Review: ‘Deep Water’ (2022), starring Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas

March 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck in “Deep Water” (Photo by Claire Folger/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“Deep Water” (2022)

Directed by Adrian Lyne

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the dramatic film “Deep Water” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A wealthy husband, who has an open marriage, becomes the main focus of suspicion when some of his wife’s lovers end up dead. 

Culture Audience: “Deep Water” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, who are the main attractions in this frequently dull and formulaic crime thriller.

Jade Fernandez, Tracy Letts and Kristen Connolly in “Deep Water” (Photo by Claire Folger/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“Deep Water” is proof that it’s not enough to have good-looking people in a stylish-looking film. It has a basic mystery that’s not very suspenseful, in addition to monotonous mind games played by the central married couple. Perhaps most disappointing of all is that “Deep Water” does nothing new or clever in the seemingly endless stream of movies about marital infidelity that causes chaos in people’s lives.

“Deep Water” director Adrian Lyne has made a career out of these types of movies, with a filmography that includes 1987’s “Fatal Attraction,” 1993’s “Indecent Proposal” and 2002’s “Unfaithful,” his previous film before “Deep Water.” Zach Helm and Sam Levinson adapted the “Deep Water” screenplay from Patricia Highsmith’s 1957 novel of the same name. Unfortunately, the movie has a drastically different ending from the book. The movie’s conclusion is intended to be shocking, but it just falls flat.

Executives at 20th Century Studios obviously thought “Deep Water” was an embarrassing dud, because the movie’s theatrical release was cancelled. “Deep Water” was then sent straight to Hulu and other Disney-owned streaming services where Hulu is not available. It’s also not a good sign that the stars of “Deep Water” have distanced themselves from “Deep Water” by not doing any full-scale publicity and promotion for the movie.

Up until the ending, the “Deep Water” movie (which takes place in the early 2020s) adheres very closely to the book’s original story, with some modern updates and a change of location. Wealthy married couple Vic Van Allen (played by Ben Affleck) and Melinda Van Allen (played by Ana de Armas) live in New Orleans with their precocious 6-year-old daughter Trixie (played by Grace Jenkins), who has an interest in science and is somewhat fixated on the children’s song “Old McDonald.” (In the “Deep Water” book, the story takes place in a small, fictional U.S. town called Little Wesley.) The Van Allens seem to have a perfect life of privilege and leisure. Vic is a retired millionaire because he invented a computer chip that’s used in war drones. Melinda is a homemaker/socialite.

It’s common knowledge among Vic and Melinda’s close circle of friends that Vic and Melinda have an open marriage, although Vic and Melinda have never really come right out and told their friends the details of this arrangement. Melinda flaunts her extramarital affairs by inviting her lovers to the same parties where she and Vic will be. At these parties (the movie has several of these party scenes), Melinda openly flirts with her lovers and sometimes has sexual trysts with them at the parties. Vic ends up meeting these lovers and is mostly polite but distant with them.

Vic and Melinda’s close friends include musician bachelor Grant (played by Lil Rel Howery); married couple Mary Washington (played by Devyn A. Tyler) and Kevin Washington (played by Michael Scialabba); and married couple Jonas Fernandez (played by Dash Mihok) and Jen Fernandez (played by Jade Fernandez). Whenever these friends try to tactfully talk to Vic about Melinda indiscreetly showing off her lovers, Vic brushes off their concerns. Vic gives the impression that he doesn’t want to be a possessive and jealous husband, and that he and Melinda have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement when it comes to any of her extramarital affairs.

During the course of the story, three of Melinda’s past and present lovers are shown in the movie: musician Joel Dash (played by Brendan Miller), who ends up moving away to New Mexico; lounge pianist Charlie De Lisle (played by Jacob Elordi), who has been giving piano lessons to Melinda; and real-estate developer Tony Cameron (played by Finn Wittrock), who is visiting the area to scout for some property. All three men are good-looking and younger than Vic, but Vic has a lot more money than they do. And at some point or another, all three of these lovers are separately invited into the Van Allen home for a social visit.

Melinda has apparently made it a habit to invite each of her extramarital lovers to parties and other social gatherings, but never so that all of the lovers are in the same place at the same time. At these events, Melinda introduces a lover as her “friend,” even though it’s obvious that he’s more than a friend. When Melinda and Vic are at these parties, Melinda spends more time and is more affectionate with her lovers than she is with her husband. Vic often just stands by and doesn’t confront her about it.

There are several scenes that show Melinda drunk at these parties, or coming home drunk, implying that she abuses alcohol. Some of the couple’s friends seem to feel sorry for Vic, because they think he doesn’t deserve to be a cuckold. More than once, Vic is told that he’s a “good guy” who’s well-respected in the community. Not much is told about Melinda’s background (she’s an immigrant who can speak English and Spanish), but several scenes in the movie show that Melinda thinks that she’s quite the seductress.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s mentioned that a man named Martin McCrae, who was one of Melinda’s lovers, has been missing for the past several weeks. Friends and acquaintances of the Van Allen spouses are gossiping that Vic could have had something to do with the disappearance. At a friend’s house party, where Melinda has invited Joel, the gossip goes into overdrive after Vic and Joel have a private conversation in the kitchen, and Vic tells Joel that he killed Martin. Joel can’t tell if Vic is joking or not, but he takes Vic’s comments as a threat, and he quickly leaves the party. Word soon spreads that Vic made this “confession,” and more people in the community begin to wonder if Vic could have murdered Martin.

Before Joel moves to New Mexico because of a job offer, he’s invited to dinner at the house of Vic and Melinda. Vic seems to delight in making Joel uncomfortable with snide remarks. Vic also makes backhanded insults at Melinda. When Vic and Joel are alone together, Vic once again tells Joel that he killed Martin by hitting Martin on the head with a hammer. However, Vic tries to make light of uneasy comments that he makes, by trying to pass them off as misguided sarcasm. Vic’s passive-aggressiveness is an obvious sign that Melinda’s extramarital affairs bother him.

Someone who doesn’t take Vic’s wisecracks lightly is fiction author/screenwriter Don Wilson (played by Tracy Letts), who has recently moved to the area. Don has had middling success by selling a few screenplays that haven’t been made into movies yet. One of these screenplays is about a man (whom Don based on his own personality/background) who uncovers a murder conspiracy in his town.

Vic and Melinda meet Don and Don’s much-younger wife Kelly Wilson (played by Kristen Connolly) at an outdoor party attended by many of the Van Allen couple’s friends. Don likes noir mysteries, so he fancies himself to be an amateur detective. Throughout the movie, Don lets it be known to anyone who’ll listen, including Vic, that he suspects that Vic has something to do with what happened to Martin, whose murdered body is later found shot to death.

Vic’s reputation appears to be saved when another man (who’s never seen in the movie) is arrested for Martin’s murder. However, Martin isn’t the only lover of Melinda’s who ends up dead. It’s enough to say that who’s responsible for the crimes is revealed about halfway through the movie. But even if that information didn’t happen until the end of the film, there are too many obvious clues. The only mystery in the story is if the guilty party will be caught.

One of the biggest failings of “Deep Water” is how it reveals almost nothing about how and why Vic and Melinda fell in love with each other, or even how long they’ve been married. Without this context, it might be difficult for a lot of viewers to care about this couple. Vic and Melinda’s marriage is presented as just a blank void, dressed up with a superficial parade of parties, squabbling and occasional sex. (Affleck and de Armas were a couple in real life when this movie was made, but they’ve since had a breakup that reportedly wasn’t very amicable.)

Vic and Melinda tell each other “I love you” several times, but viewers don’t see any credible passion or respect between these two spouses. The only thing that viewers will find out about what retired Vic likes to do in his free time at home is that he hangs out with his pet snails that he keeps in an aquarium room. The snails are supposed to be symbolic of how Vic acts in his marriage to Melinda.

It could be a marriage of convenience. It could be that Vic and Melinda don’t want the hassle of getting a divorce. They are also devoted parents to Trixie—Vic is more patient with Trixie than Melinda is—and these spouses might not want their child to grow up with divorced parents.

Regardless of the reasons why Vic and Melinda have decided to stay married to each other, “Deep Water” is more concerned with staging repetitive scenes where Melinda tries to make Vic jealous with her lovers, and then she tries to take his mind off of her affairs by getting Vic to have sex with her. Melinda also makes rude comments to Vic such as: “Joel might be dumb, but he makes me enjoy who I am,” and “If you were married to anyone else, you’d be so fucking bored. You’d kill yourself.”

In one of the movie’s party scenes, Vic makes an attempt to show Melinda that he’s attractive to other women when he does something he almost never does at a party: He dances. And he asks Don’s wife Kelly to be his dance partner, as they twirl together and snuggle flirtatiously on the dance floor. Other people, including Melinda, notice the chemistry between Vic and Kelly. Predictably, Melinda gets jealous and tries to re-assert her status as the most desirable and sexiest woman in Vic’s life.

In addition to the superficiality of Vic and Melinda’s marriage, another aspect of “Deep Water” that makes it look phony is that the movie repeatedly tells viewers that Vic is supposed to be very rich, but Vic and Melinda apparently have no house servants, since no servants are ever seen working for this family. Melinda does the family’s cooking, which is not entirely unrealistic for someone of her marital wealth. However, Melinda being the family cook doesn’t ring true when Melinda comes across as a pampered trophy wife who can stay out all night and party with her lovers whenever she feels like it. It wouldn’t have that been hard to cast a few people as background extras to portray servants, since it’s hard to believe that Melinda and/or Vic do their own housecleaning and upkeep of their large home.

An underdeveloped characteristic of “Deep Water” that should have been explored in a more meaningful way is how some people tend to think that those who are wealthy are automatically better than people who aren’t wealthy. In the scene where Don meets Vic for the first time, Don impolitely tells Vic that Vic is probably the person most likely to have done something harmful to Martin. Grant, who is Vic’s most loyal friend, tries to diffuse the tension by smiling and saying: “The moral of the story is Vic is a genius. And he’s rich as fuck.”

Grant’s comment is a reflection of how some people think that being smart and wealthy is the equivalent of being a “good person,” without taking into account that being a “good person” has nothing to do with how much intelligence or money someone has. This false equivalence is a huge dismissal of core values that define people’s true characters and personalities. “Deep Water” seems to make a half-hearted attempt to show how some people are more likely to excuse or overlook bad conduct from someone who is intelligent and rich, but the movie ultimately takes the lazy route by just going for cheap thrills that have been in similar movies.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the cast members’ performances, but there’s nothing that will make viewers feel any real emotional connection to any of these characters. Affleck and de Armas, regardless of their real-life romantic relationship while filming this movie, don’t have much that’s compelling about how they portray Vic and Melinda. After all, Affleck has played many privileged jerks on screen, while de Armas often has the role of a character who uses sex or sex appeal to get what she wants.

A chase scene toward the end of “Deep Water” is extremely hokey and not very believable. “Deep Water” was already paddling around in a sea of mediocrity for most of the movie. But by the time the movie reaches its terrible ending, it ruins any chances that “Deep Water” could have been a “guilty pleasure” thriller.

Hulu will premiere “Deep Water” on March 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Fresh’ (2022), starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Sebastian Stan

March 1, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sebastian Stan and Daisy Edgar-Jones in “Fresh” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

“Fresh” (2022)

Directed by Mimi Cave

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the horror film “Fresh” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A woman in her 20s thinks that she’s dating her dream guy, but when he kidnaps her and holds her captive in an isolated house in the woods, she finds out that he has terrible secrets. 

Culture Audience: “Fresh” will appeal primarily to people interested in suspenseful “women in peril” movies with unusually ghastly surprises.

Jojo T. Gibbs in “Fresh” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures/Hulu)

The horror film “Fresh” is effectively terrifying and nauseating when the movie’s gruesome surprise is revealed. What will disturb many viewers the most is that it’s not just a contrived plot twist for a movie but something that could happen in real life. Because so much of what happens in “Fresh” is considered “spoiler information,” it’s best if viewers don’t know about this shocking plot development before seeing the movie. It’s enough to say that “Fresh” is definitely one of the more memorable horror movies that people can see in any given year.

“Fresh” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, so what happens in the movie was already leaked online by people who saw “Fresh” almost two months before the movie was set to premiere on Hulu in the United States. (Outside the U.S., “Fresh” is available on other Disney-owned streaming platforms.) Directed by Mimi Cave and written by Lauryn Kahn, “Fresh” has all the elements of what could have been a formulaic film about a young woman held captive by someone she thought was a “nice guy.” However, thanks to above-average performances from the cast members and a taut thriller of a story that’s well-directed, “Fresh” is anything but an ordinary horror film.

The movie’s protagonist is Noa (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones), who’s in her early-to-mid-20s, single, and looking for love, although she’s the first person to admit that she hates dating. Noa lives in an unnamed U.S. city that’s not on the East Coast, because on her first date with the man who will become her sadistic captor, Noa says that she’s originally from the East Coast. Noa is an only child. Her father is dead, and she’s estranged from her mother, whose whereabouts are unknown to Noa. This is information that she also tells on the first date with the man who will be her kidnapper.

Not much else is revealed in the movie about Noa’s life, except that she lives alone. Her sassy best friend (and apparently only friend) is named Mollie (played by Jojo T. Gibbs), who is openly queer or bisexual. Noa and Mollie met about seven years ago, when Noa moved to the area where they live now. Noa and Mollie also used to be co-workers, but it’s never revealed what Noa does for a living. Mollie currently works in an unspecified office job, where she’s seen using her computer to do some Internet sleuthing after Noa goes missing.

“Fresh” opens with a scene showing Noa on a bad date at a low-priced restaurant. It’s a casual date, so she’s wearing a sweater and jeans. Her date is a boorish egomaniac named Chad (played by Brett Dier), who gives Noa a sexist lecture about what she’s wearing on the date.

Chad tells Noa: “The women in our parents’ generation, they just cared more about how they dressed and how they looked. They were more into femininity. Nowadays, I feel like girls wear oversized everything, like it’s a blanket. I think you would look good in a dress—not that you don’t look good in a sweater.”

And to top off this date, Chad asks Noa for the leftovers on her plate, so that he can take this unfinished meal home with him. Needless to say, there’s no second date between Noa and Chad. When she tells him at the end of the date that she doesn’t think that they’re compatible, he calls her a “stuck-up bitch” before he walks away.

On a day after this bad date, Noa and Mollie are doing boxing exercises in a gym while Noa tells Mollie about this unpleasant dating experience. Mollie and Noa talk about a dating app called Puzzle Piece, but Noa has become cynical about online dating. Noa is also a homebody type, so going to bars or nightclubs to meet people isn’t really her thing. Mollie thinks that Noa is being too fearful and that Noa should take more risks when it comes to dating.

Noa is in a lovelorn state of mind when she goes shopping at a grocery store and she unexpectedly meets a handsome man named Steve (played by Sebastian Stan), who strikes up a conversation with her about grapes. Steve, who’s about 10 to 15 years older than Noa, has a somewhat awkward flirtation with her. She’s charmed by his apparent down-to-earth and self-deprecating nature, so when Steve asks for Noa’s phone number, she gives it to him without hesitation.

Steve doesn’t waste time in contacting Noa for a date. Their first date is at a mid-scale restaurant/bar. A bartender who works there is named Paul (played by Dayo Okeniyi), and he happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Mollie’s. During Noa’s first date with Steve, she tells Steve a little bit about her background, which is how he finds out that Noa lives alone and doesn’t have her parents in her life. Steve says that he’s a doctor who’s originally from Texas. “I work in reconstructive surgery,” he adds. Steve also mentions that his father is still alive, but his mother is dead.

When Steve mentions that he’s not on any social media, Noa says flirtatiously, “How am I supposed to stalk you now?” Steve quips, “You’ll just have to do it in person, the old-fashioned way.” At one point in the conversation, Noa blurts out to Steve: “I hate dating! People who believe in true love are fucking idiots!” With that comment, Noa reveals that she actually feels hurt and vulnerable when it comes to love. Steve is charming and attentive to Noa. He says all the right things and makes her feel attractive.

Although it’s not unusual for people to talk about their backgrounds on a first date, in hindsight, Noa could certainly be considered an ideal target for a kidnapper because of what she revealed to Steve on their first date: She lives alone, she’s an only child whose parents are not in her life, she doesn’t have a lot of close friends, and she doesn’t appear to have a job that requires her to work in-person with other people. It’s exactly the type of “profile” of someone who might not have a lot of people searching for that person if that person is kidnapped.

It isn’t long before Noa and Steve become lovers. Their relationship happens so quickly, Noa doesn’t have time to introduce Steve to Mollie, but she does tell Mollie about him. Soon after Noa and Steve have begun dating each other, he invites her to a weekend getaway at a place that Steve says will be a romantic surprise.

At this point, Noa and Steve have only known each other for about two weeks or less. It would be easy to judge and say that it’s too soon to go away for getaway trip with a lover you’ve known for less than two weeks. But there are plenty of real-life examples of couples who’ve moved in together after knowing each other for a very short period of time. “Fresh” realistically shows how easy it is for people to get caught up in quickie romances if the people in the relationship feel trust and have a mutual “connection” with each other.

Noa knows that things are moving very fast with Steve. Mollie expresses some concern too, but Noa sees no reason not to trust Steve, so she accepts his invitation to go on the trip, which they will take in Steve’s car. Steve tells her that they should spend the night at his place before they leave for their getaway destination in the morning. When Steve picks Noa up in his car to take her on this trip, she has no idea of what’s in store for her.

“Fresh” is yet another horror movie where the terror takes place in a remote wooded area. Steve’s getaway house is at a place called Cottage Grove. And because this is a horror movie, Noa soon finds out that she can’t get cell phone service in this isolated area. Not long after arriving at Cottage Grove, Steve hands Noa a drink. And the next thing that Noa knows, she has woken up alone in a room, with her right hand handcuffed to a bed.

Noa eventually finds out why Steve kidnapped her. The rest of the movie shows what Noa does to try to escape and if other people are involved in Steve’s sordid secret life. As this depraved kidnapper, Stan gives a chilling performance of someone with a “Jekyll and Hyde” personality. Edgar-Jones is equally riveting as the trapped heroine who has to use her wits to try to escape from this horrible situation.

“Fresh” also has another heroine: Noa’s best friend Mollie, who actively does everything she can to find Noa when Noa goes missing. Mollie doesn’t have a lot of information about Steve, so her search for Noa is very difficult during the period of time when adults can’t be declared missing with law enforcement until 48 hours after the missing people were last seen. “Fresh” shows a lot of cruelty, but the friendship between Noa and Mollie is really at the heart of the film.

And as gory and unsettling as “Fresh” can be, the movie has some dark satire that brings some twisted comedy to this otherwise very grim horror story. The movie uses 1980s pop hits, such as Animotion’s “Obsession” and Peter Cetera’s “Restless Heart,” in scenes to juxtapose this nostalgic pop music with the current torture that is being inflicted in those scenes. There’s also a memorable scene where Noa dances with Steve, in an effort to let his guard down and make him completely trust her. “Fresh” is Cave’s feature-film directorial debut. And even though there are some predictable elements to “Fresh,” it’s an impressive first feature film and an indication that Cave is a talented filmmaker to watch.

Hulu will premiere “Fresh” on March 4, 2022.

Review: ‘No Exit,’ starring Havana Rose Liu, Dennis Haysbert, Dale Dickey, Danny Ramirez, David Rysdahl and Mila Harris

February 25, 2022

by Carla Hay

Havana Rose Liu in “No Exit” (Photo by Kirsty Griffin/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“No Exit” (2022)

Directed by Damien Power

Culture Representation: Taking place in California, the dramatic film “No Exit” features a racially diverse group of characters (white, Asian, African American and Latino) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: During a blizzard that has caused road blockages and closures, a young woman finds herself trapped in a visitor center shelter with four strangers, when she finds out that a van owned by one of the strangers has a kidnapped girl inside.

Culture Audience: “No Exit” will appeal mainly to people who like any suspense thriller, no matter how idiotic the plot gets.

Havana Rose Liu in “No Exit” (Photo by Kirsty Griffin/20th Century Studios/Hulu)

“No Exit” is an apt description for how this mystery thriller gets trapped in its own stupidity. It starts off suspenseful and then it takes a steep nosedive into illogical nonsense. There’s a long stretch of the film, which takes place during a snow blizzard, where the criminal element in the movie frantically struggles to get access to a car to make an escape. Meanwhile, the filmmakers are expecting viewers to forget that the entire point of the movie is that all the movie’s characters who are trapped in the blizzard know that the blizzard has caused the roads to blocked, with police guarding the roadblocks, and an escape isn’t really possible.

It’s not spoiler information to reveal that “No Exit” is about a serious crime that’s been committed, and whoever has committed this crime is in a small group of people at a visitor center shelter during this blizzard. The movie’s protagonist decides she’s going to be a one-woman police force to solve the mystery and get justice for this crime. Directed by Damien Power, “No Exit” was written by Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. The movie’s screenplay is based on Taylor Adams’ 2017 novel of the same name. Even though some of the cast members give good performances, the entire movie has a flawed premise that’s poorly executed in the last half of the film.

“No Exit” begins with protagonist Darby (played by Havana Rose Liu) looking bored and emotionally disconnected in a drug rehab center somewhere in California. (“No Exit” was actually filmed in New Zealand.) Darby is in her early 20s, and she’s in court-ordered rehab for a crime that is not mentioned in the movie. Through conversations in the movie, it’s revealed that Darby has been in rehab or tried to get clean and sober seven times already in her life.

During a rehab group meeting, Darby is told that she has an emergency phone call. When she takes the call, she finds out from her uncle Joe (voiced by David Chen) that her widowed mother has had a brain aneurysm and is in a hospital in Utah. Darby’s mother is scheduled to get a brain operation, but it’s a risky procedure. The medical diagnosis is that Darby’s mother might not have much longer to live.

Darby is estranged from the two family members who know her the best: her mother and Darby’s older sister Devon. And despite Darby’s pleas to make a phone call for this emergency, she’s denied this request by her rehab group leader Dr. Bill Fletcher (played by James Gaylyn) because it’s the rehab center’s rule that patients can’t make outgoing phone calls. Any incoming phone call for a patient has to be an emergency, and the call is monitored by the rehab center staff.

But this obstacle isn’t enough to stop Darby. She borrows a cell phone that was snuck in by another rehab patient, whose name is Jade (played by Nomi Cohen). Jade and Darby don’t like each other, but Jade reluctantly agrees to let Darby use her phone because Darby threatens to tell the rehab officials that Jade broke the rules by sneaking in a cell phone.

Darby uses the phone to call Devon (played by Lisa Zhang), who tells Darby in no uncertain terms that she’s doesn’t want Darby to contact her or visit their mother. Darby says she’s going to find a way to visit. Devon abruptly and angrily tells Darby, “I don’t have time for your bullshit. Don’t call me back!”

This rejection still doesn’t stop Darby. In broad daylight, she sneaks out of the rehab center to steal the car of an orderly named Mike (played by Nick Davies), nicknamed Mikey, who seemed to take pleasure in denying Darby any phone privileges. Darby has also stolen Jade’s phone. Darby’s plan is to take the stolen car and drive to Utah to see her mother. But this trip comes at a very bad time because she isn’t on the road for long when a blizzard hits while she’s in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.

One of the first things that Darby found in Mike’s car was a small packet of cocaine hidden in the driver’s window shade. The movie plays guessing games with viewers over whether or not Darby will relapse by using this cocaine. Darby describes her drug addiction as being willing to do any drug that comes her way.

During this blizzard, Darby gets text messages from Devon that say, “Mom doesn’t want you here.” “You’ll only make it worse.” “Don’t come.” Darby is still undeterred. She pulls over on a road to get some sleep, and she has a nightmare that people outside the car are trying to get her. She wakes up to a state trooper named Ron Hill (played by Benedict Wall), who finds out why she’s traveling during a blizzard.

He tells Darby that the only road leading to Utah is closed, and she has one of two choices: She can either reverse and go back to where she came from, or she can stay at a visitor’s center a few hundred yards away. The center is being used as a temporary shelter during the storm. The trooper also mentions that some other travelers are already at the shelter.

Darby decides to go to the shelter. Inside, there are four other strangers. Ed (played by Dennis Haysbert) is a former U.S. Marine who served in Operation Desert Storm. Ed’s wife is Sandi (played by Dale Dickey), a former nurse who met Ed when she was working at a Veterans Administration hospital. This middle-aged couple is traveling to Reno, Nevada, to do some gambling. Rose and Ed are immediately friendly and welcoming to Darby.

The other two people in the shelter are men in their 20s: Lars (played by David Rysdahl) is introverted and eccentric. He’s the type of person who talks to himself out loud when other people are around. Ash (played by Danny Ramirez) is talkative and a little flirtatious with Darby. He can also be crude and insensitive. Darby and the other four people in the shelter make small talk as they get to know each other.

No one in the shelter can get any cell phone service or WiFi service because of the blizzard and because of where they are in this remote mountain area. Still, Darby occasionally goes outside the shelter near the parking lot to see if her phone can pick up a signal. It’s during one of her trips outdoors when Darby is alarmed to see a hand and noises coming from a van parked outside.

She goes inside the van and finds a kidnapped girl, who’s about 9 or 10 years old. The girl is bound and gagged and desperate to escape. However, Darby knows that she can’t use her phone to get help, so she tells the girl that she will help her, but she has to be patient. Darby later finds out that the girl’s name is Jay (played by Mila Harris), as well as more things about who Jay is and why she was kidnapped.

Feeling trapped and helpless, Darby goes back into the shelter and acts like nothing is wrong, in order to figure out who’s the driver of the van. Before she went back into the shelter, Darby noticed that the van has Nevada license plates. The rest of the movie is a ridiculous cat-and-mouse game where Darby tries to solve the mystery and get help for the kidnapped girl without getting caught by whoever is responsible for the abduction. It’s this second half of the movie that unveils some twists and turns, with each becoming more ludicrous as times goes on.

“No Exit” has so many bad decisions, not just with the characters, but also with how the filmmakers staged everything to look so phony in the latter half of the movie. As the flawed hero Darby, Liu does her best to try to make everything in this moronic film believable, but the movie completely buries any credibility with some of the stupid plot twists, just like the blizzard in this movie buries things in the snow. The rest of the cast members are fairly solid in their roles, except for Ramirez, whose performance becomes campier as the story devolves into an irredeemable mess. You know a movie is bad when it’s called “No Exit,” but everything that happens in the last half of the movie is as if the reason for this movie’s title doesn’t exist.

Hulu premiered “No Exit” on February 25, 2022.

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

January 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“Run” (2020)

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hulu premiered “Run” on November 20, 2020.

Review: ‘Happiest Season,’ starring Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Alison Brie, Aubrey Plaza, Daniel Levy, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen

December 22, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis in “Happiest Season” (Photo by Jojo Whilden/Hulu)

“Happiest Season”

Directed by Clea DuVall

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Pittsburg area, the romantic comedy “Happiest Season” features a predominantly white cast (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class and upper-middle-class.

Culture Clash: A closeted lesbian invites her live-in girlfriend to a family Christmas gathering, and the girlfriends agree to keep their romance a secret from the family during this visit.

Culture Audience: “Happiest Season” will appeal primarily to people interested in seeing a Christmas-themed comedy about families where the central couple happens to be members of the LGBTQ community.

Pictured from left to right (in front) Asiyih N’Dobe and Anis N’Dobe and (in back) Burl Moseley, Alison Brie, Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Mary Holland, Victor Garber and Mary Steenburgen in “Happiest Season” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

There’s a certain formula that romantic comedy films have when they take place during the Christmas holidays and much of the plot revolves around a family get-together: Siblings have rivalries, couples have relationship problems, and at least one person in the family has a big secret that they’re desperately trying to hide. “Happiest Season” (directed by Clea DuVall) follows a lot of the same formula, except that it’s a rare Christmas-themed movie that has lesbians as the central couple in the story. Sony Pictures Entertainment’s TriStar Pictures was going to release “Happiest Season” in theaters until the company sold the movie to Hulu.

In “Happiest Season,” which takes place in the Pittsburgh area, the big secret is that one of the women in the lesbian couple still hasn’t told her family that she’s a lesbian and in a live-in relationship with a woman whom her family thinks is a platonic, heterosexual roommate. Harper Caldwell (played by Mackenzie Davis) is a journalist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and she’s been living with her girlfriend Abigail “Abby” Holland (played by Kristen Stewart), who is working on getting her Ph. D. in art history at Carnegie-Mellon University. Abby and Harper have been dating each other for a little more than a year and have been living together for the past six months.

Harper and Abby are both in their late 20s, smart and very friendly, but Abby is a little more introverted than Harper is. They have a very loving and respectful relationship, but they come from different family backgrounds. Abby is an only child. Her parents, who died when she was 19, were completely accepting of her sexuality when Abby told them that she’s gay. Harper is the youngest of three sisters, and her parents are very traditional and image-conscious. Harper has been afraid to tell her family that she’s a lesbian because she thinks that her parents will disapprove and reject her.

Harper’s parents Ted Caldwell (played by Victor Garber) and Tipper Caldwell (played by Mary Steenburgen), who live in a suburb of Pittsburgh, raised their children to be over-achievers. And now, Ted (a city councilman) is running for mayor, so Harper becomes even more conscious of the scrutiny that her family will receive because of this political campaign. It’s one of the reasons why Harper wants to delay telling her family about being a lesbian and the true nature of her relationship with Abby.

One evening, Abby and Harper take a romantic stroll during a guided Christmas tour of the neighborhood. Harper impulsively steers Abby on a detour to hop up on a stranger’s rooftop so they can get a romantic view of the city and make out with each other. But the occupants of the house hear people on the roof and almost catch Abby and Harper.

Abby barely escapes when she slips on the rooftop and finds herself hanging from the eaves of the roof. Harper tries to rescue Abby, but Abby falls into an inflatable Santa Claus in the front yard. The two women are able to run off just as the occupants of the house go outside and see the two intruders. This slapstick moment is a foreshadowing of some of the wacky-but-predictable physical comedy that happens in other scenes in the movie.

After this rooftop misadventure, Harper invites Abby to meet Harper’s family for the first time during the Christmas holidays. They plan to stay at Ted and Tipper’s family home for five days. Even though Abby says that she’s “not much of a Christmas person,” she agrees to the visit because she wants to meet Harper’s family.

Abby had committed to pet sitting for some friends during this period of time, so she has to find someone who can substitute for her on short notice. She enlists the help of her openly gay best friend John (played by Dan Levy), who is a literary agent. He agrees to take on the responsibility of pet sitting while Abby goes on this family visit that will be a turning point in her relationship with Harper.

John is somewhat stereotypical of a sassy and flamboyant gay man who usually has the role of a “tell it like it is” sidekick. However, John is also a confidant who has a lot of compassion and knows the true meaning of loyalty in a friend. Abby is going to need it, considering what she goes through in this story.

Abby tells John a secret: She plans to propose to Harper during this family holiday visit. John is skeptical of marriage, which he calls an “archaic institution,” but he’s happy for Abby and he wants the best for her. Abby explains to John why she wants to marry Harper: “It’s not about owning [her]. It’s about building a life with her.”

During Harper and Abby’s car trip to Ted and Tipper Caldwell’s home, Harper finally confesses to Abby that she’s been lying to her about what Harper’s family knows about Harper’s sexuality. Harper tells a shocked Abby that not only is her family unaware that Harper is a lesbian who’s been dating Abby, the family also doesn’t know that Abby is a lesbian too. As far as Harper’s family knows, Harper and Abby are two heterosexual women who are platonic roommates.

At first, Abby wants to back out of the trip, but Harper convinces her not to because she promises Abby that she will tell her family the whole truth after the holiday season and after the mayoral election. Harper says that she couldn’t live with the guilt if she thought her father would lose the election simply because some people wouldn’t vote for a mayor who has a child from the LGBTQ community. It’s fairly obvious that the city where Ted wants to become mayor has a lot of politically conservative voters.

At the Caldwell family home, Abby meets Ted and Tipper (who is obsessed with getting perfect photos for her Instagram account), who are somewhat condescending to Abby. They repeatedly call her “the orphan” and show gushing sympathy to her, as if she’s a little lost child. And because Tipper doesn’t know that Abby and Harper are sleeping together, Tipper tells Abby that she will be staying in a separate bedroom, which predictably leads to a few scenes of Abby and Harper sneaking into each other’s bedroom and trying not to get caught.

Ted is consumed with his mayoral campaign. One of his goals is to get the endorsement of a high-powered and influential donor named Harry Levin (played by Ana Gasteyer), who gives the impression of being a rich snob. One of the people who works with Ted in his campaign is Carolyn McCoy (played by Sarayu Blue), who is described as super-efficient and someone who is very concerned about the image projected by Ted and his family.

Because Ted and Tipper have had high expectations for their children, it’s created a fierce rivalry between Harper and her oldest sister Sloane (played by Alison Brie), who has inherited her parents’ fixation on presenting an image of having a perfect life. Sloane and her husband Eric (played by Burl Moseley) have twins who are about 7 or 8 years old: son Magnus (played by Anis N’Dobe) and daughter Matilda (played by Asiyih N’Dobe), who live such a regimented life, they come across almost like little robots.

Sloane and Eric used to be high-powered attorneys, but they gave up their jobs in the legal profession to make gift baskets for a living. However, pretentious Sloane refuses to call them gift baskets. Instead she uses this description when talking about her and Eric’s job to Abby: “We create curated gift experiences inside handmade, reclaimed wood vessels.” She also brags that Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website Goop “picked us up and sales have been through the roof ever since.”

Harper’s other sister is Jane (played by Mary Holland, who co-wrote the “Happiest Season” screenplay with director DuVall), who has a bubbly personality but is somewhat nerdy and socially awkward. Jane, who is single with no children, has been working on a sci-fi fantasy novel for the past 10 years. Although it’s not said out loud, Ted and Tipper think of Jane as the “disappointing” child because she’s not as accomplished as her two sisters are and she has a tendency to be clumsy. Her parents think that Jane is handy when it comes to figuring out computer problems and Internet access in the house, but that’s about it.

Of course, a romantic comedy about a couple with honesty issues usually has additional complications, such the presence of ex-lovers who might or might not want to rekindle a past romance. In “Happiest Season,” Harper has not one but two people from her dating past who cause discomfort in different ways for her. The appearances of these two exes will have an effect on Abby too.

First is Harper’s ex-boyfriend Connor (played by Jake McDorman), whom Harper dated when she was in college. Connor doesn’t know that Harper broke up with him because she’s a lesbian, and he still has lingering feelings for her. Harper’s other ex who comes into the picture is a doctor named Riley (played by Aubrey Plaza), who was Harper’s first girlfriend when they were in high school together. Harper and Riley’s breakup, which is described in the movie, was very painful and it set the pattern of Harper being dishonest about her true sexuality to most of the people in her life.

And what do you know, both of these exes just happen to be at the same restaurant at the same time when the Caldwells and Abby are there for a family dinner. Connor was secretly invited by Tipper, who wishes that Harper and Connor would get back together. Riley is at the restaurant by sheer coincidence. Riley and Connor end up in other social situations with Harper and Abby, together and separately. And, as expected, Abby is jealous of Connor, while Harper gets uncomfortable when she sees Abby and Riley becoming friendly with each other.

Except for the lesbian aspects of the movie, “Happiest Season” doesn’t do much that’s different from a lot of predictable romantic comedies. There’s some over-the-top slapstick in the movie that might or might nor be amusing to viewers. This type of cheesy physical comedy somewhat lowers the quality of the movie, but it’s nothing that’s too detrimental to the story.

The romance between Harper and Abby is convincing, with Davis and Stewart handling their roles with great aplomb. Abby’s character is written with more realism and grace than Harper’s character, who is very selfish and immature during some pivotal moments in the story. Some of the best scenes in the film are those between Abby and John, as well as Abby and Riley.

“Happiest Season” works best when it touches on issues about the true meaning of family and the cost of living a lie. The movie doesn’t have any heavy-handed preaching though, and there are plenty of comical scenarios to balance out the more emotionally dramatic moments. “Happiest Season” isn’t an exceptionally well-made romantic comedy, but it has enough charm and entertaining performances to please viewers who like sentimentality with some slapstick.

Hulu premiered “Happiest Season” on November 25, 2020.

Hulu announces premiere of ‘Eater’s Guide to the World,’ narrated by Maya Rudolph

October 20, 2020

Hulu has released the trailer and photos from the documentary series “Eater’s Guide to the World.” All seven episodes of the first season will premiere on November 11, 2020.

Here is Hulu’s synopsis of the show:

Discover the most surprising culinary destinations in “Eater’s Guide to the World.” Join narrator Maya Rudolph on a quest to find the most unexpected places to score an epic meal, while drinking and dining with the locals along the way.

Season 1, Episode 101: “Dining Alone in the Pacific Northwest

The best part of dining solo? You can focus on what deserves your attention most — the food. Time to eat your way through the Pacific Northwest, savoring the juicy pork steak, soba noodles, and piping hot fried chicken.

Season 1, Episode 102: “Cultural Crossroads in Casablanca”

No cool friend would let you skip Casablanca while on a trip to Morocco. This can’t-miss port city boasts snails, traditional pastilla, and unreal tagine — you’ve gotta taste it all.

Season 1, Episode 103: “The Ass Crack of Dawn in New York City”

It’s last call and you’re freakin’ hungry. What the f*** do you do? Luckily, you’re in New York City, where your crew can choose from mouth-watering options like Korean BBQ, empanadas, and birria — all before the sun hits the horizon.

Season 1, Episode 104: “Jungle to Table in Costa Rica”

The Costa Rican jungle is basically nature’s candy store, and we’d like to invite you in. Bursting with delicious guanabana, cainito, cas, pejibaye, and of course cacao — known to some as the fruit of the gods! Of the GODS, y’all!

Season 1, Episode 105: “Eating on the Hood of Your Car in LA”

Buckle tf up! When you’re in LA, your car’s your sanctuary. Treat it with the respect it deserves, and dig in to life-changing hot chicken, fresh bread drops, and museum-worthy bento boxes in its presence.

Season 1, Episode 106: “Planting Roots in Tijuana Mexico”

Local, regular, newcomer — whoever you are, Tijuana has something delicious for you to eat. Grab a seat and try the craft beer, pork belly tacos, Caesar salad (trust us) and yeah, you’ll want to stay awhile.

Season 1, Episode 107: “Taking Off in America”

You eat at an airport because you have to, not because you want to. But just beyond the departure terminals you’ll find smoky BBQ, sweet n’ fluffy pancakes and a bowl of warm borbor—all worth going the extra mile.

Review: ‘The Binge,’ starring Skyler Gisondo, Dexter Darden, Eduardo Franco, Grace Van Dien, Zainne Saleh and Vince Vaughn

August 28, 2020

by Carla Hay

Dexter Darden, Skyler Gisondo and Eduardo Franco in “The Binge” (Photo by Paul Viggiano/Hulu)

“The Binge” 

Directed by Jeremy Garelick

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “The Binge” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Three friends who are seniors in high school want to win a drug-fueled contest called The Gauntlet, which happens on the one day of the year when all drugs are legal to use for people ages 18 and over.

Culture Audience: “The Binge” will appeal mostly to people who like watching mindless teen comedies.

Skyler Gisondo and Grace Van Dien in “The Binge” (Photo by Paul Viggiano/Hulu)

It seems like “The Binge” was a movie that was inspired at least partially by “The Purge” franchise, and the filmmakers decided to use the same gimmick of “one day of the year that certain crimes are legal” and put it in a very derivative and not-very-funny teen comedy. “The Purge” horror franchise (which includes movies and a TV series spinoff) is all about showing what happens in the U.S. on the one day of the year that all crimes are legal. “The Binge,” which is far from a horror story, instead shows what happens in an unnamed U.S. city, specifically among a group of high schoolers, on the one day of the year that all drugs become legal to use by anyone who’s at least 18 years old.

Besides the obvious “binge and purge” analogy, “The Binge” takes a lot of its cues from “The Purge,” by having the same concept that the reason for this “one day it’s legal to commit certain crimes” is to act as a deterrent to commit the crimes in the future. The idea is that when people get to release these pent-up criminal urges out of their system and are allowed to commit these crimes for one day out of the year, they’ll be so repelled by the horrible results, that it will make them less likely to commit the crimes during the other days of the year when the crimes are illegal.

In the world of “The Binge” (which was directed by Jeremy Garelick and written by Jordan VanDina), alcohol and nicotine are among the drugs that are illegal except for on Binge Day. It’s explained in the beginning of the movie that the reason for this modern-day Prohibition is because America’s drug problem got so out-of-control that lawmakers decided to ban all drugs that have been medically proven to cause diseases (such as cancer) and deaths.

The high schoolers who are at the center of this story sometimes talk about their parents reminiscing about the “good old days” when they could get drunk and it wouldn’t be a crime. (The school in the movie is called American High, which is a cheeky nod to the American High production company that made this film.) Binge Day is therefore a big deal to the teens, especially those who are old enough to participate.

In addition to “The Purge” ripoff idea, “The Binge” recycles most of the over-used tropes that are found in teen movies, including the average-looking, not-very-popular guy who has a secret crush on a good-looking, popular girl. The “average guy” is the story’s protagonist whom the audience is supposed to root for when he keeps bungling his changes to impress the girl he wants to date. In “The Binge,” this guy is Griffin Friedlander (played by Skyler Gisondo), who spends almost the whole movie trying to work up the nerve to ask his dream girl out on a date.

Griffin’s crush is Lena (played by Grace Van Dien), and she’s a student at the same high school, where they are both seniors. And, of course, Griffin wants to ask her to the school’s prom, but he’s too shy. Lena is nice to Griffin, because they’ve known each other for several years, but she seems to want to put him in the casual “friend zone.” 

The average guy/protagonist usually isn’t a complete loner, because he usually has a sidekick/best friend, who’s more confident/wacky/extroverted than he is. In “The Binge,” that character is Hags (played by Dexter Darden), who has his own secret crush who goes to the same school. Hags wants to date bratty troublemaker Sarah Martin (played by Zainne Saleh), who predictably wants nothing to do with him.

And often, in formulaic teen movies like this one, there’s a third person who ends up in the “underdog” group of friends who spend most of the movie trying to achieve the same goal. The “third wheel/weirdo” in the story is Andrew (played by Eduardo Franco), who’s not very close to Griffin and Hags, but Andrew ends up hanging out with them and becoming their friend by default because he wants to be their “wingman” during Binge Day.

Andrew wants to help Hags and Griffin win The Gauntlet, a Binge Day endurance contest to see who can take the most hard drugs and drink the most alcohol without overdosing and ending up in a hospital or dead. There’s no real prize for this contest, except bragging rights and a photo that hangs on a wall in some random place that’s never explained in the movie. The participants in this contest are mostly people in their teens and 20s.

Griffin is the type of student who’s obedient and doesn’t like taking risks, so he’s very reluctant to participate in The Gauntlet. Hags convinces Griffin that they should enter the contest because it will impress the girls they want to impress. When Lena tells Griffin that she’s thinking of binging on Binge Day, he decides to enter The Gauntlet.

Griffin is also motivated to impress Lena when he finds out that a mystery admirer has asked her to the school’s prom by giving her a series of riddle-filled notes that the admirer leaves as clues to his identity. Lena hasn’t given an answer yet because she doesn’t know who her mystery admirer is, but she assumes it’s a very popular student whom she has a crush on but she thinks he might be out of her league. Part of the movie’s plot is a “race against time” for Griffin to impress Lena and ask her to be his prom date before she can find out the identity of her mystery admirer.

And let’s not forget about the parents in the movie, which makes these authority figures into the same tired stereotypes that have been seen before in dozens of other teen comedies. The head of the school is Principal Carlsen (played by Vince Vaughn), who is tyrannical and takes pleasure in punishing students who break the rules. Therefore, he’s always on the lookout for the students to do something wrong so he can bust them. And what a coincidence: Principal Carlsen also happens to be Lena’s father, making it even more nerve-wracking for Griffin to ask Lena out on a date.

Griffin’s parents Karyn and Chester (played by Jessica Kirson and Elon Gold) and Hags’ parents (played Deanna McKinney and Godfrey) are somewhat generic characters that are briefly shown in the movie. Something happens in the movie to explain why these parents don’t interfere in their kids’ Binge Day plans.

Every teen movie usually has at least one parent who behaves inappropriately. And in “The Binge,” that character is Andrew’s single mother Diedre (played by Eileen Galindo), who inflicts abuse on him one minute (she puts out her cigar on his tongue during an argument) and then acts lovey-dovey the next minute, by sweetly telling him, “I love you … Give me a kiss.”

During a school assembly, Principal Carlsen lectures the students about the dangers of Binge Day and tells the students who are 18 years old that they shouldn’t participate in Binge Day, even though it would be legal. As a scare tactic, Principal Carlsen shows examples of some people who died or were permanently disabled because of drug-fueled antics they indulged in on Binge Day. Of course, it’s a scare tactic that doesn’t work because plenty of the legal-age students are planning to participate in Binge Day.

Participants and attendees of The Gauntlet are given a wristband to enter the place where The Gauntlet is being held. While showing up unannounced in the boys’ locker room, Principal Carlsen sees that Griffin has one of these wristbands. A nervous Griffin makes up a lie that the wristband isn’t his and that he accidentally found the wristband. Principal Carlsen then confiscates the wristband and warns Griffin that he better not participate in Binge Day.

How obnoxious is Principal Carlsen? In his conversation with Griffin in the locker room, Principal Carlsen speaks of troublemaking partier student Sarah in these derogatory terms: “That bitch has chaotic energy. She’s like a scorpion in a toaster.” And when Principal Carlsen sees Hags in the locker room, he tells Hags: “Try to find a nickname that’s a little more normal, like Lucas or Kwan.” These are lines that are supposed to pass as jokes in the movie.

After Principal Carlsen has taken Griffin’s wristband, misfit student Andrew ends up hanging out with Griffin and Hags because Andrew has the type of wristband that Griffin needs to get into The Gauntlet event. Instead of selling the wristband to Griffin, Andrew bargains with Griffin and Hags to be their “wingman” pal during Binge Day and to help them win The Gauntlet. Andrew’s bullying fraternal twin brother Seb (played by Esteban Benito) is also a contestant in The Gauntlet, so it’s clear that Andrew has another reason to want to win the contest.

“The Binge” has a lot of typical “teens who want to party” shenanigans in the scenes leading up to The Gauntlet. Most of these scenes aren’t really funny and have been done much better in other similar movies. It comes as no surprise that an animal (in this case, a cow) ends up being an unwilling part of these partying antics, which leads to the inevitable “No animals were harmed” disclaimer in the movie’s end credits.

One of the problems with “The Binge” is that so much of it is repetitive filler. And the cast members do nothing outstanding in their performances, although Franco has a few scene-stealing moments. “The Binge” is supposed to be raunchy, but it holds back on showing a lot of adult-oriented debauchery during the first two-thirds of the movie. Most of “The Binge” is about straight-laced Griffin acting horrified at some of the silly scenarios that happen on the way to The Gauntlet.

The one truly original moment in the movie is actually a little bizarre and out-of-place: The cast members break into a song-and-dance number called “We’re Gonna Get High.” It’s not supposed to be a drug-induced hallucination, but something that spontaneously happens while they’re all under various degrees of intoxication. The idea is that they’ve lost their inhibitions together and somehow magically came up with this song-and-dance number together.

This “We’re Gonna Get High” musical number looks and sounds like something that would have been in an episode of “Glee” if the episode was about getting stoned at a party. The song is very much in the mold of a high-school musical. In other words, there’s nothing really edgy about it, even if the lyrics mention cocaine, heroin and PCP. The song was written by “The Binge” director Garelick, screenwriter VanDina, Christopher Lennertz and Matt Bowen. It seems as if this random musical scene in “The Binge” was concocted as a sugary-sweet way to deflect any criticism the movie might get for glorifying drug binges. What’s actually more offensive is that “The Binge” just isn’t funny.

As for the idea that people would willingly ingest as many drugs as possible in order to win a stupid contest, “The Binge” makes no attempt to show that the main characters could put themselves in danger by doing this medically dangerous stunt. It should come as no surprise that no one in this group dies or ends up in a hospital, because that would ruin the limited comedy of this mindless film. “The Binge” wants to be a teen version of “The Hangover” meets “The Purge,” but almost all the jokes and scenarios fall flat. Instead of “The Binge,” this movie should be called “The Cringe.”

Hulu premiered “The Binge” on August 28, 2020.

Review: ‘We Are Freestyle Love Supreme,’ starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, Anthony Veneziale, Christopher Jackson, Thomas Kail, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Bill Sherman and Chris Sullivan

July 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Chris Sullivan, Anthony Veneziale, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Andrew Bancroft, Bill Sherman, Christopher Jackson and Arthur Lewis in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“We Are Freestyle Love Supreme”

Directed by Andrew Fried

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and partially in the United Kingdom, the documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” tells the story of the multiracial musical improvisational group Freestyle Love Supreme, whose most famous member is Tony-winning star Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Culture Clash: The members of Freestyle Love Supreme struggled for years to make a living from their craft, and then the group’s loyalty and work schedules were tested after Miranda and musical director Thomas Kail went on to mega-success with the Tony-winning musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.”

Culture Audience: “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and musical theater that includes hip-hop.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Christopher Jackson and Anthony Veneziale in the mid-2000s in “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

The feel-good documentary “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” shows what can happen when several tight-knit friends in a musical improvisational group manage to keep the group going for several years, despite the members’ individual careers and personal lives going on divergent paths. Directed by Andrew Fried, who began filming footage for the documentary in 2005, “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” is a breezy ride through the group’s story, even if it it feels like a lot of inevitable behind-the-scenes turmoil was deliberately left out of the film. The documentary includes exclusive interviews (everyone in the group is interviewed separately), as well as archival on-stage and off-stage footage, spanning from the mid-2000s to the group’s stint on Broadway in 2019.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s most famous member is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Tony-winning star/creator of the stage musicals “In the Heights” and “Hamilton.” Miranda (whose nickname in the group is Lin-Man) is an original member of Freestyle Love Supreme, which was formed in New York City in 2004. But the documentary shows that the origins of Freestyle Love Supreme really began in 1999, during a road trip taken by group co-founder Anthony Veneziale (also known as Two-Touch) and Thomas “Tommy” Kail, the group’s musical director who went on to direct the original Broadway productions of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton,” as well as most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s stage shows.

According to what Kail says in the documentary, he and Veneziale (who met when they were students at Wesleyan University) went on a road trip from New York City to Iowa, to help a friend make an independent film. During the trip, the only way they could stay awake was by listening to the B-side of the Daft Punk song “Around the World.”

“Anthony freestyled for four straight hours,” says Kail of that road trip. “That, in some way, was the seed for Freestyle Love Supreme.” Freestyle Love Supreme then became a collective of friends who would get together at the Drama Book Shop, which was their creative “lab,” according to Kail. Although Kail isn’t an on-stage performer for Freestyle Love Supreme, he is credited with being the behind-the-scenes architect of the group’s career.

Freestyle Love Supreme then honed their improvisational skills so that their on-stage act became randomly choosing words volunteered by the show’s audience, and then making up hip-hop-infused, often-comedic stories about those words right there on the spot. Veneziale (who also co-founded the improv FLS Academy) is the group’s emcee, who interviews audience members during the show and brings some audience members on stage. This highly interactive format makes every Freestyle Love Supreme show truly unique, which is in contrast to the traditional theater format of doing the same show for every performance.

The other original members of Freestyle Love Supreme are Christopher Jackson (also known as C-Jack); Bill Sherman (also known as King Sherman); Chris Sullivan (also known as Shockwave); and Arthur Lewis (also known as Arthur the Geniuses). Miranda and Kail went on to collaborate on “In the Heights” (which went to Broadway in 2008) and “Hamilton” (which made its Broadway debut in 2015), with both musicals including Jackson (who is Miranda’s best friend) as a co-star.

After the success of “In the Heights” and “Hamilton” made Miranda, Jackson and Kail too busy for Freestyle Love Supreme on a regular basis, Freestyle Love Supreme added new members to the group. The documentary does a very good job of putting a spotlight on each member, so that people can know what their unique contributions are to Freestyle Love Supreme. (Freestyle Love Supreme has also had numerous guest performers, including Daveed Diggs and Wayne Brady.)

Miranda, who is a self-described “theater geek,” is shown to be an energetic optimist but also a perfectionist who can be very hard on himself. Jackson, who is more laid-back than Miranda, is described as the “dad” of the group, since he’s the oldest member and the first member of Freestyle Love Supreme to get married and have children.

Sherman, who plays keyboards and has a goofy sense of humor, used to be Kail’s roommate and remains very close to Kail. Sullivan, who does most of Freestyle Love Supreme’s beatboxing, is the “actual musical heartbeat of the group,” says Kail. Lewis, who plays keyboards, is described as the group’s most intellectually gifted member and “the ethereal one” of Freestyle Love Supreme, according to Kail.

Freestyle Love Supreme’s newer members are also given a spotlight: Utkarsh Ambudkar (also known as UTK The INC) is described by Miranda as “the best nuts-to-bolts rapper in the group.” James Monroe Iglehart (also known as J-Soul) is praised by multiple people as being the best singer in the group. Andrew Bancroft (also known as Jelly Donut) seems to be in awe of his group mates and says he still can’t believe that he’s in Freestyle Love Supreme.

And by the time that Freestyle Love Supreme began headlining on Broadway, the group had added its first permanent female member: Aneesa Folds (also known as Young Nees), who expresses how star-struck and honored she is to be in Freestyle Love Supreme. Why did it take so long to add a woman to the group? Probably because after the #MeToo movement happened, Freestyle Love Supreme wanted deflect any criticism that this group deliberately excludes people who aren’t of the male gender.

It probably never crossed their minds to invite women into their group before, because it’s clear from the archival footage that Freestyle Love Supreme operated very much like a fraternity, but not in a mean-spirited way. However, because of heightened awareness of how gender discrimination against people who aren’t cisgender males has been an ongoing problem in the entertainment industry (and society in general), it no doubt prompted Freestyle Love Supreme to take a hard look at their own decision making in whom they were inviting to be a part of their exclusive club.

The documentary doesn’t call attention to why Freestyle Love Supreme was a male-only group for about 15 years, probably because the male members of the group don’t want to address this issue on camera. Instead, the movie puts an emphasis on all the camaraderie they have—perhaps a little too much emphasis, to the point where it looks sugarcoated. There’s a lot of screen time devoted to soundbites where the members of Freestyle Love Supreme praise themselves and each other.

Jackson comments on how Freestyle Love Supreme is a privilege of being able to work with his closest friends: “If more people had this experience, truly, the world would be a better place.” Ambudkar says that he felt an instant connection to the members of Freestyle Love Supreme: “Whatever Freestyle was doing, it fit me like a well-worn hoodie.”

Miranda says that in the group’s early days, there was a real struggle to build a fan base, but the audience grew when the show improved and because Freestyle Love Supreme didn’t give up: “We had to work hard [for an audience]. The show worked.”

Some of the documentary’s best archival footage is of a pivotal point in the early career of Freestyle Love Supreme, when the group was invited to perform at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. No one knew at the time that Miranda was three years away from finding Broadway fame and acclaim with “In the Heights.” But during this trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the members of Freestyle Love Supreme considered it to be the highlight of their careers so far.

There’s a real infectious joy in this footage that shows their youthful optimism, as they roam the streets of Edinburgh and soak up Scottish culture. The documentary also includes footage of the group reading their first negative review together. And even that moment of the group getting some scathing criticism has a lot of humor and shows how closely bonded the group members are.

A present-day Miranda looks back on that time with a lot of fondness in the documentary. He says that even though all of the members of Freestyle Love Supreme were financially broke at the time, and their futures were uncertain, it was one of the happiest times of his life. “Everything was happening, but nothing was happening,” Miranda quips.

Some other great archival footage is of Miranda and Kail walking through New York City’s Times Square, not long before “In the Heights” was scheduled to begin previews on Broadway. Kail and Miranda look up in awe and excitement at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, which had the “In the Heights” billboard and marquee already prepared.

In this archival footage, Kail and Miranda joke about how people in Times Square might or might not recognize them. Kail, who resembles former “American Idol” finalist Justin Guarini, says that people probably think he’s “that guy from ‘American Idol.'” Kail also jokes that people will probably think that Miranda looks like a “Mexican Bud Bundy,” referring to Miranda’s slight resemblance to actor David Faustino, who had the role of bratty son Bud Bundy in the sitcom “Married With Children.” (Miranda’s heritage is actually Puerto Rican, not Mexican.)

All joking aside, a group of people working together this long can’t be immune to jealousies, rivalries and conflicts. Although the documentary acknowledges that Miranda is the most famous member of Freestyle Love Supreme (after his Broadway success, he became a star and a producer in movies and television), the other group members who talk about it for the documentary only express happiness for Miranda. If they have any envy that Miranda’s career has skyrocketed, compared to the careers of other group members, it’s not shown in this movie.

However, there is some acknowledgement that Freestyle Love Supreme did go through a less-than-smooth adjustment period when it became obvious that in order for the group to keep going, certain group members (namely Miranda, Jackson and Kail) would not be as available as they once were, due to their busy Broadway careers. Another big shift in the group’s dynamics occurred when Veneziale moved to San Francisco (because of his wife’s graduate studies) and started a family there.

As a result of that relocation to the other side of the United States, Veneziale and Kail, who used to be best friends, say they became estranged from each other, and their relationship hasn’t really been the same since. Veneziale describes Kail in the early days of Freestyle Love Supreme: “He was my co-conspirator in making things.” Kail says that Veneziale is the “guts and blood” and the “engine” of Freestyle Love Supreme. However, it’s obvious that there’s still tension between Kail and Veneziale, because they choose their words very carefully when talking about each other, while expressing regret that they aren’t close friends anymore.

The documentary doesn’t bring up personal problems in Freestyle Love Supreme until the last third of the movie. Ambudkar opens up about his alcoholism and how it affected him and his role in the group. Ambudkar says that the success of “Hamilton,” which made Miranda even less available to Freestyle Love Supreme than ever before, forced Ambudkar to take a hard look at where his life was headed, and it motivated Ambudkar to get clean and sober.

The clips of Freestyle Love Supreme performing on stage, especially on Broadway, are absolutely electric and elevate this documentary, which plays it very safe overall. “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” gives the impression that it doesn’t want to divulge a lot of the realistic behind-the-scenes ego clashes in the group, for fear that it would mess up the “lovefest” vibe that the documentary is trying to convey. It’s why viewers of this movie get a lot of effusively upbeat soundbites that are a lot like this one from Ambudkar when he describes Freestyle Love Supreme: “It’s truly about embracing and celebrating the human experience.”

Hulu premiered “We Are Freestyle Love Supreme” on July 17, 2020.

Review: ‘Palm Springs,’ starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti and J.K. Simmons

July 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“Palm Springs”

Directed by Max Barbakow

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Palm Springs, California, and briefly in other parts of the U.S., the comedy film “Palm Springs” has a predominantly white cast (with a few black people, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single man and a single woman find themselves in a repetitive time loop where they keep waking up to the wedding day of the woman’s younger sister in Palm Springs, California.

Culture Audience: “Palm Springs” will appeal to primarily people who like offbeat “time warp” comedies, but much of the vulgar humor lacks wit or originality.

Meredith Hagner and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

A blatant and vastly inferior ripoff of the 1993 Bill Murray classic comedy “Groundhog Day,” the time-loop comedy film “Palm Springs” might be interesting to fans of star Andy Samberg, but everyone else will feel like they’re stuck watching a repetitive time-loop skit get less funny as time goes on. A sardonic supporting performance by the always-great J.K. Simmons isn’t enough to save this smug film, which isn’t as clever as the filmmakers like to think it is.

People who follow news in the entertainment industry might be aware that the Hulu comedy film “Palm Springs” broke a Sundance Film Festival record for the highest amount paid ($17.5 million and 69 cents) to acquire a film that premiered at Sundance. The previous record holder was Fox Searchlight’s $17.5 million purchase of the 2016 drama “Birth of a Nation,” actor Nate Parker’s feature-film directorial debut.

The record-breaking sum that Hulu paid for “Palm Springs” would lead people to believe that this movie, which clearly won’t be an Oscar contender, is at least on par with a crowd-pleasing classic, such as director Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” a movie about a weatherman who’s stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop. Unfortunately, “Palm Springs” (directed by Max Barbakow and written by Andy Siara) doesn’t come close to the charm and memorable humor of “Groundhog Day.”

It’s pretty obvious that the overrated “Palm Springs” was sold for an overpriced amount because movie executives got caught up in a bidding war for a mediocre film. When has Samberg ever starred in a quality movie that was a big hit with audiences? Never. “Palm Springs” certainly won’t be his first “blockbuster” hit.

In “Palm Springs,” Sandberg plays an obnoxious ne’er do well named Nyles, who is stuck in a time loop where he keeps waking up to November 9, the day of a wedding that he is supposed to attend with his girlfriend Misty (played by Meredith Hagner), a stereotypical ditsy blonde who is one of the bridesmaids. Viewers won’t find out about this time loop until after the first time that the movie shows Nyles at the wedding.

The wedding is taking place in the upscale desert vacation city of Palm Springs, California. The bride is Tala (played by Camila Mendes), the groom is Abe (played by Tyler Hoechlin) and the maid of honor is Tala’s divorced older sister Sarah (played by Cristin Milioti), who looks and acts like she’d rather be anywhere else but the wedding. The proud parents of the bride are Howard (played by Peter Gallagher) and Pia (played by Jacqueline Obradors), who don’t do much except look horrified at some of the silly antics that later ensue in the story. And then there’s Nana Schlieffen (played by June Squibb), the token matronly grandmother at the wedding.

Nyles, Misty and Sarah are all staying at the same hotel. When Nyles wakes up in the hotel on the day of the wedding, Misty has just come out of the shower and is putting lotion on her legs. Nyles wants to have sex, and Misty agrees, but only if they make it quick because she says she doesn’t want to get too sweaty. A predictable erection joke is part of this scene, which sets the tone for the rest of this movie. “Palm Springs” makes a lot of crude jokes about sex, but most of the jokes aren’t very funny.

At the wedding, Nyles stands out (and not in a good way) because he’s wearing clothes that are too casual: a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. At the reception, Misty makes an awkward wedding speech, and then it’s Sarah turn to give her speech. Even though she’s the maid of honor, a miserable-looking Sarah seems shocked that she’s expected to make a toast to the bride and groom.

But before she gets a chance to make the speech, Nyles butts in and makes a speech that’s even more cringeworthy than Misty’s speech. What Nyles has to say is both overly sappy and nonsensical. He ends it by stating to the newly married couple: “We may be born lost, but now you are found.”

After that, Nyles (who is constantly chugging beer from beer cans) and Sarah strike up a conversation. Nyles flirts heavily with Sarah and asks her if she wants to go somewhere private with him for a quickie tryst. Sarah tells him that he’s being very forward, but she’s intrigued by his boldness.

While Nyles and Sarah are outside, they pass by a bathroom where the reception is being held. The bathroom is on the ground level, and they can clearly see into the bathroom’s window (this place clearly doesn’t care about guests’ privacy), where they witness Misty cheating with a wedding guest named Trevor (played by Chris Pang). Trevor, who’s dressed in a glittery cowboy suit at the wedding, is one of those quirky characters that was written in this movie in its failed attempt to be like a Wes Anderson comedy.

Now that Sarah knows that Nyles’ girlfriend/wedding date doesn’t really care about him, Sarah takes Nyles up on his offer to hook up with him out in the desert. Before that happens, Sarah tells Nyles that she’s the “black sheep” of her family, because her family thinks she’s a “liability” who thinks “I fuck around and drink too much.”

While Sarah and Nyles are having a steamy makeout session, Nyles suddenly gets wounded on his shoulder by an arrow. Out of the shadows, a man wearing dark camouflage paint on his face starts to chase Nyles with a bow and arrow, while Sarah freaks out and is confused by what’s going on. It turns out that the angry bow-and-arrow hunter is named Roy (played by J.K. Simmons), and Roy wants revenge on Nyles for a reason that’s revealed later in the story.

Meanwhile, during this chase scene, Nyles runs into a cave where there’s a strange glowing red light. Sarah follows Nyles into the cave. And it turns out this mysterious cave is the portal that causes a time-loop that keeps going back to November 9. Now that Sarah has gone into the cave, she’s stuck in the time loop with Nyles too. Just like Nyles, every time Sarah now wakes up, it’s in the Palm Springs hotel on the November 9 wedding day.

“Palm Springs” has a lot of slapstick humor to distract from the uninspired dialogue in the movie. After Sarah finds out that she’s stuck in the same time loop as Nyles, much of the film is about Sarah being angry with Nyles because she feels that she didn’t deserve to be unknowingly trapped in the loop.

Nyles has been in the loop long enough to warn Sarah that attempts to get out of the loop have failed. Committing suicide doesn’t work. (Although an idea presented later in the story contradicts that theory.) It also doesn’t work to take stimulant drugs that keep people up for days. Traveling to another city (which Sarah does when she drives all the way back to her messy house in Austin, Texas) also doesn’t get them out of loop either.

The movie never explains what Nyles did for a living before he got caught in the time loop, but he’s reached a point of feeling resigned about his fate in the loop. Therefore, he acts as recklessly and obnoxiously as possible (including breaking several laws), because he knows that when he wakes up, he’ll be back in that Palm Springs hotel room on the November 9 wedding day.

Nyles also tells Sarah that being stuck in the time loop has caused him to feel free to have sexual hookups with as many people as possible, including three people who keep showing up in this story: a bartender named Daisy (played by Jena Friedman), who works at the wedding reception; Darla (played by Dale Dickey) a crusty regular at a local bar; and fashionable Jerry (played by Tongayi Chirisa), one of the wedding guests.

At first, Sarah gets caught up in being as “bad” as possible, so a great deal of the movie shows Sarah and Nyles acting like drunken, irresponsible teenagers. But Sarah soon grows tired of these shenanigans and wants to get out of the loop and back to her normal life. It goes without saying that Sarah and Nyles start to have romantic feelings for each other, so Nyles is conflicted about Sarah wanting to leave the loop while he might remain stuck there.

Unfortunately for “Palm Springs,” the chemistry between Samberg and Milioti isn’t very believable when Nyles and Sarah start to become a romantic couple. Milioti seems to be doing her best to bring some laughs to the story, but Sarah is such a deeply unhappy, self-loathing person that it’s hard to believe that Sarah can fall in love when she doesn’t even love herself.

Parts of “Palm Springs” seem like a more adult-language version of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that’s worn out its welcome. Samberg, who’s a “Saturday Night Live” alum, has the same type of one-note “man child” persona that he had on the show. It’s the same persona that Pete Davidson has also taken as part of his comedic image.

A comedy with this “time loop” concept should be fun to watch, but “Palm Springs” is a chore to watch because the two main characters don’t have charismatic personalities. Huge stretches of “Palm Springs” drag on for too long. And even the movie’s visual effects look cheap and clunky.

The best thing about “Palm Springs” is how the “travelogue” type of cinematography (from Quyen Tran) makes a vacation in Palm Springs look very enticing. But people can watch attractive travel videos for free on the Internet, and this movie isn’t supposed to be a travel video.

People aren’t going to sign up for Hulu en masse to watch this movie, so “Palm Springs” certainly wasn’t worth the $17.5 million price tag. “Palm Springs” is not only a waste of Hulu’s money but it’s also a waste of viewers’ time, unless people have a high tolerance for Samberg’s recycled “man child” persona.

Hulu premiered “Palm Springs” on July 10, 2020

Hulu announces new culinary series hosted by Padma Lakshmi

July 26, 2019

Padma Lakshmi
Padma Lakshmi (Photo by Charles Sykes/Bravo)

“Top Chef” host/judge Padma Lakshmi is getting a new culinary series on Hulu. The show’s title and premiere date are to be announced. She will continue to be on “Top Chef,” which is televised in the U.S. on Bravo. The announcement about Lakshmi’s Hulu series was made during 2019 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour. Here is what a Hulu press release said about the show:

The Untitled Padma Lakshmi Series is a living cookbook made up more from people and culture than recipes. Curated by Emmy-nominated host and author Padma Lakshmi (“Top Chef”), the series embraces culinary traditions from the first Americans to the latest arrivals alongside Padma’s perspectives and personal connection to each story. Filmed around the country, each episode starts with a single dish that represents and connects to a community’s history and traditions, and explores the evolution of that immigrant community through that cuisine. From family recipes and street food to high-end restaurants, each dish explored is a symbol of a unique journey and story that provides viewers a window into where communities came from and the tale of how they set roots in America. In the hands of different families and waves of immigration, an organic evolution emerges between traditional recipes and new approaches, different perspectives and emotions, all captured through Padma’s eyes.

Each 30-minute episode follows Padma as she learns, immerses and celebrates communities from around the world that have taken root in America, changed it and been changed by it. The 10-episode series is produced by Part2 Pictures.

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