Review: ‘All That We Love,’ starring Margaret Cho, Kenneth Choi, Alice Lee, Atsuko Okatsuka, Devon Bostick, Missi Pyle and Jesse Tyler Ferguson

June 17, 2024

by Carla Hay

Margaret Cho in “All That We Love” (Photo courtesy of Ley Line Entertainment and Ten Acre Films)

“All That We Love”

Directed by Yen Tan

Culture Representation: Taking place in Austin, Texas, the comedy/drama film “All That We Love” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Asian, white and a few Latin people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged divorcée copes with the death of her beloved dog and other changes in her personal life, such as her ex-husband moving back to the same city, and their adult daughter moving to Australia. 

Culture Audience: “All That We Love” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and realistic stories about divorced parents of adult children.

“All That We Love” is a smart and mature comedy/drama about the changes that adults go through in personal relationships, from the perspective of a neurotic, divorced mother. Margaret Cho gives a credible and impressive performance. People who are familiar with Cho as only being a comedian will be pleasantly surprised at how good her dramatic talent is too, as demonstrated in this low-key but emotionally honest movie. “All That We Love” had its world premiere at the 2024 Tribeca Festival.

Directed by Yen Tan (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Clay Liford), “All That We Love” takes place in a city that is not named, but the movie was filmed in Austin, Texas, and includes some familiar Austin landmarks. In the beginning of the movie, divorcée Emma (played by Cho) is feeling down because her beloved dog Tanner (a brown Collie) has died from cancer. Emma chose to have Tanner cremated. She plans to spread his ashes but hasn’t yet decided where.

Tanner was more than just a dog to Emma, who lives alone. She says multiple times in the movie that Tanner was her main source of comfort and “the love of my life.” There will be more upheavals in Emma’s life during the course of the story. These changes get different reactions from Emma and the people who are close to her. A great deal of the movie is how people deal with unexpected turns in their lives and how much of the past should influence their decisions about relationships.

The two most important people in Emma’s life are her impulsive daughter Maggie (played by Alice Lee), who’s in her early 20s, and Emma’s gay best friend Stan (played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who is getting back into the dating scene after a long period of mourning over the death of his longtime boyfriend Craig. Craig’s cause of death is not mentioned in the movie, but it’s mentioned that Stan and Craig were a couple for more than 15 years. Stan is a somewhat stereotypical gay best friend who makes sassy and sarcastic comments. Emma resists Stan’s efforts to play matchmaker for her.

Emma and Maggie are very close, almost like sisters. It’s revealed later in the movie that Emma and Maggie have bonded over their shared trauma of bad times with Emma’s ex-husband Andy (played by Kenneth Choi), who is Maggie’s father. Andy, who is an actor, is described as an alcoholic and a selfish deadbeat dad, who abandoned Emma and Maggie to be with another woman, whom he eventually married after Andy and Emma got divorced. Andy moved to Singapore and hasn’t been in contact with Emma and Maggie for an untold number of years.

Lately, Emma has started to feel like Maggie’s life is going in a direction that’s different from what Emma wants or expects. Maggie is in a serious relationship with her boyfriend Nate (played by Devon Bostick), who is originally from Melbourne, Australia, where his parents and other family members live. Emma doesn’t dislike Nate (who is easygoing and a little goofy), but she doesn’t entirely approve of the relationship either. Emma hasn’t taken the time to get to know Nate, so she’s somewhat suspicious of him.

Emma works at an unnamed company that publishes catalogues. The company has recently been been acquired by a large corporate firm. This merger resulted in layoffs and a more formal work culture that is causing many longtime employees to feel uncomfortable and insecure about their jobs. They don’t think this company is as fun and relaxed as it used to be before the merger. If Emma is feeling afraid she might be laid off, she’s not showing it, and there are no indications that she’s looking for another job.

Emma supervises a team of people whose job is to come up with the designs and words for the catalogues. Even though Emma can be very insecure in her personal life, she’s a demanding and assertive boss at work. For example, she’s shown in a staff meeting getting annoyed and fixated on how an unseen employee named Brian, who is fairly inexperienced, has made a lot of errors in a draft of a catalogue. Later, Emma is stung by a comment from a subordinate, who says that Emma seems to have a more rigid attitude ever since the merger, and Emma is not as friendly and approachable on the job as she used to be.

Stan is a real-estate agent who is contemplating entering into a “throuple” relationship with a gay couple named Julio (played by Joe Souza) and Bob (played by Marcus DeAnda), who recently bought a house from one of Stan’s clients. Julio and Bob have been heavily flirting with Stan, who doesn’t really know how to handle this attention from the couple. Stan also hints that he’s never dated a couple before. Stan is also exploring his options through online dating and asks for Emma’s help in taking a profile photo that Stan hopes will make him look sexy and attractive.

Meanwhile, Emma’s personal life gets turned upside down with news that happens within a day or two of each other. First, Maggie tells Emma that Maggie plans to spend more than just a few weeks with Nate when they visit his family in Australia for an upcoming trip. Maggie has decided that she will be spending five months in Australia and is quitting her job instead of taking a leave of absence. (The movie doesn’t say what kind of job Maggie has.) Emma thinks that Maggie is making the wrong decision about leaving a job for a temporary visit to another country. What really bothers Emma more (but she doesn’t say it out loud) is that she’s afraid that Maggie is starting to see Nate as more important to Maggie than Emma.

Not long afterward, Emma gets even more surprising news: Her ex-husband Andy has moved back to town. Andy surprises Emma with a visit and tells her that his career in Singapore (where he was the star of a successful TV series) got ruined because he was arrested for drunk driving, which was a big scandal. His most recent marriage also fell apart, and he’s now divorced again. He’s also financially broke. Andy is sheepish about these recent failures in his life, but he’s not looking for Emma’s pity or help.

Andy tells Emma that he has now permanently moved to the United States, where he hopes to revive his acting career. In the meantime, he’s working as a barista in a cafe, because he can’t find any jobs as an actor, although he’s hoping an offer that he got to be in a frequently delayed movie will work out for him. Andy is so broke, he can’t afford his own place. Andy has to live with his younger bachelorette sister Raven (played by Atsuko Okatsuka), a YouTuber whose channel is about doing food-related stunts for comedy. Raven has more than 1 million subscribers and makes a full-time income from what she does on YouTube.

Andy seems to be remorseful for how badly he treated Emma and Maggie in the past. He claims that he is now clean and sober and plans to stay that way. Emma is very skeptical at first, but the more time she spends with Andy, the more she is surprised by how different he seems from when they were married. He’s kind, polite and he makes her laugh. Some of their romantic sparks come back. Can this lead to a rekindled romance?

However, things are complicated because Andy wants to make peace with Maggie, who is still deeply hurt and resentful of the neglectful father she used to know. Emma doesn’t quite know when or how to tell Maggie about Andy moving back to same area. And then there’s Stan, who really disapproves of Emma giving Andy another chance because Stan thinks Andy will hurt Emma again.

“All That We Love” has obvious themes of when or if to let go of emotional baggage and whether or not to forgive someone who has been hurtful in the past. There are also some parallels about altered dynamics in close relationships. At various points in the story, Maggie and Emma want to be free to make certain life decisions without the harsh judgments of loved ones who are close to them.

The movie has a somewhat cutesy subplot involving one of Emma’s subordinates named Kayla (played by Missi Pyle), a devout Christian. In one of the movie’s early scenes, Kayla tells Emma that she wants to take an early buyout from the company instead of waiting to be laid off because Kayla wants to spend time doing her “true calling” of church work. Kayla also volunteers as a foster caregiver for dogs. You can easily predict where this subplot will go as soon as Emma visits Kayla at Kayla’s home.

All of the cast members give very good performances, but the movie’s authenticity rests largely on Cho’s nuanced performance as someone who’s feeling the discomfort of unpredictable life events while going through a grieving process. “All That We Love” excels in depicting complicated emotions and situations that arise when formerly feuding divorced parents reach a tentative reconciliation after years of anger and resentment. What does this do to the rest of the affected family members, who might not be ready to forgive and let go of the past?

A few moments in “All That We Love” veer into sitcom territory, particularly in a scene where Emma is asked to leave a house party, and she urinates in the lawn bushes because she doesn’t want to ask the party host to let her back in the house to use the bathroom. However, this well-written and capably directed film shows an overall wisdom of life’s messiness and how people can arrive at different conclusions based on how they deal with the past and the present. In its own observational way, “All That We Love” is a poignant testament of how letting go of previous experiences and facing an uncertain future can be much harder than holding on to the past.

Review: ‘Cocaine Bear,’ starring Keri Russell, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Alden Ehrenreich, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Margo Martindale, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ray Liotta

February 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Keri Russell in “Cocaine Bear” (Photo by Pat Redmond/Universal Pictures)

“Cocaine Bear”

Directed by Elizabeth Banks

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1985, in Georgia (and briefly in Tennessee and in Missouri), the comedic action film “Cocaine Bear” (based loosely on a true story) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class, working-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: After a drug smuggler dies while parachuting from a plane with large quantities of cocaine, a black bear in a forest area goes on a rampage after ingesting a lot of the cocaine.

Culture Audience: “Cocaine Bear” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching dark and violent action comedies that are intentionally absurdist.

O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ayoola Smart, Alden Ehrenreich and Ray Liotta in “Cocaine Bear” (Photo by Pat Redmond/Universal Pictures)

Just like the bear that’s on a cocaine-fueled rampage, the erratic and unpredictable “Cocaine Bear” aims to shake up people’s sensibilities. It’s a wild and uneven ride, where the movie’s surreal comedy works well, more often than not. If you’re easily offended by the thought of children and animals ingesting cocaine, then it’s best to avoid watching “Cocaine Bear.” If you’re open to watching an adult-oriented comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then “Cocaine Bear” might be enjoyable, in a way that’s similar to how people enjoy going on amusement park rides that bring some terror to the entertainment.

Directed by Elizabeth Banks and written by Jimmy Warden, “Cocaine Bear” (which takes place in 1985) is very loosely based on true events. The majority of the movie is fiction. The basic facts that the movie keeps true are that a drug smuggler in his early 40s named Andrew Thornton II (played by Matthew Rhys), who used to be a narcotics police officer in Kentucky, died in Knoxville, Tennessee, after he jumped out of a small private plane with 70 to 75 pounds (or 31 to 34 kilograms) of cocaine, and his parachute malfunctioned. (It’s the opening scene of “Cocaine Bear.”)

Before jumping out of the plane, he had dumped duffel bags filled with several bricks of cocaine in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest in Georgia. The most common theory is that Thornton had brought too much cocaine on the plane and unloaded some of his stash in the forest, with a plan to go back later and get the cocaine. However, in real life, a black bear got to the cocaine first and was found dead of an overdose. In the movie, the bear doesn’t die of an overdose but instead goes on a killing spree where humans are the main targets. All of the characters in “Cocaine Bear” except Thornton are fabricated for the movie. The “cocaine” seen in the movie is actually sugar or artificial sweetener.

An introduction statement in the movie explains that black bears usually don’t attack people unless it’s for reasons related to food, self-defense or invasion of a bear’s territory. “Cocaine Bear” doesn’t waste much time before the mayhem starts. At Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest, two German-speaking tourists named Elsa (played by Hannah Hoekstra) and Olaf (played by Kristofer Hivju), who also goes by the name Kristoffer, are hiking and taking photos. They see a bear acting strangely, such as dry-humping a tree.

Elsa and Olaf/Kristoffer are intrigued and want to take photos of this bear, although he is more hesitant because he heard that black bears can be deadly. According to the “Cocaine Bear” production notes, the movie’s coke-fueled bear (which the cast and crew nicknamed Cokey) is actually a combination of visual effects and motion caption imagery with stunt performer Allan Henry. In the movie, tourists Elsa and Olaf/Kristoffer are the first people who have a very unlucky encounter with the bear. Only one of these tourists makes it out alive.

The first 20 minutes of “Cocaine Bear” jump around a lot from scene to scene, by quickly showing the other characters in the movie who will encounter the bear. In St. Louis, Missouri, an international drug smuggler named Syd (played by Ray Liotta) was responsible for getting the cocaine shipment that Thornton was supposed to deliver. In real life, the deceased Thornton was found with cocaine that was worth $15 million at the time. In the movie, it’s mentioned that the missing cocaine in the forest is worth about $7 million.

Syd comically has his headquartes at Four Pines Mall, where he likes to hang out with his small crew at O’Shaughnessy’s Burger Time restaurant. Syd’s two main henchmen are his son Eddie (played by Alden Ehrenreich) and Eddie’s best friend Daveed (played by O’Shea Jackson Jr.), who is the more risk-taking and tougher of the two pals. Thornton’s death has made the national news. Syd knows that he’ll be held responsible for any of the cocaine that’s still missing—and he’ll do whatever it takes to find this stash. Somehow, Syd knows that Thornton had dumped the rest of the stash in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest.

Eddie is first seen literally crying over his drinks in a dive bar in St. Louis, because he’s grieving over the death of a friend/colleague named John. Eddie is babbling about how the person conducting the funeral service mistakenly called John the name Joan. It’s a rambling scene that didn’t really need to be in the movie, especially since Ehrenreich over-acts in this scene. Daveed comforts Eddie, but they won’t have much time to drown any more of their sorrows in a St. Louis bar, because Syd has ordered Eddie and Daveed to go to Georgia to find the missing cocaine in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest.

Meanwhile, the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest is under the jurisdiction of a local police detective named Bob Springs (played by Isiah Whitlock Jr.), who knows that the forest is being used as a drug-smuggling hiding place for Syd and Syd’s “crime family.” Bob is determined to find a way to bust Syd and Syd’s cronies. Bob correctly assumes that there might be some of some of Thornton’s missing cocaine in the forest, and people in Syd’s crew will come looking for this drug stash.

“Cocaine Bear” gets a little sidetracked with some comedic details that don’t become very clear until later in the movie. For example, there are several minutes of screen time showing that Bob, who wants to adopt a dog, had a Maltese delivered to him instead of the Labrador Retriever that Bob originally wanted. Bob asks his police officer colleague Reba (played by Ayoola Smart) to temporarily look after the Maltese, which is a dog with long white fur that he thinks looks too high-maintenance and “fancy” for Bob. Viewers have to watch an epilogue scene in “Cocaine Bear” to see the reason why the movie keeps showing this Maltese.

Also in the Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest area is a hospital nurse named Sari (played by Keri Russell), who is financially struggling and has to work extra shifts to help make ends meet. Sari is the mother of 13-year-old Dee Dee (played by Brooklynn Prince), who has dreams of becoming a painter artist. Dee Dee’s best friend is a slightly younger child named Henry (played by Christian Convery), who has a crush on Dee Dee and spends a lot of time trying to impress her.

Dee Dee and Henry are both playful and a little rebellious. They skip school one day so that Dee Dee can go to a place in the forest’s Blood Mountain, where there is a nearby waterfall that Dee Dee wants to paint so that she can use this painting to get accepted into a prestigious art camp. A big part of the movie is about Sari trying to find “missing” Dee Dee and Henry in the forest. Because Dee Dee and Henry have gone missing on the same day that the cocaine bear goes on a rampage, you can easily predict what might happen with these two kids.

The Chattahoochee–Oconee National Forest has a visitor center, where a no-nonsense park ranger named Liz Winters (played by Margo Martindale) works as a manager of sorts. (She’s the only employee of the visitor center who’s seen in the movie.) Liz tries to come across as being tough as nails, but she’s got a soft spot for an animal-rights activist named Peter (played by Jesse Tyler Ferguson, in a very fake-looking wig), who calls himself a “life inspection representative.” Peter is a regular visitor to make sure that no animals are being harmed in the forest.

Peter might be aware that Liz has a crush on him. The movie drops in some adult-oriented double entendre jokes. For example, Peter comments to bachelorette Liz about one of the taxidermy animals on display in the visitor center: “You’ve got a dusty beaver here, rancher.” Liz smirks and replies, “I’m working on it.” Later in the movie, two paramedics named Beth (played by Kahyun Kim) and Tom (played by Scott Seiss) arrive by ambulance to the visitor center in one of the movie’s most memorable scenes.

A group of troublemakers in their late teens and early 20s, who call themselves the Duchamps, have been robbing and assaulting people in the forest area. Only three of these gang members are shown in “Cocaine Bear,” and they only have nicknames in the movie. Kid (played by Aaron Holliday), also known as Stache, is the youngest and most likely to talk himself out of tough situations with an opponent. Ponytail (played by Leo Hanna) is the biggest bully in the group. Vest (played by J.B. Moore) is the most likely to get scared when things go wrong.

All of these characters encounter each other in one way or another during “Cocaine Bear.” There’s a lot of gruesome violence that looks straight out of a horror movie. However, “Cocaine Bear” is never really a horror movie because it stays consistently true to its intention of being an action comedy. The bear does some unrealistic stunts and has some human-like facial expressions that seem to be the filmmakers’ way of winking at the audience to show that “Cocaine Bear” is an absurdist fictional film.

In one of his last movie roles, Liotta (who died in his sleep in 2022, at the age of 67) seems to be having fun as the “Cocaine Bear” Syd character, which is a spoof of all the callous criminals that Liotta portrayed in his long acting career. Martindale, Ferguson and Jackson also have great comedic timing and understood that “Cocaine Bear” is meant to have a dark-but-wacky satirical tone in this story about humans versus a wild animal. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles. The bear, without question, is the star of the show.

For a movie about a cocaine-fueled killer bear on the loose, “Cocaine Bear” occasionally disappoints when the movie becomes less suspenseful about when the bear is going to attack next. The adrenaline-packed momentum drags when the movie gets sidetracked with the some of the shenanigan-like conflicts between people who know about the bear.

“Cocaine Bear” also requires a huge suspension of disbelief that the local fire department (which is usually in charge of handling wild animals) wasn’t called as soon as it was known that a wild bear was killing people. Police detective Bob is the main government official on the scene for most of the movie. And there is no mention of the area being evacuated for safety after it’s known that a killer bear is on the loose, and more people get killed by the bear.

However, no one should be going to see “Cocaine Bear” for realism. Banks’ direction is solid but sometimes a little too busy and unfocused. The movie is hit-and-miss when it comes to the storytelling part of the narrative. And some of the main characters (such as Eddie and Sari) are not very interesting. But “Cocaine Bear” delivers the goods when it comes to viewer anticipation to see what this unhinged bear will do next. The movie is destined to become a cult classic for viewers who like this type of entertainment.

Universal Pictures will release “Cocaine Bear” in U.S. cinemas on February 24, 2023.

2019 Tony Awards: performers and presenters announced

June 3, 2019

The following is a press release from the Tony Awards:

Some of the world’s biggest stars from stage and screen will appear at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards. The list of names announced includes Darren Criss, Tina Fey, Sutton Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, Regina King, Laura Linney, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells, LaTanya Richardson Jackson and Michael Shannon. More presenters will be announced soon.

The Tony Awards telecast will feature an incredible line up of celebrity presenters and musical performances for Broadway’s biggest night.
James Corden will return to host the American Theatre Wing’s 2019 Tony Awards, which will be broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City on CBS. The three-hour program will air on Sunday, June 9th 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT time delay). The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

You can also watch the Tony Awards online with CBS All Access. More info at cbs.com/all-access.

June 5, 2019 UPDATE: A second round of artists has been added to appear at THE 73rd ANNUAL TONY AWARDS(R), live from the historic Radio City Music Hall in New York City, Sunday, June 9 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/delayed PT) on the CBS Television Network. The star-studded lineup includes Sara Bareilles, Laura Benanti, Abigail Breslin, Danny Burstein, Kristin Chenoweth, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Josh Groban, Danai Gurira, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Jackson, Shirley Jones, Jane Krakowski, Judith Light, Lucy Liu, Aasif Mandvi, Sienna Miller, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Catherine O’Hara, Kelli O’Hara, Karen Olivo, Anthony Ramos, Marisa Tomei, Aaron Tveit, Samira Wiley and BeBe Winans.

Emmy and Tony Award winner James Corden will host the 2019 Tony Awards for the second time. As previously announced, Darren Criss, Tina Fey, Sutton Foster, Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Regina King, Laura Linney, Audra McDonald, Ben Platt, Billy Porter, Andrew Rannells and Michael Shannon will also take part in Broadway’s biggest night.

The TONY Awards, which honors theater professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. This year marks the 73rd anniversary of the TONY Awards, which were first held on April 6, 1947 at the Waldorf Astoria’s Grand Ballroom. The ceremony is presented by Tony Award Productions, which is a joint venture of the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing, which founded the Tonys.

Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment will return as executive producers. Weiss will also serve as director for the 20th consecutive year. Ben Winston is a producer.

June 6, 2019 UPDATE:

Cynthia Erivo (Photo by Barry Brecheisen)

The Tony Awards telecast will feature performances by the casts of “Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of the Temptations”; “Beetlejuice”; “The Cher Show”; “Choir Boy”; “Hadestown”; “Kiss Me, Kate”; “Oklahoma!”; “The Prom” and “Tootsie.” The evening will also feature a special performance by Tony Award winning-actress Cynthia Erivo.

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