Review: ‘I’ve Got Issues,’ starring Macon Blair, Claire Titelman, John Merriman, Byron Brown, Randy Aguebor, Courtney Davis, Sam Eidson, Paul Gordon and Maria Thayer

October 4, 2020

by Carla Hay

Courtney Davis in “I’ve Got Issues” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“I’ve Got Issues”

Directed by Steve Collins

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in unnamed U.S. locations, the darkly droll comedy “I’ve Got Issues” features a predominantly white cast (with two African American men) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: In various chapters of the film, different characters have absurd, bizarre and sometimes unexpected experiences that often make them uncomfortable. 

Culture Audience: “I’ve Got Issues” will appeal primarily to people who like odd, slow-paced movies.

Macon Blair in “I’ve Got Issues” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The dreadfully sluggish comedy “I’ve Got Issues” starts out as if it could be a promising dry-humored film, as off-screen narrator Jim Gaffigan says in a deadpan tone: “Humans. They struggle. Every day, they struggle. Why? What is the point?” That last question could be applied to this overly smug movie that tries too hard to be weird for the sake of being weird, but ultimately it just ends up being mindlessly dull without saying much.

“I’ve Got Issues” is told in several chapters, which are really small films with simple set designs, with each chapter lasting from five to 15 minutes long. Each chapter has a different storyline and different characters. Just don’t expect a lot of these chapters to have any meaning as they plod along, with the actors having the same listless and fog-brained demeanor in every single scene.

There are nine actors who play the main characters in the various chapters: Macon Blair, Claire Titelman, John Merriman, Byron Brown, Randy Aguebor, Courtney Davis, Sam Eidson, Paul Gordon and Maria Thayer. In all of these different settings and scenarios, which are supposed to represent America, apparently “I’ve Got Issues” writer/director Steve Collins wants to erase women of color, since women of color do not exist in the world he’s created for this movie.

The opening montage shows different people in various scenarios of annoyance. A man’s car breaks down and he’s left stranded. A man accidentally locks his keys in his car. A woman is walking somewhere in high heels, but one shoe has a broken heel. A man uses a copy machine that mangles the paper. A man tries to use a vending machine that doesn’t work. This montage is then referenced again in the closing scene.

In between, there are the chapters where viewers are subjected to a bunch of bizarre people who all talk very slowly, and we’re supposed to think it’s all very hip and funny. It’s just simply dull and not clever at all.

The chapter called “The Healer” basically consists of Gordon playing a New Age hippie type (“the healer”), who’s in a therapy session with two male friends, portrayed by Blair and Eidson. The character played by Blair gets uncomfortable when the healer brings another man into the session and tells the character played by Blair to let this strange man lie on his lap.

In the chapter called “Please Help Griselda,” Davis plays a mute woman named Griselda, who contorts her face and shows up at a stranger’s house and indicates that she needs help. The woman who answers the door is played by Titelman, and she lets Griselda into the home. The rest of the skit consists of asking Griselda repeatedly if she needs help.

A recurring theme in the film is people being interviewed, usually in a job setting. There are also multiple scenarios showing people attempting suicide by hanging. It’s unknown why writer/director Collins has a fixation on showing people with rope nooses that they want to put around their necks, but this imagery ultimately serves no purpose in this movie.

There is some attempt to be provocative when it comes to race and gender issues. In the chapter titled “Slippery Slope,” a man (played by Blair) applies for a job that he finds out is a paid internship to help write a newsletter for a “white male supremacy booster club.” He expresses some initial discomfort with taking the job, until he is told that the place will allow him to do recycling.

On his first day on the job, the only other co-worker in the large office room is an Indian man, who says, “I know it’s f-ed up,” in response to the intern’s surprise that a non-white person works there. The newly hired intern asks, “How are the benefits?” Later, the new intern is shown wearing a Ku Klu Klan outfit while he dumps some trash outside in a recycling bin, while an African American bystander (played by Aguebor) looks on with a shocked expression on his face.

In the chapter titled “Justice,” a woman (played by Thayer) is testifying in a courtroom trial somewhere in a Southern state, where the people talk in exaggerated Southern accents and blather on about sweet tea. She is testifying against the defendant, who is a man accused of stealing her purse and assaulting her. As she gives her testimony (she’s the only woman in a room of white men), the defendant’s lawyer begins to insult her, and she ends up being arrested and hauled off to jail before she can finish her testimony. It’s an obvious commentary on gender discrimination and victim shaming of women.

“I’ve Got Issues” has very low production values and very low concepts that aren’t executed as well as the filmmakers think they were. The actors were obviously instructed to speak their lines as if they’re in an alternate universe where everyone talks in the same irritating monotone. The acting isn’t the problem in this movie.

The biggest problem with “I’ve Got Issues” is the unrelenting boredom that the movie induces because it’s too busy patting itself on the back for being weird. Some people will automatically like this movie because they think it will make them look like they’re in on some kind of cool inside joke. But people who don’t want to be subjected to tedious junk should avoid “I’ve Got Issues” altogether.

Gravitas Ventures released “I’ve Got Issues” on digital and VOD on September 18, 2020.

Review: ‘Tesla,’ starring Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Eve Hewson, Jim Gaffigan and Hannah Gross

August 23, 2020

by Carla Hay

Ethan Hawke in “Tesla” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Tesla”

Directed by Michael Almereyda

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of the U.S. Northeast and in Colorado, primarily from 1884 to 1901, the dramatic film “Tesla” has an all-white cast representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Nikola Tesla, a Serbian immigrant in the United States who later became a U.S. citizen, is a brilliant inventor, but he struggles to get investors and he experiences bad business deals.

Culture Audience: “Tesla” will appeal mostly to people who are open to experimental biopics, since the movie has some unconventional elements that viewers will either like or dislike.

Ethan Hawke and Eve Hewson in “Tesla” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

If you think a movie called “Tesla,” about pioneering Serbian American inventor Nikola Tesla, who died in 1943 at the age of 86, is a stuffy affair with the usual biopic tropes, think again. “Tesla” writer/director Michael Almereyda’s very unconventional depiction of Tesla’s life has some out-of-left-field scenes that will either intrigue or annoy viewers. The movie should be commended for taking some bold risks, although the pacing in some parts of “Tesla” drags to the point where people might get bored.

That’s because “Tesla” is more of an introspective and murky think piece instead of a rousing story about one of science’s pioneers who was underrated and often overlooked during his time. (Tesla’s name was the inspiration for the tech company founded by Elon Musk, as well as the California-based rock band Tesla, which had hits in the 1980s and early 1990s.) The movie “Tesla” might hold the interest of people who don’t want to see a typical biopic, but everyone else should stay clear of this movie if they want something that sticks to a briskly paced “feel good” formula. And this movie (which mostly takes place from 1884 to 1901) isn’t really told from Tesla’s perspective.

One of the unpredictable aspects of “Tesla” is that Tesla (played by Ethan Hawke) is almost like a supporting character in this story that’s supposed to be about Tesla’s life. The movie is narrated by heiress/philanthropist Anne Morgan (played by Eve Hewson), who befriends Tesla in the movie and offers observations of him, as if she’s commenting in the present day. (In real life, she died in 1952, at the age of 78.) For example, there are multiple scenes with Anne using an Apple laptop computer and mentioning that if people do Google searches on inventors Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Tesla, there are millions more search results for Edison and Westinghouse than there are for Tesla.

The point is clear: Tesla, who worked with Edison and Westinghouse during various parts of his career, is still frequently overshadowed by them in the present day, just as he was when he was alive. Does the movie “Tesla” present him as a misunderstood genius? Yes and no.

On the one hand, the movie shows how Tesla (who immigrated to the U.S. in 1884) could excel as a scientist/inventor. His inventions included designing one of the first alternate current [AC] hydroelectric power plants in the United States in 1895. On the other hand, Tesla wasn’t so smart when it came to business. The movie depicts some well-documented situations when he was notoriously cheated in business deals and made other bad financial decisions that left him destitute by the time he died.

The “Tesla” movie makes it clear, through Anne’s constant narration, that Tesla was so introverted that the few people he allowed to get close to him often did not know what he was thinking. Anne explains that one of the biggest frustrations she had with Tesla was that he “lives inside his head” too much.

The movie shows that, in addition to Anne, there was one person Tesla was close to in his prime years as an inventor: his assistant Anthony Szigeti (played by Ebon Moss-Bachrach), a Hungarian engineer whom Tesla met when they were students at Prague University. There’s a scene where Tesla shows that he’s still haunted by the death of his brother Dane, who died in a horsing accident at the age of 12, when Tesla was 7. Tesla confides to Anthony about his beloved brother Dane: “He was the brilliant one. I could never measure up.”

And the movie also depicts that although Tesla certainly excelled in his intellectual pursuits, due to his pioneering work with electricity, he placed his work over his personal life. Tesla never married, did not have children, and he died alone. Anne mentions in voiceover narration that Tesla was very close to his mother in his childhood. Anne says aloud at one point in the movie: “I came to wonder: Could any woman touch or reach Tesla the way his mother had?”

In the movie, Anne is just a platonic friend to Tesla, although it’s hinted that at some point that she had a romantic attraction to him, but the feeling wasn’t mutual. Anne cared a great deal about what Tesla thought of her, as evidenced in a scene where Anne and Tesla are rollerskating together in a courtyard. Tesla falls down and cuts short the activity. “I’m fine,” he tells Anne. “Sometimes I have an unfavorable reaction to pearls.” Anne then hastily takes off the pearl necklace she is wearing.

French superstar actress Sarah Bernhardt (played by Rebecca Dayan) has a brief flirtation with Tesla, but it never goes anywhere, since they only encounter each other occasionally at social events. During one of those encounters, Sarah emerges in a scene set to electronic dance music. It’s one of many scenes where the movie infuses modern elements of things that weren’t invented yet during the time period depicted in the movie.

Other real-life people depicted in the movie include banker Alfred Brown (played by Ian Lithgow) and attorney Charles Peck (played by Michael Mastro), two investors who formed the Tesla Electric Company with Tesla and helped Tesla set up his own lab in 1887. Also portrayed in the movie are writer/editor Robert Underwood Johnson (played by Josh Hamilton), who was best known for his work with The Century Magazine, and his wife Katharine Johnson (played by Lucy Walters), who both befriended Tesla in the 1890s.

Hawke, who starred in director Almereyda’s 2000 movie adaptation of “Hamlet,” certainly wasn’t cast in the role of Tesla because of his physical resemblance. In real life, Tesla was about 6’2″ and had a rail-thin figure. Hawke is 5’10” and has an average build. And Hawke’s accent in the movie isn’t that great. It’s supposed to be a Serbian accent, but it comes out sounding quasi-European.

However, what Hawke does capture well (and it looks like this was the intention of the filmmakers) is Tesla’s introverted nature, his reluctance to deal with confrontation and his almost blind trust that other inventors would have the same type of integrity that he seemed to have. There are several scenes in the movie that show how Tesla could be in a room with other people and be overshadowed by people with bigger personalities and more financial clout.

Anne, a daughter of wealthy banker J.P. Morgan (played by Donnie Keshawarz), is one of those people, as depicted in this movie. Even though she’s much younger than Tesla, she has the power to get him major investment money via her father. And being the narrator of this movie, Anne’s confident personality shines through much more than Tesla’s.

Anne would become an outspoken feminist later in her life, and the movie shows signs of her being a free thinker who wasn’t afraid to go against tradition. She likes to challenge Tesla with questions having to do with science or philosophy. In one scene, Anne says to Tesla: “Idealism cannot work together with capitalism. True or false?”

Another personality that outshines Tesla’s is that of Thomas Edison (played by Kyle MacLachlan), the flashy inventor who took big risks and was often accused of taking credit for other people’s work. Tesla was sometime caught between the bitter rivalry of Edison and the more low-key George Westinghouse (played by Jim Gaffigan), but the end result was that Tesla was helped and hurt by his business deals with both of these titan inventors. Westinghouse was not as much of an attention-seeker as Edison was, but the movie shows that Westinghouse (just like Edison) was also capable of making ruthless business decisions, at the expense of alienating colleagues and in order to make himself wealthy.

Of the three inventors, Edison is one who’s depicted in the least flattering way in the movie. In a scene taking place in New York City in 1884, and portraying recent immigrant Tesla joining his new employer Edison for dinner with some other men, Edison shows some xenophobia by trying to embarrass Tesla with these questions: “Is it true that you’re from Transylvania? Have you ever eaten human flesh?” Edison then tries to laugh off these insults by saying, “We like to give the new men a hard time.”

Edison is essentially portrayed as a pompous blowhard who could be short-sighted if he couldn’t see immediate ways to make money. In one scene, Edison tells a group of businessmen: “Alternating current is a waste of time. There’s no future in it.” And in another scene, Tesla comments on Edison: “He talks to everyone but is incapable of listening.”

The movie has some whimsical fantasy sequences that Anne admits in narration never happened. One is a scene depicting Edison and Tesla getting into an argument, and they take ice cream cones that they’re holding and smash each cone on the other person. Another fabricated scene is one where Edison meets Tesla in a saloon and makes an apology to Tesla, who worked briefly for Edison from 1884 to 1885. And who really knows if Tesla and Anne ever rollerskated together in a courtyard? However, it’s depicted more than once in the movie.

The movie also portrays milestone achievements in science and technology, such as the invention of the phonograph, indoor electrical wiring and the first experiments in human electrocution. In all of these depictions, Edison or Westinghouse get all the glory, while Tesla’s contributions are trivialized to the media and to the public. The movie also shows Tesla in various times and places, such as New York City in 1881; Pittsburgh in 1888; Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1899; and New York state’s Long Island in 1901.

Anne narrates what goes on in the personal lives of Edison and Westinghouse, including Edison’s marriage to second wife Mina Miller Edison (played by Hannah Gross), who had a big influence on her husband’s business decisions. The movie even goes as far to show some of Edison’s courtship with Mina, when she was engaged to marry a preacher’s son. It’s another example of how much of Tesla’s life takes a back seat to larger personalities in the movie.

The Tesla scene in the movie that most people will talk about or remember is one of those “bizarre time warp” moments, because it shows Tesla, alone with a microphone, belting out Tears for Fears’ 1985 hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” It’s not performed in an upbeat karaoke way, but in a world-weary way that reflects Tesla’s state of mind of being worn down by his life’s disappointments. This scene is so kooky and unexpected that viewers will either love it or hate it.

Is this “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” scene meant to be funny or edgy? That’s up to viewers decide. The scene comes near the end of the movie, and it’s a welcome jolt from some of the tedium that happens during various parts of this unevenly paced film.

Because indoor electrical wiring was still a luxury for most of the time period in which the movie takes place, many of the interior scenes are darkly lit and present many of the characters in dour and shadowy tones. And the movie doesn’t offer a lot of scenes of Tesla actually doing any inventing, probably because the filmmakers thought that these types of scenes would bore viewers who aren’t science-minded.

Tesla isn’t always center stage in this story, and that might be off-putting to viewers who are expecting an in-depth portrayal of his personality. But it’s obvious that Tesla was an enigma to many people who knew him. Would it have been better for a movie about Tesla to invent aspects of his personality that might not have existed, just to be a more crowd-pleasing movie? It’s obvious that the filmmakers decided to keep Tesla an enigma and throw in some modern and unexpected twists in telling this story.

For a more conventional portrayal of Tesla, people can see director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s 2019 dramatic film “The Current War: The Director’s Cut,” which is about the competition between Edison (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and Westinghouse (played by Michael Shannon), with Nicholas Hoult in the supporting role of Tesla. Just like with the “Tesla” movie, “The Current War: The Director’s Cut” has cast members whose acting talent elevates the flawed screenplay. “Tesla” offers enough original unpredictability that makes this movie worth watching for anyone who’s curious to see an artsy, non-traditional version of Tesla’s life.

IFC Films released “Tesla” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on August 21, 2020.

Review: ‘Most Wanted,’ starring Antoine Olivier Pilon, Jim Gaffigan and Josh Hartnett

July 24, 2020

by Carla Hay

Antoine Olivier Pilon and Jim Gaffigan in “Most Wanted” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Most Wanted”

Directed by Daniel Roby

Culture Representation: Taking place in Canada and Thailand, the dramatic film “Most Wanted” features a cast of white people and Asians representing the middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash:  The Royal Canadian Mounted Police target a young male heroin addict to set up a major drug sting in Thailand, but the botched sting lands the addict in a Thai prison, while a Canadian investigative journalist works to uncover police corruption and to help exonerate the prisoner.

Culture Audience: “Most Wanted” will appeal primarily to people who like heavy-handed dramas about international investigative journalism and the war on drugs.

Antoine Olivier Pilon and Josh Hartnett in “Most Wanted” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Most Wanted” (formerly titled “Target Number One”) is one of those “crusading journalist” movies “inspired by a true story” that gives the impression that it inflates the importance of the journalist, who just happens to be a paid consultant for the film in real life. Written and directed in a choppy and disjointed manner by Daniel Roby, “Most Wanted” is elevated by an emotionally impactful performance by Antoine Olivier Pilon. But the film is too long (a little more than two hours) and a paint-by-numbers drama about a journalist determined to uncover police corruption while trying to free a wrongly imprisoned inmate.

The movie’s several flashbacks are not shown in chronological order. People unfamiliar with the “true story” before seeing this film might be confused by all of these flashbacks. It’s mentioned in the film’s epilogue that there were several scenes that did not happen in real life but were in the film for dramatic purposes.

Essentially, the purpose of the movie is to make real-life Canadian journalist Victor Malarek (played by Josh Hartnett) look like a hero, while almost everyone he’s investigating is involved in enough sleazy and corrupt activities that the movie makes it look like they all deserved to be exposed by Victor. The movie has Victor jumping back and forth between the Canadian provinces of Ontario and British Columbia, and later Thailand, for his investigations.

Victor is portrayed as a cocky workaholic who’s obsessed with being the first journalist to scoop everyone else on major investigative stories. The beginning of the movie takes place in 1989, when Victor worked as a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail, and as a part-time TV journalist at a local Toronto station. Victor’s TV interviewing style is the epitome of “gotcha journalism,” since he loves to make his interview subjects squirm when he catches them off-guard with tough questions.

It’s also shown in the movie that Victor isn’t just doing these investigations for the greater good of humanity. He also wants fame and glory for his investigations. He loves being on camera. And he doesn’t just want to get news scoops. He expects his stories for the newspaper to be on the front page.

In the Globe and Mail newsroom, Victor argues with his long-suffering editor Arthur (played by JC MacKenzie), who tells this narcissistic journalist that Victor is on the verge of being fired because Victor hasn’t turned in an assignment in two months. Victor says that his investigations often take months to complete. Arthur tells Victor that he will be demoted to being a stringer/freelancer unless he delivers one article a week, and it doesn’t matter if the articles cover easy topics. Victor shouts back, “It’s not about money! It’s about my process!”

Being an abrasive and aggressive journalist has made Victor some enemies, so he’s used to getting death threats or other threats to his safety. However, something has changed in Victor’s life that has made him think twice about how his work might affect his personal life. His wife Anna (played by Amanda Crew) has recently given birth to their first child, a daughter. Like a lot of cliché wife roles in this kind of movie, Anna’s only purpose is to sit around looking worried and scold her husband when he lets his work obsessions negatively affect their life at home.

Meanwhile, a French Canadian recovering heroin addict in his mid-20s named Daniel Léger (played by Pilon) has just completed a work program in a British Columbia forest. He’s been paid by check, but he doesn’t have a bank account to cash it, and there are no banks or check-cashing places nearby. When he goes to a convenience store near the forest, Daniel buys some things, but he has no cash with him.

Daniel calls his mother to ask him to read his credit card number over the phone so that he can pay for the items. His mother refuses, and Daniel promises her that he’s not buying drugs. Daniel tells the store clerk that he’ll be right back to get some cash. Instead, Daniel steals the items and takes off on his motorcycle, with the clerk chasing after him to no avail.

Needless to say, Daniel falls right back into drug addiction after he was clean and sober for six months. One of his junkie friends named Michael (played by Frédéric Millaire Zouvi) introduces Daniel to another drug addict named Glen Picker (played by Jim Gaffigan), who has a houseboat that Glen uses for commercial fishing and tourist excursions. But how Glen really makes most of his money is through drug dealing and by being a confidential informant for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Seeing that Daniel is broke, homeless and desperate, Glen offers a grateful Daniel a job as his apprentice.

“Most Wanted” takes a long, convoluted time to get to the heart of the story, including an unnecessary detour that shows Daniel dating a pawn-shop clerk named Mary (played by Rose-Marie Perreault), in a drug-fueled relationship that ends up going nowhere. When Glen finds out that Daniel was arrested in Thailand for a drug deal, Glen foolishly believes Michael’s exaggeration that Daniel has major drug connections in Thailand. Michael even has a nickname for Daniel: Thailand Party Guy. Daniel doesn’t really correct this exaggerated perception of his clout in the drug-dealing world.

Glen passes along this information to an overzealous RCMP federal agent named Barry Cooper (played by Stephen McHattie), who’s close to retirement and eager to make one last major drug bust before he retires. Under Barry’s direction, Canada’s federal police pressure Daniel to set up a major drug deal in Thailand. Glen also has high expectations for Daniel to deliver a big drug deal to the feds.

In reality, Daniel only knows one small-time drug dealer in Thailand. Even though Daniel’s passport was confiscated due to his previous drug bust in Thailand, he’s able to get his passport returned to him, now that he’s secretly working with the Canadian government. Barry and other Canadian federal agents—including Barry’s ambitious son Al Cooper (played by Cory Lipman), who’s still a trainee—arrange to take a trip to Thailand with Daniel to set up what the feds think will be a major drug bust.

But things go horribly wrong. Daniel and some local Thai drug dealers are arrested by Thai police. During Daniel’s court hearings in Thailand, the Canadian government misleads the judge into thinking that Daniel is someone else with the same last name who has an arrest record in Canada. In reality, Daniel does not have an arrest record in Canada, but he’s been advised to plead guilty or else he will get the death penalty.

Daniel is sentenced to 100 years in prison. And somewhere in the jumbled way that this story is told in the movie, investigative journalist Victor takes it upon himself to try to get justice for Daniel. “Most Wanted” takes too long (about two-thirds of the film) showing how Daniel ended up wrongly imprisoned in Thailand. By the time the prison scenes are shown, they look rushed and shoved in as an after-thought.

And it’s too bad, because the best scenes in the movie are of Daniel’s plight in the Thai prison and what he does to survive. As Daniel, Pilon does a particularly credible performance in portraying the terror yet self-preservation that Daniel experiences while in the custody of Thai law enforcement.

Gaffigan, who usually has comedic roles, is also quite impressive in his performance as greedy confidential informant Glen, but this character is written in such a one-dimensional, sleazy way that Gaffigan doesn’t have much to do to go beyond this shallowness. Hartnett, who isn’t very remarkable in his role as Victor, has played this type of swaggering egomaniac before in other movies, so it’s not much of an acting stretch for him. And the Canadian federal agents are written as bumbling fools, so the actors in those roles are confined to playing these stereotypes.

“Most Wanted” would have been improved by cutting out a lot of the filler scenes leading up to Daniel’s imprisonment and giving audiences more insightful views of how he suffered and persevered while he spent years in a Thai prison. For example, there could have been more shown of the relationships that Daniel had inside the Thai prison system that helped him with his daunting task of appealing his case.

There’s only a hint of the type of allies that Daniel must have had in the prison, as exemplified by a Thai prisoner named Sin (played by Konglar Kanchanahoti), who helps Daniel with some important favors. “Most Wanted” didn’t have to be a “Midnight Express” type of movie, but the prison scenes are so late in the film, that it defeats the purpose of making this wrongful imprisonment the center of the story.

“Most Wanted” also erases anyone besides Victor who helped Daniel outside of the Thai prison system. For example, the movie doesn’t show any attorneys who would have been necessary for Daniel’s quest to get released from prison. The movie is so hell-bent on making Victor look like the only hero who can save Daniel, that it cheapens the story by giving an unrealistic portrayal of the legal process in Daniel’s case.

And what does the movie show Victor doing during Daniel’s prison ordeal? Visiting/interviewing Daniel once in the Thai prison and writing an article published in Canada about Daniel’s wrongful imprisonment. Victor also puts his wife and daughter into hiding in the home of a fellow journalist friend named Norm (played by Don McKellar), while Victor experiences more threats from government types who tell him to stop snooping around.

In one scene that will make people roll their eyes, Victor tells Emma that she has to be patient while “I save the world.” It’s too bad that it’s too late to save this movie from its hokey melodrama that clutters the story with unnecessary gibberish and leaves out a lot of important details.

Saban Films released “Most Wanted” on VOD on July 24, 2020. Paramount Home Entertainment will release “Most Wanted” on digital and Blu-ray on September 22, 2020.

Review: ‘Call Your Mother,’ starring David Spade, Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Roy Wood Jr., Norm Macdonald, Kristen Schaal, Bridget Everett and Fortune Feimster

May 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

David Spade and his mother, Judy Todd, in “Call Your Mother” (Photo by Jenna Rosher/Comedy Central)

“Call Your Mother”

Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

Culture Representation: The documentary “Call Your Mother” features a racially diverse (white, African American and Asian) group of mostly American comedians talking about how their mothers have affected their lives, with some of the comedians’ mothers also participating in the documentary,.

Culture Clash: Some of the comedians describe having nonconformist or dysfunctional childhoods that are often used as material for their stand-up comedy acts.

Culture Audience: “Call Your Mother” will appeal primarily to people who want to learn more about the family backgrounds of some well-known comedians.

Louie Anderson with a picture of his mother, Ora Zella Anderson, in “Call Your Mother” (Photo by Alex Takats/Comedy Central)

If you ask any stand-up comedian who’s the family member most likely to inspire material for their stand-up comedy act, chances are the comedian will answer, “My mother.” With that in mind, the documentary “Call Your Mother” interviews a variety of comedians (and some of their mothers) to talk about how with these mother-child relationships have affected the comedians’ lives. Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, “Call Your Mother” might not have a deep impact on society, but it accomplishes what it intends to do. The film is a mostly light-hearted, sometimes emotionally moving and occasionally raunchy ride that will give some psychological insight into how and why these comedians ended up where they are now.

“Call Your Mother” includes interviews with a notable list of comedians (almost all of them are American), including Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Jimmy Carr, Bridget Everett, Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Judah Friedlander, Jim Gaffigan, Judy Gold, Jen Kirkman, Jo Koy, Bobby Lee, the Lucas Brothers, Norm Macdonald, Jim Norton, Tig Notaro, Yvonne Orji, Kristen Schaal, David Spade and Roy Wood Jr.

In some cases, the mothers of these comedians are interviewed alongside their comedic children: Everett, Feimster, Schaal, Spade and Wood all have wisecracking moments with their mothers, who are also shown in the audiences while their children are on stage, as well as backstage or at home. Former “Saturday Night Live” star Macdonald is also interviewed with his mother.  (For whatever reason, no Latino comedians are in the documentary, which is a shame, because there are many Latino comedians who talk about their mothers in their stand-up acts.)

Bridget Everett’s mother, Freddie Everett, is memorable for being as foul-mouthed and crude as Bridget. (Freddie even gives the middle finger to the camera, but all in good fun.) Bridget Everett says, “My mother is really one of a kind. She’s the person you meet that you never forget. She can be kind of mean, but somehow she gets away with it.”

Bridget continues, “She’s got a real naughty streak in her,” when describing how her mother was the type to wear very revealing outfits in places where it would be inappropriate for a woman’s breasts to be openly displayed. “There’s something really liberating about that in a small, conservative town.”

Like many of the comedians interviewed in this documentary, Bridget Everett is a child of divorce. After her parents’ divorce, her mother Freddie (who raised six kids) would take a pre-teen Bridget with her to stalk her ex-husband, mainly to see if he was dating anyone new or other reasons to spy on his post-divorce love life.

Bridget remembers her mother telling her to look in windows and report what she saw to her mother. These experiences are part of Bridget Everett’s stand-up act.  And just like her mother used to do when she was young, Bridget Everett dresses in cleavage-baring outfits on stage. “My mom pulses through my performance,” she says. “It’s really a tribute to her.”

British comedian Carr says although his mother “was the funny person in the house,” she often suffered from depression. He turned to comedy to help cheer her up. He says of stand-up comedians: “Most of us come from unhappy childhoods.”

Fans of Louie Anderson already know about how he grew up in a home with an abusive, alcoholic father and a loving mother, because he’s used his childhood as joke material in his stand-up act for years. In the documentary, Anderson (who’s been doing stand-up comedy since 1978) says that he started out doing self-deprecating fat jokes, but he eventually switched to mostly jokes about his family when he saw that it got a stronger reaction from audiences. He also says that dressing in drag for his Christine Baskets character in the FX comedy series “Baskets” was a tribute to his mother, Ora Zella Anderson.

Anderson believes that there’s a reason why so many stand-up comedians come from dysfunctional, often abusive households: “I think comics are about control. They’re trying to control the whole situation, because we had no control growing up.”

Anderson also echoes what most stand-up comedians said in Comedy Central’s documentary “This Is Stand-Up” about gravitating to stand-up comedy because it was their way of being the center of attention and getting unconditional love from people, even if it’s for the limited time that the comedians are on stage.

Spade is another child of divorce. His father left his mother when he was a child, and he says it had long-lasting effects on him and undying respect for his mother, Judy Todd. “My mom is very positive and upbeat and also very funny and clever.”

Todd is seen visiting the set of her son’s talk show “Lights Out With David Spade” on her 82nd birthday, where the audience shouts “Happy Birthday” to her, and she’s invited on stage with the interview guests. Todd is somewhat “normal,” compared to what other comedians have to say about their mothers. She’s almost downright reserved, since she doesn’t do anything to embarrass her son.

The same can’t be said for what comedians Koy, Lee and Gold have to say about their mothers, whose cringeworthy mothering techniques have been fodder for much of these two comedians’ stand-up comedy acts. Koy, who was raised by his divorced Filipino mother, Josie Harrison, remembers how his outspoken mother would inflict terror on anyone who would dare to criticize him.

Bobby Lee talks about how his Korean immigrant mother, Jeanie Lee, used to call his name to get his attention, just so she could fart in front of him. And when they would go to a shopping mall, she would encourage Lee and his younger brother to play in the shopping-mall fountain, while she would take a nap on the floor in a store. Lee, who is a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, also claims that his mother was fairly good-natured about his multiple trips to rehab, whereas most other mothers would be horrified or ashamed. He describes a moment during a family rehab meeting where his mother got the family to laugh so hard in what was supposed to be a serious gathering, they almost got kicked out of the meeting.

Judy Gold says in the documentary that she had the quintessential nagging, over-protective Jewish mother, Ruth Gold, who liked to leave long, demanding phone messages. Gold’s mother passed away in 2015, but Gold still plays some of her mother’s phone messages in her stand-up comedy act. She also plays some of the phone messages in the documentary and remembers that she did not get much overt affection from her parents when she was growing up.

Gold also says that her parents weren’t the type to hug their children and say, “I love you.” Instead, in her family, people would be rewarded based on whoever did the best to “one-up” the others with a quip. Still, Gold says that toward the end of her mother’s life, she did express her love more openly, and she shares an emotionally touching memory of what happened the last time she spoke with her mother.

One of the issues that the documentary covers is how mothers react when they find out that their children want to be professional comedians. Roy Wood Jr. says it was a very uncomfortable experience for him, since he had dropped out of Florida A&M University after being put on probation for shoplifting. He secretly started doing stand-up comedy in 1999, and when he told his mother, Joyce Dugan Wood, that he wanted to do stand-up comedy full-time, she was very upset.

“She definitely felt my priorities were in the wrong place,” he says. So, in order to please his mother, Roy went back to Florida A&M. And when he graduated, he gave his mother the plaque of the college degree that “I didn’t need” and began pursuing a full-time comedy career. Now that he’s become a successful comedian (including a stint as a correspondent on “The Daily Show”), Wood says of his mother’s approval: “These days, I feel supported.”

When comedian/actress Awkwafina (whose real name is Nora Lum) was 4 years old, her mother died, so when she was growing up, her paternal grandmother was Awkwafina’s main mother figure. While most people in Awkwafina’s family had expectations for her to going into a traditional profession, her paternal grandmother encouraged Awkwafina to pursue her dreams in entertainment.

Although many of these comedians say vulgar things about their families in their stand-up acts, the documentary shows that a lot of stand-up comedians have a soft spot for their mothers and like to hang out with them. Kristen Schaal and her look-alike mother, Pam Schaal, are seen shopping together at a fabric store. Norm Macdonald and his mother, Ferne Macdonald, play Scrabble and golf together. Wood’s mother Joyce accompanies him to a tuxedo fitting.

But not all of these mother-child moments are warm and fuzzy. Some of the comedians, such as Norton and Spade, admit to changing their shows to being less offensive and less raunchy if they know their mothers are going to be in the audience.

Norton says that he’s felt uncomfortable at times when his sex life (which he talks about in his stand-up comedy routine) is a topic of conversation with his mother. Norton remembers how after he did a stand-up show where he talked about his experiences of hiring hookers, he got a call from his mother suggesting that he join a gym to meet new people and improve his dating life. (In the documentary, he even plays the voice mail from 2001 to prove it.)

As for talking about their mothers in their stand-up comedy acts, Koy says that it was hard for him to do at first, but his mother and the rest of his family have gotten used to it. Feinstein says about her mother: “She likes it when I impersonate her. She gets upset if I don’t.”

Fortune Feimster says something similar, in an interview seated next her mother, Ginger Feimster: “She would rather me talk about her and be the center of attention than me not talk about her at all,” Fortune says. “She’s a good sport and she likes the attention.” Ginger Feimster says in response, “That is so true.”

Whether these comedians’ relationships with their mothers have been good or not-so-good, one thing that most people can agree on is a sentiment that Gold expresses in the movie that is a tried and true cliché: “There’s nothing like a mother’s love.” And at the very least, this documentary might inspire people to get in touch with their mothers to express gratitude if their mothering wasn’t a complete disaster.

Comedy Central premiered “Call Your Mother” on May 10, 2020.

Review: ‘Troop Zero,’ starring Viola Davis, Mckenna Grace, Jim Gaffigan, Mike Epps and Allison Janney

January 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Troop Zero
Allison Janney and Viola Davis in “Troop Zero” (Photo by Curtis Bonds Baker)

“Troop Zero”

Directed by Bert & Bertie

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1977, the family-friendly comedy “Troop Zero” has predominantly white American characters (with some representation of African Americans and Latinos) from the middle and lower classes of a rural, conservative community in the U.S. state of Georgia.

Culture Clash: The movie’s plot revolves around a talent competition for middle-school Birdie Scouts, with one rival troop comprised of “popular girls” and another rival troop comprised of “social outcasts.”

Culture Audience: “Troop Zero” will appeal primarily to people who like adorable, slightly kooky comedies about student angst and self-identity.

Mckenna Grace in “Troop Zero” (Photo by Curtis Bonds Baker)

In a comedy film, a cranky adult reluctantly takes on a group of pre-teen misfits to coach them in a high-stakes competition where the team will be ridiculed underdogs. Is it 1977’s “The Bad News Bears” or 1992’s “The Mighty Ducks”? No, in this case, it’s 2020’s “Troop Zero,” a decidedly different take on a familiar plot outline.

“Troop Zero,” which is set in 1977 rural Georgia, is certainly a throwback to those films from a bygone era when smartphones and social media didn’t dominate kids’ lives. The main differences between most films of this kind and “Troop Zero” is that for “Troop Zero,” the story is told from the perspective of a girl; the adult leader of the misfit group is a woman; and the movie was written and directed by women.

Directed by female duo Bert & Bertie and written by Oscar-nominated “Beasts of the Southern Wild” co-writer Lucy Alibar, “Troop Zero” has a cute and quirky charm that comes primarily from Christmas Flint (played by Mckenna Grace), an adolescent girl who’s obsessed with outer space and who’s still grieving over the death of her mother from the previous year. The opening scene of the movie shows Christmas trying to contact outer-space aliens with flashlight signals.

Christmas lives with her father, Ramsey Flint (played by Jim Gaffigan), a defense attorney who’s constantly having financial problems because he has many clients who can’t or won’t pay him, and he has a hard time saying no to people he thinks need his help. Ramsey’s assistant/office manager is Miss Raylene (played by Viola Davis), who’s the closest to a maternal figure that Christmas has in her life, even if Miss Raylene says she doesn’t particularly like being around children. “Little girls give me the creeps,” Miss Raylene says in one scene. “You can’t him them no more. They changed the laws.”

Ramsey’s best friend Dwayne (played by Mike Epps) is a fellow Vietnam War veteran who’s suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Back in 1977, there wasn’t a name for PTSD, so they usually called it being “shell-shocked.” Dwayne is the love interest of Miss Raylene, who’s had her heart broken in her past. She reveals the details in the movie, and it explains why she has such a hard exterior.

Viewers see early on in the film that Christmas is an outcast at her school not only because a lot of students think she’s weird, but also because her father’s financially precarious situation has branded the Flints as “poor trash” by the snobs in the community. Her best friend is Joseph (played by Charlie Shotwell), an androgynous, flamboyant child who might be gay, but the movie hints that Joseph is either gender-fluid or non-binary, because various characters in the movie keep saying that they don’t know if Joseph is a boy or a girl. And since this movie takes place in 1977, there weren’t specific terms for people who might not have a cisgender identity.

Some of the social rejection that Christmas experiences stings her a little bit, but she’s mostly content to do her own thing and hang out with Joseph. She’s not really concerned about being well-liked and joining groups until she finds out that there’s a national talent competition for Birdie Scouts where the winning scout troop will get to have their voices recorded on NASA’s Golden Record, thereby becoming part of space history.

With no way of being accepted by the established Birdie Scout troops in the area, Christmas decides to start her own Birdie Scout troop. The style-minded Joseph (who likes to wear dresses and loves David Bowie) is immediately up for the challenge and is the first recruit to this new troop. Christmas also ends up convincing these other kids to join the troop: Ann-Claire (played by Bella Higginbotham), an eyepatch-wearing nervous and shy girl who’s devoted to Christianity; Hell-No (played by Milan Ray), the school’s loudmouth bully; and Smash (played Johanna Colón), who’s practically mute and likes to destroy things when she gets angry—a lot like the Incredible Hulk. The Birdie Scout troops have numbers for their names, so Christmas chooses “zero” as the name for her troop, since “zero” can also mean infinity.

The Birdie Scouts of the school are under the supervision of Crystal Massey (played by Allison Janney), the school principal whom the students have nicknamed Nasty Massey. She’s the type of uptight and stern principal we’ve seen many times before in movies, but Janney brings a touch of humanity to the role to convey that Principal Massey must be a pathetic and lonely person for her to take so much pleasure in making life miserable for other people. (On a side note, fans of “The Help” movie should delight in seeing “The Help” co-stars Davis and Janney reunited on screen.)

Principal Massey is already counting on her favorite Birdie Scout troop, Troop Five, to win the competition. Troop Five is the group of popular girls in the school—the types who are cheerleaders, “A”-grade students, and from the communities’ socially prominent families. (The Troop Five members are also stuck-up mean girls.) But to Principal Massey’s horror, Troop Zero qualifies to become a real troop to enter the competition, as long as Troop Zero gets an adult leader. Miss Raylene completely resists the idea at first, but she eventually gives in to Christmas’ relentless pleas for Miss Raylene to become Troop Zero’s adult leader.

Another big challenge that Troop Zero faces is to raise enough money for the competition’s entry fees. They do so by selling cookies from door to door and by offering pop-up beauty salon services to local women. (Joseph is thrilled to be the troop’s best hair stylist.) One of the baking sessions ends up in a predictable food fight when members of Troop Five crash the session.

The hairstyles and clothes aren’t the only indications that this movie takes place in the 1970s. In one scene in the movie, as one of the required Birdie Scout challenges, Miss Raylene leaves the members of Troop Zero alone to camp out overnight in the woods. That’s not the kind of thing that adults could get away with nowadays. (We have to assume that the parents thought that the kids would be safe with Miss Raylene, but she ends up ditching the children to fend for themselves.)

Her reason for the abandonment is to build character and courage for the troop. It’s the kind of scene that’s cringeworthy to watch for anyone who would never do that to defenseless kids, but since this movie is supposed to be a comedy, you can almost hear the filmmakers make this excuse: “Hey, it was the ’70s!”

Speaking of the ’70s, there’s something very old-school about this kind of film with the basic plot about student angst and “misfits versus the popular ones,” but “Troop Zero” has a modern sensibility by including child characters who wouldn’t be in movies that were made back in the 1970s. (Joseph is a perfect example.)

The precocious and determined Christmas is also ahead of her time, since she has no hesitation about her goals to join NASA and go into outer space. It’s a dream that people around her discourage her from having, because the naysayers tell her that being an astronaut is a “man’s job.” And what happens during Troop Zero’s talent routine during the competition is something that wouldn’t have been in a children’s movie that was made back in the 1970s.

“Troop Zero,” which had its world premiere at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, is not just a movie that will appeal to girls or women. It has a message of self-acceptance and how to overcome obstacles that can resonate with a wide variety of people, if you don’t mind sitting through the retro vibe and familiarity of it all.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Troop Zero” on January 17, 2020.