, and then drive away.

As Travis continues his investigation, he hears more about the racial divide in Limbo. This racial tension doesn’t surprise Travis, but he sees firsthand how this racism can affect people’s lives and attitudes. Charlie is very suspicious of Travis when they first meet each other and says to Travis, “I don’t talk to cops, especially white ones.” However, Charlie eventually opens up to Travis when he sees that Travis is the Hayes family’s best chance of getting Charlotte’s case investigated. Emma is also wary of Travis at first (but she’s not as openly hostile as Charlie is), and she eventually agrees to be interviewed by Travis too, which she does separately from Charlie.

During interviews and conversations between Charlie and Travis, Charlie sometimes bitterly complains about how indigenous people are unfairly targeted by white law enforcement officers, who are quick to harass or arrest indigenous people for the same things that police officers excuse or ignore if white people do these things. There’s a scene where Travis and Charlie are talking outside while Charlie is drinking a beer. A police car drives by them and doesn’t stop. Charlie says to Travis: “Usually, they tell you to move along [for] drinking on the street like this.” Charlie tells Travis why he thinks the police inside the car didn’t stop to reprimand Charlie: “Maybe because of you.” In other words, Charlie is saying that Travis has white privilege.

Throughout the investigation, Travis keeps hearing about a white man named Leon, whom Charlie and Emma believe is the most likely suspect in Charlotte’s disappearance. Leon had a reputation in the area for hosting parties for young people, who got alcohol and maybe other drugs illegally from him. Leon seemed especially fixated on indigenous teenage girls. Leon had a green Ford Laser at the time of Charlotte’s disappearance. What happened to that car is revealed in the movie.

Travis finds out soon after he arrives in Limbo that Leon died of dementia the year before. Leon’s elderly brother Joseph (played by Nicholas Hope), who is a heavy drinker and is in obvious ill health, tells Travis about Leon dying and also shows Leon’s unmarked grave to Travis. Leon’s photo is never seen in movie, but it’s implied that Leon was close to the same age as Joseph, so Leon was most likely a middle-aged man when Charlotte disappeared. Travis also listens to audio recordings of interviews that police did separately with Charlie and Leon, who also denied anything to do with Charlotte’s disappearance.

As Charlie begins to cooperate more with Travis, Charlie points Travis in the direction of more potential witnesses in the First Nations/indigenous community. A middle-aged man named Stoney (played by Andrew Digaman), who is very suspicious of police, told Charlie that years ago in a pub, Leon once made a drunken confession to Stoney that Leon killed an unnamed person. Oscar Porter (played by Joshua Warrior), who had a personal feud with Charlie that involved at least one physical brawl, was one of the men who accused Charlie of having something to do with Charlotte’s disappearance. Travis finds out that Oscar’s accusation was because of something other than a personal vendetta against Charlie.

Because Travis is only in town for a few days, and he is the only investigating officer for this cold case review, the chances are very slim that Travis will solve this case in such a short period of time. However, there is enough revealed in the story for viewers to put together the pieces of this puzzle, as certain conclusions can be made, based on what Travis and other people discover. Viewers will have to look for visual clues, as well as consider things that are said and the credibility of the people saying these things.

It’s not revealed right away, but Travis is a divorced father who is no longer in contact with his only child (a son) because his ex-wife remarried, and his son likes his stepfather more than he likes Travis. When Travis tells Emma about his family situation, he describes it as bowing out of his son’s life, but you get the feeling that there’s more to the story that Travis isn’t telling, especially since his drug addiction undoubtedly affects all aspects of his life. “Limbo” doesn’t go too deep into Travis’ personal history, but this information about being estranged from his son is enough to see why Travis is emotionally touched by Charlie’s estrangement from his own children—especially with Zac, who feels abandoned by Charlie and is very angry at Charlie.

Emma makes a confession to Travis about something that happened in her past. This confession shows that Charlie isn’t the only one who feels guilty about Charlotte’s disappearance. Baker, Collins and Wanganeen give admirable performances as three damaged but not completely broken people who are doing what they can to ease some of their pain and hopefully heal. By the end of the movie, viewers will care not just about the “whodunit” aspect of the story but will also be concerned about the well-being of these characters.

“Limbo” is the name of the movie and the name of the fictional town in the movie, but it also describes the tragic state of mind that loved ones of missing people feel when they don’t know what happened to their loved ones who disappeared. Travis sees the trauma that this case has brought onto the Hayes family, so it makes him confront certain issues in his own life. The way that Travis reacts doesn’t make his problems go away but it might give him a little bit of redemption. “Limbo” is a solemn and meaningful reminder that when people talk about a system that fails, there are untold numbers of people who get hurt and might never recover.

Brainstorm Media and Music Box Films released “Limbo” in select U.S. cinemas on March 22, 2024. The movie was released in Australia and part of Europe in 2023.

Review: ‘Sasquatch Sunset,’ starring Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Christophe Zajac-Denek and Nathan Zellner

April 10, 2024

by Carla Hay

Jesse Eisenberg and Christophe Zajac-Denek in “Sasquatch Sunset” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Sasquatch Sunset”

Directed by Davd Zellner and Nathan Zellner

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of the United States, the comedy/drama film “Sasquatch Sunset” features a group of Sasquatch characters that have human and primate characteristics.

Culture Clash: A family of four Sasquatches wander around a wooded area and get into various conflicts and predicaments.

Culture Audience: “Sasquatch Sunset” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and are interested in watching a movie that has nothing but actors pretending to be ape-like animals in a wooded area, with no real story in the movie.

Nathan Zellner in “Sasquatch Sunset” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

Overrated and vapid, “Sasquatch Sunset” looks like a self-indulgent student film for actors pretending to be Sasquatches. There’s no plot or imagination, just repetitive grunting and intentional gross-out scenes until the movie’s underwhelming ending. Perhaps the best thing about “Sasquatch Sunset” is the competent prosthetic makeup and hairstyling for the Sasquatch characters. (There are no human characters in this movie.) But those are just visual aesthetics that can’t make up for a weak story.

Directed by brothers David Zellner and Nathan Zellner, “Sasquatch Sunset” was written by David Zellner. Nathan Zellner plays one of the movie’s four main Sasquatch characters, which do not have names. There are also no captions that translate what these Sasquatches are saying or thinking. It wouldn’t matter anyway because “Sasquatch Sunset” is so boring, these Sasquatches wouldn’t have anything memorable to say, even if they did speak a human language. (Sasquatches are fictional creatures that have human and primate characteristics. The legend of Bigfoot, which most people think is a hoax, is about a Sasquatch.)

“Sasquatch Sunset” takes place in an unnamed part of the United States but was actually filmed in Humboldt County, California. In 2024, “Sasquatch Sunset” screened at three of the most prominent film festivals in the world: the Sundance Film Festival (where “Sasquatch Sunset” had its world premiere), the Berlin International Film Festival and the SXSW Film and TV Festival. “Sasquatch Sunset” being at these festivals says more about the “Sasquatch Sunset” filmmakers’ film festival connections than it does about the quality of “Sasquatch Sunset.” Ari Aster (writer/director of “Hereditary,” “Midsommar” and “Beau Is Afraid”) is one of the executive producers of “Sasquatch Sunset,” and he has an almost cult-like fan base who thinks he can do no wrong.

Because “Sasquatch Sunset” has no plot or context, viewers are just left to watch a series of disjointed scenes showing the aimless lives of Sasquatches who live in this wooded area. There are several Sasquatches in the movie, but only four are at the center of this flimsy story. A young adult male Sasquatch (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and a young adult female Sasquatch (played by Riley Keough) are a “couple” with a male child Sasquatch (played by Christophe Zajac-Denek) and an older male relative (played by Nathan Zellner), whose biological relationship with the others is never clearly defined. This “senior” relative could be a grandfather or an uncle or a cousin. It doesn’t really matter because all of these characters are empty and become tiresome to watch after a while.

“Sasquatch Sunset” takes place in a year of the life of these Sasquatches, with the change of seasons indicated by captions on screen. If you think it’s fun to watch people pretending to be Sasquatches as they bang a tree with sticks, then this movie is for you. If you think it’s hilarious to watch the kid Sasquatch get his tongue stuck in a turtle, then this movie is for you. If you think it’s appealing to watch Sasquatches urinate, vomit, defecate, have sex, scratch and smell their crotches, throw feces, and commit attempted rape, then this movie is for you.

Viewers will learn nothing about the movie’s characters except that they exist in this wooded area. The female Sasquatch becomes pregnant and gives birth in a storyline that is very predictable and shallow. There are indications that humans lived in this area (an abandoned campsite and an abandoned building), but there’s no explanation for why there are no humans in the story. This movie did not need to have humans in it to make it a worthwhile watch. “Sasquatch Sunset” just needed to have something worth watching.

“Sasquatch Sunset” is an insult to aspiring and talented filmmakers who are looking for a big break because “Sasquatch Sunset” is proof that certain filmmakers who get preference in the industry can get funding to make crappy movies that get into prestigious film festivals, just because these filmmakers have the right connections and want to cultivate an image of having “indie cred” by making incoherent garbage. Meanwhile, these filmmakers are over-praised by certain people who think this praise makes them look like cool, or they’re just too afraid of being independent thinkers in a fawning group of ingratiators. Maybe “Sasquatch Sunset” will appeal to people who like to be “under the influence” of whatever substance when they watch movies, because this clouded judgment might overlook all the things that are wrong about this stupid and dull movie. “Sasquatch Sunset” is also an insult to viewers who can see through this sham and who know that this dreadful and sloppy movie is a waste of time for anyone looking for a good story.

Bleecker Street will release “Sasquatch Sunset” in select U.S. cinemas on April 12, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on April 19, 2024.

Review: ‘The Teachers’ Lounge'(2023), starring Leonie Benesch, Leonard Stettnisch, Eva Löbau, Michael Klammer, Rafael Stachowiak, Sarah Bauerett, Kathrin Wehlisch and Anne-Kathrin Gummich

December 26, 2023

by Carla Hay

Leonie Benesch in “The Teachers’ Lounge” (Photo by Judith Kaufmann/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Teachers’ Lounge” (2023)

Directed by Ilker Çatak

German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in Germany, the dramatic film “The Teachers’ Lounge” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and people of Arabic heritage) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: At a middle school that is experiencing mysterious thefts, a teacher gets caught up in a scandal that is related to the thefts. 

Culture Audience: “The Teachers’ Lounge” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted psychological thrillers about how people deal with ethical issues.

Leo Stettnisch in “The Teachers’ Lounge” (Photo by Judith Kaufmann/Sony Pictures Classics)

“The Teachers’ Lounge” is like a cauldron that effectively stirs up suspense and suspicion in this tale of a school thrown into chaos over theft accusations. Some viewers might not like how the movie ends, but the story in the film is riveting. The movie is best enjoyed by people who don’t mind film with conclusions that are open to interpretation.

Directed by Ilker Çatak (who co-wrote “The Teachers’ Lounge” screenplay with Johannes Duncker), “The Teachers’ Lounge” takes place in an unnamed city in Germany. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival. “The Teachers’ Lounge” was also selected as German’s official entry in the Best International Feature Film category for the 2024 Academy Awards.

The central character in “The Teachers’ Lounge” is Carla Nowak (played by Leonie Benesch), a mathematics and physical education teacher at an unnamed middle school, where she teaches seventh graders. Carla is enthusiastic about her job, and she cares about her students. Her favorite student is Oskar Kuhn (played by Leonard Stettnisch), who has math skills that are far superior to everyone else in the Carla’s classroom. However, Oskar is socially awkward loner who is sometimes bullied by other students.

There has been increasing tension at the school, which has been experiencing thefts of personal items and cash. Students and school employees are victims of the thefts, which do not have a clear pattern of what will be taken or when. The school’s ongoing investigation has not resulted in any suspects. Observant viewers will notice at the beginning of the movie, the school has made it an internal investigation and haven’t filed any police reports.

An early scene in the movie shows two senior-level teachers named Milosz Dudek (played by Rafael Stachowiak) and Thomas Liebenwerda (played by Michael Klammer) meeting with two student representatives of the seventh-grade class: Lukas (played by Oscar Zickur) and Jenny (played by Antonia Küpper), who are given a list of students. Lukas and Jenny are then pressured by Milosz and Thomas to name any students on the list who are most likely to be suspects. Lukas and Jenny then reluctantly comply with this request.

It leads to Thomas and Milosz barging into Carla’s classroom unannounced to order the girls out of the classroom and then searching the wallets of the boys in the classroom. A student named Ali Yilmaz (played by Can Rodenbostel) is found to have a large amount of cash in his wallet. He is then taken out of the classroom and interrogated. Ali vehemently denies that the money was stolen and denies that he had anything to do with the thefts at the school.

The school summons Ali’s parents (played by Özgür Karadeniz and Uygar Tamer) for a meeting that includes Ali and school principal Dr. Bettina Böhm (played by Anne-Kathrin Gummich), who tries to remain nuetral. Ali’s mother demands to know why Ali was singled out as the most “suspicious” student. Bettina says that it’s because Ali had an unusually large amount of cash in his wallet that day.

Ali’s parents explain that they gave him the cash so that Ali could buy a birthday present for his cousin. There are racial and ethnic undertones to this conversation, because Ali’s parents (who are immigrants from an unnamed Arabic country) seem to be wondering if Ali was really singled out because he’s one of the few non-white students in the school’s seventh-grade class. Ali’s parents say that they are offended by the false accusation.

With no proof that he committed any theft, Ali is let go and is not punished. But the gossip about Ali being interrogated spreads throughout the school, and it makes some people permanently suspicious of Ali. Carla thinks that Ali was unfairly targeted and isn’t afraid to say so when she talks about it to other faculty members in the teachers’ lounge.

Carla is outraged at the way the investigation is being handled and thinks that it was inappropriate for Thomas and Milosz to interrupt her class to search students’ wallets. She also thinks that people should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. Two of the other teacher colleagues at the school include Vanessa König (played by Sarah Bauerett) and Lore Semnik (played by Kathrin Wehlisch), whose personalities aren’t very memorable.

Thomas is defiant and unapologetic. He says that the thefts have been going on for too long and something needs to be done about this crime spree. Thomas also says that Ali is in danger of flunking, as if Ali’s academic grades are somehow related to the thefts. Milosz is remorseful though, and he tells Carla that he’s sorry about how he and Thomas handled the investigation. Carla accepts the apology.

Not long after this heated conversation, Carla notices a female teacher casually steal some coins from a piggy bank in the lounge. Carla doesn’t say anything to anyone about this theft that she witnessed. This scene is supposed to make viewers wonder if a teacher, not a student, could be a culprit committing the thefts.

Carla then makes a fateful decision that changes the course of the story: She deliberately sets a video surveillance trap. Carla leaves her coat and laptop computer in the teachers’ lounge. Inside one of the coat pockets is a wallet with cash in it. The laptop computer is open, with the camera operating.

What happens next has some twists and turns. It’s enough to say that Carla’s attempt to do her own investigation ends up backfiring on her. She becomes the center of a scandal that also involves a teacher colleague named Friederike Kuhn (played by Eva Löbau), who is Oskar’s emotionally high-strung mother.

Benesch gives a compelling performance as Carla, who finds out how paranoia and mistrust can cut both ways. Nothing about Carla’s personal life is revealed in the movie, which gives viewers the impression that Carla’s life revolves around her job, thereby making the stakes even higher for her. Stettnisch also gives a very good performance as Felix, who becomes increasingly troubled as events unfold.

“The Teachers’ Lounge” is a gripping story that embodies the old adage: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s a movie that is steeped in realism, until the movie’s last few minutes, which take on a dream-like tone that might be divisive to viewers. This is not a movie where all questions will be answered, but it’s an above-average cinematic portrait about how quickly and how often judgments are made based on perceptions instead of facts.

Sony Pictures Classics released “The Teachers’ Lounge” in select U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2023.

Review: ‘Stay Awake’ (2023), starring Wyatt Oleff, Fin Argus, Albert Jones, Cree Cicchino, Quinn McColgan and Chrissy Metz

November 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Wyatt Oleff, Chrissy Metz and Fin Argus in “Stay Awake” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/Mar Vista Entertainment)

“Stay Awake” (2023)

Directed by Jamie Sisley

Culture Representation: Taking place in Langford, Virginia, the dramatic film “Stay Awake” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two young adult brothers have different ways of coping with their mother’s opioid addiction. 

Culture Audience: “Stay Awake” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in seeing well-acted dramas about people affected by drug addiction and co-dependency.

Wyatt Oleff and Fin Argus in “Stay Awake” (Photo by Alejandro Mejia/Mar Vista Entertainment)

“Stay Awake” is a searing depiction of the damage that addiction and co-dependency can do to families. This drama is impactful in showing an addicted mother trying to hold on to her two sons, as one of them wants to break free of their dysfunctional cycle. Some of the movie drags with repetition, but the overall story is meaningful and realistically doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

Written and directed by Jamie Sisley, “Stay Awake” had it world premiere at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival. The movie is told from the perspectives of the two young adult sons who have contrasting ways of dealing with their mother’s opioid addiction. The story in “Stay Awake” takes place in Langford, Virginia, but the movie was actually filmed in upstate New York.

“Stay Awake” begins by showing an unpleasant routine that young adult brothers Ethan (played by Wyatt Oleff) and Derek (played by Fin Argus) have to go through, every time their divorced mother Michelle (played by Chrissy Metz) has gone missing at night: The brothers scour the area, starting with local bars or other places that serve alcohol. They also look for Michelle on the streets, hoping that she isn’t unconscious or dead somewhere.

As a last resort, they check the local hospitals. Ethan and Derek usually find Michelle in a drugged-out stupor. And when the brothers find Michelle, they put her in their family car and try to get her to stay awake on the drive back to their house.

Because of the drugs and alcohol Michelle has ingested, Ethan and Derek are never really sure if it’s at a level where she could die if she passes out. And sometimes, as shown in the beginning of “Stay Awake,” Michelle needs to taken directly to a hospital if she looks like she needs to be treated for an overdose or other medical emergency. These crises are starting to take their toll on everyone in this trio of family members.

Michelle, who sells lingerie through her home-based online business, is addicted to prescription opioids. “Stay Awake” doesn’t specifically name what Michelle’s drug of choice is, but that information doesn’t have to be mentioned, because the story is about how Michelle’s addiction affects her and her closest loved ones. The movie shows that she abuses alcohol too.

Ethan is about 18 years old, while Derek is in his early 20s. Their father Alex left the family years ago and has not been in contact with Michelle, Ethan and Derek. It’s hinted that Michelle’s addiction problems have been going on for years. And this addiction has caused Michelle and her sons to be caught in a miserable cycle where she often disappears for hours and sometimes days, without telling anyone where she is, while Ethan and Derek have to look for her.

Optimistic extrovert Derek, who is an aspiring actor, doesn’t hesitate to do what he can to look out for Michelle and take care of her. By contrast, moody and introverted Ethan is starting to become very bitter and resentful of all the burdens that Michelle’s addiction has placed on the family. These opposite attitudes inevitably cause conflicts between Ethan and Derek.

A great deal of the movie is about how these family members disagree about how Michelle should be handling this problem. Ethan strongly believes that Michelle should be in rehab. Michelle doesn’t really want to go to rehab, and Derek is inclined to go along with whatever Michelle wants. Like many addicts who are not in recovery, Michelle thinks she can conquer her addiction all on her own.

An early scene in the movie shows that Michelle is getting psychiatric treatment from Dr. Stanley Carson (played by Robert Vincent Smith), who asks Michelle if she’s had suicidal thoughts. “Doesn’t everybody?” Michelle asks. When Michelle sees that’s not the answer she should say to get the prescription pills that she wants, she changes her answer to “no.” With a world-weary attitude, Dr. Carson then writes a refill for Michelle’s prescription.

Much of “Stay Awake” shows the lives of Ethan and Derek when they’re not with their mother. Ethan, the “book smart” brother, is in his last year of high school. He works part-time at the Jolly Cow Drive-In, which is a popular hangout for many of the local teens. Ethan plans to go a university, and he will be the first person in his family to get a college education. Ethan’s choice in universities becomes the catalyst for a major conflict in one of the movie’s subplots.

Derek is a modestly successful actor who usually gets work in TV commercials. Because he doesn’t often get work as an actor, Derek has a job at a bowling alley called Langford Lanes. He’s been wanting to expand his acting experience, but Derek often doesn’t go to auditions if the auditions conflict with times that Derek wants to look after his mother Michelle.

Ethan has been trying to get Derek to stop being so co-dependent on Michelle and pursue acting jobs that would require Derek to travel. However, Derek refuses to consider any job opportunities that would take him far away from Michelle. Derek wants to make sure he’s near enough in case Michelle has another health emergency. Derek doesn’t want Michelle to think that he’s abandoning her.

“Stay Awake” also somewhat explores the love lives of Ethan and Derek. In the beginning of the movie, Ethan is dating a classmate called Ashley (played by Quinn McColgan), who also works at the Jolly Cow Drive-In. There’s a major turning point in their relationship regarding their college plans. Ashley also has issues over the physical intimacy part of their relationship. Ashley wonders why it’s not as passionate as she would like it to be.

The movie later shows, without saying it out loud, that Ethan is secretly gay or queer. Ethan is attracted to a classmate named Mark (played by Maxwell Whittington-Cooper), who befriends Ethan and has no idea that Ethan has romantic feelings for him. As for Derek, it’s mentioned that he has a pattern of dating girls who are still in high school. One of them is a girl named Melanie (played Cree Cicchino, also known as Cree), whose parents don’t approve of her relationship with Derek.

“Stay Awake” accurately shows the problems that many American families experience when they can’t afford rehab for someone in the family with addiction health problems. Michelle has been to rehab multiple times already and has always relapsed after brief periods of being clean and sober. In addition to trying to convince Michelle to go to rehab again, her sons have to figure out how to pay for their top-choice rehab center, which is a private facility.

If they can’t find the money to pay for it, Michelle would have to go to a rehab center that is run by the state government. Ethan and Derek both think the government-run rehab facility is inferior to the private rehab center that they think will give Michelle better treatment for her addiction problems. Albert Jones has a supporting role as Dennis, a no-nonsense rehab counselor who refuses to let Michelle manipulate him.

“Stay Awake” is as much about secrets and shame as it is about the question of whether or not Michelle will ever get clean and sober. (Metz’s effective performance as Michelle involves portraying the self-loathing of an addict on a downward spiral.) Because the story is told from the perspectives of Ethan and Derek, a big part of the movie is about how the brothers deal with the secrets and shame they have over their mother’s addiction. The coping mechanisms that Ethan and Derek use in dealing with this problem also spill over into how they deal with other issues in their lives.

All of the cast members in “Stay Awake” give authentic-looking performances. Oleff is a standout in how he portrays Ethan and the nuances of Ethan’s inner turmoil. Ethan is someone who both loves and hates the drug addict in his family. Meanwhile, Derek is grappling with his longtime perception of being “good son,” which is at odds with Ethan’s perception. Ethan doesn’t think that being a “good son” means being a co-dependent who can do more harm than good in getting an addict on the road to recovery.

There’s a point in the movie where “Stay Awake” could have gone down a very predictable path. However, the movie is consistently realistic and takes some unexpected turns, just like life can take unexpected turns. “Stay Awake” might not be an easy film to watch for people who are “triggered” by the issues that are shown in the movie. However, it’s a better-than-average character study of how addiction problems can be dealt with very differently in the same family.

MarVista Entertainment released “Stay Awake” in New York City on May 19, 2023, in Los Angeles in May 25, 2203. The movie was released on digital and VOD on August 14, 2023.

Review: ‘She Came to Me,’ starring Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, Brian d’Arcy James and Anne Hathaway

October 20, 2023

by Carla Hay

Peter Dinklage and Marisa Tomei in “She Came to Me” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“She Came to Me”

Directed by Rebecca Miller

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and briefly in Delaware, the comedy/drama film “She Came to Me” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) portraying the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An opera composer, who is in a stale marriage to his psychiatrist, overcomes his writer’s block after he has a sexual encounter with a female tugboat captain, who has a history of stalking, while his 18-year-old stepson has relationship problems of his own that involve an accusation of statutory rape.

Culture Audience: “She Came to Me” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and movies that try to be “slice of life” but aren’t very realistic.

Evan Ellison (pictured in front, at left) and Anne Hathaway (pictured in front, at right) in “She Came to Me” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“She Came to Me” is a meandering, off-balance dumpster of half-baked ideas. It fails to have much compelling drama and isn’t very funny in attempts at absurdist comedy. Everything really falls apart in the last half-hour that is annoying nonsense. The movie’s talented cast members mostly flounder around in characters who often don’t have believable chemistry with each other in relationships where they’re supposed to have believable chemistry.

Written and directed by Rebecca Miller, “She Came to Me” had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival. The fact that this subpar movie was at such a prestigious film festival is an example of how family connections (Miller is married to Oscar-winning actor Daniel Day-Lewis) and having famous cast members can give certain filmmakers an advantage to get their movies into a major film festival. The Berlin International Film Festival tends to choose very artsy movies. There’s nothing artsy about “She Came to Me.”

“She Came to Me” is a clumsy back-and-forth stumble between two storylines that are shoved together in the last 20 minutes in a way that looks completely fake and unearned. It’s as if Miller couldn’t think of a good way to end the movie and came up with something that panders to the lowest-common, silly denominator in the last third of the film, when the tone for the previous two-thirds of the film aimed to have more of a cutting-edge comedic tone.

In “She Came to Me” (which takes place mostly in New York City and briefly in Delaware), the two storylines that are awkwardly placed are about the love life problems of a father and his 18-year-old stepson. The marketing of “She Came to Me” misleadingly makes it look like the father’s storyline is the only focus of the movie, but the son’s storyline gets nearly as much screen time. The teenage romance that takes up so much time in “She Came to Me” is not hinted at in the movie’s poster or trailer.

In the beginning of “She Came to Me,” viewers are introduced to New York City-based opera composer Steven Lauddem (played by Peter Dinklage) and his psychiatrist wife Patricia Jessup-Lauddem (played by Anne Hathaway), who are experiencing a rough patch in their marriage. Steven is mopey and anxious because he has writer’s block and is expected to meet a deadline in a few weeks to complete the first draft of his next opera.

Patricia has her own issues: She seems to be obsessive-compulsive about keeping everything neat and clean. Patricia has relegated her sex life with Steven to be “by appointment only.” She is also conflicted about her interfaith background (her mother was Catholic; her father was Jewish), but Patricia is currently a practicing Catholic.

The first scene in the movie shows Steven and Patricia at a house party. Some of Steven’s colleagues in the opera industry are there. Steven is very uncomfortable and reluctant to be at the party, because he doesn’t want to have to answer questions about his next opera, which he secretly hasn’t even begun to write. Only a few people, such as Patricia, know that Steven has writer’s block. Patricia thinks this party will be a good networking opportunity for Steven.

One of the people at the party is Duftin Haverford (played by Gregg Edelman), a high-ranking official at an opera company. Duftin inevitably asks Steven when Steven’s next opera will be completed. Steven pretends that he can meet Duftin’s deadline for a first draft in two weeks. It’s a deadline that Steven is dreading.

As Duftin walks away from Steven and Patricia, Duftin tells his party companion that Steven had a nervous breakdown five years ago and went into a deep depression. Patricia was Steven’s therapist, but at some point, their relationship obviously became more than a doctor-patient relationship, and they got married. Duftin quips, “If she were my therapist, I’d marry her too.” Little does Duftin know how stagnant this marriage has become.

Meanwhile, Patricia’s 18-year-old son from her first marriage is Julian Jessup (played by Evan Ellison), who is having a happy romance with his 16-year-old girlfriend Tereza Szyskowski (played by Harlow Jane) while they are students at the same high school. Julian and Tereza, who have no siblings, are good students in school and spend as much time as they can together. Tereza and Julian are lab partners in a science class, and they both have aspirations to become “futurist” engineers. It’s mentioned later in the movie that Patricia’s first husband (Julian’s father) left her and Julian and then died after the divorce.

Julian and Tereza are very close, but apparently not close enough for Tereza to introduce Julian to her parents or invite him into her home. Tereza’s mother Magdalena Szymkowski (played by Joanna Kulig) is a Polish immigrant who works as a house cleaner. Tereza and Magdalena have a tension-filled relationship that is typical of what can happen between a parent and a teenage child: The teenager wants more freedom than the parent is willing to give.

Magdalena is protective of Tereza because she doesn’t want Tereza to make wrong decisions when it comes to love and romance. The movie doesn’t go into too many details of what happened to Tereza’s biological father. However, Magdalena says enough in conversations for viewers to know that it was a bad marriage, where Magdalena felt disrespected and stifled, so she has vowed to never be financially dependent on a man again. She’s teaching Tereza to have the same outlook on life.

Ironically, Magdalena is now with a live-in partner who is very controlling. Magdalena’s current beau is Trey Ruffa (played by Brian d’Arcy James), who has adopted Tereza, even though he and Magdalena aren’t married. Trey works as a courtroom stenographer. Trey likes to think that even though he didn’t go to college, he knows enough about the law that he could be a prosecutor if he had the credentials for it.

Trey is a very strict parent, while Magdalena is willing to have more flexibility in parenting of Tereza. There’s a useless tangent in the movie about Trey being a Civil War re-enactment enthusiast. He brings an uninterested Magdalena and Tereza to a Civil War re-enactment event where participants have to dress in Civil War-era costumes.

There are other reasons (that are at first unspoken, but come out later in the movie) to explain why Tereza doesn’t feel comfortable bringing Julian to her home to introduce him to her parents. There are differences between Julian and Tereza when it comes to their ages (and what they can legally do because of their ages), social classes and races. (Julian is black, and Tereza is white.) If there’s a racist in Tereza’s family, it’s easy to guess who it is. Tereza is reluctant to show Julian what her family is like, but she is welcome in Julian’s home, where Tereza has a very good rapport with Patricia.

One day, while Steven is wallowing in self-pity over his writer’s block, he decides to walk his French bulldog Levi and go to a local bar at around 11 a.m. to have a drink or two. At the bar, he meets an unusual stranger: a tugboat captain named Katrina Trento (played by Marisa Tomei), who lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but is passing through New York City for work-related reasons. Steven and Katrina have a conversation where they tell each other a little bit about their lives. He doesn’t tell Katrina right away that he’s married.

Katrina mentions that her tugboat business has been in her family for generations. She makes it obvious that she’s attracted to Steven and invites him to go on her tugboat nearby. Steven is curious but a little nervous. On the tugboat, Katrina reveals more about herself. She confesses, “I’m addicted to romance.” She also says she’s been in court-ordered rehab, because she has a history of stalking love interests.

Most people with common sense would steer clear of someone with these problems, but Steven seems to crave the attention that Katrina is giving him at that moment. And so, when she starts taking off her baggy work clothes to reveal that she’s got slinky lingerie underneath, it comes as no surprise that Katrina seduces Steven. None of this is spoiler information, since this plot development (and many others) are revealed in the trailer for “She Came to Me.”

At the end of this sexual encounter, Katrina starts babbling to Steven as if she expects them to be in a relationship. Steven tactfully tells Katrina that what they had is a one-time encounter, and he doesn’t want to see her again. He also urges her to get psychiatric help for her obsessiveness. He then quickly leaves the tugboat.

Steven’s tryst with Katrina (and his accidental fall in the dock’s water when he leaves the tugboat) jolt him out of his writer’s block and inspire him to write the opera “She Came to Me,” which is about an attractive female tugboat captain who seduces men and kills them. The opera is a hit. Katrina eventually finds out that she’s the inspiration for the opera when she goes to a performance. After the show, Katrina tells Steven (who is surprised to see Katrina) that she has permanently moved to New York City. (This plot development is also revealed in the movie’s trailer.)

All of this sounds like more than enough for two movies, which is why “She Came to Me” is often unfocused and unwieldly. The movie’s opera scenes are embarrassingly horrible. In no way, shape or form would this amateurish opera ever realistically be on any legitimate, major opera stage in New York City. There are some high school productions in real life that look better than the opera scenes in “She Came to Me.”

And although the “love triangle” between Steven, Patricia and Katrina is a major part of the movie, the three middle-aged adults in this situation are a lot more foolish and less mature than the two teenagers (Julian and Tereza), who go through their own personal drama. The storyline involving Steven, Patricia and Katrina gets so unrealistic, it’s almost like it belongs in a completely separate movie. “She Came to Me” starts off with a somewhat offbeat comedic tone, then makes an abrupt turn into a melodrama, and then sinks into a cesspool of ridiculous schmaltz.

The cast members are not to blame for why this disappointing movie has such an unfortunate identity crisis. Dinklage, Ellison, Jane and Kulig give solid performances. Hathaway and Tomei (the two Oscar winners in the movie’s principal cast) make an effort to bring nuance to their roles, but the characters of Patricia and Katrina are such cringeworthy clichés (the sexually repressed wife and the wacky, uninhibited mistress), these stereotypes are borderline misogynistic. Toward the end of the movie, certain characters make decisions that are nonsensical and look very inauthentic. Ultimately, viewers are more likely to feel disconnected from most of the characters in this dreadful dud of a movie, instead of feeling connected and invested in what will happen next.

Vertical released “She Came to Me” in select U.S. cinemas on October 6, 2023.

Review: ‘Afire,’ starring Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs and Matthias Brandt

August 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel and Enno Trebs in “Afire” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films)


Directed by Christian Petzold

German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in in Germany near the Baltic Sea, the dramatic film “Afire” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A book author with writer’s block and his photographer friend share a remote vacation house together and meet two strangers who alter their lives, as a forest fire is in danger of getting close to their house.

Culture Audience: “Afire” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching character-driven movies about blurred boundaries in relationships.

Thomas Schubert in “Afire” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films)

The moody and atmospheric drama “Afire” won’t captivate all viewers. However, this quietly intense film can find an appreciative audience with people who enjoy character studies where the cast members skillfully express spoken and unspoken dialogue. “Afire” also examines the repercussions and regrets of not expressing true emotions.

Written and directed by Christian Petzold, “Afire” had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear (second place) prize in the grand jury competition. The movie takes place in Germany, near the coast of the Baltic Sea. A beach property is the main location for the story. Although the movie has a relatively small number of people in its cast, “Afire” packs in some big emotions in the story.

“Afire” begins by showing book author Leon (played by Thomas Schubert) and his photographer friend Felix (played by Langston Uibel) traveling to the vacation house of Felix’s family. Felix’s father, who died six years earlier, used to own the house, which is now owned by Felix’s mother, who is never seen in the movie. It’s mentioned at some point in the movie that Felix and Leon are not only friends but they’ve also worked together on projects.

Leon (who is moody and standoffish) and Felix (who is friendly and outgoing) have very different outlooks to this getaway trip in this fairly remote area. Leon hopes that the isolated area will help him concentrate on finishing his upcoming novel, which he is calling “Club Sandwich.” Felix just wants to relax and have as much fun as possible.

There is a forest fire happening in the distance, but it’s not expected to get too close to the area where Leon and Felix are staying. The two friends experience a more immediate problem: Felix’s car runs out of gas, 12 kilometers away from the house, but they’re able to walk to the house with their luggage, with the assumption that the car can be dealt with later.

When Leon and Felix arrive at the house, it’s in disarray. The beds are unmade, and clothes are strewn everywhere. Felix then announces some news that Leon doesn’t want to hear: They won’t be living by themselves in this house. Felix explains that a Russian immigrant named Nadja will be staying there too.

Nadja is the niece of a coworker who works with Felix’s mother. Nadja is staying there as a favor because she’s working in the area by selling ice cream from an ice cream stand. Leon is slightly irritated when he finds out a third person will be living there. Leon insists on having his own room in this two-bedroom house so he can have peace and quiet to work on his book. The bedrooms are right next to each other.

Felix thinks that Nadja should have her own bedroom, while Leon and Felix can share the other bedroom. They both agree that either of them has the option to sleep on the living room couch if one of them needs the room all to himself at night, such as if an overnight guest is staying in the bedroom. Felix also suggests that if things get too noisy in the house, then Leon can always sleep under the pergola outside.

At first, Nadja (played by Paula Beer) is a mysterious presence who seems to come and go without any consistent schedule. She doesn’t have a car, so she travels by bicycle. Leon doesn’t meet Nadja until 24 minutes into this 102-minute movie. However, Leon is aware of Nadja’s presence long before he meets her in person. That’s because Nadja has been bringing a lover back to the house at night and loudly having sex with him.

The sex noises are loud enough that Leon can hear everything in the bedroom next door, so he tries to sleep on the living room couch, where he can still hear the commotion. Leon says out loud to himself, “I’m beginning to hate that woman.” And one night, when it happens again, he decides to sleep uncomfortably outside under the pergola. The next morning, he finds out that he has several bug bites.

Nadja’s lover is a local lifeguard who works at the nearest beach. His name is Devid (played by Enno Trebs), and he becomes a frequent guest at the house. When Leon and Nadja finally meet in person, they have an awkward but cordial conversation. She’s aware that Leon is annoyed by her loud sex noises interrupting his sleep, so she makes an apology and adds, “It won’t happen again.”

Although the first conversation between Leon and Nadja is uncomfortable for both of them, there is underlying sexual tension between them. Nadja and Devid have a casual, non-monogamous sexual relationship. Nadja does not want to describe Devid as her boyfriend, and they are not possessive of each other. Eventually, the sexual dynamics between Leon, Felix, Nadja and Devid start to change when it becomes obvious that Devid and Felix are sexually attracted to each other.

Leon has other worries besides whether or not Nadja finds him attractive. Leon’s book publisher Helmut (played by Matthias Brandt) is going to visit Leon at the house to read what Leon has written so far for Leon’s book manuscript. Apparently, Helmut and Leon don’t want to use email for this task. Leon is very apprehensive about this visit, because he’s afraid that Helmut won’t like what Leon has written so far.

“Afire” shows how all these tensions and fears permeate the interactions of the four people in this social group, especially with Leon, who has the movie’s main perspective. Leon doesn’t say it out loud, but he’s insecure about his physical appearance. His body language with Nadja indicates that he thinks she’s out of his league, when it comes to how physically attractive he is, so he overcompensates by trying to come across as a brooding and pompous intellectual.

As for the budding romance between Devid and Felix, it bothers Leon at first, because Leon apparently didn’t know that Felix is queer. By contrast, Nadja doesn’t seem bothered at all that Devid has become sexually interested in Felix. She shrugs it off as if it’s no big deal that Devid has lost interest in her sexually, and she acts as if her feelings aren’t hurt. This nonchalance intrigues Leon, who thinks there might be a chance that Nadja could develop an interest in Leon. Nadja is flirtatious with Leon but doesn’t give him much indication on which direction she wants to take her relationship with him.

“Afire” will keep viewers guessing on where the story is headed and what will happen to these characters. All of the cast members give good performances, but Schubert and Beer carry most of the emotional weight of the movie, since Leon and Nadja’s relationship anchors the story. It’s a movie that slowly sneaks up on viewers to deliver a stirring and poignant impact.

Sideshow and Janus Films released “Afire” in select U.S. cinemas on July 14, 2023.

Review: ‘The Adults,’ starring Michael Cera, Hannah Gross and Sophia Lillis

July 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Hannah Gross, Sophia Lillis and Michael Cera in “The Adults” (Photo by Tim Curtin/Variance Films)

“The Adults”

Directed by Dustin Guy Defa

Culture Representation: Taking place in Hudson Valley, New York, the comedy/drama film “The Adults” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An abrasive man, who is the eldest of three siblings, visits his estranged sisters, who each have different reactions to seeing him after spending three years apart from him. 

Culture Audience: “The Adults” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Michael Cera and movies where not much happens except family members moping, arguing, and acting out bizarre inside jokes.

Hannah Gross and Michael Cera in “The Adults” (Photo by Tim Curtin/Variance Films)

Repetitive, boring and very aimless, “The Adults” is the type of movie that’s overrated by people who think that characters being obnoxious and weird in a movie should automatically deserve praise. This is “indie cred pandering” cinema at its worst. There is barely anything unique or interesting about the movie’s three main characters to justify this movie’s existence. If you’ve seen enough independent films where people act neurotic and argumentative at family reunions, then you’re not going to see anything new in “The Adults.”

Written and directed by Dustin Guy Defa, “The Adults” had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival and its North American premiere at the 2023 Tribeca Festival. It’s a very slight film that doesn’t have much going for it except the name recognition of some of the stars of the movie, which was filmed on location in Hudson Valley, New York. The entire movie looks as washed-out as the lackluster tone of the film.

In the beginning of “The Adults,” Eric (played by Michael Cera), who is the eldest of three siblings, has arrived in the Hudson Valley area from Portland, Oregon, where he lives. Eric is in town to visit his two sisters, whom he hasn’t seen in three years: brittle and sarcastic Rachel (played by Hannah Gross) and bubbly and unpredictable Maggie (played by Sophia Lillis). Rachel works as a producer/editor at a radio station called WBSI. Maggie is a recent college dropout; she quit college after a year of attendance and hasn’t figured out yet what she wants to do with her life. All three siblings are unmarried and have no children.

Rachel lives in the house that she inherited after the siblings’ widowed mother died a number of years ago. Rachel is still angry with Eric that she was the sibling who had to handle all the funeral arrangements and the responsibility of paying the house’s property taxes. Meanwhile, Eric tells Rachel: “Why do you want me to feel guilty about how I’m organizing this trip when you haven’t bothered to visit me in Portland?” It’s a valid question that never really gets answered in the movie.

Maggie is just happy to see Eric and gives him a big hug when they see each other again. Eric has been so out of touch with Maggie, he didn’t even know that she dropped out of college until Rachel told him. At first, Eric had trouble contacting Maggie for this visit because, as Rachel tells him, Maggie is currently on “digital detox” where she is on a break from using any electronic devices.

During this visit, Eric spends a lot of time trying to reconnect with some of his former buddies from high school. He shows up unannounced at the house of a former school pal named Dennis (played by Wavyy Jonez), because Eric doesn’t have Dennis’ current phone number. Eric is surprised and disappointed that Dennis isn’t going to spontaneously go out to a bar with Eric, because Dennis is now a married father who doesn’t want to stay out late on this particular night. It’s the first sign in the movie that Eric is self-centered and emotionally tone-deaf.

Eric becomes fixated on getting some of his former high school buddies together to play poker, like they used to when they were schoolmates. After some dreadfully dull scenes of Eric trying to make this get-together happen, it finally does. And it just becomes an eye-rolling slog, as the conversation turns to philosophical questions that get asked and everyone in the group has to give their answers. One of the questions is, “When was the first time you realized death existed?”

Eric has a losing streak during this poker game get-together. He’s the first to admit that he’s extremely competitive. He not only wants to win back all the money that he lost, but he also wants to come out ahead by leaving with more poker game winnings than anyone else in the group. Eric even postpones his plane flight home so he can be the ultimate winner. Later, Eric gets unexpectedly humbled by his obsession to win at all costs.

Meanwhile, Rachel has been dealing with some mental-health issues such as panic attacks and depression. She’s also still reeling from a breakup from an ex-boyfriend who cheated on her, but she doesn’t want to admit to anyone how hurt she’s been by the breakup. When Eric suggests that Rachel has a bitter attitude because of this breakup, Rachel’s reaction is verbally hostile and defensive.

At the radio station where Rachel works, viewers see for the first time the family quirk that’s supposed to be a running joke in the movie. Rachel is having a discussion with a co-worker named Bobby (played by Lucas Papaelias) about what parts of a pre-recorded radio show needs to be edited out or kept in the show. All of sudden, Rachel starts talking in a cartoonish voice that sounds similar to Fozzie Bear of the Muppets. Bobby gives Rachel a puzzled look, as if he thinks she’s being too weird for him. Rachel sees that her attempt to be playful didn’t get the reaction she wanted, so she quickly stops.

Rachel, Eric and Maggie are shown using the same voice and playing guessing games as different characters, as a way to bond with each other in various parts of the movie. It’s a family inside joke that obviously goes back to their childhoods, but “The Adults” doesn’t really go into details on when these siblings started using these cartoonish voices or playing these childlike games. After a while, it just becomes very dull to watch this gimmick over and over. There’s a scene where the three siblings dance together to Men at Work’s 1983 hit “Overkill,” a song title that is an apt description for how overly repetitive “The Adults” can be with these “look at these oddball siblings” scenes.

When Eric first arrived for his visit, he gave the impression that he only wanted to stay for a few days. But then, he finds one reason after another to keep extending his visit. The problem with this poorly written part of the plot is that viewers never really know what the stakes are for Eric to keep postponing his return to Portland. Viewers know that he’s a bachelor with no kids, but what kind of life does he have in Portland that he’s putting on hold to stay in New York? The movie never answers that question.

And therein lies much of the flimsy foundation of “The Adults,” which relentlessly pushes Eric to be the center of the siblings’ conflicts but never really shows who he is except being an egotistical jerk with very little self-awareness. It’s an over-used and tiresome cliché (especially in these types of independent dramedies) to elevate this type of repugnant character as being worthy of admiration or interest, when Eric is neither smart, funny, nor charismatic enough to justify what is essentially a movie about what he decides to do with his visit.

If this is the type of dull egomaniac you want to waste your time watching in a movie, then “The Adults” is for you. Lillis and Gross give better performances than Cera, but their characters of Maggie and Rachel still come across as kind of hollow. If you’d rather watch a movie with more substance, then there are much better options in the large number of films about estranged family members having an awkward and tension-filled reunion.

Variance Flms will release “The Adults” in select U.S. cinemas on August 18, 2023.

Review: ‘The Quiet Girl,’ starring Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Catherine Clinch, Michael Patric and Kate Nic Chonaonaigh

March 19, 2023

by Carla Hay

Catherine Clinch in “The Quiet Girl” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

“The Quiet Girl”

Directed by Colm Bairéad

Irish and English with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1981, in unnamed rural parts of Ireland, the dramatic film “The Quiet Girl” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: A shy and introverted 9-year-old girl is sent to live with a married couple who are distant relatives for a summer, and she finds out a tragic family secret.

Culture Audience: “The Quiet Girl” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching low-key but emotionally touching family dramas.

Catherine Clinch and Carrie Crowley in “The Quiet Girl” (Photo courtesy of Super LTD)

The very accurately titled “The Quiet Girl” is a meditative drama about how an introverted Irish girl spends a life-changing summer away from her troubled home and learns some poignant lessons about grief and family love. This is not a movie that is going to please viewers expecting to see more high-stakes dramatics or emotional meltdowns in the story. It’s a more of reflection of the quiet ways that people evolve or affected by life events.

Written and directed by Colm Bairéad, “The Quiet Girl” is based on Claire Keegan’s 2010 novella “Foster.” For the first two-thirds of the movie, there isn’t much of a plot, but the credible acting by the principal cast members can hold viewers’ interest until the movie’s last third, which is really the emotional heart of the story. “The Quiet Girl” had its world premiere at the 2022 Berlin International Film Festival, where the movie won the a Crystal Bear prize from the Generation Kplus International Jury for Best Film. The movie was also nominated for Best International Feature Film for the 2023 Academy Awards.

In the beginning of “The Quiet Girl,” which takes place in 1981, in unnamed parts of rural Ireland, viewers see that the movie’s title character is 9-year-old Cáit (played by Catherine Clinch) is shy, introverted and mostly neglected in her large, dysfunctional family. (“The Quiet Girl” was filmed in Dublin and County Meath, Ireland.) Her father Dan (played by Michael Patric) is an irresponsible alcoholic who often spends his money on alcohol instead of paying certain people he needs to pay (such as a hay deliverer) to keep the family farm running smoothly.

Dan also cheats on his wife and has the audacity to pick up one of his girlfriends for a secretive tryst while Cáit is in the back seat of the car. Her father comment to this mistress about Cáit: “She’s the wanderer.” Cáit’s mother (played by Kate Nic Chonaonaigh), who doesn’t have a name in the move is preoccupied with helping run the farm and taking care of the growing family. Cáit has three older sisters, and their mother is pregnant again.

At school, Cáit is a social outcast who gets called a “weirdo” by some other girls. At home, Cáit is quiet at the dining table, while her sisters are talkative and mostly ignore Cáit. Sometimes, Cáit hides underneath her bed, as if she’s too timid to face the world. She’s such an introvert, she often seems to be invisible to the people around her. The movie has several scenes where Cáit is in the same room when people talk about Cáit as if she isn’t there.

One day, Cáit is told to get in the car with her father, who drives her far away to the farm home of his distant older cousin Eibhlín Cinnsealach (played by Carrie Crowley) and Eibhlín’s husband Seán Cinnsealach (played by Andrew Bennett), who live on the farm by themselves. It’s the first time that Cáit has met these two relatives. Dan tells Cáit that she’s going to live with Eibhlín and Seán for the summer, maybe longer, but definitely until after Cáit’s mother gives birth. This move comes without any advance notice to Cáit, who is dropped off at Eibhlín and Seán’s home with only the clothes that she’s wearing.

Dan stays for a meal, but then he leaves without seeming to care about any confusion that Cáit must be feeling. Cáit doesn’t know why she was singled out among her siblings to be sent away to live in another household, and her parents don’t tell her why. However, the movie drops some big hints. It’s shown that Cáit is sometimes a bedwetter, which irritates her mother, who has to do the cleaning. Her parents also want to temporarily ease some of the financial burden of taking care of so many kids, by sending away the child who is least likely to protest this move.

Eibhlín is immediately kind and compassionate to Cáit, while Seán is cold and distant to Cáit at first. The pacing of “The Quiet Girl” tends to get sluggish when the movie becomes a series of scenes showing Eibhlín teaching Cáit how to do domestic chores inside the house. Eventually, Seán warms up a little to Cáit, and he shows her how to do domestic chores outside the house.

However, Seán seems to be bothered by Cáit is wearing boys’ clothes when she’s not doing the outdoor chores with him. The boys’ clothes are the only children’s clothes that the couple had in the house when Dan dropped off Cáit to live with the Eibhlín and Seán. Later, Seán starts to feel more comfortable around Cáit after she begins to wear girls’ clothes that Eibhlín buys for her.

Not long after Cáit begins living there, she tells Eibhlín that she overheard Cáit’s mother say that Cáit can live with Eibhlín and Seán as long as Cáit wants. Cáit asks Eibhlín if it’s true. Eibhlín doesn’t directly answer the question. Her response is simply to compare her household to Cáit ‘s household: “There are no secrets in this house. There’s shame in that house.”

Later, when Cáit tells Eibhlín that Cáit’s father didn’t have the money to pay the hay man, Eibhlín asks Cáit if it would offend her parents if Eibhlín gave money to Cáit’s parents. Cáit says it wouldn’t bother her mother, but it would upset her father. The matter is then dropped, but it’s another indication that Cáit was left at this home for financial reasons, because she would be one less mouth to feed. When Cáit is asleep, Eibhlín goes into the room and whispers, “If you were mine, I’d never leave you in a house of strangers.”

Eibhlín and Seán keep mostly to themselves, so Cáit lives a fairly isolated existence with them. Cáit has little to no interaction with children of her own age. However, she gets certain things from this household that she doesn’t have in her parents’ household: kindness, attention and stability, beginning with Eibhlín, and later from Seán. Clinch, Crowley and Bennett give nuanced and effective performances as this trio of people who form a new family unit.

One day, a local elderly villager named Gearóid (played by Martin Oakes) dies. He was well-liked by Eibhlín and Seán, so they bring Cáit with them to the wake. A spiteful gossip named Úna (played by Joan Sheehy) is also at the wake. Eibhlín is polite to Úna but also seems a little wary of her. Úna plays a pivotal role in the story when she spends some time alone with Cáit during the wake.

“The Quiet Girl” is a movie about people who live simple lives on the surface but have complicated interior lives that they are reluctant to show other people. It’s a poignant story about a girl who discovers that the life she is forced to live with her parents isn’t necessarily the life that she deserves. “The Quiet Girl” is the opposite of a flashy movie with oversized personalities, because it takes a contemplative look at how perspectives can drastically change from life’s more subtle moments.

Super LTD released “The Quiet Girl” in select U.S. cinemas for a limited engagement on December 16, 2022, and then re-released the movie in select U.S. cinemas on February 24, 2023. “The Quiet Girl” was released in Ireland on May 13, 2022.

Review: ‘Inside’ (2023), starring Willem Dafoe

March 18, 2023

by Carla Hay

Willem Dafoe In “Inside” (Photo by Wolfgang Ennenbach/Focus Features)

“Inside” (2023)

Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “Inside” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one Latino) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A burglar breaks into a wealthy man’s penthouse to steal valuable art, and he is trapped inside by a malfunctioning security system. 

Culture Audience: “Inside” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Willem Dafoe and people who don’t mind watching slow-paced psychological dramas with good acting.

Willem Dafoe In “Inside” (Photo by Wolfgang Ennenbach/Focus Features)

“Inside” would’ve been better as a short film. However, Willem Dafoe gives an acting performance worth watching for people who don’t have short attention spans. Don’t expect much action in this drama. This movie is a psychological portrait of confinement.

Directed by Vasilis Katsoupis and written by Ben Hopkins, “Inside” takes place entirely in an upscale New York City penthouse. (The movie was actually filmed on a soundstage in Cologne, Germany.) “Inside” had its world premiere at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival. Dafoe is the only person with an on-camera speaking role in the movie. If you know that information in advance, then you’ll either be interested or not interested in watching “Inside.”

The beginning of “Inside” has a voiceover monologue from art thief Nemo, the character played by Dafoe. In the monologue, Nemo says: “When I was a kid, a teacher asked what are the three things I would save from my house if it were on fire.” I answered, ‘A sketchbook, my AC/DC album and my cat Groucho.'”

He continues, “I didn’t say. ‘My parents or sister.’ Most of the other kids did [mention family members]. Does that make me a bad person? My cat died. I lent the AC/DC album to a guy named Kojo, and I never saw it again. But the sketchbook, I kept. Cats die. Music fades. But art is for keeps.”

That’s about all the information that viewers will get about Nemo’s background. He is next shown breaking into a New York City penthouse, where the occupants are not home. Nemo is there to steal specific pieces of valuable art, especially a self-portrait painting of the penthouse’s owner, whose name is never mentioned in the movie.

Another portrait painting of the owner hangs in the living room, with this particular portrait showing the owner (played by Gene Bervoets), who is a middle-aged man with white hair, and his daughter (played by Ava von Voigt), who looks about 12 or 13 years old. There are clues that this owner is a well-known artist, besides his valuable self-portrait. Nemo finds photos in the home of the penthouse owner with high-society people at fancy gala events.

Nemo communicates by walkie talkie with a cohort who’s not in the building but identifies himself as Number 3 (voiced by Andrew Blumenthal), who is directing Nemo on which art pieces are the top priorities to steal. Number 3 says that the owner’s self-portrait painting is the most important art that needs to be taken in this heist, because this painting is worth $3 million. Nemo takes some other paintings and a sculpture, but he can’t find the self-portrait painting. This heist has been timed so that Nemo is supposed to steal what he came to steal and leave in a matter of 10 minutes or less.

But something goes horribly wrong for Nemo. The security access code that Number 3 gives him to leave the penthouse undetected doesn’t work. Instead, the security system triggers an alarm, with a computerized voice repeating loudly, “System malfunction.” And then, all of the doors and windows in the penthouse are locked shut from the outside. Nemo is now trapped in the penthouse.

Nemo frantically tells Number 3 what just happened and asks for help. However, Number 3 is in a panic too. He tells Nemo: “I don’t know what to do, man. I’m sorry. You’re on your own. Over and out.”

Nemo has no idea if anyone heard the alarm or not. (The penthouse’s walls are and doors are very thick.) However, Nemo doesn’t want to wait around to find out if police or the building’s security are on their way to catch him during this burglary. He tries to break a window, but the windows are shatter-proof. But even if he were able to break a glass, he’s also at the top of a high-rise building in a penthouse that doesn’t have a fire escape staircase outside any windows.

One of the first things that Nemo does is find the wiring that leads to the alarm system. He cuts it so that there is no more noise. After a while, when it becomes obvious that no one heard the alarm, Nemo relaxes a little and looks inside the refrigerator, which is equipped with artificial intelligence technology that speaks. A somewhat amusing gag in the movie is that the refrigerator also plays Los Del Rio’s 1993 novelty hit “Macarena” at random times when the refrigerator is opened.

The penthouse has enough food and drinks for Nemo. After he drinks everything in the refrigerator, Nemo uses a garden sprinkler (the penthouse has an indoor garden) or tap water for liquid sustenance. But there’s another problem: The heating inside the penthouse has been turned up from the security malfunction. The temperature reaches up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Nemo finds out that the adjustment equipment for the indoor heating system isn’t working. And so, there are several scenes where sweaty Nemo tries to solve that problem.

The penthouse has surveillance video equipment with video monitors that look out into various parts of the building. Nemo can see the doorman station in the front lobby, a back stairwell, and inside one of the building’s elevators. A building housekeeper dressed in a maid’s uniform is shown taking her lunch breaks in the stairwell. Nemo knows her name is Jasmine (played by Eliza Stuyck), and he knows the names of a few other people in the building when he sees them on the surveillance monitors. It’s an indication that Nemo either cased the place very well before the heist, or he might have met these people before in some capacity.

Viewers will have to speculate why this penthouse’s owner was targeted for this theft. However, there are some clues that Nemo is an architect who’s a frustrated artist and who is jealous of this penthouse owner. Nemo has a sketchbook with him that he uses during the time he is trapped. He also seems very knowledgeable about how buildings are structured. And early on in the movie, Nemo looks at a painting of the owner on the wall while Nemo holds a medallion that he’s wearing as a necklace. Nemo sneers at the painting and says, “I’ve got a Pritzker Prize. What the fuck have you done?”

Because “Inside” is all about Nemo being isolated, there isn’t much talking throughout the movie. Nemo occasionally mutters things out loud. And as loneliess starts to set in, he begins to talk out loud to himself more often. Nemo tries to contact Number 3 by walkie talkie multiple times, but he gets no answer. Eventually, the walkie talkie battery goes dead. Nemo also texts an unnamed person to try to help him, but he gets no reply.

“Inside” has a few plot holes, some of which have logical explanations while others do not. The first question that some viewers might ask is: “Isn’t a good alarm system supposed to alert law enforcement?” A possible explanation is that the alarm system malfunctioned (as stated in the beginning of the movie), so the law enforcement alert part of the alarm system didn’t work.

What’s hard to believe is that Nemo stays trapped in the penthouse for “months,” without anyone going to the penthouse and finding him there, according to the production notes for “Inside.” It’s very unlikely that someone with the penthouse owner’s wealth would not have anyone checking in on the penthouse for that long period of time, even if it’s just to water the plants. A better and more believable narrative for the film would have been to have Nemo trapped for a week or two at the most.

That would still be enough time to have what happens in the movie: The reality starts to sink in with Nemo that no one really cares about him. And it really messes with his mind. He is trapped in a luxury penthouse with material things worth a lot of money, but the irony is that Nemo doesn’t have what every non-hermit human being needs: some kind of meaningful connection with other people. For all intents and purposes, the penthouse (which has excellent production design by Thorsten Sabel) has become a gilded cage for Nemo. Even though “Inside” is not Dafoe’s best movie, he is still riveting to watch in this performance.

“Inside” is not going to please viewers who think that the movie should have more suspense or subplots. A predictable storyline would have been for Nemo to use the surveillance equipment as a way to entertain himself. Instead, the movie shows Nemo’s mental deterioration as a way to invite viewers to think about what they would do if they were trapped in a luxury home with no one to talk to for weeks on end, and no way to escape unless someone came to the rescue. “Inside” is a thoughtful but long-winded story that puts into perspective what really matters in life, when so many people in society perceive material wealth to be the key to happiness.

Focus Features released “Inside” in select U.S. cinemas on March 17, 2023.

We Are One: A Global Film Festival inaugural event features partnerships with YouTube and several film festivals, including Sundance, Berlin, Tribeca, Cannes, Toronto and London

April 27, 2020


The following is a press release from We Are One: A Global Film Festival:

Tribeca Enterprises and YouTube jointly announced today We Are One: A Global Film Festival, an unprecedented 10-day digital film festival exclusively on YouTube, bringing together an international community of storytellers to present festival programming for free to audiences around the world. Set to begin on May 29, 2020, on, the festival will feature programming curated by the Annecy International Animation Film Festival, Berlin International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, Cannes Film Festival, Guadalajara International Film Festival, International Film Festival & Awards Macao (IFFAM), Jerusalem Film Festival, Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, Marrakech International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, and moKarlovy Vary International Film Festival, Locarno Film Festival, Marrakech International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, San Sebastian International Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Sydney Film Festival, Tokyo International Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Venice Film Festival and more, immersing audiences in stories from around the world and providing a voice for filmmakers on a global stage.

 Core to the DNA of film festivals is the belief that artists and creators have the power to bring people together and create meaningful connections during a time when the world needs it most. Through We Are One: A Global Film Festival, audiences will not only get a peek into different cultures through a new lens, they’ll be able to support local communities by directly donating to organizations helping the relief efforts for those affected by COVID-19. The festival will benefit the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as local relief partners in each region.

“We often talk about film’s uniquely powerful role in inspiring and uniting people across borders and differences to help heal the world. All of the world needs healing right now,” said Tribeca Enterprises and Tribeca Film Festival Co-Founder and CEO Jane Rosenthal. “We Are One: A Global Film Festival unites curators, artists and storytellers to entertain and provide relief to audiences worldwide. In working with our extraordinary festival partners and YouTube we hope that everyone gets a taste of what makes each festival so unique and appreciates the art and power of film.”

“One of the most unique and inspiring aspects of the world staying home is our ability to come together and experience an event as one, and We Are One: A Global Film Festival is just that,” said Robert Kyncl, Chief Business Officer, YouTube. “Along with Tribeca Enterprises and our incredible partners, we are bringing fans the opportunity to experience the curated programming each of these festivals provides as part of our ten-day long event. It’s an event that’s never been done before and we’re proud to be the home for this fantastic content that is free to fans around the world.”

“We are proud to join with our partner festivals to spotlight truly extraordinary films and talent, allowing audiences to experience both the nuances of storytelling from around the world and the artistic personalities of each festival,” said Pierre Lescure, President of the Cannes Film Festival, and Thierry Frémaux, Cannes Film Festival General Delegate.

We Are One: A Global Film Festival will run from May 29 – June 7, 2020, on Programming will be available for free, and will include films, shorts, documentaries, music, comedy, and conversations. A full schedule will be available closer to the festival start date.

About Tribeca Enterprises

Tribeca Enterprises is a multi-platform storytelling company, established in 2003 by Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal. Tribeca provides artists with unique platforms to expand the audience for their work and broadens consumer access to experience storytelling, independent film, and media. The company operates a network of entertainment businesses including the Tribeca Film Festival; the Tribeca TV Festival; and its branded entertainment production arm, Tribeca Studios.

About YouTube

Launched in May 2005, YouTube allows billions of people to discover, watch, and share originally-created videos. YouTube provides a forum for people to connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe and acts as a distribution platform for original content creators and advertisers large and small. YouTube is a Google company.

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