Review: ‘Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,’ starring the voices of Lana Condor, Annie Murphy, Toni Collette, Sam Richardson, Will Forte, Colman Domingo and Jane Fonda

June 29, 2023

by Carla Hay

Chelsea Van Der Zee (voiced by Annie Murphy) and Ruby Gillman (voiced by Lana Condor) in “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken”

Directed by Kirk DeMicco

Culture Representation: Taking place in the U.S. city of Oceanside, the animated film “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” features a cast of characters depicting humans, krakens and mermaids.

Culture Clash: A female teenage Kraken, whose family has been hiding its kraken identity from humans, uncovers an ancient legacy when a rival new student enrolls in her school. 

Culture Audience: “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” will appeal primarily to people who want to see reliably entertaining animated films with simple messages about self-confidence and being yourself.

Pictured from left to right: Trevin (voiced by Eduardo Franco), Margot (foreground, voiced by Liza Koshy), Bliss (voiced by Ramona Young), Ruby Gillman (voiced by Lana Condor) and Connor (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White) in “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” (Image courtesy of DreamWorks Animation)

“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” does what it’s supposed to do as a family-oriented animated film. The story and visuals are appealing, but improvement was needed in world building and explaining various characters’ backstories much earlier in the movie. If you don’t know what a kraken is and have no interest in finding out, then skip this movie. Everyone else will at least be mildly entertained by this animated movie that is adequate but not a classic.

Directed by Kirk DeMicco, “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” has an over-used story of a teenage girl trying to fit in at her school while having a crush on a boy whom she wants to date. However, the movie should be commended for at least taking a unique and darking approach of making a kraken family at the center of the story. It’s something that no animated film from a major Hollywood studio has ever done before. Pam Brady, Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi wrote the screenplay for “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,” with additional screenplay material written by DeMicco, Meghan Malloy and Michael McCullers.

A kraken is a giant mythical sea monster whose origins are off of the coast of Norway. In “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,” 16-year-old Ruby Gillman (voiced by Lana Condor) and her family are living “under the radar” in the U.S. city of Oceanside, by having the appearance of humans and trying fit in as human beings. What’s kind of silly about the movie is that the members of this kraken family all have blue skin, which makes it obvious that they’re not human. It would look worse in a live-action film, but in an animated film, there’s more room for suspension of disbelief.

Ruby is intelligent and compassionate, but she insecure about her physical appearance, and she has a slightly goofy personality. Her overprotective mother Agatha Gillman (voiced by Toni Collette) is a successful real-estate agent who dominates the household and is the main parental disciplinarian. Ruby’s laid-back father Arthur Gillman (voiced by Colman Domingo) is much more lenient and understanding of Ruby’s curiosity. Also in the household is Ruby’s 7-year-old brother Sam Gillman (voiced by Blue Chapman), who has the “cute kid” role in the movie.

Agatha and Arthur know that their family is “different,” but they have instilled the attitude in their children that they must blend in with humans as much as possible. Agatha’s number-one rule for her children (especially Ruby) s that they must never go inside or near a large body of water. Needless to say, Agatha is horrified and disapproving when Ruby says she’s interested in studying marine biology for a possible career.

Ruby attends Oceanside High School, where she has a small circle of three friends who are all considered “misfits,” just like Ruby. Margot (voiced by Liza Koshy), who is queer or a lesbian, loves musical theater and is the most talkative and outspoken of the friends. Trevin (voiced by Eduardo Franco), the quietest of the group, is addicted to playing hand-held video games. Bliss (voiced by Ramona Young) is moody, sarcastic, and dresses like a nerdy Goth.

Ruby prides herself on being a “mathlete”—someone who excels at math and at being an athlete. She has a big crush on a fellow student whom she’s tutoring in math. His name is Connor (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), who is a free-spirited skateboarder. The school’s prom is coming up. Ruby, Connor, and Ruby’s friends all think the concept of a prom is a “post-colonial patriarchal construct” that they think is very uncool.

However, Margot ends up changing her mind about boycotting the school’s prom when her girl crush asks Margo to be her prom date. Trevin and Bliss then want to go to the school’s prom too. Feeling left out, Ruby decides she wants to also attend the prom, with Connor as her date. Ruby tries to work up the courage to ask Connor, who’s attracted to her, but Ruby isn’t seeing the obvious signs of this attraction.

The added allure for Ruby to go to the prom is that it will be an act of rebellion against her mother. As soon as Agatha found out that the prom will take place in a building that’s near the ocean, she forbade Ruby from going. Margot, Trevin and Bliss convince Ruby that she shouldn’t be so afraid of getting her mother’s disapproval for something that should be a fun and positive experience for Ruby. These three pals tells Ruby that she should lie to Agatha about where she is going on the prom night and go to the prom instead.

Shortly before Ruby decides she’s going to ask Connor to be her prom date, he accidentally falls into the ocean and almost drowns. Ruby dives in to rescues him. And that’s when Ruby finds out that she can turn into a giant kraken. She’s horrified and now knows why her mother Agatha forbade her to go into any large body of water. Connor is unconscious and doesn’t see who rescued him. After a short stay in a hospital, he is released.

Meanwhile, there’s a new student at Oceanside High School: a confident, physically attractive redhead named Chelsea Van Der Zee (played by Annie Murphy), who witnessed this rescue and knows that Ruby wants to keep Ruby’s kraken identity a secret. And so, Chelsea takes credit for rescuing Connor. People believe Chelsea’s fabricated “hero” story, and she immediately becomes popular. As already shown in the “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” trailers, Chelsea has a secret identity too: She’s really a mermaid.

There are more Gillman family secrets that are revealed to Ruby, including a longtime feud between mermaids and krakens. Agatha’s bold and confident mother, whose only name in the movie is Grandmamah (voiced by Jane Fonda), comes from a long line of kraken warrior queens. Grandmamah is estranged from Agatha, who refused to follow in her mother’s footsteps.

Ruby also finds out that 15 years earlier, there was a Battle of the Tridents, where mermaids were defeated and went into hiding. There’s an all-powerful trident that mermaids and krakens have been battling over for several generations. When Ruby decides she’s going to embrace her kraken heritage and asks Grandmamah to mentor her, you can easily guess what the movie’s big showdown will be.

Other featured characters in this movie includes a local tour guide Gordon Lighthouse (voiced by Will Forte), who has a boat and who believes that krakens are very dangerous for people. Brill voiced by Sam Richardson) is Agatha’s younger brother, who is earnest and dorky. He’s the type who wears Hawaiian shirts, shorts and sandals with socks. Brill ends up getting involved in some of Ruby’s adventures.

“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” has some explanations about kraken and mermaid lore in the middle of the movie, when those explanations should have been earlier in the film. The characters of Ruby, Agatha and Grandmamah have well-defined personalities, but some other characters (such as Sam and Bliss) don’t do much except take up space. Other characters (such as “cool love interest” Connor, “mean girl” Chelsea and “meddling neighbor” Gordon) are the types of characters that have been in many other types of scripted entertainment.

Some viewers might compare “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” to the 2022 Oscar-nominated Pixar movie “Turning Red” because there are some striking similarities. “Turning Red” is a much better movie overall, but “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” isn’t an intentional ripoff. “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” was in development for years prior to it getting made, so any similarities to “Turning Red” are coincidental.

Everything in “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” is just fine or average, but not so terrible that it feels like a complete waste of time to watch it. There’s a jumbled explanation of the Battle of the Tridents, but it’s not so confusing that viewers will feel lost. At the very least, anyone who watches “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” will see a teenage heroine who is very different from the usual teenage heroines in other animated films.

Universal Pictures will release “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” in U.S. cinemas on June 30, 2023.

Review: ‘Book Club: The Next Chapter,’ starring Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Craig T. Nelson, Andy Garcia and Don Johnson

May 8, 2023

by Carla Hay

Mary Steenburgen, Candice Bergen, Diane Keaton and Jane Fonda in “Book Club: The Next Chapter” (Photo by Riccardo Ghilardi/Fifth Season LLC/Focus Features)

“Book Club: The Next Chapter”

Directed by Bill Holderman

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy and briefly in the Los Angeles area in 2020 and 2021, the comedy film “Book Club: The Next Chapter” (a sequel to 2018’s “Book Club”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Four elderly American women, who are best friends, travel to Italy to have a bachelorette party trip for one of the women who’s getting married, but they experience complications along the way. 

Culture Audience: “Book Club: The Next Chapter” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s stars, the first “Book Club” movie and comedies about how senior citizens experience love, friendships and romance.

Don Johnson in “Book Club: The Next Chapter” (Photo by Riccardo Ghilardi/Fifth Season LLC/Focus Features)

“Book Club: The Next Chapter” is a comedy sequel where the book club exists in name only. Instead of reading books, the four women who are the longtime best friends at the center of the movie are reading attitudes about love and marriage when they go from their homes in the Los Angeles area to Italy for a bachelorette party trip. “Book Club: The Next Chapter” is a sequel to 2018’s “Book Club.” This breezy sequel puts more emphasis on the four best friends spending time together as a group. The movie doubles down on the sexual double entendres that are sometimes amusing, sometimes tacky. “Book Club: The Next Chapter” has its heart in the right place though and should be entertaining for anyone who is a fan of any of the movie’s headliners.

“Book Club” and “Book Club: The Next Chapter” are both directed by Bill Holderman and written by Holderman and Erin Simms. It’s very helpful to see or know about what happened in “Book Club,” in order to fully enjoy and understand “Book Club: The Next Chapter.” The love relationship issues that each of the four main characters had in the first “Book Club” movie are not fully explained in the beginning of “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” which takes place in 2020 and 2021.

In the first “Book Club” movie, the four main characters are also the four members of a book club that they’ve had since 1974. (Erica Jong’s feminist novel “Fear of Flying” was the book club’s first selection.) As part of the book club, the women read E.L. James’ erotic “Fifty Shades” book series, which inspires them to spice up their love lives. In “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” the focus is on a bachelorette party trip to Italy for the woman in the group who has never been married. The expected hijinks ensue in Italy, including stolen luggage, language barriers, and one of the women finding a possible love interest in Italy.

The four women who are at the center of the story are as follows:

Diane Whittaker (played by Diane Keaton), the most neurotic and nervous of the four friends, is a widowed mother of two adult daughters and is the narrator of the “Book Club” movies. In the first “Book Club” movie, Diane met and fell in love with an airline pilot named Mitchell (played by Andy Garcia), who treats her with kindness and respect. In the first “Book Club” movie, Diane was hesitant to date Mitchell because she was still grieving over the death of her husband. But in Book Club: The Next Chapter,” Diane and Mitchell are still going strong in a happy relationship and are now living together.

Vivian O’Donnell (played by Jane Fonda), the most strong-willed and assertive of the four friends, is a high-powered hotel mogul, who is admittedly commitment-phobic because she’s afraid of losing her independence. She’s never been married and has no children. The love of Vivian’s life is a now-retired music producer named Arthur (played by Don Johnson), a charismatic suitor, who proposed marriage Vivian back in the late 1970s, but she declined the offer. In “Book Club” (mild spoiler alert), Arthur came back into Vivian’s life, and they rekindled their romance, but had a few predictable obstacles along the way. In the beginning of “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” Vivian tells her three best friends that she and Arthur are now engaged to be married. The four friends decide to go to Italy for a bachelorette party for Vivian.

Sharon Meyers (played by Candice Bergen), the most sarcastic and logical of the four friends, is a retired federal judge and a divorcée. Sharon got divorced from the father of her adult son sometime around the year 2000. In the first “Book Club” movie, Sharon was bitter because her ex-husband got engaged to a much younger woman, and Sharon’s son got engaged to a woman whom Sharon had never met. But in the first “Book Club” movie, Sharon decided to get back into the dating scene, and she eventually made peace with her ex-husband, whom she had dumped because Sharon thinks he’s intellectually inferior to her. In “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” Sharon is newly retired and is the only woman of the four friends who’s not in a committed relationship and isn’t dating anyone special.

Carol Colby (played by Mary Steenburgen), the most nurturing and sensitive of the four friends, is a restaurateur who has been in a longtime marriage to her retired husband Bruce (played by Craig T. Nelson), who can be emotionally distant but who is an overall loyal spouse. Bruce and Carol have three adult children together: two daughters and a son. In the first “Book Club” movie, Carol was distressed because Bruce had lost interest in having sex with her. It should come as no surprise that this issue was resolved by the end of the film. In the beginning of “Book Club: The Next Chapter,” Carol has closed her restaurant permanently, because the COVID-19 pandemic caused irreparable financial damage to the restaurant. Now a retiree, Carol has become preoccupied with worries about Bruce’s health, ever since he had a minor heart attack.

“Book Club: The Next Chapter” has several mentions and references to the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie’s opening scene, which takes place in 2020, shows the four pals speaking together in a videoconference call during the height of the quarantine lockdowns. When they finally reunite in person about a year later, they’ve all been fully vaccinated. Carol is the one who suggests taking the trip to Italy because the four friends had planned the trip years ago but kept delaying it. Carol thinks that Vivian’s engagement is the perfect reason to finally take this trip to Italy.

Carol might have another reason to want to go to Italy. Decades ago, when she was a single woman, she had a short-lived, hot romance with an Italian man named Gianni (played by Vincent Riotta), who was an aspiring chef when Carol knew him. She’s not interested in rekindling what they had, but Carol is curious to know about what Gianni looks like now and what he’s been doing with his life. What are the odds in a romantic comedy that Carol will see Gianni again?

As for Sharon, she’s keeping her options open when it comes to love and romance. And through a series of circumstances in Italy, Sharon meets a retired professor of philosophy named Ouzmane (played by Hugh Quarshie), who is charming and intelligent. In other words, he’s Sharon’s type of man. Will they or won’t they have a love connection?

“Book Club: The Next Chapter” has the expected corniness, such as the four women making jokes when they go to museums and look at statues of naked men, or mistaking a real police officer for being a male stripper. But the movie also has some serious moments, when the four pals talk about their fears of rejection and death. A catch phrase they use when they’re about to have a candid heart-to-heart conversation is “Best friend, tough love.”

Some of the platitudes are often trite though. During one of these “real talks,” Diane somewhat lectures Carol, who has become obsessively worried about leaving her husband Bruce home alone during this trip. Carol thinks that if anything goes wrong with his health again, she should be there for Bruce. Diane tells Carol: “You’re so afraid of Bruce dying, you’re afraid of living.”

Although the movie has some unrealistic-looking comedy, the main reason to watch “Book Club: The Next Chapter” is the lively banter between all four of these characters. The chemistry between Keaton, Fonda, Bergen and Steenburgen looks authentic in their portrayal of longtime friends. The direction of the movie is solid but not outstanding.

And if anything else, viewers can at least enjoy the gorgeous scenery, as the four friends travel to picturesque cities in Italy, such as Venice and Tuscany. The last third of the film has a few twists and turns, but nothing too surprising. If the purpose of “Book Club: The Next Chapter” is to show how women over the age of 65 can have vibrant and interesting lives, despite what is often inaccurately portrayed in the media, than the movie fulfills that purpose.

Focus Features will release “Book Club: The Next Chapter” in U.S. cinemas on May 12, 2023. A sneak preview of the movie was held at select U.S. cinemas on May 7, 2023.

Review: ‘Moving On’ (2023), starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Malcolm McDowell, Sarah Burns and Richard Roundtree

March 27, 2023

by Carla Hay

Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in “Moving On” (Photo by Aaron Epstein/Roadside Attractions)

“Moving On” (2023)

Directed by Paul Weitz

Culture Representation: Taking place in California (and briefly in Ohio), the comedy/drama film “Moving On” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After their former best friend from college passes away, two elderly women decide to get deadly revenge on the friend’s widower for a despicable act that he committed 46 years ago. 

Culture Audience: “Moving On” will appeal primarily to people who are fans the movie’s stars and fairy-tale-like movies about acting on revenge fantasies.

Malcom McDowell in “Moving On” (Photo by Aaron Epstein/Roadside Attractions)

Neither terrible nor great, “Moving On” will mainly appeal to viewers who like seeing Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin work together on screen. This comedy/drama with a deadly revenge plot is really a harmless story about appreciating true friendships. It’s recommended only for people who want something to do to pass the time and aren’t expecting anything outstanding from a movie that has a talented cast and director who’ve made better films. “Moving On” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.

Written and directed by Paul Weitz, “Moving On” begins with a senior citizen named Claire (played by Fonda) leaving her home state of Ohio for a trip to California, to attend the funeral of a longtime friend named Joyce. Claire, Joyce and a woman named Evelyn (played by Tomlin) were the best of friends in college. Claire isn’t going to the funeral just to grieve. She wants to go to California to kill Joyce’s husband Howard (played by Malcolm McDowell), who has no idea that he’s the target of a murder plot.

Claire has been married and divorced twice. Her most recent divorce was 15 years ago. She has an adult daughter (from her second marriage) and two teenage grandchildren. Claire currently lives alone and has a beloved pet Corgi named Daschel. Evelyn is the only person (other than Claire) who knows why Claire would want to kill Howard.

Evelyn is a retired professional cellist who used to be part of a classical orchestra that traveled around the world. She has arthritis, bursitis and tendonitis, which obviously ended her career. Evelyn lives in a retirement building in California, not far from where Joyce and Howard live. Evelyn, who has been living openly as a lesbian for years, is grieving over the death of her wife Annette, who was also a classical musician. Annette and Evelyn met in 2006, and they were married in 2009, shortly before Annette died.

At the funeral, Claire is warmly greeted by Joyce’s adult daughter Allie (played by Sarah Burns), who lives in Pennsylvania. Also with Allie are her two daughters Devin (played by Haley Wolff) and Joycie (played by Cosette Abinante), who are about 8 to 10 years old. Allie is very kind and patient with her father Howard, who can be rude and abrupt with people. At the funeral, Claire tells Howard that she’s going to kill him, but he thinks she’s joking.

Howard gives an effusive eulogy about Joyce at her wake, but Evelyn interrupts and makes a bombshell announcement: During and after college, Evelyn and Joyce were secret lovers and were very much in love with each other. Their relationship ended though, and Joyce went on to marry Howard. Allie and Howard are shocked, in denial, and insulted that Evelyn would make this announcement during the wake. Eventually, Evelyn is asked to leave, and Claire leaves around the same time.

In the car, Claire tells Evelyn that she’s not surprised that Evelyn and Joyce were lovers because Claire always suspected it. Claire and Evelyn catch up with what’s been going on in their lives, because they haven’t seen each other in years. In this private conversation, Claire tells Evelyn that she’s going to murder Howard when she gets the chance to do so. Evelyn knows why Claire wants to kill Howard and thinks it’s bad idea, but then agrees to help Claire.

Claire hasn’t figured out how she’s going to murder Howard. And so, the movie has some frivolous and not-very-funny scenes of them trying to plan this murder. Claire and Evelyn go to a gun shop so that Claire can buy a gun. But then, they find out that Claire can’t legally buy a gun in California, because she’s not a resident of California. Claire and Evelynn also discuss other methods of murder, such as poisoning.

Someone who was at Joyce’s wake was Claire’s first ex-husband Ralph (played by Richard Roundtree), who lives in California, and who is happy to see Claire after years of not being in contact with her. Howard invited Ralph to the wake, because Ralph knew Joyce when Ralph was married to Claire. Ralph’s second wife Zora died four years ago.

And it isn’t long before Ralph makes it known that he’s interested in seeing Claire again, even though he knows that she lives in Ohio. Before you know it, Ralph has invited Claire over to his house for dinner. Also at the dinner are Ralph’s daughter Joie (played by Amber Chardae Robinson) and Joie’s two sons (played Jeremiah King and Isai Devine), who are about 9 to 11 years old.

“Moving On” sort of wanders and drags out the murder plot in ways that get a little tiresome. Claire and Evelyn fumble and bungle their attempts to decide how to murder Howard. And they find the weapon they are going to use from an unlikely source.

Evelyn has become acquainted with a boy of about 8 to 9 years old named James (played by Marcel Nahapetian), whose grandfather Walt (played by Vachik Mangassarian) is an ailing resident living in the same apartment building as Evelyn. James and his parents (played by Eddie Martinez and Santina Muha) visit Walt on a semi-regular basis. And one day, James mentions to Evelyn that his grandfather Walt has a gun.

James mentions it when he tells Evelyn that James’ father wants to teach James how to use a gun to go hunting. James would rather wear dresses and jewelry, and play “dress up” in mock fashion shows with Evelyn, who encourages James to be himself and pursue these passions. However, it’s obvious (without it being said out loud) that James’ parents wouldn’t approve of James’ fashion interests. Evelyn knows that she and James have to keep these types of activities a secret because of homophobia.

“Moving On” has these moments of kindness and compassion, but there are also some mean-spirited slapstick comedy moments that aren’t uproariously funny, but they’re capably acted by the cast members who are in these scenes. Viewers find out that what Howard did to Claire was so damaging, she kept it a secret from Ralph, and it ended up ruining Claire and Ralph’s marriage. Even before the secret is fully revealed, it’s easy to figure out what the secret is, because the clues are so obvious.

“Moving On” makes Howard into a caricature-like villain, which is kind of a mistake and the easiest way to depict this character. What would have been more interesting is to have Howard be very skilled at hiding his despicable side. It would also explain why he got away with what he did to Claire and why she kept it a secret: She was afraid that no one would believe her. She also didn’t want to hurt Joyce by telling Joyce the awful truth about Howard.

People should not expect “Moving On” to be a completely lighthearted film. There are some heavy and dark issues in the movie. And not all of them are handled in the best way. However, the movie keeps things interesting enough for viewers who want to find out what will happen next. There’s a fable-like quality to “Moving On” that isn’t preachy, but it shows that getting deadly revenge for a grudge can be more toxic than what caused the grudge.

Roadside Attractions released “Moving On” in U.S. cinemas on March 17, 2023.

Review: ’80 for Brady,’ starring Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, Sally Field and Tom Brady

January 28, 2023

by Carla Hay

Rita Moreno, Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Sally Field in “80 for Brady” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

“80 for Brady”

Directed by Kyle Marvin

Culture Representation: Taking place in Boston and in Houston, in 2017 and briefly in 2020, the comedy film “80 for Brady” (inspired by a true story) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Four elderly women best friends, who superfans of football star Tom Brady, win a contest to go to Super Bowl LI, and experience various hijinks before and after they lose their Super Bowl tickets. 

Culture Audience: “80 for Brady” will appeal primarily to people who are fans the movie’s stars, American football and movies about senior citizens who have a zest for life.

Lily Tomlin and Tom Brady in “80 for Brady” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)

As lightweight as a styrofoam football, “80 for Brady” is a transparently old-fashioned comedy about four female fans of Tom Brady who go on a Super Bowl adventure. The cast members’ chemistry is the main reason to watch, because the jokes are hit and miss. This is the type of movie where you know even before it starts how it’s going to end, but it’s still a breezy and inoffensive ride that should bring some mild grins even to the most cynical viewers.

Directed by Kyle Marvin, “80 for Brady” is inspired by a true story and has a trailer where about 80% of the plot is revealed. Even without seeing the trailer or knowing anything about “80 to Brady” before seeing the film, viewers will know about 15 minutes into the movie what to expect. The “80 for Brady” screenplay by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins has many hokey sitcom-ish elements that could have been a lot more cringeworthy if not for the immense talents of the four principal actresses at the center of the story. It also helps that all four actresses are entirely believable in their “80 for Brady” roles as longtime best friends.

Lily Tomlin portrays Louella, nicknamed Lou, the group’s most enthusiastic risk-taker. Jane Fonda is Patricia, nicknamed Trish, who is a flirtatious and fun-loving divorcée. Rita Moreno has the role of sassy widow Maura Martinez, whose husband Francisco died the previous year. Sally Field depicts sensible and socially inhibited Elizabeth “Betty” Bachman, a retired Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor of applied mathematics. Betty is the only one in this group of four who is married; she’s been married to her husband Mark (played by Bob Balaban) for 51 years. All four of these female friends are in their 80s, except for Betty, who is 75.

The story of “80 for Brady” begins in Boston in 2017, when these four New England Patriots superfans look forward to watching Super Bowl LI, where the New England Patriots will be playing against the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium in Houston. Fans of American football already know that Super Bowl LI had one of the most stunning victories in Super Bowl in history, so it’s no surprise that it would eventually be recreated in a scripted film. The four Patriot superfans in “80 for Brady” would love to go to the Super Bowl in person, but they can’t afford the trip and the price of the Super Bowl tickets.

As explained early on in the movie, these four best friends are particularly fond of quarterback Tom Brady. They’ve adored him, ever since 2001, his first year with the New England Patriots. However, Trish also has a big crush for Rob Gronkowski, who was the tight end for the New England Patriots at the time.

Trish has such lustful admiration of Gronkowski, she’s turned her steamy fan fiction about him into bestselling romance novels. Trish has the author pseudonym Virginia Le Doux, the name of a poodle that Trish used to own. Her current book is called “Between a Gronk and a Hard Place.” Gronkowski makes a cameo in “80 for Brady,” as already shown in the movie’s trailer. Other former National Football League (NFL) stars who make cameos in “80 for Brady” are Marshawn Lynch, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman.

Lou, Trish, Maura and Betty are avid viewers of a TV show for New England Patriots fans called “Pats Nation,” hosted by two guys named Nat (played by Alex Moffat) and Pat (played by Rob Corddry), who announce that the show is giving away free tickets to Super Bowl LI. The winner will be whoever “Pats Nation” thinks has the best story for why that person deserves to go to Super Bowl LI. Only one entry per person is allowed. And so begins a not-very-funny stretch of the movie where Lou, Trish, Maura and Betty all come up with different ways to make their statements for the contest.

This part of the movie looks very outdated, because people enter the contest by calling a hotline phone number and saying why they deserve to go to the Super Bowl. Haven’t these people ever heard of online technology? Maura, who lives at a group home called Calm Gardens Retirement Resort, gets some of the residents to help her with this contest by making phone calls on her behalf, by using their own names and promising they will give her the tickets if they win. One of these residents is Mickey (played by Glynn Turman), who is obviously attracted to Maura, but she’s still grieving over her husband and doesn’t seem ready to be in another romantic relationship for now.

Because viewers already know that these four friends are going to the Super Bowl, it’s only a matter of time before it’s revealed that Lou won the contest by making a heartfelt statement about how she, as a recovering cancer patient, and her three best friends became fans of Brady and the New England Patriots. “80 for Brady” has all sorts of contrived slapstick comedy to make this Super Bowl trip wacky and challenging. Accidents, misunderstandings and physical mishaps are all part of the predictable antics.

The hijinks start before they even get on the airport. Maura has taken some sleeping pills and can’t wake up when Lou, Trish and Betty arrive to pick up Maura and go to the airport. Calm Gardens Retirement Resort has a policy not to wake up sleeping residents. A well-meaning employee named Tony (played by Jimmy O. Yang) is determined to enforce this policy and won’t let Lou, Trish and Betty visit Maura.

Trish puts on a flowing blonde wig and a star-spangled, tight outfit, as if she Boston’s version of Dolly Parton. Trish then flirts wth Tony as a distraction, while Lou and Betty sneak into Maura’s room and try to wake up Maura. They eventually “smuggle” a passed-out Maura in a wheelchair, but not before Tony sees them and tries to stop them. Mickey helps by announcing on the P.A. system that “Wheel of Fortune” host Pat Sajak is in the building. Several curious residents gather in the hallway and block Tony’s path, so Maura and her pals are able to get away and go to the airport. Yes, it’s that kind of movie.

The “80 for Brady” trailer already shows many of the four pals’ other experiences after they get to Houston. Betty enters a contest called Spicy BBQ Hot Wings Challenge, hosted by Guy Fieri, who portrays himself in the movie. Trish meets a handsome ex-NFL player named Daniel “Dan” Callahan (played by Harry Hamlin), who has two Super Bowl rings from two different teams. You know exactly where the storyline is going to go for Trish and Dan.

At a pre-Super Bowl party, the shenanigans continue. Maura, Betty and Lou are unknowingly given gummy bears laced with an unnamed drug, which results in Maura hallucinating that everyone she sees looks like Guy Fieri. Maura ends up playing poker with some strangers, including comedians Patton Oswalt (as a character named Brisket) and Retta, portraying herself. She becomes fast friends with one of the poker players named Gugu (played by Billy Porter), who happens to be the leader of a group of dancers performing at the Super Bowl.

Betty is considered the most “responsible” on in the group, so she’s put in charge of keeping the Super Bowl tickets safe. As soon as she’s given that responsibility, you just know something is going to happen to the Super Bowl tickets. Ron Funches has a generic supporting role as a stadium security staffer named Chip, who becomes an obstacle for the ladies when they try to go into the stadium without their tickets.

Whenever there’s a comedy about best friends who are senior citizens, there always running gags that essentially seem to be saying, “Look: These old people are a lot stronger, smarter, and livelier than people think. Don’t underestimate them.” When it comes to that formula, “80 for Brady” follows it to the hilt.

Fonda and Tomlin have worked together on the Netflix’s 2015 to 2022 comedy series “Grace and Frankie” (and previously on the Oscar-nominated 1980 comedy film “9 to 5”), so they have an easy camaraderie with each other on screen. Moreno has some of the best comedic scenes in the movie, particularly in the party scene where she’s hallucinating. Field handles her role quite well, considering that Betty goes through the expected transformation from being the “uptight friend” to someone who learns how to loosen up more. The supporting characters in “80 for Brady” aren’t developed enough to really make a big impression, since the cast members in these roles have played versions of these types of characters in other movies.

These types of senior-citizen comedies usually have a cliché about one of the friends having a health/medical condition but hasn’t told the other friends about it. There’s no subtlety about it in “80 for Brady,” which has multiple scenes of Lou’s worried daughter Sara (played by Sara Gilbert) begging Lou to call Lou’s doctor, who reached out to Sara (Lou’s emergency contact) because Lou wasn’t returning the doctor’s messages. Considering that the movie announces early on that Lou is a recovering cancer patient, there really is no mystery about why her doctor might be calling.

Aside from this health issue, “80 for Brady” keeps the tone very jovial, even when the pals get into uncomfortable predicaments. Some of the comedy is downright silly, such as an early scene where Lou imagines that a bobblehead toy of Brady tells her, “Let’s go,” when she says out loud that she’s thinking about entering the contest to win the Super Bowl tickets. The movie has an abundance of people gushing about Brady, as if he’s the greatest American football player who could ever exist.

Why is there all this the over-the-top fan worship of Brady in this movie? Brady is one of the movie’s producers. He also has a small supporting role in “80 for Brady,” although many of his scenes are on the football field. Is this movie a vanity project for Brady? Yes and no. You can’t go 15 minutes without hearing Brady’s name in this movie, but he wisely chose not to appear as a leading star of the film.

Most famous athletes finance movies so that the athletes can launch acting careers too, but they usually end up embarrassing themselves with terrible acting. Brady does a fairly competent job as an actor, but he’s clearly not a natural when it comes to acting skills. He plays a slightly goofier version of himself who doesn’t take his sex symbol status seriously, but the movie definitely takes his celebrity status a little too seriously.

And speaking of not taking anything too seriously, viewers should not take “80 for Brady” that seriously at all. It’s a fantasy version of what a Super Bowl experience would look like if four superfans won Super Bowl tickets and had things go wrong and things go right in some extreme ways. Simply put: “80 for Brady” fulfills its intention to be harmless entertainment that isn’t masterful comedy but can be a satisfactory amusing diversion.

Paramount Pictures will release “80 for Brady” in U.S. cinemas on February 3, 2023. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on March 7, 2023. “80 for Brady” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on May 2, 2023.

Review: ‘9to5: The Story of a Movement,’ starring Karen Nussbaum, Ellen Cassedy, Verna Barksdale, Mary Jung, Jane Fonda, Renia Clay and Carol Sims

February 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

9to5 Cleveland activists, including Verna Barksdale (front row, third from left) and Mary Jung (front row, second from right)  in “9to5: The Story of a Movement” (Photo by Steve Cagan)

“9to5: The Story of a Movement”

Directed by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar

Culture Representation: The documentary “9to5: The Story of a Movement” features a predominantly white group (with some African Americans and a few Asians and Hispanics) of American women who were involved in the late 20th century activist movement advocating for gender and racial equality in the workplace.

Culture Clash: The activists got a lot of resistance from people who wanted the U.S. workforce to remain stuck in a culture that automatically gave the highest positions and preferential treatment to white men.

Culture Audience: “9to5: The Story of a Movement” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in feminism and historical, first-person accounts of civil rights activism in the United States.

Karen Nussbaum in “9to5: The Story of a Movement” (Photo courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and UrbanAffairs, Wayne State University)

The documentary “9to5: The Story of a Movement” shines a deserving spotlight on the activists who fought for gender equality in the U.S. workforce, beginning in the early 1970s. The mostly female group of advocates for these changes helped shape government polices and significantly altered the ways that employers were legally obligated to treat employees. There’s still a lot of progress to be made in the workforce when it comes to gender and racial equality, but the documentary gives an excellent overview of how the 9to5 movement made an essential and outstanding impact on society that can still be felt today.

Julie Reichert and Steven Bognar, the Oscar-winning directors of the 2019 documentary “American Factory,” helmed “9to5: The Story of a Movement,” which is another of their numerous documentaries that tackle workplace issues. Because “9to5” is a chronicle of events that happened in the past, it has an “oral history” format that mixes archival footage with exclusive documentary footage. In this documentary, it just so happens that everyone interviewed for the movie is a woman.

Reichert comments in the “9to5” production notes about the documentary having a female-only group of interviewees: “It felt so right. It was a movement of women, who were mostly brought up to see themselves as second-class, never as leaders, and who carried sexist baggage around in their heads. They persisted in figuring things out on their own, in creating and growing a real movement. There were some men involved, a few male clericals, and we met a handful of male activists too, but the movement was woman-led.”

The documentary, which has a lively conversational tone, opens with a montage of several of the women who were part of this movement talking about their own experiences in dead-end office jobs and/or being sexually harassed at work. Many of the women interviewed say that the main problem for employees, especially female employees, at the time was that “there was nowhere to go” to do something about discrimination and harassment. Some of the interviewees mention that they grew up in households where they were taught that women should not expect to have high career achievements in the way that men were expected to have. Other women describe growing up in progressive activist households that believed in civil rights for all.

Although the word “feminism” automatically conjures up images of politically liberal women, the documentary points out that women from all walks of life and various political persuasions supported the activism of the 9to5 movement. It’s just that a lot of them were a “silent majority” who weren’t out there participating in protests or marches. And in the end, the progress made by the movement improved working conditions and benefited many people, regardless of their personal politics.

The activist group 9to5 was founded in 1973 and gradually became the flashpoint for a lot of boycotts and protests that led to impactful policy changes for business and for government. The group also endured a lot of setbacks, obstacles and backlash from people who had a vested interest in having companies get away with discriminatory practices. Many of these practices—such as sexual harassment, discriminating against pregnant women, and denying job opportunities based on gender—are now illegal. It doesn’t mean that these bigoted practices have gone away, but employers can now be held liable for them.

9to5 co-founders Karen Nussbaum and Ellen Cassedy met as college students at the University of Chicago in the late 1960s. Nussbaum says she came from a family of anti-Vietnam War protestors. In a sense, she was born to be an activist. “My family was concerned about social justice,” Nussbaum comments in the documentary. “I learned there was strength in numbers.” Eventually, Nussbaum dropped out of college to focus on full-time political activism.

Cassedy also came from a family of civil rights activists. She remembers that her parents would show her what segregated neighborhoods looked like and would take her to civil rights marches and protests. And she remembers that the first time she meet Nussbaum, she was thought Nussbaum was “a little scary” because of Nussbaum’s militant way of looking at activism.

Nussbaum and Cassedy eventually moved to Boston, where they started a 9to5 newsletter in 1972, to focus on women’s issues in the workplace. Cassedy remembers the first newsletter, which was dated December 1972/January 1973, had more of a “let’s share a cup of coffee” tone than “women of the world unite” tone. Nussbaum says that her favorite letter from a newsletter reader had this comment that summed up the frustration of how women were usually treated on the job: “We are referred to as ‘girls’ until the day we retire without pension.”

As women began to share their workplace horror stories and hopes for ways that their work life could improve, it became obvious there was a huge need for women to band together to make changes in the workplace. And so, the 9to5 activist group was formed in a modest office space in Boston. Cassedy went to Midwest Academy to get business training on how to lead an activist group. Eventually, 9to5 expanded to more branches in other cities, until 9to5 was a group that spanned across the United States.

Dr. Lane Windham, a historian of American labor, provides historical context in the documentary and mentions that the 9to5 movement coincided with the massive surge of women entering the U.S. workforce in the 1970s. Most of the women’s work was clerical, but the sheer numbers of women in the workforce were larger than it had ever been before in U.S. history. These numbers could not be ignored, especially when 9to5 organized boycotts and employee walkouts to show the mostly male bosses that they shouldn’t take their underpaid employees for granted.

Of course, the movement didn’t come without a lot of resistance from people who hated the idea of women being treated equally and fairly on the job. Cassedy remembers after 9to5 held its first meeting with a male human-resources executive, he promised to make changes, but nothing happened. The activists soon learned how to turn performative talk into real action.

The documentary includes archival footage of how 9to5 would single out the worst bosses and employers in America and shame them in the media with protests outside their offices until policies were made at these companies to give gender equality on the job and put anti-discrimination rules in place. For example, 9to5 revealed to the media how the secretive Boston Survey Group engaged in the illegal practice of setting industry wages by gender. The subsequent media coverage and 9to5 protests forced the Boston Survey Group to be more transparent about its members and policies. Employers who were accustomed to discriminating against women were now being exposed and being held accountable.

In addition, 9to5 was instrumental in providing assistance to women and other employees experiencing discrimination, by referring them to legal aid that they could get for their cases. The 9to5 movement was also the first to establish the Office Workers Bill of Rights, which was used as a template for subsequent anti-discrimination legislation for employees. In 1983, 9to5 consolidated all of the local chapters of Working Women groups into its umbrella organization with the official title 9to5, National Association of Working Women.

All of this amazing work was the inspiration for the 1980 comedy film “9 to 5,” starring Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin, as three long-suffering administrative assistants who get revenge on their sexist and mean-spirited boss, played by Dabney Coleman. The filmmakers of the movie used real-life stories as the basis for many of the scenarios in the movie. Several people in the documentary comment that making the “9 to 5” feature film a comedy about serious issues made it easier for people to watch, but it also made people aware of how sexism in the workplace is ridiculous and that people don’t have to put up with it.

Fonda says in the documentary that when she became aware of the 9to5 movement and saw the tremendous response that the movement was getting, she thought, “I should make a movie about this!” Fonda and some of the other “9 to 5” filmmakers (such as director/co-screenwriter Colin Higgins, co-screenwriter Patricia Resnick and producer Bruce Gilbert) relied on the stories of real-life female workers to bring authenticity to the film. Fonda comments that the real-life working women, when asked if they ever had fantasies of killing their bosses, all replied “yes.” It’s the inspiration for the “revenge fantasy” sequence in the “9 to 5” comedy.

All jokes aside, Fonda has this to say about her experience making “9 to 5,” which was a big hit at the box office: “The entire time we were working on the movie, I could carry in my heart that it was married to a movement.” Fonda also remembers the first time that she heard Parton sing the “9 to 5” theme song, Fonda saw the hairs stand up on Tomlin’s arm, and Fonda says she knew instantly that the song would be an anthem for the 9to5 movement. Parton’s “9 to 5” song was also a chart-topping hit and earned an Oscar nomination and two Grammy nominations.

The documentary doesn’t gloss over some of the serious problems in the 9to5 organization, both internally and externally. Externally, the group hit several roadblocks when it renamed itself 925, relocated its headquarters in Cincinnati, and decided to form a union. The group chose Service Employees International Union (SEIU) as its labor union representative, because SEIU did something extraordinary at the time: It gave 9to5 control over its own budget. However, many of the people who supported the activism were afraid to join unions, in large part because they feared being fired by companies that intimidated employees into not to joining unions.

Internally, even among this group of civil rights activists, were some who were racist and disliked the idea of giving leadership positions to non-white women. Carol Sims of the Cleveland chapter remembers the resistance she got from 9to5’s nearly all-white campus in the Western part of Cleveland, where Sims (who’s African American) was chosen to organize and lead the group. “They said everything but ‘I want a white organizer.’ You could feel it in the room. They were tough,” Sims comments.

The other women of color interviewed in the documentary are Jackie Harris and Mary Jung of 9to5’s Cleveland chapter; Rosie Aguirre, a member of 925 Seattle; and Verna Barksdale, the first organizer of 9to5’s Seattle chapter. Jung, who is Chinese American, says that even in her own family, she got disapproval for her activism. Jung says that her mother was opposed to any lifestyle where she wasn’t a subservient wife and mother. However, Jung says she always had a rebellious streak and was surprised to find out after her mother died that her mother had kept newspaper clippings of all of Jung’s civil rights activism.

Several of the white leaders of 9to5 acknowledge in the documentary that their group wasn’t immune to racism from some of its members. But ultimately, that racism did not prevent women of color from having leadership positions in the group. Renia Clay, an activist from 9to5’s Atlanta chapter, says of the group’s racial integration and diversity: “I credit Verna Barksdale. She would always pair a black person with a white person, an older person with a younger person.”

Other activists who are interviewed in the documentary include 925 organizers Anne Hill, Cheryl Schaeffer and Adair Dammann; former Cincinnati clerical workers Donna Samuels, Inge Goldschmidt and Carolyn Schwier; and Kim Cook and Laurie Brown, who were 9to5 organizers in Seattle. What should be inspiring to anyone watching this documentary is that the people who began this movement and sustained it weren’t elite lawyers or career politicians but were mostly everyday working people who decided to take action.

“9to5: The Story of a Movement” is a well-told inside account of this important part of U.S. civil rights history. The film’s editing ties everything together in a cohesive manner and brings the movement into activism perspectives of today and beyond. The filmmakers chose their interviewees well. The women in the documentary bring a sense of humor to parts of the film, which is why “9to5” doesn’t have the type of egocentric posturing that can make historical documentaries too pompous and dull. This movie should be watched by anyone who cares about civil rights, as well as people who think that they don’t care about these important issues.

PBS’s “Independent Lens” series premiered “9to5: The Story of a Movement” on February 1, 2021.

Peter Fonda dead at 79; ‘Easy Rider’ star was son of Henry Fonda, brother of Jane Fonda

August 16, 2019

by Lauren Jones

Peter Fonda, an actor whose counterculture image was cemented in his 1969 breakout movie “Easy Rider,” died of complications from lung cancer at his Los Angeles home. He was 79. Peter Fonda was the son of legendary Oscar-winning actor Peter Fonda and the sister of Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda.

According to the Associated Press, Jane Fonda issued this statement: “I am very sad,” Jane Fonda said in a statement. “He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family. I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days. He went out laughing.”

The Fonda family also issued this group statement: “In one of the saddest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our hearts. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy.”

Peter Fonda, who was one of the producers and screenwriters of “Easy Rider,” received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the screenplay. In the movie, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper (who directed the film) play two biker hippies. Peter Fonda also received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, his role as a beekeeper in the 1997 “Ulee’s Giold.” He had numerous roles in film and television. His other notable movies included the 199’s “The Limey”; the 2007 Western remake of  “3:10 to Yuma”; and the 2007 action film “Ghost Rider.”

In the last few years of his life, Peter Fonda (an unabashed liberal) was very critical of President Donald Trump and the Trump administration. In June 2018, Peter Fonda made several controversial anti-Trump remarks on Twitter. The most controversial was when Peter Fonda tweeted, in reaction to the Trump administration’s policy to separate families entering the U.S. illegally: “We should rip Barron Trump from the arms of First Lady Melania Trump and put him in a cage with pedophiles.” Peter Fonda later made a public apology for that tweet.

The controversy happened around the time that Fonda’s movie “Boundaries” (in which he had a cameo) was due to arrive in theaters. Some Trump supporters tried to pursuade Sony Pictures Classics from canceling the movie’s release, but those attempts were unsuccessful. (Click here to read Culture Mix’s interview with the stars of “Boundaries.” The interview took place before the controversy.)

Peter Fonda is survived by his third wife, Margaret DeVogelaere, and his two children: actress daughter Bridget; and son Justin, both from Peter Fonda’s first marriage to Susan Brewer. Peter Fonda’s last two movies are the war drama “The Last Full Measure” (due out in limited release on October 25, 2019) and the drama “The Magic Hours,” whose release date is to be announced.


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