Review: ‘Armageddon Time,’ starring Anne Hathaway, Jeremy Strong, Banks Repeta, Jaylin Webb and Anthony Hopkins

October 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Banks Repeta and Anthony Hopkins in “Armageddon Time” (Photo courtesy of Anne Joyce/Focus Features)

“Armageddon Time”

Directed by James Gray

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1980 in New York City, the dramatic film “Armageddon Time” (inspired by director James Gray’s own childhood) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: An 11-year-old, middle-class Jewish boy, who befriends a working-class African American boy from school, learns some of life’s harsh lessons about bigotry and privilege. 

Culture Audience: “Armageddon Time” will appeal primarily to people interested in retro movies that explore the loss of innocence in childhood.

Jaylin Webb and Banks Repeta in “Armageddon Time” (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

The talented cast’s performances elevate “Armageddon Time,” a drama that apparently wants to condemn racism, antisemitism and social class snobbery. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t have anything new to say about people who enable these types of bigotry. The cast members’ acting should maintain most viewers’ interest, but parts of “Armageddon Time” (written and directed by James Gray) might annoy or bore viewers who feel like they’ve seen this type of “loss of childhood innocence experienced by a future movie director” many times already.

That’s because there have been several movie directors who’ve done movies based on their real childhoods, with the childhood versions of themselves as the protagonists of the movies. In these semi-autobiographical or autobiographical films, these directors depict their childhood selves as inquisitive, imaginative and often misunderstood by many people around them. The child has at least one parent who usually doesn’t encourage the child’s artistic inclinations, because the parent thinks it’s not a good career choice to be any type of artist.

All of these clichés are in “Armageddon Time,” Gray’s dramatic retelling of what his life was like for a pivotal two-month period when he was 11 years old. “Armageddon Time”—which takes place from September to November 1980, mostly in New York City’s Queens borough—can be considered semi-autobiographical, because the characters in the movie are based on real people without using the real people’s names, except for members of Donald Trump’s family. At a certain point in the movie, viewers can easily predict where this movie is going and what it’s attempting to say.

However, because the cast members deliver good performances and have believable chemistry with each other, “Armageddon Time” has moments that can be entertaining and compelling. “Armageddon Time” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival in France. The movie then made the rounds at several other film festivals in 2022, including the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, the Zurich Film Festival in Switzerland, and the New York Film Festival in New York City.

The story is told from the perspective of 11-year-old Paul Graff (played by Banks Repeta, also known as Michael Banks Repeta), who has talent for drawing illustrations of people. Paul has a mischievous side where he makes caricatures or illustration parodies of people he knows. He’s also a science-fiction enthusiast who has created an original superhero character named Captain United.

In the beginning of the movie, it’s September 8, 1980—Paul’s first day of school as a sixth grader at P.S. 173, a public school in Queens. One of the first things that happens in a classroom led by a cranky teacher named Mr. Turkeltaub (played by Andrew Polk) is that Mr. Turkeltaub has found a drawing that depicts him as a turkey. An infuriated Mr. Turkeltaub demands to know who made the drawing, and Paul eventually confesses that he did it.

Just a few minutes later, a classmate named Johnny Davis (played by Jaylin Webb) tells a harmless joke as a reply to the teacher’s question. Johnny’s flippant response gets Mr. Turkeltaub even angrier. He hisses at Johnny as he points to Johnny’s head, “You’ve got nothing up here.” Johnny snaps back, “Look who taught me.”

Paul and Johnny both get mild punishments for their disobedience, as Mr. Turkeltaub orders them to clean the chalkboard in the classroom. Johnny and Paul become very fast friends from this shared bonding experience. Their friendship is defined by a lot of the rebellious things that they do together.

Johnny and Paul also share a passion for outer space. Johnny dreams of becoming an astronaut for NASA, while Paul wants to illustrate comic books about space travel. Although both boys talk about a lot of things with each other immediately, they’re not as up front about each other’s home lives when they first meet.

Paul’s family is middle-class, but he lies to Johnny by saying that his family is rich. Johnny, who doesn’t like to talk about his parents, comes from a low-income household and lives with his grandmother (played by Marjorie Johnson, in a quick cameo), whom Johnny describes as “forgetful.” (It’s implied that she has dementia.) Eventually, Johnny opens up to Paul about what’s really going on with him at home, but Paul keeps up the lie about his parents being rich for as long as Paul can keep telling this lie.

Paul’s tight-knight family at home consists of his energetic mother Esther Graff (played by Anne Hathaway), who is the president of P.S. 173’s Parent Teacher Association; his stern father Irving Graff (played by Jeremy Strong), who is an engineer; and Paul’s smug older brother Ted Graff (played by Ryan Sell), who is about 15 years old and almost the opposite of Paul. Ted is a popular, outgoing student at his private school, and he gets good grades. Paul is introverted, somewhat of a loner, and an average student, even though he has the intelligence to get better grades in school. Paul is much closer to his mother than he is to his father, who has a bad temper and tells Paul that being an artist is not a wise occupation.

Frequent visitors to the Graff home for family dinners are Paul’s grandparents, aunts and uncles. Esther’s father Aaron Rabinowitz (played by Anthony Hopkins), who is from the United Kingdom, is Paul’s favorite of these relatives. Grandfather Aaron is kind and patient with Paul, who feels like Aaron is the only family member who truly accepts Paul for who Paul is. Aaron is also the only one in this family who teaches Paul the realities of antisemitism and racism and how not to be a bigot.

Many of the Graff/Rabinowitz family members, including Aaron, are originally from Europe and survivors of the Holocaust. Aaron’s mother was a Ukrainian refugee who eventually settled in England. Aaron and his wife Mickey Rabinowitz (played by Tovah Feldshuh) are both retired schoolteachers. Other relatives who are in the story are Paul’s aunt Ruth (played by Marcia Haufrecht) and uncle Louis (played by Teddy Coluca), who are both very opinionated.

Family conversations around the dining room table reveal that although members of this family have experienced prejudice for being Jewish, many of the adult family members are racists who don’t like black people. Some of the family members are more blatant about this racism than others. Aaron is the only adult in the family who doesn’t come across as some kind of bigot or difficult person. He’s not saintly, but the movie depicts Aaron as the only adult who comes closest to having a lot of wisdom and a strong moral character.

Meanwhile, at school, Johnny and Paul get into some more mischief. In Mr. Turkeltaub’s class, Johnny tends to get punishment that’s worse than what Paul gets. Johnny is a year older than his classmates because he’s had to repeat sixth grade. Johnny usually get blamed first by Mr. Turkeltaub if there’s any student trouble in the classroom.

It doesn’t help that Johnny sometimes curses at the teacher in response to being singled out as a troublemaker, whereas Paul tends not to go that far with his disrespect for authority. However, Mr. Turkeltaub seems to deliberately pick on Johnny to get him angry. There are racial undertones to the way that Mr. Turkeltaub treats Johnny, who is one of the few African American students in the class.

Through a series of events and circumstances that won’t be revealed in this review, Paul transfers to the same private school where Ted is a student: Kew-Forest School, located in the affluent neighborhood of Forest Hills, Queens. Paul is very unhappy about this transfer because he will no longer get to see Johnny at school. Paul also experiences culture shock, because most of the students come from upper-middle-class and wealthy families.

Members of the real-life Trump family are major financial donors to Kew-Forest School and sometimes stop by the school to make speaking appearances to the assembled students. “Armageddon Time” shows Fred Trump (Donald Trump’s father, played by John Diehl) and Maryanne Trump (Donald Trump’s older sister, played by Jessica Chastain) in cameos, as they give condescending lectures disguised as pep talks at Kew-Forest School. Maryanne Trump, who inherited her fortune from her father, even has the gall to say in her lecture that she worked hard for the wealth that she has.

Because “Armageddon Time” writer/director Gray didn’t change the names of Fred Trump and Maryanne Trump in the movie, the only conclusion that viewers can come to is that Gray wanted to show some kind of disdain for the Trumps in the movie, by depicting them as out-of-touch rich people whom he did not like or trust, even as a child. The only other semi-political statements made in “Armageddon Time” are scenes where the 1980 U.S. presidential election is in the news and discussed in the Graff family home. Irving and Ethel Graff are Democrats who want incumbent Democrat president Jimmy Carter, not Ronald Reagan (a Republican), to win the election.

Because “Armageddon Time” takes place during the height of the nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia (then known as the Soviet Union), the movie makes some references to the fear that many people had that a nuclear war could be imminent and would cause an apocalypse. In the production notes for “Armageddon Time,” Gray says that the movie’s title was named after the reggae song “Armagidion Time,” which had a cover version released by The Clash in 1979. (The Clash’s remake of this song is in the “Armageddon Time” movie.) Gray further explains in the production notes that the movie is about Paul’s personal Armageddon.

It’s during Paul’s experiences as a new student at Kew-Forest School that he begins to understand how race, religion and social class are used as reasons for bigots to inflict damaging prejudice on others. When Johnny shows up near the Kew-Forest School playground to talk to Paul, it’s the first time that Paul is fully aware that many of his peers at Kew-Forest school look down on someone like Johnny, just because Johnny is a working-class African American. One of the Kew-Forest students uses the “n” word to describe Johnny, and Paul is shocked.

Paul’s mother Esther also disapproves of Johnny, mainly because she blames Johnny for being a “bad influence” on Paul. There are some racial undertones to Esther’s dislike of Johnny, mainly because Esther wants to deny that Paul is a willing and active participant in whatever rebellious and rude antics that he and Johnny decide to do. Paul, who has an angelic face, is not as “innocent” as Esther thinks he is.

Repeta skillfully plays the role of Paul, a boy who starts to see life in ways that Paul did not expect. His performance is an admirable anchor for the movie, which at times is hindered by writer/director Gray’s self-indulgent nostalgia. And although Hathaway and Strong give solid performances as Esther and Irving, Paul’s emotional connections to his parents at this particular time in Paul’s life are secondary to the emotional connections that Paul has with his grandfather Aaron and with his new friend Johnny. Hopkins and Webb deliver fine performances as Aaron and Johnny, but much about how these two characters are written (the wise grandfather and the rebellious kid) are reminiscent of characters seen in many other movies.

One of the problematic elements of “Armageddon Time” is that Johnny is often treated as a “black token” in the movie. He has all the negative stereotypes of what many racists think black boys are: troublemakers who can’t be as accomplished or as intelligent as their white peers. It would have been better if the movie had at least a few other African American people in prominent speaking roles for some variety (after all, this movie takes place in racially diverse New York City), instead of putting almost all of the African American representation in the movie on a troubled adolescent boy.

There’s a point in the movie where Johnny runs away from home, because he suspects that child protective services will put him in foster care, and he asks Paul for help in having a place to stay. Paul’s reaction is realistic, but it seems like Gray wants to gloss over how Paul contributes to a lot of Johnny’s pain. “Armageddon Time” is less concerned about the root causes of Johnny’s problems and more concerned about making Aaron the noble sage who preaches to Paul about the evils of racism. However, the movie doesn’t actually show Aaron helping anyone from an oppressed racial group, or even caring about having anyone in his social circle who isn’t white.

“Armageddon Time” is a lot like watching people say repeatedly, “Isn’t bigotry terrible?” But then, those same people don’t really do anything to actively stop the bigotry that they complain about. The Graff household also has some domestic abuse that seems to be put in the movie for some shock value, and then the matter is dropped completely. The ending of “Armageddon Time” could have been a lot better, but the movie has enough good acting and memorable characters to make up for some scenes that wander and don’t serve a very meaningful purpose in the movie.

Focus Features released “Armageddon Time” in select U.S. cinemas on October 28, 2022, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 4, 2022.

Review: ‘The Good Nurse,’ starring Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain

October 26, 2022

by Carla Hay

Eddie Redmayne and Jessica Chastain in “The Good Nurse” (Photo by JoJo Whilden/Netflix)

“The Good Nurse”

Directed by Tobias Lindholm

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in 2003 in New Jersey, the dramatic film “The Good Nurse” (based on real events) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A hospital nurse begins to suspect that a male co-worker nurse, who has become her friend, is murdering patients with secret drug overdoses.

Culture Audience: “The Good Nurse” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Jessica Chastain and Eddie Redmayne and well-acted dramas about true crimes.

Noah Emmerich, Nnamdi Asomugha and Jessica Chastain in “The Good Nurse” (Photo by JoJo Whilden/Netflix)

“The Good Nurse” can be as clinical and drab as the hospital settings where this true-crime drama takes place. However, the principal cast members’ performances stand out in this otherwise formulaic movie. “The Good Nurse” is told from the perspective of a hospital nurse who became a whistleblower in cases that exposed one of her co-workers as a hospital serial killer. This murderer was able to get away with his crimes at various hospitals during the 16 years that he was a nurse, until his co-worker helped investigators capture this murderer. None of this is spoiler information, since the movie uses the real names of the serial killer and the whistleblower nurse in this news-making scandal.

Directed by Tobias Lindholm, “The Good Nurse” is based on Charles Graeber’s 2013 non-fiction book “The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder.” Krysty Wilson-Cairns wrote the adapted screenplay for “The Good Nurse,” a movie that had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival. Although one person was ultimately convicted of the murders depicted in “The Good Nurse,” the movie is an obvious and scathing indictment of a system of hospital administrators who suspected this nurse of being a serial killer but did nothing about it or possibly covered up evidence, as he moved from hospital job to hospital job.

“The Good Nurse” takes place mostly in 2003 in New Jersey, but the movie begins with a flashback scene at St. Aloysius Hospital in Pennsylvania in 1996. The scene shows a patient (who is not seen on camera, except for the patient’s feet at the end of a hospital bed) getting emergency treatment, even though the patient’s vital signs indicate that the patient is dead. While a doctor and other medical attendants frantically try to revive the patient without success, a nurse named Charles “Charlie” Cullen (played by Eddie Redmayne) stands by quietly in the room and observes. Even if viewers don’t know in advance who the villain is in the story, Redmayne’s creepy and furtive portrayal of Charlie makes it obvious that he’s a character with a lot of secrets.

The movie then flashes forward to 2003, at Parkfield Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. Hospital nurse Amy Loughren (played by Jessica Chastain) is a new employee at Parkfield Memorial and eager to make a good impression on people. Amy is a single mother of two daughters: feisty Alex Loughren (played by Alix West Lefler), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, and obedient Maya Loughren (played by Devyn McDowell), who’s about 4 or 5 years old. The children’s father is not seen or mentioned in the movie. Amy and Alex have a tension-filled relationship, because Alex thinks that her mother, who works the night shift, doesn’t pay enough attention to Alex and Maya.

Amy is actually hiding a big secret from almost everyone she knows: She’s been diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a heart condition that could lead to a fatal heart attack or fatal stroke if Amy is under a great deal of stress. Amy’s doctor tells her that she needs a heart transplant and should no longer do the type of stressful work that she’s doing. Amy can’t quit her job because she needs the health insurance to pay for the operation. As a new employee, Amy also won’t get paid medical leave until she’s been on the job for six months.

Amy is already financially struggling, so she’s under tremendous pressure to keep her job for the health insurance, even though the job can be detrimental to her health. Amy’s doctor advises her to tell Alex about the warning signs to look for if Amy is having a stroke, such shortness of breath, pressure in the chest, or feeling weak or faint. However, Amy is reluctant to take this advice because she doesn’t want to her kids to worry about her health. This movie depicts Amy as a loner who doesn’t have any close friends or family members to rely on for support. She gets childare help from a middle-aged babysitter named Jackie (played by Marcia Jean Kurtz), who doesn’t mind if Amy is sometimes late in paying her.

Meanwhile, at Parkfield Memorial, Amy is a compassionate nurse who sometimes bends the rules for patients if it will help the patients be more comfortable. For example, near the beginning of the movie, Amy is tending to an elderly patient named Ana Martinez (played by Judith Delgado), who is being visited by her devoted husband, Sam Martinez (played by Jesus-Papoleto Melendez). During one of these visits, Sam asks to stay in the hospital room overnight with his wife, even though it’s against the hospital rules for visitors to stay past visiting hours.

Amy allows this overnight stay, but she’s reprimanded for it later by her boss Vivian Neal (played by Myra Lucretia Taylor), after Vivian finds out about this breach of protocol. Vivian says when she’s scolding Amy that the hospital isn’t a hotel. Vivian also mentions that the hospital is putting her under a lot of financial scrutiny for expenses. Amy takes the criticism in stride, but it’s the movie’s first indication that the hospital is run like a corporation focused on profits.

Amy soon meets Charlie, one of the other night-shift nurses who has Ana Martinez as a patient. Just like Amy, Charlie is a loner, who seems to be quiet and introverted. Amy and Charlie start talking with each other, and they eventually become work friends. Charlie confides in Amy about his personal problems: He is in a bitter custody battle with his ex-wife over their underage children. According to Charlie, his ex-wife lies about him so that she can try to win the custody battle.

Not long after Charlie and Amy meet, Ana Martinez dies. Amy and Charlie happen to be in the hospital room where Ana’s body is laying on the hospital bed before Charlie has to clean the body in preparation for the corpse to be taken to the hospital morgue. In this moment, Charlie tells Amy that his mother died in a hospital, which misplaced his mother’s body for a few hours. As soon as Charlie makes this revelation, you don’t have to be a psychiatrist to know he’s probably got anger and revenge issues related to how his mother died and how the hospital mishandled her death.

As nurses, Amy and Charlie have access to the hospital’s medication supply room and are responsible for administering medication to patients. Amy is trusting of Charlie and, at first, she doesn’t think there’s anything suspicious about him. She also doesn’t suspect that Ana died of anything but natural causes, until Amy sees internal hospital records much later in the movie.

Eventually, Amy tells Charlie her secret about having cardiomyopathy, when he notices during their work shift that she has difficulty breathing and she almost faints. She also tells him about her health insurance predicament, and she begs him to not to tell anyone else. Amy has also been secretly stealing some medication from the hospital supply room to ease some of her physical pain, and she confesses this secret to Charlie. At the time that Amy confides in Charlie about her cardiomyopathy, she has to wait about four months until she has the health insurance to pay for her heart operation and can go on a paid medical leave.

Charlie is immediately sympathetic to Amy. He gives Amy pep talks and offers to help her as much as he can. Charlie repeatedly tells Amy that the two of them will get through her ordeal together. Amy trusts Charlie enough to invite him into her home and introduce him to her children. She notices that Charlie is especially good with Alex, who responds warmly to Charlie’s friendliness. It’s a relief for Amy, because Alex is often hostile or aloof with Amy, and Charlie always seems to put Alex in a good mood.

But trouble is brewing at Parkfield Memorial. Two police detectives are investigating Ana Martinez’s death: Tim Braun (played by Noah Emmerich) and Danny Baldwin (played by Nnamdi Asomugha), who are asked by hospital officials to do a formal investigation. Why? The hospital’s board of directors wants to make sure that there won’t be any issues that would make the hospital liable for Ana’s death. The supervisor for Tim and Danny is Sam Johnson (played by Malik Yoba), who has a high standard for the evidence that must be gathered before any arrests are made.

The two Parkfield Memorial Hospital officials who interact the most with the police detectives are Linda Garran (played by Kim Dickens) and attorney Duncan Beattie (played by David Lavine), who are portrayed as cold-hearted corporate types. Linda and Duncan are reluctant for this investigation to happen and stonewall the detectives any way that they can. A city council member named Malcolm Burrel (played by Bruce MacVittie) gets involved in the political aspects of the investigation.

Linda and Duncan assemble a meeting with Parkfield Memorial Hospital employees (including Amy and Charlie) to inform everyone that the investigation is taking place. The employees in this meeting are warned not to talk to police without a Parkfield Memorial official present during the interview. Duncan also sternly reminds the employees about a confidentiality clause in their employee contract, which is his way of saying that an employee can be fired for disclosing information about the hospital and patients without the hospital’s permission.

You know where all of this is going, of course. The rest of the “The Good Nurse” follows a crime procedural formula that has been done before in many movies of this ilk. Danny is the first of the two detectives to become more suspicious of Charlie, especially when the cops find out that Charlie was one of the nurses who had access to medication given to Ana; the hospital conducted an internal seven-week investigation into Ana’s death; and the hospital did not fully disclose the results of the investigation to Ana’s family.

During a background check of Charlie, the detectives find out that Charlie isn’t quite the “nice guy with a harmless reputation” that he seems to be. Charlie had a prior arrest for criminal trespassing (he was accused by an ex-girlfriend/ex-co-worker of slashing her tires), but his accuser eventually dropped the charges. The detectives also find it suspicious that Charlie worked at nine other hospitals that will only confirm his dates of employment and won’t divulge any information about what Charlie was like as an employee. (For legal reasons, it’s standard procedure for previous employers not to give out information about past employees except for the dates that they were employed.)

Eventually, Amy gets suspicious of Charlie and does her own investigating. She’s in a lot of denial at first because Charlie is her friend. She’s also worried about getting fired if she secretly cooperates with the police. Danny and Tim have moments where they are hotheaded and lose their tempers. But, for the most part, they are fairly generic cop characters. When Charlie is questioned by these two detectives, Danny plays the “good cop” role, while Tim plays the “bad cop” role.

Chastain and Redmayne both give nuanced performances that show how easily people can be manipulated by sociopaths who want to project the image of being “nice and friendly” people. Charlie’s disturbed mental state doesn’t become truly obvious until a pivotal scene in an interrogation room. However, Redmayne’s performance always shows hints that something is not quite right about Charlie, based on the way that Charlie observes and interacts with people,

The character of Amy could have been developed better, but the movie fulfills its purpose with this character if it intended to make her look like someone who didn’t have a social life outside of Charlie. However, Chastain goes a good job of conveying the inner conflict and turmoil that Amy experienced in this criminal case, in addition to Amy dealing with her own health crisis. The cinematography of “The Good Nurse,” which has a lot of gray-blue lighting and hues, is a reflection of this movie’s constant melancholic tone.

“The Good Nurse” could have used more empathy and screen time in letting viewers know more about the victims and their families who were portrayed in the film. The movie also hints at but never says out loud something that’s very obvious to people who have enough life experience: Charlie probably got away with all that he got away with because of racial issues and having the privilege of being part of a majority race. (Studies have shown that hospital serial killers in any country are almost always of the majority race in that country.)

In other words, it’s hard to imagine the real-life Charlie Cullen being able to get away with his crimes for as long as he did if he were a race other than white. In the movie’s blatant attempt to put equal blame for these crimes on a hospital system as on the killer, “The Good Wife” doesn’t really want to acknowledge the racial disparities in American healthcare, when it comes to which races get better treatment overall in the U.S. health care system, compared to other races. As heroic as Amy Loughren is portrayed in “The Good Nurse,” her character and this movie have a blind spot about racial inequalities in America’s healthcare and criminal justice system. These racial inequalities, which are not acknowledged in the movie, enabled a serial killer in real life to get away with his murders for as long as he did.

Netflix released “The Good Nurse” in select U.S. cinemas on October 19, 2022. The movie premiered on Netflix on October 26, 2022.

Review: ‘The Forgiven’ (2022), starring Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain

July 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain in “The Forgiven” (Photo by Nick Wall/Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

“The Forgiven” (2022)

Directed by John Michael McDonagh

Some language in Arabic and Tamazight with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains area and the city of Tangier, the dramatic film “The Forgiven” features a cast of white and Middle Eastern characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While on vacation in Morocco, two unhappily married, upper-middle-class spouses (he’s British, she’s American) are involved in a drunk-driving car accident that kills a teenage boy, and they use their privilege to avoid being arrested for the crime but must face judgment from the boy’s father. 

Culture Audience: “The Forgiven” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain, as well as to viewers who are interested in tension-filled movies about people who have conflicts with laws and customs in foreign countries.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Ismael Kanater, Ralph Fiennes, Matt Smith, Caleb Landry Jones and Mourad Zaoui in “The Forgiven” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions)

The dramatic film “The Forgiven” doesn’t flow as well as it should for a piercing look at spoiled and entitled people who use their privilege as a weapon and as a shield. However, the performances are worth watching to see how terrible people can be their own worst enemies. In other words, “The Forgiven” is not a “feel good” movie. Be prepared to witness a lot of self-absorbed and insufferable conduct from snobs and bigots who think a lot of “real world” rules and manners don’t apply to them unless they can get something out of it.

Written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, “The Forgiven” is based on Lawrence Osborne’s 2012 novel of the same name. The movie has the tremendous benefit of a talented cast that can turn some of the soap opera-ish dialogue and make it into something resembling a satire of the pompous characters who cause the most damage. Although the story is fictional, there are plenty of real-life examples of people who act this way. “The Forgiven” had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and its U.S. premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

The movie’s opening scene sets the tone for the unpleasantness to come. British oncologist David Henninger (played by Ralph Fiennes) and his American wife Jo Henninger (played by Jessica Chastain), who live in London, have arrived in Tangier, Morocco, to attend an Atlas Mountains party thrown by a wealthy gay couple whom David and Jo have known for an unnamed period of time. David and Jo have no children and have been married for 12 years. But it only takes a few minutes into the movie before their bickering starts.

David thinks Jo is a shrewish nag. Jo calls David a “high-functioning alcoholic.” He responds by saying that “high-functioning” cancels out “alcoholic.” David knows that Jo is correct because he really is an alcoholic. If David is awake, chances are he’s drinking alcohol. And his alcoholism is a direct cause of the car accident that results in a tragedy.

Later, it’s revealed in the movie that Jo is a children’s book author whose books have never been bestsellers. She also hasn’t written any books for the past eight years. It’s unknown if frustrations over her career and marriage have made Jo such a bitter person, or if Jo already had this type of personality before she married David. However, what’s obvious is that Jo and David are both deeply unhappy people—together and apart.

Before David and Jo arrive at their party destination, the movie shows a scene of two Moroccan teenage boys (who are about 15 or 16 years old) in a cliff area of Atlas Mountains. One of the boys is sniffing glue from a plastic bag. Viewers later find out that his name is Driss Taheri (played by Omar Ghazaoui) and that he and his friend Ismael (played by Aissam Taamart) sell fossil rocks as a way to make some money.

As Ismael hammers at some rocks to find fossils, Driss scolds Ismael for never leaving their village or never having ambitions to leave for bigger and better things. Ismael replies by saying that he doesn’t have the money to leave. Driss says there’s always a way to get money. Poverty in this community becomes a big issue later on in the story.

“The Forgiven” then shows David and Jo in their rental car going from Tangier on the way to the party in the High Atlas Mountains. It’s nighttime on a deserted road, and David is driving, although he probably shouldn’t be driving, because he’s more than likely well past the alcohol legal limit to drive. Jo and David get lost and are arguing some more when tragedy strikes: The car hits a teenage boy who suddenly appears in front of the car on the road. He is killed instantly.

Meanwhile, viewers see several people who are gathered for this house party. The party hosts are wealthy British real estate developer Richard Galloway (played by Matt Smith) and his American boyfriend Dally Margolis (played by Caleb Landry Jones), a very pretentious couple who threw this party mainly to show off some of their wealth. The home where Richard and Dally are having this multi-day party is big enough that most of the guests (including Jo and David) will be staying overnight on the property.

With the guests gathered in an outdoor patio area, Richard gives a speech bragging about all the fine delicacies and luxuries that the guests can see and enjoy during this soiree. He adds, “We hope you’ll find this place a vision of paradise, a place in which to receive the people we love.” It’s a very shallow speech because it’s questionable if anyone in this group of partiers really loves each other.

Richard then says, “And don’t forget the figs—typically representative of a woman’s vagina.” Dally, who is standing near Richard, giggles in response: “Or so we’ve been told.” This is the type of dialogue that’s in a lot of “The Forgiven.” It’s indicative of how some people who are rich when it comes to money and property can still lack class.

Other guests at the party also conduct themselves with an air of jaded superiority at being in this luxurious environment. Financial analyst Tom Day (played by Christopher Abbott) is a smirking and lecherous American, who tells Richard: “I’ve got three girlfriends. They all hate me.”

Cody (played by Abbey Lee), who is also American, is the requisite modelesque-looking “party girl” who’s often too intoxicated to comprehend where she is and what she’s doing. When Cody dances drunkenly near Tom, he tells her that his wife left him because she ran off with a hedge fund manager. Later in the movie, there’s a random and very out-of-place scene of Cody wandering around lost in the desert on the day after the party started.

French photographer Isabelle Péret (played by Marie-Josée Croze) takes photos at the party and has a mild flirtation with Tom when they have a conversation. Leila Tarki (played by Imane El Mechrafi) is an independent filmmaker whom Isabelle greatly admires. At the party, Isabelle points out Leila to Tom and describes Leila as “the Moroccan auteur. She’s the coolest.” Isabelle also mentions that Leila is in Morocco to raise funds for Leila’s new movie, which will be about nomads.

Maisy Joyce (played by Fiona O’Shaughnessy), whose occupation or social purpose is never stated, is a gossipy guest who makes low-key snarky comments about everyone she observes. When she meets Tom, she bluntly asks him: “Are you gay?” Tom replies, “No, but I fucked a man who is.” Tom is the type of person who doesn’t make it clear if he’s telling the truth or if he’s joking when he makes this type of statement.

Later, two other party guests show up: middle-aged playboy William Joyce (played by David McSavage) and Maribel (played by Briana Belle), one of William’s much-younger trophy girlfriends. All of these party guests, except for David and Jo, end up being backdrops to the drama that unfolds because of the car accident. It should come as no surprise that the party continues as planned, even though the dead boy’s body is temporarily brought to the house.

Richard gets a call from David during the party and hears the horrible news about the car accident and death. David and Jo are in a panic because they’re afraid of being arrested for the death of this child, whom they say has no identification. Richard reluctantly allows Jo and David to come over to the house, so they can talk about what to do next. The body of the boy has been put in their car.

Richard sends his most trusted employee Hamid (played by Mourad Zaoui) and some other servants to escort David and Jo back to the house. Hamid can speak Arabic and English, so he acts as the main translator in this story. He also advises the Westerners about Moroccan and Muslim customs and traditions.

Dally is very nervous and thinks that he and Richard shouldn’t get involved in this car accident case, but Richard thinks that the local police can be bribed if necessary. Richard and David are also alumni of the same elite university (which is unnamed in the movie), so Richard feels obligated to help David. Richard mentions this alumni connection on more than one occasion, such as when Richard repeats stories he heard about David being a notorious troublemaker at the school.

Richard tells some people that one of the stories he heard was that David went on top of a building to drop mice wearing miniature Nazi flags on some school officials. The mice died, of course. Whoever committed this disturbing act was never caught, but David was widely believed to be the culprit. It was apparently someone’s warped way telling these school officials that they act like Nazis. And if David was the culprit, it’s an example of how he’s been an awful person for a very long time.

Before the police are called about the car accident and death that David caused, Richard advises David and Jo to act as remorseful as possible to increase the chances that they won’t be charged with any crime. Jo is willing to take that advice, but David balks at the suggestion because he doesn’t think he did anything wrong. David blames the boy for being out in the road at night.

And it isn’t long before David’s story begins to morph into saying that the boy was probably trying to commit a carjacking. David and Jo, on separate occasions, also express fear that this car accident victim could have been an ISIS terrorist. It’s blatant racism, but racists like David and Jo don’t care.

The police arrive and take statements from David and Jo. The chief investigator is Captain Benihadd (played by Ben Affan), who quickly determines (within 15 minutes) that the death was an accident and that David and Jo won’t be arrested. David doesn’t get asked to take a sobriety test or any test that would detect the level of alcohol or drugs in his system. Viewers with enough common sense can easily see why David doesn’t get much scrutiny by police who want to be deferential to people who appear to be rich.

After it’s declared that David and Jo won’t be arrested, Richard’s relief turns to dismay when he finds out that because the morgue won’t be open until the next day, the body has to stay on Richard’s property until it can be transported to the morgue. As far as Richard is concerned, it puts a damper on the party. Richard, Dally and David aren’t as concerned about how this child victim belongs to a family who will eventually hear the devastating news about his death. Jo shows a little more compassion and guilt, but not enough to erase her racism, since she automatically makes the racist assumption that the boy who was killed could be a member of ISIS.

Even though the police didn’t find any identification for the boy, and none of the people who saw his body say they know him, he does have a name: Driss Taheri. David, Jo and the other people at Richard’s house who know about this death will eventually find out Driss’ name. But even after they find out his name, they often won’t say it, as if it’s easier to think of him as nameless and unwanted. Privately, David makes this callous remark to Jo, “I hate to say it, but the kid is a nobody.”

The next day, David is riding horses with Isabelle and Macy, as if they don’t have a care in the world. A few Moroccan boys suddenly appear and throw rocks at David before the boys run away. One of the rocks hits David on the head hard enough that he gets a bloody injury on his head, and he falls off of the horse. The injury is not serious enough for him to go to a hospital though.

David nastily complains to Jo that people in the community must have found out that he was the one who caused the death of a local child. David shows more of his racism and xenophobia when he says, “They’re insatiable gossips. It’s a function of being illiterate.” Jo sarcastically replies, “What a nice little facist you’ve become since being hit by a stone.”

The way that these self-centered partiers find out Driss’ identity is when his grieving and distraught father Adbdellah Taheri (played by Ismael Kanater) shows up the next day at Richard’s house to claim the body and to talk to the people responsible for Driss’ death. Driss was his only child. (Driss’ mother is not seen or mentioned in the movie.)

With Hamid acting as a translator, David finds out that Adbdellah wants some kind of payment from David to compensate for Driss’ tragic death. Adbdellah initially didn’t want any payment, but he changes his mind when he sees that David seems very cold and uncaring about killing Driss. David flatly refuses this demand for payment.

Adbdellah also insists that David accompany Adbdellah back to Adbdellah’s home in the Moroccan region of Tafilalt, to atone for the killing, out of respect for Muslim tradition. David reluctantly agrees to this request, even though he and Jo are paranoid that it could be a trap set by “ISIS terrorists.” David goes on this trip because he also thinks it will get Adbdellah to stop expecting money from David.

The rest of “The Forgiven” shows what happens during David’s “atonement” visit, what Jo does when David is away, and the aftermath of decisions and actions that are made. The movie has flashbacks to the moments immediately before and after Driss was struck by the car and killed. These flashbacks give a clearer picture of who David and Jo really are and how they responded to this crisis.

Fiennes and Chastain give skillful but not outstanding performances as snooty pessimists who are trapped in misery of their own making. It’s never really made clear how long David has been an alcoholic, but he doesn’t have any intention of getting rehab treatment for his addiction, even after causing someone’s death because David was driving drunk. As for Jo, she’s got her own issues, because she feels like a failure who has no purpose in life.

“The Forgiven” is not going to appeal to viewers who are expecting a movie where most of the people are “likable.” The movie holds up a mirror to people who want to project an image of being “glamorous” but they actually have very ugly personalities. There’s a certain point where the movie’s ending is easy to predict. Considering all the clues pointing to this ending, it doesn’t feel like a shock but like something that was bound to happen.

Vertical Entertainment and Roadside Attractions released “The Forgiven” in select U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022. The movie was released on digital and VOD on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘The 355,’ starring Jessica Chastain, Penélope Cruz, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Bingbing Fan

January 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Penélope Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Diane Kruger and Lupita Nyong’o in “The 355” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“The 355”

Directed by Simon Kinberg

Culture Representation: Taking place in Colombia, France, the United States, Morocco, the United Kingdom and China, the action film “The 355” features a racially diverse cast (white, Latino, black and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Five women from five different countries join forces to prevent a world-destroying computer hard drive from getting into the wrong hands. 

Culture Audience: “The 355” will appeal primarily to fans of the movie’s star-studded cast and spy movies that are big on action and lacking in believable and well-written stories.

Bingbing Fan, Lupita Nyong’o and Jessica Chastain in “The 355” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

If you’re going to do a “female empowerment” film set in the world of international espionage, then don’t make a movie that’s not just embarrassing to women but also to anyone who wants to make or see a good movie. Even with an all-star cast of headliners, “The 355” is just a silly parade of fight scenes to distract from all the plot holes and lack of logic in this witless spy caper movie. “The 355” has a very talented and experienced cast, but the entire story is so cringeworthy and badly conceived, it seems like it was made for a beginner student film instead of a major studio film starring at least two Oscar winners.

“The 355” was directed by Simon Kinberg, who co-wrote the atrocious screenplay with Theresa Rebeck. Kinberg is best known as a producer and writer of several “X-Men” movies. He made his feature-film directorial debut with the 2019 tedious train wreck called “Dark Phoenix,” which was a lackluster end to “The X-Men” prequel movie phase that began with 2011’s “X-Men: First Class.” “The 355” is another train wreck, but at least it has more adrenaline-packed action than “Dark Phoenix,” even if the action scenes are ridiculously staged.

“The 355” is about five women from five different countries who band together to stop the wrong people from getting a computer hard drive that’s capable of destroying the world. Four of the women have experience in international espionage, while the fifth woman is a “fish out of water,” which is just an excuse to have a woman act like a Nervous Nellie in a gun-toting action movie because she’s afraid of guns. The movie’s title refers to the code name for the unidentified female spy who was crucial in helping the Americans in the U.S. Revolutionary War. Some female spies are still referred to as 355.

The five heroines of the story are:

  • Mason “Mace” Browne (played by Jessica Chastain), a hard-driving American who’s an independent-minded agent for the CIA.
  • Marie Schmidt (played by Diane Kruger), a ruthless German spy working for an unnamed agency, who’s even more of a cold-blooded assassin than Mace is.
  • Khadijah Adiyeme (played by Lupita Nyong’o), a computer-savvy Brit who used to be an agent for MI6, but she left the agency to become a computer specialist.
  • Lin Mi Sheng (played by Bingbing Fan, also known as Fan Bingbing), a mysterious Chinese operative who plays the role of a wealthy art curator in charge of a pivotal auction in the movie.
  • Graciela Rivera (played by Penélope Cruz), a Colombian psychologist who unintentionally gets mixed up with these spies and spends a lot of time complaining about it.

The sought-after destructive computer hard drive is shown in the movie’s opening scene, which takes place 150 miles south of Bogotá, Colombia. A British financier named Elijah Clarke (played by Jason Flemying) has arrived at the palatial estate of a man named Santiago (played by Pablo Scola), who is obviously a shady character, based on all the menacing-looking armed bodyguards on his property. Santiago’s young adult son is a computer whiz named Jeronimo (played by Marcello Cruz), who has invented a computer program that can cause massive global destruction, including worldwide blackouts and aircraft explosions—all by doing a few keystrokes on a computer.

Jeronimo and Santiago proudly show off a few demonstrations for Elijah, by making a plane explode in the air and causing a citywide blackout in Bogotá. Jeronimo brags about his destructive computer program: “Try to make a copy, it deletes itself. I’m the only one who can make it.”

Meanwhile, a group of six Colombian National Intelligence Directory agents are hiding outside in a jungle near the estate. The agents are armed and ready to attack, because they think a major drug deal is happening in Santiago’s home. But they hear on their audio surveillance equipment that this isn’t a drug deal. It’s something involving computers and cyber destruction.

When the agents see the plane explode in the air, the agents go on the attack and raid the home. A shootout happens that leaves almost everyone in the house dead, except for Elijah (who made a quick escape) and a Colombian National Intelligence Directory agent named Luis Rojas (played by Édgar Ramírez), who takes the computer hard drive. Luis then decides to sell the hard drive to whoever is the first to pay him $3 million, because he wants to take the money and disappear with his family to have an anonymous, wealthy life.

Someone should’ve told Luis (and “The 355” filmmakers) that $3 million is a ridiculously low amount of money for this type of weapon that can cause global destruction. And it’s really not even enough money for a family to live on for the rest of their lives, if they want to be considered “rich.” It’s one of many poorly conceived details in “The 355,” which is one of the worst big-budget, major studio movies about international espionage in the 21st century.

The word gets out to various government intelligence agencies that this destructive computer drive is up for sale on the black market. As an example of how creatively bankrupt “The 355” is, the filmmakers don’t even come up with a name for the computer hard drive. The characters in the movie just keep referring to the computer hard drive as “the drive.”

“The 355” then shows how various people (heroes, villains and some people in between) try to get possession of “the drive” and all the dumb shenanigans that ensue. There are so many things wrong with how badly these operations are bungled. For example, this scenario is repeated to boring predictability in the movie: People who think they’ve stolen the drive find out that they don’t have it after all.

This computer hard drive is the equivalent of a deadly weapon, but no one in the movie takes any precautions to put this computer hard drive in any type of protective casing to avoid scratching or other damage. Time and time again, the drive is plopped into backpacks, mishandled and tossed around in so many fights, it’s a miracle that this hard drive comes out unscathed, as it does in this grossly unrealistic movie. And if this hard drive is a weapon of mass destruction that can’t be duplicated, then none of the “heroes” thinks of taking the obvious action, until toward the end of the film.

Another ludicrously awful thing about “The 355” is how it depicts spy agencies of First World countries as woefully understaffed and incompetent. It’s the only illogical reason to explain why these agents zip around the world with almost no accountability to supervisors, but they have miraculous access to resources that can only be cleared through supervisors. Major decisions about international security are staged to look like only one mid-level spy supervisor in each country makes all these important decisions, thereby completely erasing a realistic chain of command.

That’s what happens when Mace and her longtime spy partner/best friend Nick Fowler (played by Sebastian Stan) get assigned by their supervisor Larry Marks (played by John Douglas Thompson) to retrieve “the drive” in Paris. Larry’s CIA title is never revealed, but he’s not at the highest level, based on the small number of people who report to him and the low-quality office space where he works. The same could be said for Marie’s boss Jonas Muller (played by Sylvester Groth), who is later described as Marie’s closest confidant, even though he doesn’t really trust her.

Why do Mace and Nick have to go to Paris? It’s because the CIA somehow found out that Luis will be there at an outdoor cafe to sell “the drive.” Why choose an outdoor cafe where there could be dozens of witnesses, street cameras and many things that could go wrong in a public place? Why not choose a private place to do the deal in secret? Because it’s an idiotic movie like “The 355,” were so-called trained professionals make the dumbest decisions.

Mace and Nick have been assigned undercover identities for this mission, where they have to pose as American newlyweds named Joel and Ethel Lewis. And they just happen to sit right next to the same outdoor cafe table as Luis. Nick just happens to have a backpack that’s identical to Luis’ backpack. Luis, like a fool, leaves his backpack on the ground.

You know what’s in the backpack. Nick does too. And so does a cafe waitress, who is really German spy Marie going undercover. Nick and Mace try to distract Luis in a conversation, so that Nick can switch his backpack with Luis’ backpack when Luis isn’t looking. But what do you know: Marie, posing as a waitress with Nick’s order, spills the food and drinks on Nick, and then steals Nick’s backpack intead of Luis’ backpack. A person with common sense would’ve taken both backpacks, in order to leave nothing to chance.

The ruckus results in two simulatenous chase scenes: Mace chases after Marie, who ends up getting away in a subway train. Nick chases after Luis, who takes his backpack and runs away in a panic on a busy street. The chase scenes predictably have “near miss” scenarios where subways and cars get in the way, and it looks like people might be run over if they’re not careful. And after all that trouble, Marie finds out that she took the wrong backpack.

Luis goes into hiding at a hotel, but the Colombian government finds out where he is and dispatches Graciela to offer him therapy. “I’m the only one in the agency who really knows you,” Graciela tells Luis. It’s an obvious ploy to see if Luis will give up secrets about where he has “the drive.” And that’s how Graciela gets caught up in this battle for “the drive.” She finds out the hard way when she barely escapes a shootout that takes place when she’s walking with Luis through a fish processing facility, while Luis still has “the drive” in his backpack.

Graciela has a husband and two sons (the kids are about 6 to 9 years old) at home in Colombia, so the movie makes a big deal of Graciela being not just the only mother in the group of five heroines but also the only one who’s not trained to be a spy. Therefore, “The 355” has multiple scenes of Graciela lying to her family on the phone by telling them that’s she’s away on a safe business trip, while griping to everyone who knows the truth that she doesn’t belong in this dangerous mess.

Graciela is so afraid of guns, she doesn’t even want to touch guns. Why did Graciela choose to work for a government spy agency then? Couldn’t she be a psychologist somewhere else? Of course not, because then “The 355” wouldn’t have a stereotypical “I’m so not prepared to defend myself in fights” confused character that always seems to be in action movies that are plagued with the laziest clichés.

And here’s another lazy cliché for a spy movie: If a female spy is a lead character in the movie, then she has sex with a co-worker. That’s what happens when Mace and Nick hook up for real, shortly after they find out that they’re supposed to be posing as newlyweds. The movie drops big hints that Mace is secretly in love with Nick but she doesn’t want to admit it to anyone.

Nick has been hot and heavy to be “more than friends” with Mace for quite some time, but she tells him: “You’re my best friend. I don’t have anybody else. I don’t want to mess this up.” Immediately after she gives Nick this mini-lecture about wanting to keep things strictly professional between them, she starts seductively undressing in front of him in their Paris hotel room, and they have sex.

After the debacle of losing “the drive” in Paris, Mace goes to London to reconnect with her estranged friend Khadijah. Mace, who has now become a rogue agent, begs Khadijah to help her find Luis and “the drive,” as well as to get revenge on Marie. Khadijah, who has comfortably settled into civilian live with her understanding husband Abdul (played by Raphael Acloque), reluctantly agrees to help Mace on this mission. Abdul handles Khadijah’s decision to go on this mission and possibly be killed as casually as a husband being told that his wife is going away on an adventure trip.

More chase scenes and shootouts ensue. Marie poses as a police officer and whisks Graciela into her custody in a hotel room. Mace and Khadijah burst into the hotel room because they’ve been tracking Marie. They all decide they have a common enemy and decide to join forces. The scene where they decide to team up is so trite and overly contrived, you almost half-expect them to yell, “Girl power!”

Mace, Khadijah, Marie and Graciela end up in Morocco. And when an unimaginative action movie takes place in Morocco, you know what that means (cliché alert): a chase scene in a crowded outdoor marketplace in Marrakesh. And “the drive” gets bounced around in more backpacks and knapsacks.

After the hijinks in Morocco, the four women go to Shanghai, where there’s an auction of luxury art. That’s how Mace, Marie, Khadijah and Graciela meet Lin Mi, who is overseeing this event. And you know what that means (cliché alert): the female spies dress up in banquet attire so they can mix and mingle with elite society people at this auction. Predictably, it’s a scene where the women’s sex appeal is used as a distraction to men in at least two instances.

More clichés clog up the film. And almost all of them are unconvincing. One of the clichés is about someone who supposedly dies during a fight. But surprise! This person isn’t really dead after all.

This person’s “departure” is so abrupt and unrealistically handled in the movie, as soon as this person is announced as dead, it’s obvious that this person will be back in the movie at some point. The fake death subplot doesn’t take into account that many people (including a medical examiner) would have to see the body in order for a death certificate to be signed. Of course, “The 355” filmmakers assume that viewers are too dumb to know these facts.

“The 355” is so shoddily filmed, it’s obvious to tell who the stunt doubles are in the action scenes. In a scene where Mace and Marie are in a physical fight before they decide to team up, there’s a shockingly bad close-up where the face of Chastain’s stunt double can clearly be seen. Kinberg and Chastain are two of the producers of “The 355,” so they bear a lot of the responsbility for how this disaster of a movie turned out.

Beyond the stunts, some of the action scenes are plotted with absolutely no sense. There’s a scene were certain people are held captive in a house, then they are inexplicably let go (when in reality they would be killed by their captors), and the newly freed kidnapping victims find out that there’s an arsenal of loaded weapons in a nearby unlocked room. How stupid do kidnappers have to be to let that happen? As stupid as they are in “The 355.”

The acting in this movie is nothing special, and it often looks subpar because of the moronic dialogue. Khadijah is written as the most intelligent and level-headed of the five heroines, but she also just spews a lot of computer jargon that’s very phony. Unfortunately, Fan’s acting as Lin Mi is so stiff, it’s easy to see why she has the least screen time out of the five actresses—she doesn’t appear in “The 355” until the last third of the film.

Even though Marie is supposed to be the secretive “ice queen” of the group, ironically, she’s the only one of the five who’s given a backstory, so that she can have a scene where she gets emotional about her past. (It has to do with her father, who was also a spy.) It’s worth noting that Kruger replaced Marion Cotillard, who was originally cast in “The 355” as a French spy named Marie. Cotillard should feel relieved that she didn’t get stuck in this terrible movie.

Graciela is a one-note character, whose main purpose is to say variations of “I don’t belong here! I want to get back to my family!” Mace is a hollow shell that the filmmakers obviously want to portray as the group’s badass leader. Too bad they forgot to give Mace an intriguing personality.

“The 355” also perpetuates outdated and sexist movie stereotypes that the best female spies can’t possibly be mothers too. It’s no coincidence that in “The 355,” the only trained spies in this group of heroines are women who don’t have children. It’s a not-so-subtle message that if you’re a female spy, being a mother is supposed to ruin your chances of being great in your career. In reality, there have been plenty of prominent female spies who were mothers at same time they were spies. Mata Hari and Josephine Baker are just two examples.

One of the most laughable things about “The 355” isn’t on screen but it’s in the movie’s production notes. There’s a statement in “The 355” production notes about the intention of the movie: “Character, realism and authenticity were key to the filmmakers’ vision.” However, almost everything in “The 355” is the opposite of realistic. As a spy movie, “The 355” is as unrealistic as James Bond being a Russian astronaut becoming an American cowboy who starts working for the CIA.

Universal Pictures will release “The 355” in U.S. cinemas on January 7, 2022.

2021 Toronto International Film Festival: winners announced

September 18, 2021

 

TIFF logo

Pictured in front row: Caitriona Balfe, Jamie Dornan, Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Lewis McAskie in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

 

The following is a press release from the Toronto International Film Festival:

The Toronto International Film Festival® has announced its award recipients for the 46th edition of the Festival, which concluded tonight with screenings of Zhang Yimou’s One Second at the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre and Roy Thomson Hall.

“2021 brought an exceptional selection of films that excited Festival audiences around the world,” said Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey, TIFF Co-Heads. “Our lineup showcased beloved auteurs alongside fresh voices in filmmaking, including numerous women powerhouses. TIFF welcomed guest press, industry, international stars, and directors back to the city and into cinemas. The sweeping range in cinematic storytelling from around the world is a testament to the uniqueness of the films that are being made. We’re so grateful and proud of this year’s Festival.”

Thanks to the hybrid nature of the Festival, TIFF’s Industry platform welcomed close to 4,000 industry and press professionals from around the world, both digitally and in-person. TIFF remains a site of industry activity and a key marketplace for film title sales, hosting 105 market screenings and facilitating the sales of “France,” “Silent Night,” “A Banquet,” and “Huda’s Salon,” as well as Industry Selects title “The Pink Cloud.” TIFF’s Industry Conference presented 37 digital sessions for industry and press delegates from filmmakers to advocates and funders. The Dialogues stream featured conversations with creators E. Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin, Sterlin Harjo, Krysty Wilson-Cairns, and Rebeca Huntt; Visionaries welcomed Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Sahraa Karimi, Greig Fraser, Nancy Utley, and Steve Gilula; Perspectives explored narrative sovereignty with Indigenous industry leaders and hosted a discussion on dismantling toxic industry culture; and Connections highlighted conversations on funding diverse films with ARRAY and talent to watch with Telefilm. TIFF also welcomed 20 new Filmmaker Lab participants, and eight new Rising Stars, who participated in intimate development labs with programme governors and special guest speakers.

TIFF’s Satellite Screenings wrapped Monday, September 13 in the evening. TIFF’s Film Circuit partners Bell and Cineplex worked with TIFF to bring screenings to audiences across Canada, in seven cities and six provinces (Collingwood, ON; Markham, ON; Montreal, QC; Moose Jaw, SK; Prince Rupert, BC; Saint John, NB; and Summerside, PE).

Honouring the film industry’s outstanding contributors and their achievements, and serving as TIFF’s largest annual fundraiser, the TIFF Tribute Awards was broadcast this evening across Canada on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app and streamed internationally to the rest of the world by Variety for the second straight year. The 2021 event raised funds for TIFF’s diversity, equity, and inclusion fund, Every Story, and championed a safe, community-focused, and inspiring return to cinemas. During the one-hour broadcast, two-time Academy Award nominee Jessica Chastain at the Festival with “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and “The Forgiven,” who will receive the TIFF Tribute Actor Award supported by the Tory Family; and Academy Award–nominated Benedict Cumberbatch who was also at TIFF with “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” and “The Power of the Dog,” who will receive the TIFF Tribute Actor Award; Academy Award–nominated French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, who will receive the TIFF Ebert Director Award and brought the epic and breathtaking “Dune” to TIFF on the big screen; award-winning documentary filmmaker, writer, singer, and activist Alanis Obomsawin, who will be honoured with the Jeff Skoll Award in Impact Media supported by Participant Media, also celebrated with a retrospective and premiere of her new powerful short film “Honour to Senator Murray Sinclair”; cinematographer Ari Wegner, whose stunning work was featured in “The Power of the Dog,” who will receive the TIFF Variety Artisan Award; “Cree/Métis Night Raiders” filmmaker Danis Goulet who will receive the TIFF Emerging Talent Award, presented by L’Oréal Paris and supported by MGM; and six-time Grammy Award-winning, music legend Dionne Warwick whose documentary “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over” had a World Premiere at the Festival, will be honoured with the Special Tribute Award.

Produced by Bell Media Studios, with etalk’s Tyrone Edwards and Chloe Wilde returning as hosts, the third annual awards show opened with an introduction from Sigourney Weaver and special tributes were presented by Shamier Anderson, Kirsten Dunst, Rebecca Ferguson, Emma Ferreira, Gladys Knight, Phillip Lewitski, L’Oréal Paris brand ambassador Eva Longoria, David Oyelowo, Michael Showalter, and Kiefer Sutherland. Starting on Sunday, September 19, the TIFF Tribute Awards will be available to view on Crave.

New this year, the highly anticipated winners of the TIFF People’s Choice Award and Platform Jury Prize were announced live during the awards broadcast, just moments ago. Academy Award–nominated actor Riz Ahmed, head of the jury for the 2021 Platform Prize, announced the prize winner for that competition, and the 2021 People’s Choice Award winner was announced by TIFF Co-Heads Cameron Bailey and Joana Vicente.

PLATFORM PRIZE

Arawinda Kirana and Asmara Abigail in “Yuni” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

Named after Jia Zhang-ke’s trailblazing second feature, Platform is the Toronto International Film Festival’s competitive programme championing bold directorial visions. Now in its sixth year, Platform is curated by TIFF Artistic Director and Co-Head Cameron Bailey. The Platform Prize Jury members for 2021 are Riz Ahmed (Jury President), Clio Barnard, Anthony Chen, Kazik Radwanski, and Valerie Complex.

The Platform jury provided this statement: “The jury was moved by a film that brings a fresh, intimate perspective to a coming-of-age story, marked by a subtle structure, delicate framing, and lush cinematography. For drawing us into a unique inner world too rarely seen on screen, the 2021 Platform Prize goes to Yuni, directed by Kamila Andini.”

An honourable mention from the Platform Prize Jury goes to Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), dir. Jenna Cato Bass.

PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARD

Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Ciarán Hinds in “Belfast” (Photo by Rob Youngson/Focus Features)

For the 44th year, the People’s Choice Awards distinguish the audience’s top title at the Festival as voted by the viewing public. Audiences watching films at TIFF Bell Lightbox, Roy Thomson Hall, the Visa Screening Room at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Scotiabank Theatre, the Ontario Place Cinesphere IMAX Theatre, the Visa Skyline Drive-In, the RBC Lakeside Drive-In, the West Island Open Air Cinema, and at home via digital screenings on the digital TIFF Bell Lightbox platform voted online. All films in TIFF’s Official Selection that screened both in-person and on digital TIFF Bell Lightbox were eligible.

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Award winner is: “Belfast,” dir. Kenneth Branagh. The first runner-up is “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. The second runner-up is “The Power of the Dog,” dir. Jane Campion.

A scene from “The Rescue” (Photo courtesy of National Geographic Films)

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Documentary Award winner is “The Rescue,” dirs. E. Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin. The first runner-up is Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over, dirs. Dave Wooley and David Heilbroner. The second runner-up is Flee, dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen.

Agathe Rousselle in “Titane” (Photo by Carole Bethuel/Neon)

The TIFF 2021 People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award winner is “Titane,” dir. Julia Ducournau. The first runner-up is “You Are Not My Mother,” dir. Kate Dolan. The second runner-up is “DASHCAM,” dir. Rob Savage.

SHAWN MENDES FOUNDATION CHANGEMAKER AWARD

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Anna Claire Beitel, Essence Fox and Liam Diaz in “Scarborough” (Photo courtesy of Telefilm Canada and the Talent Fund)

Presented by the Shawn Mendes Foundation, the 2021 Changemaker Award is awarded to a Festival film that tackles issues of social change, and comes with a $10,000 cash prize. The winning film was selected by TIFF’s Next Wave Committee, a group of young film lovers who recognize cinema’s power to transform the world. The Shawn Mendes Foundation will also be making an annual contribution in support of TIFF Next Wave, helping TIFF deliver key initiatives to elevate young voices. The jurors for the Changemaker Award are members of TIFF’s Next Wave Committee: Norah Daudi, Sia Mehta, Saharla Ugas, Julia Yoo, Lina Zhang, Charles Liu, Naiya Forrester, Honora Murphy, Dev Desai, Elli Tripp, Michelle Kofia, and David Rhomberg.

The 2021 Changemaker Award is presented to “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson. Shasha Nakhai developed Scarborough at TIFF Industry in 2019 as an inaugural TIFF Talent Accelerator filmmaker.

TIFF’s Next Wave Committee provided this statement: “This film is etched on my heart. Scarborough is an utterly captivating and earth-shattering story of three intertwined families who are no strangers to hardship. Through the charms of misfits and unlikely heroes, directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson pose big social questions while framing them in a real and affirming story of resilience, community, and love. Written and directed with power and grace, this film truly feels like home.”

Directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson offered this statement: “Thank you to TIFF for giving this film a platform. It has been a really long and challenging road to get here, and we are so grateful to the TIFF Next Wave Committee and the Shawn Mendes Foundation for this award. We’re happy folks are coming away from the film feeling moved, seen, and affirmed, with a renewed commitment to community — and what we hope is a renewed commitment to resisting the forces that seek to erase, fracture, and monetize community. We are excited to bring this film to wider audiences after the Festival, and especially looking forward to using it as a tool to support the front-line work already being done on the myriad issues that it tackles.”

AMPLIFY VOICES AWARDS PRESENTED BY CANADA GOOSE

Canada Goose embraces diversity in all its forms and definitions, including technique and passion that transports storytelling to the screen. This year, Canada Goose presents the Amplify Voices Awards to the three best feature films by under-represented filmmakers. All feature films in Official Selection by emerging BIPOC filmmakers and Canadian filmmakers were eligible for these awards, and the three winners will receive a cash prize of $10,000 each, made possible by Canada Goose.

The three Amplify Voices Awards presented by Canada Goose winners are:

A scene from “Ste. Anne” (Photo courtesy of Exovedate Productions)

Amplify Voices Award for Best Canadian Feature Film: “Ste. Anne,” dir. Rhayne Vermette
Jury’s statement: “Rhayne Vermette’s debut feature shows us a unique vision that makes full use of all the tools of filmmaking to lure us into its emotional topography. Deeply personal yet inviting, Ste. Anne is true cinematic art made in a setting that’s often missing from the landscape of Canadian film.”

Special Mention: “Scarborough,” dirs. Shasha Nakhai, Rich Williamson
Jury’s statement: “With a strong sense of place, Scarborough tells a heartfelt story about community that charms with great performances from its actors, both young and old.”

Yasmin Warsame and Omar Abdi in “The Grave Digger’s Wife” (Photo courtesy of Orange Studio)

Amplify Voices Award: “The Gravedigger’s Wife,” dir. Khadar Ayderus Ahmed
Jury’s statement: “At once specific to Somali culture and universally recognizable, The Gravedigger’s Wife tells a deeply romantic tale that’s both emotionally and visually textured. With Omar Abdi as its magnetic lead, Guled’s journey captivates from the first scene to the final frame.”

A scene from “A Night of Knowing Nothing” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

Amplify Voices Award: “A Night of Knowing Nothing,” dir. Payal Kapadia
Jury’s statement: “Payal Kapadia’s unique documentary balances the personal and political with a surprising snapshot of her home country. Shocking at times, but also sweeping in its beauty, A Night of Knowing Nothing is a first feature that already demonstrates her strong voice as a filmmaker.”

The 2021 jurors for the Amplify Voices Awards presented by Canada Goose are Yung Chang, Calvin Thomas, Kaniehtiio Horn, Hugh Gibson, and Aisha Jamal.

IMDbPro SHORT CUTS AWARDS

A scene from “Displaced” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

The 2021 IMDbPro Short Cuts Awards are for Best Film, Best Canadian Film, and the Share Her Journey Award for best film by a woman. Each winning film will receive a bursary of $10,000 CAD and a one-year membership to IMDbPro, the essential resource for entertainment industry professionals, to help them continue achieving success in their careers. These awards build on IMDbPro’s nearly 20-year history of empowering entertainment professionals to discover new talent and projects, and on its ongoing commitment to supporting and collaboratively working with organizations that create greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the entertainment industry, including TIFF’s Share Her Journey campaign.

The winners of the three awards are:

IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Film: “Displaced,” dir. Samir Karahoda
Jury’s statement: “Standing out in a strong selection of films, Samir Karahoda’s Displaced captivated us with its unique look, locations, and characters that all brought to life the quixotic yet enduring dedication to a sport — and a country — that is hard to articulate, even to one’s self.”

Honourable Mention: “Trumpets in the Sky,” dir. Rakan Mayasi

IMDbPro Short Cuts Award for Best Canadian Film: “Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice,” dir. Zacharias Kunuk

Jury’s statement: “’Zacharias Kunuk’s Angakusajaujuq – The Shaman’s Apprentice’ is an enthralling stop-motion that encapsulates an array of textures, sound, and nuanced expressions that collectively invite you into the apprentice’s journey in learning traditional knowledge and caring for community while confronting your own fears. You can’t help but feel the questions asked of the apprentice are for us all to consider: Who are you? What have you learned?”

Honourable Mention: “Nuisance Bear,” dirs. Jack Weisman, Gabriela Osio Vanden

IMDbPro Short Cuts Share Her Journey Award: “ASTEL,” dir. Ramata-Toulaye Sy
Jury’s statement: “Ramata-Toulaye Sy’s ASTEL moved us with its powerful storytelling, beautiful shots, and a captivating lead performance that explores the complex nuances of womanhood, patriarchy, and coming of age when you least expect it.”

Honourable mention: “Love, Dad,” dir. Diana Cam Van Nguyen

The 2021 jurors for the IMDbPro Short Cuts Awards are filmmakers Sudeep Sharma, Tiffany Hsiung, and Nicole Delaney.

Today the Toronto International Film Festival, alongside the International Federation of Film
Critics (FIPRESCI) and the Network for the Promotion of Asia Pacific Cinema (NETPAC), announced award winners for work screened at TIFF 2021.

FIPRESCI PRIZE

“We are thrilled to announce that ‘Anatolian Leopard’ has received the 2021 FIPRESCI Jury Award,” said Diana Sanchez, Senior Director, Film, TIFF. “Every year we are amazed at the creativity and audaciousness of the filmmakers in our line-up. ‘Anatolian Leopard,’ directed by Emre Kayiş, is no exception.”

Hatice Aslan in “Anatolian Leopard” (Photo courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival)

This year’s FIPRESCI jury members include: Andrew Kendall, Esin Kücüktepepinar, Caspar Salmon, Gilbert Seah, and Teresa Vena.

The 2021 FIPRESCI jury released the following statement: “In a perfectly controlled comedy of manners, ‘Anatolian Leopard’ takes the temperature of a country torn between the old ways and modernity – not to say between honour and corruption – while offering up a melancholy portrait of a man at odds with his surroundings. Emre Kayiş shows great formal accomplishment in this measured and thoughtful film, which stood out from the competition for its singular tone and worldview.”

NETPAC AWARD

Saleh Bakri and Nadine Labaki in “Costa Brava, Lebanon” (Photo courtesy of MK2 Films)

The 2021 NETPAC jury members include: Gemma Cubero del Barrio, Isabelle Glachant and Elhum Shakerifar. TIFF is delighted to announce that the 2021 NETPAC Jury has selected “Costa Brava, Lebanon,” directed by Mounia Aklas this year’s NETPAC winner. The jury released this statement, “’Costa Brava, Lebanon’ – an exquisite intergenerational family story – is an ode to sustainable futures by visionary new talent, Mounia Akl from her precious and troubled country.”

Please visit tiff.net for more information.

AFTER THE FESTIVAL

This fall, TIFF Bell Lightbox reopens its doors to audiences for year-round programming with a full roster of new titles, Festival hits, and beloved favourites. TIFF programming will restart with the Festival Midnight Madness body-horror smash hit “Titane,” from director Julia Ducournau (“Raw”). “Titane” begins screening October 1 at TIFF Bell Lightbox.

Starting October 14, TIFF also invites audiences to enjoy Welcome Back, TIFF Cinematheque’s lineup of big-screen favourites — including Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy,” Jane Campion’s “The Portrait of a Lady,” Spike Jonze’s “Being John Malkovich,” and Claire Denis’ “Beau Travail.”

Following a highly anticipated Special Event Festival screening of “Dune,” TIFF Cinematheque presents The Uncanny Vision of Denis Villeneuve, an in-cinema programme of the filmmaker’s earlier works (Arrival, Enemy, August 32nd on Earth), as well as films selected by Villeneuve that have inspired him throughout his career (David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Le Mystère Picasso”). The Uncanny Vision of Denis Villeneuve begins October 15.

Rounding out the Fall Season in-cinema lineup is In Case You Missed It, a selection of acclaimed titles from recent Festivals, starting on October 6. Audiences who may have missed their chance the first time around will now have the opportunity to have the full theatrical experience for titles like Kazik Radwanski’s “Anne at 13,000 ft,” Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” and Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland,” winner of TIFF 2020’s People’s Choice Award. Additional programming will be announced in the coming weeks.

TIFF is also pleased to announce that digital offerings will continue for film lovers across the country. TIFF patrons across Canada can experience Ann Shin’s A.rtificial I.mmortality, David Lowery’s The Green Knight and Heidi Ewing’s I Carry You With Me, among other titles, from the comfort of their homes via digital TIFF Bell Lightbox.

COVID-19 health and safety measures will continue as TIFF Bell Lightbox reopens for year-round operation. As of September 22, audience members and visitors entering TIFF Bell Lightbox will be required to show proof they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Masks remain mandatory throughout the building, including in cinema. Additional details are available at tiff.net/covid-19.

Learn more about the Every Story fund at tiff.net/everystory

The 46th Toronto International Film Festival ran September 9–18, 2021.

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#TIFF21

Review: ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ (2021), starring Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield

September 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Andrew Garfield and Jessica Chastain in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (2021)

Directed by Michael Showalter

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the U.S., the biographical dramatic film “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Tammy Faye Baker and Jim Bakker rose to the top of the Christian televangelical business, only to have their empire come crashing down in the late 1980s, due to sex scandals and fraud charges. 

Culture Audience: “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” will appeal primarily to viewers who are interested in exaggerated depictions of the rise and fall of rich and famous people.

Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (Photo courtesy of Searchlight Pictures)

Just like the disgraced televangelists at the center of this story, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” might have wanted to be taken very seriously, but people will either be repulsed or entertained by the campiness of it all. This biographical movie is best enjoyed if viewers know in advance that Tammy Faye Bakker is going to be presented as a misunderstood, makeup-caked, misled spouse who was both obedient and rebellious, when it came to conservative Christian beliefs. Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield give very committed performances as former televangelist power couple Tammy Faye Bakker and Jim Bakker. But when you portray people who became much-ridiculed public figures by their own doing, it’s nearly impossible to avoid becoming caricatures when acting out what it was like to be these human train wrecks.

Directed by Michael Showalter and written by Abe Sylvia, “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” offers a narrative that goes something like this: “Those scandals were all Jim Bakker’s fault. Let’s talk about how Tammy Faye Bakker just wanted to love everyone and be happy.” Tammy Faye (who died of cancer in 2007, at the age of 65) might have a lingering public image of a tear-soaked, sorrowful televangelist brought down by betrayals and scandals. However, the majority of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” portrays her as relentlessly perky, to a fault. The Bakkers went from doing a low-budget traveling Christian puppet show to owning a lucrative empire that included the Praise the Lord (PTL) network and related businesses headquartered in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

The 1990 TV-movie “Fall From Grace,” starring Kevin Spacey as Jim Bakker and Bernadette Peters as Tammy Faye Bakker, covered similar territory but wasn’t as concerned with casting Jim or Tammy Faye in a redeeming light. One of the biggest criticisms that “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” might get is how it mostly frees her from blame for being a willing participant in the greed that led to her and Jim Bakker’s downfall. She’s portrayed as someone who was just along for the ride and was blissfully unaware of the depth of how much people were being cheated by the Bakkers. It’s a very hard-to-believe premise, but that’s why this movie is a scripted drama, not a documentary.

However, this dramatic version of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” is based on the 2000 documentary of the same name. Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato (co-founders of the production company World of Wonder) directed “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” documentary, which was narrated by RuPaul. In 2009, World of Wonder and RuPaul later launched “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which went on to become an Emmy-winning hit. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” drama movie goes out of its way to depict Tammy Faye as an underrated influencer of drag queens and other LGBTQ people—and not just because of how she did her hair and makeup.

There are multiple scenes in the movie where Tammy Faye speaks up for LGBTQ people, even though she would face criticism and shunning from many conservative Christians who disagreed with her. In a scene where Tammy Faye and Jim meet powerful preacher Jerry Falwell Sr. (played by Vincent D’Onofrio) for the first time in the early 1970s, Falwell insists that their brand of Christianity should be about helping Republican politicians get elected and should be against a “homosexual agenda.” Tammy disagrees because she thinks Christianity should be about “loving everybody.” She also wonders aloud why she and Jim can’t just stay out of politics, but those thoughts are shut down by Falwell.

In another scene that takes place in 1985, on the PTL network, Tammy Faye does a compassionate interview by live satellite TV with an openly gay minister named Steve Pieters (played by Randy Havens), who is HIV-positive. She starts off the interview with her usual perkiness, but eventually she’s moved to tears by his story, especially when he talks about how people are afraid to touch him or be near him. “I just want to put my arm around you,” she tells Pieters. “I want to put my arms around you too, Tammy Faye,” he replies in a virtual lovefest.

Meanwhile, Jim and Falwell are seen backstage watching the interview, and they’re shocked that Tammy Faye has gone rogue on them. Falwell is predictably outraged and disgusted. Jim acts embarrassed and says he had no idea that this live interview with a gay/HIV-positive minister was going to take place on the PTL network. This backstage brouhaha is the type of melodramatic scene that looks like it was fabricated just for the movie.

The movie chronicles Tammy Faye’s childhood in Minnesota, as one of eight children growing up in a strict Christian household ruled over by their domineering, no-nonsense mother Rachel Grover (played by Cherry Jones) and her “go along to get along” second husband Fred Grover (played by Fredric Lehne), who brought his own children into the marriage as a widower. Rachel and Tammy Faye often disagree because Rachel believes in living modestly, while Tammy Faye obviously does not. In their churchgoing community, Tammy Faye was made to feel “inferior” to her siblings because she was born from Rachel’s first marriage, which ended in divorce.

Rachel endured her own stigma in their conservative Christian community for being someone who had been a divorcée. An early scene in the movie shows that Tammy Faye was aware that people in their church community called Rachel a harlot behind her back. Rachel knows it too, because she says that the only reason why she was let back into the church was because she knows how to play the piano.

The movie depicts Tammy Faye as having a flair for dramatics and wanting attention at an early age. There’s a scene where, after taking her first communion, a 10-year-old Tammy Faye (played by Faye Chandler Head) begins speaking in tongues. Her mother is visibly shocked.

When Tammy Faye met Jim in 1960, they were both students at North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. Their first scene together shows Tammy listening to Jim preach in a chapel to a small group of students. She seems enraptured by his preaching style and is the only one in the group to nod her head and verbally affirm what he says.

And just to put an emphasis on the narrative that Tammy Faye was treated like an “outsider” almost all of her life, she gets called a “jezebel” by someone in the group who mutters this insult, all because Tammy Faye likes to wear makeup. Jim comes to her defense. An instant attraction is sparked.

During Jim and Tammy’s first date together, she tells him that she has no secrets because she’s never done anything scandalous. He confesses to her that he originally wanted to be a radio DJ. He’s secretly a fan of rock music, which is considered sinful in the Christian society where Jim and Tammy live and grew up.

Jim also tells Tammy why he decided to become a preacher. One day, when he was driving his father’s car, he was listening to rock music and having lustful thoughts, which caused him to be distracted from his driving. He ended up in a car accident that hit a boy named Jimmy Summerfield, who suffered serious injuries but survived. Jim made a promise to God that if Jimmy lived, then Jim would give his life over to religion instead of being a DJ.

Jim and Tammy Faye’s awkward first makeout session is filmed with a certain level of comedy, since these teenagers have been taught that sex outside of marriage is a sin. While they’re kissing and groping, they both say, “I can’t.” It’s one of the funnier scenes in the movie. And because Jim and Tammy Faye want to have sex, the next thing you know, Tammy Faye and Jim show up at her parents’ house in 1961, her mother opens the door, and Tammy introduces her husband Jim to her family for the first time.

There’s a fairly long stretch of the movie that’s about Tammy Faye and Jim’s Christian puppet show, which was the start of their career in religious showbiz. They took their puppet show on the road as a way to make money. Tammy Faye is particularly fixated on a female pig puppet with blonde pigtails named Susie Moppett, which later became a bestselling toy for the PTL network. Tammy Faye was also fascinated with Betty Boop, so expect to see several scenes of her talking in high-pitched, breathy voices.

Tammy Faye is depicted as the more creative partner in the marriage. She became famous for her singing. And she was the one who invented the couple’s puppet characters and wrote much of their dialogue. In the movie, Tammy Faye explains to her mother that the puppet show is a way to attract parents whom Jim and Tammy Faye wanted to become followers in a church owned by Jim and Tammy Faye.

Tammy Faye was also the one who supposedly came up with the idea to bring the Bakker ministry to television. When she and Jim see televangelist Pat Robertson (played by Gabriel Olds) preaching on TV, she strokes Jim’s ego by telling him that he’s much more charismatic than Robertson. The Bakkers’ plan is to eventually build a ministry that’s even bigger than Robertson’s.

While staying at a motel, Jim and Tammy Faye discover that their car is missing from the parking lot. Tammy Faye is shocked, while Jim is scatterbrained. At first, he thinks the car was stolen. But then he admits: Yes, maybe he stopped making the last several car payments, so the car was repossessed and towed away. It’s supposed to be an example of how financial matters were handled in their marriage. According to this movie, Jim was in charge of the finances, and he hid his money mishandling from Tammy.

With their car gone, Jim and Tammy Faye try to figure out how they’re going to get to their next destination. But what do you know, in an “only in a movie” moment, a man staying at the same motel just happens to walk right near Jim and Tammy Faye in the motel parking lot. He recognizes them and mentions that they should do their puppet act on Pat Robertson’s TV show. And gee, what a coincidence: This man happens to know Robertson and can make this TV appearance happen.

Jim and Tammy Faye do several appearances on Robertson’s show and develop their own fan base. When they visit Robertson’s lavish estate in Hot Springs, Virginia, for the first time in 1972, their avarice and egos start to go into overdrive when they see a lot of Robertson’s wealth on display. Jim tells Tammy Faye: “We paid for all of this, Tammy!,” as if Jim and Tammy Faye are the reasons why Robertson is so successful.

It’s at the Robertson estate where Jim and Tammy Faye are depicted as meeting Falwell for the first time during a luncheon with several guests. Tammy Faye is shown finagling her way into a men’s-only discussion at a table that includes Jim, Robertson and Falwell. She knows she’s not really welcome at the table, based on the men’s reactions. But with her toddler daughter Tammy Sue in tow, Tammy Faye uses her plucky charm to seat herself at the table and voice her opinions in their conversation.

In a hilarious moment, after the PTL network became successful long after the Bakkers ditched their traveling puppet show, Tammy Faye is seen on the PTL network promoting the use of a penis pump to help improve marital intimacy when a male partner is impotent. In the movie, Tammy is portrayed as being more comfortable than Jim when it came to publicly discussing sex and sexuality. The movie depicts Tammy Faye as a groundbreaking trailblazer in putting things on the PTL network that were traditionally considered taboo or too risqué for religious television.

The rest of the movie shows the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Faye, as well as Tammy Faye’s failed attempts at a showbiz comeback. Over time, their marriage changed from Tammy Faye being the more confident and more assertive partner to Jim being the one who was mostly in control. The marriage was affected by infidelity, although Tammy Faye is portrayed as less caught up in cheating than Jim was.

Tammy Faye is shown having just one extramarital lover, when she had a brief fling with music producer Gary Paxton (played by Mark Wystrach) in 1975. They worked together on Tammy Faye’s songs. Their affair is depicted as something that Paxton instigated because he showered a lot of attention and praise on her, knowing that Tammy Faye was being neglected by Jim.

An example of the movie’s campy side is the smarmy stream of pickup lines that Paxton uses to try to seduce Tammy Faye. In the recording studio, he tells her after recording some of her vocals: “I haven’t been this excited about an artist since I produced ‘Monster Mash’! We could get a Grammy!”

And later, when Tammy is eight months pregnant with her son Jamie, Paxton comes right out asks her when was the last time she was touched the way she deserves to be touched. It leads to one of the campiest scenes in the movie. Let’s just say that the movie doesn’t leave it up to the imagination on how Tammy Faye went into labor when she gave birth to Jamie.

Jim’s extramarital flings—most notoriously with former church secretary Jessica Hahn—are mentioned in conversations or shown as news headlines but not depicted in any explicit scenes. In real life, Hahn claimed that Jim and his right-hand man Richard Fletcher (played by Louis Cancelmi) drugged her, raped her, and later paid her a six-figure sum from church funds to keep quiet about it. Jim and Fletcher both denied that the sexual encounter was rape, but they admitted that sex occurred and that there was payoff money using PTL church funds.

In real life, Fletcher testified under oath that he was Jim’s secret lover, but Jim denied it under oath. There’s a scene in the movie where Tammy Faye sees Jim and Fletcher play-wrestling with each other on the ground, and she looks at them as if she silently suspects that something sexual might be going on between the two men. And the movie mentions that several men came forward to accuse Jim of making sexual advances on them.

Of course, in a movie about a marriage that goes bad, there are argument scenes between the two spouses. In “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” these over-the-top scenes are very reminiscent of soap operas that were popular in the 1980s, such as “Dynasty” and “Dallas.” Joan Collins and Larry Hagman would be very proud to see that in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” Chastain and Garfield have carried on their tradition of portraying wealthy people screaming hateful things to each other while surrounded by gaudy 1980s decor.

Some choice words include Tammy Faye wailing to Jim: “I’m so sick of my faith in you!” Jim yells back: “You’re a bottomless pit!” Jim shouts at Tammy Faye: “I built you an empire!” Tammy Faye shrieks, “You built you an empire!,” conveniently forgetting her spending sprees. Tammy Faye’s descent into pill-popping hell is duly chronicled, including her being high as a kite on live TV and, on a separate occasion, having a near-fatal overdose. “I’m not a drug addict,” she insists. “I’m only addicted to Diet Coke!”

Chastain, who does her own singing in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” certainly gives her utmost in her performance in this movie. She transforms into numerous incarnations of Tammy Faye, whose physical appearance went through drastic changes over the years. Garfield gives a more restrained performance that is most chilling when showing Jim’s cold cruelty, such as when Jim forces Tammy Faye to go on their TV show to confess her infidelity and beg for forgiveness. “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival) won’t get a lot of major awards for acting. However, the film’s makeup and hairstyling will surely get numerous award nominations.

Tammy Faye is mostly portrayed as pathetic, rather than tragic. After all, it’s hard to feel too much sympathy for Tammy Faye when she’s whining about being a persecuted underdog, while she and her fraudster husband are living lavish lifestyles paid for by money that was supposed to be for their church and charitable causes. When she and Jim went on all those over-the-top spending sprees to buy luxurious personal things for themselves, she would’ve known that how they were misusing the money was illegal. The Bakkers made elaborate plans to build a religious theme park called Heritage USA, but it was all going to be funded by a Ponzi scheme.

“The Eyes of Tammy Faye” screenplay is more interested in using broad strokes than in finessing details. Even though building contractor Roe Messner (played by Sam Jaeger) is in the movie as someone who helped the Bakkers with their construction plans, nowhere (not even in the epilogue) is it mentioned in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” drama that Messner was Tammy Faye’s second husband. They were married from 1993 until her death in 2007. And no one in the movie portrays rape accuser Hahn, who is only referred to in the movie as a news headline or (as Jim describes her) as an extortionist.

If people are looking for entertainment with deliberately hammy acting in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” then the movie delivers this type of comedic-tinged drama for viewers. If people are looking for a serious biography with comprehensive and thorough facts, then look elsewhere. People might or might not feel more sympathy for Tammy Faye after seeing “The Eyes of Tammy Faye.” You’ll enjoy the movie more if you take it for what it is: a very Hollywood version of the truth.

Searchlight Pictures released “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” in select U.S. cinemas on September 17, 2021.

2017 CinemaCon: What to expect at this year’s event

March 19, 2017

by Carla Hay

CinemaCon

CinemaCon, the annual convention for the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO), will be held March 27-30, 2017 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. About 5,000 people attend the event, which gives movie studios the chance to showcase what they expect to be their biggest hits of the year.

Movie studios scheduled to give their presentations at the event are Sony Pictures Entertainment on March 27; STX Films, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Pictures on March 28; Universal Pictures, Focus Features and Warner Bros. Pictures on March 29; Universal Pictures, Amazon Studios and Lionsgate on March 30. Although most of the presentations only include clips and trailers, a few movies will be screened in advance in their entirety. Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” and Lionsgate’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

CinemaCon culminates with the CinemaCon Big Screen Achievement Awards ceremony, which will take place March 30.

Here are the announced winners of the awards:

Cinema Icon Award
Goldie Hawn

Goldie Hawn
Goldie Hawn (Photo courtesy of PBS)

In a career spanning more than 50 years, Goldie Hawn has won an Oscar (for 1969’s “Cactus Flower”) and starred in such hits as 1980’s “Private Benjamin,” 1987’s “Overboard” and 1996’s “The First Wives Club”. In 2017, she returns to the big screen after a 15-year hiatus by co-starring with Amy Schumer in the comedy “Snatched.”

CinemaCon Vanguard Award
Salma Hayek

Salma Hayek
Salma Hayek (Photo by Lacey Terrell)

Salma Hayek, who received an Oscar nomination for starring as artist Frida Khalo in the 2002 biopic “Frida,” has appeared in a number of hit movies, including 2010’s “Grown Ups,” 2013’s “Grown Ups 2” and 2011’s “Puss in Boots.” She has four movies lined up for release in 2017: “Beatriz at Dinner,” “Drunk Parents,” “How to Be a Latin Lover” and “The Hitman’s Bodyguard.”

Distinguished Decade of Achievement in Film
Naomi Watts

Naomi Watts
Naomi Watts (Photo courtesy of Exclusive Releasing)

Nominated twice for an Oscar (for 2003’s “21 Grams” and 2013’s “The Impossible”), Naomi Watts has starred in practically every movie genre, including the blockbusters “King Kong” (2005) and “The Ring” (2002). In the past 10 years, she has received acclaim for her roles in the Oscar-winning movie “Birdman” (2014),  “Mother and Child” (2009) and “Eastern Promises” (2007).

CinemaCon Male Star of the Year
Charlie Hunnam

Charlie Hunnam
Charlie Hunnam (Photo by Aidan Monaghan)

Charlie Hunnam, one of the stars of the FX TV series “Sons of Anarchy,” has headlined the 2013 action flick “Pacific Rim.” In 2017, he stars in “The Lost City of Z” and “King Arthur.”

CinemaCon Female Star of the Year
Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain
Jessica Chastain (Photo courtesy of EuropaCorp)

Jessica Chastain has received Oscar nominations for her roles in 2011’s “The Help” and 2012’s “Zero Dark Thirty.” Her other big hits include 2014’s “Interstellar” and 2015’s “The Martian.” In 2017, her movies are “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” “Woman Walks Ahead” and “Molly’s Game.”

CinemaCon Director of the Year
Jordan Peele

Jordan Peele (Photo by Justin Lubin)

Jordan Peele rose to fame as part of the Emmy-winning comedy duo Key & Peele (with Keegan-Michael Key), who co-starred in an eponymous TV series and the 2016  film “Keanu.” Peele wrote, directed and was one of the producers of the 2017 horror thriller “Get Out,” his directorial debut. With the smash success of “Get Out,” Peele became the first African-American director to have his directorial debut gross more than $100 million at the U.S. box office.

CinemaCon Action Star of the Year
John Cena

John Cena
John Cena (Photo by Mary Cybulski)

Although John Cena has had well-received supporting roles in the 2015 hit comedies “Trainwreck,” “Sisters” and “Daddy’s Home,” his WWE background paved the way for him to star in mostly action flicks. In 2017, he stars in “The Wall,” a war drama co-starring Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

CinemaCon Male Star of Tomorrow Award
Ansel Elgort

Ansel Elgort
Ansel Elgort (Photo courtesy of TBS)

Ansel Elgort is best known for starring in 2014’s “The Fault in Our Stars” and the “Divergent” series. In 2017, his movies include “Baby Driver,” “Jonathan,” “Billionaire Boys Club” and “November Criminals.”

CinemaCon Female Star of Tomorrow Award
Sofia Boutella

Sofia Boutella
Sofia Boutella (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)

Sofia Boutella has had high-profile roles in 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and 2016’s “Star Trek Beyond.” Her movies set for release in 2017 include “The Mummy” (starring Tom Cruise) and “Atomic Blonde” (starring Charlize Theron).

CinemaCon Breakthrough Performer of the Year
Brenton Thwaites

Brenton Thwaites
Brenton Thwaites (Photo by David Dare Parker)

After starring in movies that failed to find a large audience (2014’s “The Giver,” 2014’s “Son of a Gun,” 2013’s “Oculus,”), Brenton Twaites is poised to have a major blockbuster breakthrough with 2017’s “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” starring Johnny Depp. Thwaites’ other movies releasing in 2017 are “Office Uprising” and “An Interview With God.”

March 24, 2017 UPDATE:

CinemaCon Rising Star of the Year
Isabela Moner

Isabella Moner (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)

Isabela Moner is an actress and singer whose on-screen roles include starring in the Nickelodeon series “100 Things to Do Before High School” (from 2014 to 2016) and the 2016 feature film “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.” In 2017, she is co-starring with Mark Walhberg in her biggest movie so far: the action sequel “Transformers: The Last Knight.” She also has a voice role in the 2017 animated film “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature.”

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