2021 AFI Fest: ‘Bruised,’ ‘Swan Song,’ ‘Tick, Tick…Boom!’ among the world premieres

September 28, 2021

The following is a press release from AFI:

Halle Berry in “Bruised” (Photo by John Baer/Netflix)

AFI announced that FEST 2021 will include the World Premieres of Academy Award® winner Halle Berry’s directorial debut “Bruised” from Netflix and Academy Award®  winner Benjamin Cleary’s feature directorial debut “Swan Song” from Apple Original Films. Both World Premieres will screen at the film festival in-person at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre on Saturday, November 13 and Friday, November 12, respectively.

“Bruised” stars Berry as a washed-up MMA fighter who struggles for redemption as both an athlete and a mother. “Swan Song” stars two-time Oscar® winner Mahershala Ali as a man diagnosed with a terminal illness who is presented with an alternative solution by his doctor, portrayed by eight-time Oscar® nominee Glenn Close, to shield his family from grief. The film also stars Oscar® nominee Naomie Harris, BAFTA Award nominee Awkwafina and Adam Beach.

“Now more than ever it is important to lift up and shine a light on new voices and new stories that inspire empathy,” said Sarah Harris, Director of Programming at AFI Festivals. “Halle Berry and Benjamin Cleary are vital artists whose visions we are proud to celebrate at AFI FEST.”

The films join the previously announced titles which include Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award® winner Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” and Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard,” starring Will Smith. AFI FEST 2021 film festival takes place from November 10–14 in Los Angeles.

This year’s hybrid festival will feature both in-person screenings and events, as well as virtual screenings, showcasing transformative stories from groundbreaking artists. With health and safety being top priority, AFI FEST 2021 film festival will require all festival-goers who attend in-person events and/or screenings to be fully vaccinated. Tickets and passes will be available soon on FEST.AFI.com. AFI Members receive exclusive discounts and benefits to the festival. To become an AFI member, visit AFI.com/join/.

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ABOUT THE FILMS

In “Bruised,” Jackie Justice (Halle Berry) is a mixed martial arts fighter who leaves the sport in disgrace.  Down on her luck and simmering with rage and regret years after her fight, she’s coaxed into a brutal underground fight by her manager and boyfriend Desi (Adan Canto) and grabs the attention of a fight league promoter (Shamier Anderson) who promises Jackie a life back in the octagon. But the road to redemption becomes unexpectedly personal when Manny (Danny Boyd, Jr.), the son she gave up as an infant, shows up at her doorstep. The film marks the directorial debut of Academy Award®  winner Halle Berry and also stars Adriane Lenox, Sheila Atim, Valentina Shevchenko and Stephen McKinley Henderson in a triumphant story of a fighter who reclaims her power, in and out of the ring, when everyone has counted her out. The film is helmed by Berry from an original screenplay written by Michelle Rosenfarb, and produced by Thunder Road Pictures, Entertainment 360 and Romulus Entertainment.

“Swan Song” is set in the near future and told through the eyes of Cameron (two-time Academy Award® winner Mahershala Ali), a loving husband and father diagnosed with a terminal illness who is presented with an alternative solution by his doctor (eight-time Academy Award® nominee Glenn Close) to shield his family from grief. As Cam grapples with whether or not to alter his family’s fate, he learns more about life and love than he ever imagined. Academy Award® nominee Naomie Harris, BAFTA winner Awkwafina and Adam Beach also star in the ensemble cast. The film is helmed by Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Benjamin Cleary (“Stutterer”), from an original screenplay written by Cleary and produced by Anonymous Content and Concordia Studio. Producers are Adam Shulman (“Defending Jacob”) and Jacob Perlin (“The Amazing Johnathan Documentary”) on behalf of Anonymous Content; Jonathan King (“Stillwater,” “Dark Waters”) on behalf of Concordia Studio; Rebecca Bourke (“Wave”); Mahershala Ali and Mimi Valdés (“Hidden Figures”) through Know Wonder.

Learn more about AFI’s annual film festival at FEST.AFI.com.

Review: ‘Annette,’ starring Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg

August 27, 2020

by Carla Hay

Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in “Annette” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Annette”

Directed by Leos Carax

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and various other parts of the world, the musical “Annette” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the wealthy and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A seemingly mismatched stand-up comedian and an opera singer have a passionate romance, get married, and have a daughter named Annette, but then a major tragedy changes their lives forever.

Culture Audience: “Annette” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of Sparks, Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, as well as people who like to indulge in pretentious musicals with a weak plot.

Cast members of “Annette,” including front row, from left to right, Simon Helberg, Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver; and second row, Russell Mael (behind Cotillard) and Ron Mael, pictured at far right. (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

Don’t believe the hype. The musical “Annette” is one of those annoying, self-indulgent movies that some people will automatically praise just because it looks European and artsy. Underneath the pretentious sheen is a boring and ludicrous story with forgettable songs and a baby that’s really an animatronic doll that looks like a cleaned-up sister of Chucky from the “Child’s Play” horror franchise.

Directed by Leos Carax, “Annette” has an abysmal screenplay and disappointing music written by brothers Russell Mael and Ron Mael, also known as the experimental pop duo Sparks. The Mael brothers have brief cameos in the movie because they’re not very good actors. Visually, the movie looks better than the actual material because the filmmakers had the budget to build some elaborate set pieces and film the movie in Los Angeles, Belgium and Germany.

Here’s how you know if a musical is good or not: Are at least half of the songs memorable? Do the songs fit well with the story? And do the actors look convincing when they perform the songs? If the answer is no to any of these questions, then the musical isn’t very good and could be downright lousy. A lot of people who don’t care about going along with pseudo-hipster groupthink are going to say “no” to “Annette.”

Some credit should be given to Carax for directing “Annette” with gusto and for choosing some noteworthy designs in production and costumes. But so much of “Annette” looks and sounds like a tacky regional theater production that ended up being made into a movie because the filmmakers convinced people with deep pockets to throw money at this train wreck. Just because a movie tries very hard to be “avant-garde” doesn’t automatically mean it’s supposed to be good art.

“Annette” starts out promising in the first half of the movie when it’s about the romance between edgy stand-up comedian Henry McHenry (played by Adam Driver) and elegant opera diva Ann Defrasnoux (played by Marion Cotillard), who live in Los Angeles and are both big stars in their respective careers. But it all goes downhill in the second half of the movie, when themes of death and greed are monotonously repeated until “Annette” ends with a whimper instead of a bang. Simon Helberg, who looks very uncomfortable and out-of-place in this musical, depicts an unnamed supporting character who goes from being an accompanist for Ann to being the conductor of an orchestra.

The best parts of “Annette” are seeing Henry perform on stage. Henry’s stand-up act can best be described as if Mitch Hedberg and the late David Foster Wallace decided to collaborate on a stand-up comedy routine and hire some backup singers. Henry’s material is both self-deprecating and condescending to the audience members, who do group chants and or indivdual shouting in response to what Henry says during his act. However, he has full command of the stage and is utterly fascinating to watch. Ann (who is French, just like Cotillard is in real life) is somewhat of a generic opera singer. No one will be be winning any major awards for acting or singing in this movie.

Henry and Ann’s relationship is breathlessly followed by the tabloid media. Ann and Henry get engaged, then married, and then they become parents to a daughter named Annette. And seriously: This baby-turned-toddler is depicted by a creepy-looking animatronic doll with terrible visual effects. It will get some laughs at first, but after a while, this unnatural-looking doll is just an awful distraction.

The last half of the movie has too much spoiler information to describe, but it’s enough to say that the movie gets a lot worse and reaches the point of no return from stupidity when Henry quits stand-up comedy to become a “stage dad” manager to Annette. There are some tragic crimes and a continual pile-on of horrifically bad dialogue. Not even the acting talent of Driver and Cotillard can save this overrated mess of a movie. Driver is also one of the producers of “Annette,” so he bears more responsibility than the other cast members for how this move turned out to be a disappointing slog of irritating and egocentric posturing.

During the latter half of the movie, Driver and Helberg barely even sing. What a ripoff. By the end of the movie, most viewers might remember one or two songs. There are some musicals that have plots and conversations that are mediocre, but the music is so great, it transcends the dialogue and resonates with audiences to the point where people are recommending the soundtrack to others. That’s not the case with “Annette,” which will find a specific audience, but none of the songs from this movie will have a major cultural impact.

You know a musical is bad when the two lead actors (Driver and Cotillard) are respected talents who should elevate the material, but hardly anyone in pop culture is raving about the songs in “Annette,” except the predictable niche audience of Sparks fans. None of the “Annette” filmmakers should pretend that they didn’t want this musical movie to be popular. If they wanted this movie to be underground, they wouldn’t have had corporate behemoth Amazon pay for it, and they wouldn’t have had a splashy world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Simply put: “Annette” looks and sounds like a musical experiment that ultimately stumbles artistically, but some people will still love it because they’re star-struck by the famous people involved in making this movie.

Amazon Studios released “Annette” in select U.S. cinemas on August 6, 2021. Amazon Prime Video premiered the movie on August 20, 2021.

Review: ‘The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu,’ starring Lisa Lu, Michelle Krusiec, Rochelle Ying, Tiffany Wu, Adrian Pasdar and Joely Fisher

August 8, 2021

by Carla Hay

Rochelle Ying, Lisa Lu and Michelle Krusiec in “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” (Photo courtesy of Picturehouse)

“The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu”

Directed by Anna Chi

Some language in Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the California cities of Los Angeles and Carmel, the comedy/drama film “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with a few white people and African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: An elderly woman, who’s in ill health, enlists her teenage granddaughter to sneak her out of her nursing home to spend a few days in the beachside city of Carmel, California, because the grandmother thinks it might be her last vacation. 

Culture Audience: “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in family-oriented movies and don’t mind awkward dialogue, cutesy contrived scenarios and terrible acting.

Rochelle Ying, Lisa Lu and Tiffany Wu in “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” (Photo courtesy of Picturehouse)

The comedy/drama “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” has its heart in the right place, but the movie’s horrible acting from most of the cast members puts the movie in the wrong place: a cringeworthy, mishandled mush. The acting in this movie is so bad that it hinders a movie that would have been just mediocre, lightweight fluff and turns it into a slow train wreck of treacly clichés. It’s a disappointing shame, because this movie is trying very hard to achieve the same charm and quality filmmaking of director Lulu Wang’s award-winning 2019 comedic drama “The Farewell.” Unfortunately, “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” misses the mark on almost every level.

“The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” (which had its world premiere at the 2021 Bentonville Film Festival) is directed by Anna Chi, who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Donald Martin and Ella Lee. “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” is going to get inevitable comparisons to “The Farewell” because both movies are about families of Chinese heritage who have a grandmother matriarch with a health issue that’s the catalyst for what happens in the story. Her family members (including a granddaughter who was raised in the U.S.) are very concerned about and protective of the grandmother and her health issue, while the grandmother is very outspoken about wanting to be independent to make her own life decisions. That’s where the similarities end in these two movies.

In “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu,” which takes place in California, the stubborn and feisty widowed grandmother is Lily Wu (played by Lisa Lu), who isn’t very happy about living in Paradise Corner Nursing Home, which is in Los Angeles. Lily thinks she doesn’t belong in any nursing home because she thinks she doesn’t need help taking care of herself. The movie begins with Lily and her family members gathered at the nursing home to celebrate her 88th birthday at a party.

Lily is so cranky during this party that she’s rude to almost everyone, including a hired clown (played by Danny Cron), who’s taken aback when Lily acts like an irritable brat and pops one of the clown’s balloons. Lily has congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She has to use an oxygen mask for help with her breathing, but she doesn’t need to wear the mask at all times. Lily also uses a wheelchair, but she has the ability to walk for limited distances. One of the reasons why Lily is so ill-tempered is because her caretakers aren’t letting her travel because of her health problems.

The people at this birthday party who end up having featured or prominent roles in the story are:

  • Mary Wu Carter (played by Michelle Krusiec), Lily’s oldest child, who is a judgmental, emotionally high-strung control freak and the one who’s most likely to clash with Lily.
  • Brian Carter (played by Adrian Pasdar), Mary’s mild-mannered dentist husband.
  • Emma Carter (played by Tiffany Wu), Mary and Brian’s empathetic and slightly rebellious elder child, who’s about 16 or 17 years old.
  • Henry Carter (played by Taeho K), Mary and Brian’s somewhat bratty younger child, who’s about 9 or 10 years old.
  • David Wu (played by Archie Kao), Lily’s younger child who is laid-back and practical—in other words, he has a personality that’s almost the opposite of his older sister Mary.
  • Angela Wu (played by Eugenia Yuan), David’s somewhat fussy and snobbish wife.
  • Ben Wu (played by Brandon Soo Hoo), David and Angela’s only child, who’s about 17 or 18 years old.
  • Karen Chan (played by Tiffany Wu), Emma’s lesbian best friend who’s about 16 or 17 years old and who’s struggling with when to come out as a lesbian.
  • Charlotte Kelly (played by Joely Fisher), Lily’s former caretaker who’s originally from Ireland and who has a passion for singing.

Mary and her family live in Los Angeles, while David and his family are visiting from Seattle. Their mother Lily has refused her children’s offers to have her live with one of them. While at the party, a Paradise Corner employee takes Mary and David aside to tell them that Lily’s most recent infection “took a toll” on Lily’s health, which is so fragile that Lily probably won’t live to see another birthday.

This news shakes Mary and David to the core because they now know that the time that they have left with their mother is very precious. Mary wants to make sure that Lily gets the best care while staying confined at the nursing home, because Mary thinks that it’s the best way to keep Lily alive as long as possible. David is open to letting Lily have more freedom, because he thinks it will benefit Lily’s mental health.

The family’s dynamics and longtime resentments are eventually revealed, but they come out in bits and pieces in the story. This backstory goes a long way in explaining why certain characters (especially the very difficult Mary) are the way that they are. Mary is a major germaphobe who constantly uses hand sanitizer. It’s implied that this compulsive behavior is because several years ago, she lost another loved one due to a deadly disease.

Lily and her husband immigrated from China to the United States and settled in Carmel-by-the-Sea, a small beachside California city that’s more informally known as Carmel. At the time, Mary was over the age of 18, so she was not eligible to be included in the family’s immigration application, and she was not approved for the immigration. David was under 18 at the time, so he was allowed to immigrate with his parents to the United States, while Mary had to stay behind in China.

Mary wasn’t able to immigrate to the United States until six years after her parents and brother were living in America. This family separation caused a lot of jealousy and resentment from Mary. She has always felt that David was her parents’ favorite child. It’s why Mary is hostile and argumentative not just with her mother but also with her brother.

When Mary immigrated to the U.S., she wasn’t alone: She had 6-year-old Emma with her. Emma’s biological father was an ex-boyfriend of Mary’s named Michael Hong (played by Ludi Lin), who died in China. Michael’s specific cause of death isn’t named in this movie, but a flashback in the movie shows that it was from a fatal and contagious disease. Viewers can infer that it’s probably why Mary is a germaphobe.

It’s unclear how old Emma was when her father died, but it was when she was too young to remember him. Based on what’s said in the movie, Brian and Mary met soon after she moved to the United States. Brian adopted Emma after he and Mary got married. Henry is Mary and Brian’s biological child together.

However, there’s been some lingering emotional fallout based on what Mary experienced before she moved to America. One of the better qualities of “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” is how it shows an immigration issue that’s rarely depicted in American-made films: Families who are separated because an adult child cannot be included in a family’s immigration application.

During Lily’s 88th birthday party, her granddaughter Emma finds a VHS video in Lily’s room. Lily tells Emma that the video has a message from Emma’s late father. The problem is that the nursing home doesn’t have a VHS videocassette recorder/player for Emma to watch the video. Emma keeps the video to watch later when she can find a VCR to play the videotape. The message on the tape reveals a family secret that Mary doesn’t want Emma to find out.

Meanwhile, there’s another family secret that Emma gets directly involved with, at the request of Lily. During the party, Lily summons Emma and Karen into her room to tell them that she needs their help. Lily wants the two teens to help her sneak out of the nursing home and take her on a road trip to Carmel, because she wants to have a short vacation in Carmel before she dies. (Carmel is about 218 miles north of Los Angeles.)

Emma and Karen eagerly agree to this plan. Karen’s father Eddie Chan (played by Joseph Tran) owns a local casual restaurant called Magic Dumpling House, which has a customized van with the restaurant logo on it. This is the van that will be used on the trip, but Karen (who will be doing the driving) plans to take the van without her father’s permission.

Before this “escape” plan can be hatched, Karen gives Emma a ride home, and they have a conversation about their school’s upcoming prom. Emma has a big crush on a fellow student named Rick Larsen (played by Da’Vinchi), who is good-looking, popular and a star on the school’s football team. Emma would love to go to the prom with Rick, who’s a casual friend, but she’s shy and she think that he’s out of her league.

Karen gives Emma a pep talk and tells her that she’s very attractive and that Rick would be lucky to have her as a prom date. The compliment boosts Emma’s confidence but it isn’t enough to convince her yet to tell Rick that she wants to be his prom date. When Karen and Emma arrive at Emma’s house, Emma and Karen hug goodbye and give each other a friendly kiss.

Mary happens to be outside the house in the front yard, and sees this embrace and kiss, which Mary misinterprets as a sign that Karen and Emma are more than friends. Mary seems to be in shock over the idea that Emma might not be straight. She goes back inside the house to join the rest of the family gathered in the dining room area. Emma will soon find out how homophobic Mary is.

At the dining table, Karen’s name comes up in the conversation, and Ben mentions that it’s obvious that Karen is a lesbian. Mary is very uncomfortable with the idea that Emma could have a friend from the LGBTQ community, so she tells Emma that she saw the hug and kiss between Emma and Karen. She accuses Emma of having a secret romance with Karen, but Emma vehemently denies it and says that she and Karen are just friends.

Mary then goes off on a rant and scolds Emma by telling her, “What if the neighbors saw what I just saw?” Emma replies, “Who cares? It’s West L.A.” Mary then tells Emma that Emma’s grandmother Lily would disapprove of Emma being a lesbian, and she orders Emma to stop seeing Karen. Emma then chastises her mother for wanting to keep Lily confined in a nursing home, which Emma calls a “prison.” Emma shouts at Mary, “You’re an even bigger dragon lady than Grandma!”

Emma runs into her bedroom and locks the door behind her. Mary feels bad and goes to the door to offer Emma her favorite meal (spicy noodles) on a tray. Mary makes an apology to Emma (who refuses to open the door), and says that Emma can still keep hanging out with Emma. However, the tension between mother and daughter remains unresolved when that night, Emma and Karen put their plans in motion to sneak Lily out of the nursing home.

Somehow, Lily’s former caregiver Charlotte is along for this ride too. Emma, Karen and Charlotte all go to the nursing home in “disguise,” since they know that there are security video cameras on the premises. But they didn’t disguise the van, so it’s easy to figure out what happened when Emma and Karen go “missing” too.

During this “stealth operation,” which they call Operation Songbird, Emma and Karen show up at the nursing home dressed like identical green dragons that look like something from a “Barney” cartoon. Charlotte (who doesn’t bother to hide her face) is dressed in oversized trash bags. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds and not nearly as funny as the filmmakers intended.

Charlotte is presumably on this trip to be the only other adult, in case something goes wrong. And, of course, some things go very wrong. Charlotte has a somewhat prickly relationship with Lily, because they are both strong-willed and outspoken women. For example, Charlotte isn’t afraid to tell Lily, “You can be a rude bitch.”

That’s as salty as Charlotte’s dialogue gets in the movie because unfortunately, this movie subjects the viewers to Charlotte’s hokey singing in multiple scenes. Charlotte warbles show tunes and pop songs like a karaoke drunk you don’t want to hear. She tries to get Emma to sing along with her, because Charlotte thinks Emma is a good singer, but Emma is too self-conscious about it. And that’s the part in the movie where you know Charlotte is going to find a way to convince Emma to sing somewhere in public.

The rest of the movie shows what happens during this road trip and the “race against time” when Emma’s parents Mary and Brian decide to track down these “runaways.” The most effective and best scene in the movie isn’t during the road trip shenanigans, but it’s the quiet moment when Emma watches the videotape message that her father left for her. If only “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” had that type of screenwriting in the rest of the movie.

Instead, the film is mostly just a hodgepodge of cheesy contrived scenarios, made worse by the substandard acting. Let’s put it this way: At one point in the trip, after the “runaways” get to Carmel, they end up in auditions for a TV singing contest that’s supposed to be like “American Idol.” It just so happens that Carmel is one of the cities during the show’s auditions tour. It’s an unnecessary and very corny detour in the plot. And it’s one of the worst scenes in the movie.

“The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” packs in a lot of issues, and handles some better than others. There are mother/daughter issues. There are sibling rivalry issues. There are Chinese immigrant issues. There are health issues. There are LGBTQ issues. There are elderly care issues. The problem is that these issues are presented in a very cloying way in clumsy dialogue and too many overly phony scenes.

The movie has some sly jokes here and there, but they are few and far in between. For example, the “runaways” get a flat tire and are helped by two tough-looking motorcycle guys, who reveal before they leave that they are a couple. “Everybody loves bears,” one of them says. If you don’t know what a “bear” is slang for in the gay community, then look it up or ask a gay man.

Speaking of the LGBTQ community, Karen’s coming out as a lesbian in the movie is adequately handled. To its credit, the movie doesn’t erase how Chinese culture often views homosexuality and how that affects LGBTQ people of Chinese heritage in their decision on whether or not to go public with their sexual identities. Emma is a very open-minded and tolerant person, whose only problem with Karen coming out is Emma’s wrong assumption that Karen told someone else before she told Emma.

However, there are some not-very-well-written moments, such as when butch Karen initially tries to scare off the biker guys by saying that she’s Bruce Lee. It’s supposed to be funny, but it comes across as lazy pandering to stereotypes. The jokes in the movie mostly fall flat. And there’s some tacked-on sentimentality at the end that is monotonously predictable.

Of the cast members, only Lu and Pasdar are able to deliver their lines with any believability. The rest of the principal cast members are amateurish and often say their lines in awkward and wooden tones. Krusiec is the absolute worst in this movie’s acting, and it doesn’t help that Mary is the most irritating character in the film. Even an experienced actor such as Fisher (who is American in real life) embarrasses herself with an Irish accent that’s not credible at all and sometimes sounds Scottish.

It seems like many of the cast members got these roles based on personal reasons, not because they were the best people for the job. There are are so many talented and available actors who could’ve elevated this maudlin material instead of the high-school-level acting that most of the actors have in this movie. And if director Chi couldn’t find more talented actors for this cast, then she wasn’t looking hard enough.

These filmmaking decisions are ultimately the responsibility of a movie’s director, so any bad judgment in casting is almost always the director’s fault. For example, the character of Charlotte did not need to be Irish. If Chi wanted Fisher for the role, she should have just let Fisher do the role in her natural American accent instead of having to fumble her way through an Irish accent that makes Fisher look kind of foolish. This type of directorial decision is one of many that ended up lowering the quality of this movie.

“The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” isn’t a complete waste of time. There are some lovely scenic shots of Carmel. And this movie might be considered enjoyable enough for people who have low standards. But for everyone else, there are plenty of better-made movies about bickering families with vivacious grandmothers. “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” comes across as an inferior dud.

Picturehouse will release “The Disappearance of Mrs. Wu” on a date to be announced.

Review: ‘Lorelei’ (2021), starring Pablo Schreiber and Jena Malone

August 7, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jena Malone and Pablo Schreiber in “Lorelei” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Lorelei” (2021)

Directed by Sabrina Doyle

Culture Representation: Taking place in Oregon and briefly in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “Lorelei” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: After serving 15 years in prison for armed robbery, a recently released ex-convict reconnects with his high school sweetheart, who is now a single mother of three children, and they have challenges as he tries to get his life back on track. 

Culture Audience: “Lorelei” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in realistic dramas about ex-convicts and about working-class Americans who are living right on the edge of poverty.

Parker Pascoe-Sheppard, Jena Malone, Amelia Borgerding and Chancellor Perry in “Lorelei” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

The reason for the title of the dramatic film “Lorelei” isn’t revealed until the last 10 minutes of the movie. Until then, viewers are taken on a roller coaster ride of a relationship between an ex-con and his former girlfriend, who reunite after he gets out of prison. It’s a well-acted portrait of forgiveness, trust and how emotional stakes can be high when people with troubled pasts are given a chance at redemption.

“Lorelei” is an impressive feature-film debut by writer/director Sabrina Doyle, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who is originally from England. She’s made a very authentic-looking movie about working-class life in the United States that presents an unvarnished but empathetic view of what it means to be one or two paychecks away from poverty. “Lorelei” takes place in an unnamed city in Oregon, but the struggles shown in the movie are reflective of what millions of people around the world can and do experience in similar circumstances.

The movie’s title suggests that the story’s main protagonist is a woman. However, “Lorelei” is actually told from the point of view of a man named Wayland Beckett (played by Pablo Schreiber), a member of a biker gang who has recently been released from prison, after serving 15 years for armed robbery. (Schreiber is best-known to TV audiences as a former co-star of the motorcycle gang drama series “Sons of Anarchy.”)

Wayland was in his late teens when he went to prison for this crime. Now in his early 40s, Wayland has to find a way to adjust to life outside prison when so much of the outside world has changed. When he walks out of prison, he’s greeted by several members of his biker buddies, who then throw a bonfire party for him to celebrate his release from prison.

Luckily for Wayland, he has a place to live after his prison release. He’s staying at a spare room at a church, where in exchange for free room and board, he has agreed to do regular chores and maintenance for the church. His living situation is much like a halfway house, because he has to abide by the rules set by his supervisor at the church: Pastor Gail (played by Trish Egan), who tells Wayland that she’s also available to him for counseling.

“You know I don’t believe in God, right?” Wayland asks Pastor Gail. She replies, “That’s okay. Just stay out of jail.” The rules are pretty simple: No drugs, no alcohol and no illegal activity on the premises. Unlike the rules at a typical halfway house, this church does not make Wayland have a curfew.

Pastor Gail is involved in a lot of charity work, such as food donations to underprivileged people. At the church, she also leads meetings for people dealing with various issues, but the meetings come with a certain amount of religious lecturing. Wayland comments to Pastor Gail in a teasing tone of voice, “The problem with do-gooders is that nobody likes them.” Pastor Gail replies, “I never gave a shit about being liked. I just believe that people deserve second chances—maybe three or four.”

One day, Pastor Gail asks for Wayland’s help to prepare a room for a meeting to be held that evening for single mothers. Wayland hangs around when the meeting starts. And he sees someone from his past whom he hasn’t seen since he was in prison. Her name is Dolores (played by Jena Malone), but she sometimes goes by the nickname Lola, which is what her three kids call her. And she’s was Wayland’s girlfriend when they were in high school together.

Wayland and Dolores began dating when they were both 15. Viewers will find out in bits and pieces what happened to Dolores and Wayland’s high school romance and why they broke up. Their full story is told in a few flashbacks, but mostly through conversations that Wayland and Dolores have about the past.

At the church meeting, Wayland and Dolores make eye contact, and she excuses herself from the meeting to talk to him outside. Based on their body language and how they look at each other, there’s still some romantic heat and unfinished business between the two of them. Dolores and Wayland haven’t seen each other since he went to prison. They stayed in touch for a little while after he was sent to prison, but they eventually ended their contact while he was incarcerated.

When they were a couple, Dolores (who was a star swimmer on her high school team) and Wayland had planned to move to Los Angeles together after high school. But Wayland got caught up in criminal activities with his biker gang called the Night Horsemen, which led to the armed robbery that landed him in prison. Dolores began dating other people, and she had to drop out of high school when she got pregnant with her first child.

Dolores, who now works as a motel maid, seems pleasantly surprised to see that Wayland is now out of prison. They immediately make plans for a date at a bar after the church meeting. Based on how quickly Dolores runs out of the church meeting when it’s over, she’s eagerly anticipating this date. When Wayland picks her up in his truck, he sheepishly tells her that he doesn’t have any cash. She doesn’t seem to mind too much and she offers to pay for whatever they order at the bar.

During their reunion conversation, Dolores gives a brief update on her life by telling him that she has three kids. Dolores assures Wayland that he’s definitely not the father of her first child, a boy named Dodger Blue (played by, who is now 15. She describes Dodger’s father as “nobody” and a meaningless fling. “I couldn’t even tell you his name,” Dolores says. Later, when Wayland meets Dodger, he knows for sure that he’s not the father because Dodger is biracial, with a black biological father.

The date ends with Dolores inviting Wayland back to her modest house to spend the night. Unlike most movies which portray ex-cons who’ve been recently let out of prison as very horny and ready to have sex with the first available partner, “Lorelei” shows that Wayland is hesitant and insecure in this intimate moment. He whispers to Dolores, “I don’t even know how to do this anymore.”

Dolores is kind and patient with Wayland, who isn’t ready to be fully intimate with her. She asks him if he fooled around wth men in prison, and he says no. They spend the night together cuddling, but they eventually make up for this chaste date with their first night of passion together in years.

The next morning, Wayland is introduced to Dolores’ children. All three of her kids have different biological fathers, who are not involved in raising them. Dodger is a typical teen who is somewhat rebellious. His mother lets him vape in the house, but she doesn’t allow him to do drink alcohol or do drugs. He likes to weightlift and hasn’t decided what he wants to do with his life yet. Later in the story, he tells Wayland that he’s thinking about joining the military after he graduates from high school.

Dolores’ middle child is sassy 12-year-old daughter Periwinkle Blue (played by Amelia Borgerding), nicknamed Peri. Dolores later tells Wayland that Peri’s biological father was a “lowlife” meth addict. Peri is an obedient child overall but shows a great deal of resentment toward Dolores and has a tendency to talk rudely to her. Why the hostility? Peri thinks Dolores is a flaky mother who gives special treatment to her other two kids, especially Dodger.

Dolores’ youngest child is sweet-natured 6-year-old Denim (played by Parker Pascoe-Sheppard), whose assigned gender at birth was male, but there are signs that Denim is a transgender female. Denim only wants to wear Peri’s feminine-identifying clothes and doesn’t want to wear clothes that look like boys’ outfits. Dolores later tells Wayland that Denim’s father was one of Dodger’s schoolteachers, who was married and movied out of the area with his wife and kids soon after finding out that Dolores was pregnant with his child.

The first time that Wayland talks to Dodger, the teenager is lifting weights. When Wayland offers some weightlifting advice, Dodger is rude and standoffish. Dolores and Denim are more accepting of Wayland soon after they meet him.

However, the cold response from Dodger makes Wayland uncomfortable, and Wayland skips out on Dolores’ invitation to stay for breakfast. Wayland says he needs to use the bathroom. Instead, he leaves by the house’s back door without saying goodbye.

The next time Dolores sees Wayland, she’s furious at how he snuck out and snubbed her and her family. He says he’s sorry, and she quickly forgives him. Viewers can see where this relationship is going to go. And it does go that way: Wayland ends up moving in with Dolores and becomes a stepfather figure to the kids.

Pastor Gail believes that ex-cons are less likely to re-offend if they’re in a stable relationship with a love partner. She wrote a recommendation to Wayland’s parole officer Raf Ortiz (played by Joseph Bertót) to give permission for Wayland to move out of the church’s spare room and move in with Dolores. However, Raf warns Wayland about the pressures of raising children. The parole officer is skeptical that Wayland can find a job that can pay enough money to support a household of five people.

And finding this type of job is one of the toughest challenges for Wayland, whose options are limited since a lot of places won’t hire ex-prisoners who were convicted of felonies. To make some quick money, Wayland sells his blood. His foul-mouthed cousin Violet (played by Dana Millican) happens to see Wayland coming out of plasma center while she’s driving down the street, and she offers to put in a good word for him at a local auto parts shop/junkyard. It’s kind of a hilarious scene because Violet has this conversation while she stopped her car on the street. Drivers behind her get irritated, and she curses at them to drive around her.

Wayland gets a part-time job at the auto shop, but the salary is very low. (His first paycheck is only a little more than $126.) With financial pressure increasing, Wayland is tempted to take an offer from his biker friend Kurt (played by Ryan Findley) to do some work for Kurt in Kurt’s drug-dealing business. The movie shows whether or not Wayland takes Kurt’s offer.

“Lorelei” shows in a very naturalistic way how Wayland’s relationships with Dolores and her children evolve and go through ups and downs. He eventually earns to trust of all of the children. Peri gets along with Wayland so well that she makes it clear that she likes Wayland more than she likes Dolores, which leads to Dolores feeling hurt and jealous. There’s a sequence involving Peri’s birthday that exemplifies this turmoil.

Dolores’ kids are never shown at school, but there’s mention of the bullying they get because other students tease them for coming from a “trashy” family. In addition, Denim is bullied for being a gender non-conforming child. It’s a problem that neither Dolores nor Wayland really know how to handle.

Dolores is frustrated over being in a dead-end job and wondering what would have happened if she and Wayland had moved to Los Angeles. Wayland seems content to stay in Oregon, so there’s a question if that will be dealbreaker in this relationship. And there are signs that Dolores hasn’t given up her passion for swimming.

The movie has some artistic-looking dream sequences that are supposed to be reminiscent of one of Wayland and Dolores’ best dates when they were teenagers: When they went to a beach to look at the ocean. “Lorelei” creatively uses the ocean and swimming as metaphors for escape, drowning in fear, or a sort of rebirth.

One of the more realistic aspects of “Lorelei” is that it doesn’t tie up Wayland’s financial problems nicely in a neat little bow. For example, in one part of the movie, Wayland impulsively buys an old, run-down ice cream truck that can still operate. Wayland can’t really explain why he bought this truck, but he has vague plans that he might refurbish the truck to start his own ice-cream truck business.

It’s not really spoiler information to reveal that the movie never shows if Wayland followed through on this sort-of goal, because it’s very true-to-life that many people act this way with unfocused goals that they might or might not pursue. The ice cream truck is almost symbolic of how Wayland wishes that he could go back to simpler times when he was a child. At any rate, Denim and Peri love the truck, which is used as somewhat of a device for comic relief, when Wayland drives this conspicuous ice-cream truck in some sketchy situations involving the biker gang.

“Lorelei” might be a letdown to viewers who are expecting a more action-oriented or more melodramatic film instead of the naturalistic way that this movie flows in telling the story. Dolores and Wayland have arguments that are believable. Their rekindled romance doesn’t go smoothly like a fairytale. And there are no real villains in the story—just people trying to get by in the best way that they can.

Malone’s compelling portrayal of Dolores is of someone who’s been damaged and disappointed by life. She loves her kids, but she thinks they deserve better than what she can offer to them. And that feeling of not being “good enough” has slowly chipped away at her core sense of self until she makes a decision to try to try to heal herself in the best way that she can.

Wayland’s emotional arc in “Lorelei” is a lot easier to predict, but Schreiber’s portrayal of this complicated character is still intriguing to watch. At one point in the movie, Wayland says that being in prison changed him. It’s up to viewers to figure out or intepret how he’s changed, since the flashbacks to his teenage years with Dolores are very brief. Schreiber gives a spot-on performance of someone who’s gradually learning that vulnerability can co-exist with masculinity.

It’s also fascinating to watch how Wayland adjusts to becoming an instant “stepfather.” There are moments that will pull at viewers’ heartstrings when Denim asks Wayland more than once if Denim can call him “Dad.” Wayland’s response is a little different every time.

As Dolores’ children, actors Perry, Borgerding and Pascoe-Sheppard make admirable feature-film debuts in “Lorelei.” In real life, Pascoe-Sheppard is non-binary, using the pronoun “they” for their identity, according to the “Lorelei” production notes. Kudos to director Doyle for making the effort to cast a gender-non-conforming role with an actor who is gender-non-conforming instead of taking the easier path of casting a cisgender actor in the role.

“Lorelei” is a specific story about an emotionally wounded couple and the children they are raising, but the movie effectively speaks to universal truths about how insecurities and being held back by past mistakes can affect people’s perceptions of themselves and others. And the movie is ultimately a meaningful story showing that family is not what you’re born into but what you make of it.

Vertical Entertainment released “Lorelei” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on JUly 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Too Late’ (2021), starring Alyssa Limperis, Ron Lynch, Will Weldon, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Fred Armisen

July 17, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ron Lynch and Alyssa Limperis in “Too Late” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

“Too Late” (2021)

Directed by D.W. Thomas

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the horror comedy film “Too Late” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A stand-up comedy booker has a cannibal monster for a boss, and her secret job is to find comedians for him to eat. 

Culture Audience: “Too Late” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching boring, low-quality comedies that aren’t funny.

Alyssa Limperis and Will Weldon in “Too Late” (Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures)

The only thing scary about the horror comedy “Too Late” is that people thought this painfully unfunny dud was good enough to make into a movie. The plot is ridiculous, even by lowbrow standards, and not even the presence of some fairly well-known cast members can save this awkward mess of a film. “Too Late” is the first feature film from director D.W. Thomas and writer Tom Becker, who both have extensive backgrounds as film editors. This movie is proof that having experience in one area of filmmaking doesn’t automatically make people skilled in other areas.

“Too Late” (an 80-minute movie that feel like longer because of the sluggish pacing) has a group of actors who seem to be trying their best to salvage this horrendous movie, but there’s only so much they can do when they’ve been given such cringeworthy dialogue to say. The movie is set in the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene, but there isn’t one single comedian in this movie who is genuinely funny. There’s also a tiresome runnng gag in the film where the chief villain keeps saying that comedians aren’t real people.

Unfortunately, there’s too much interruption of the main story with several cutaways to very amateurish and mediocre-to-bad stand-up comedy routines on stage, from people making cameos that have nothing to do with the main story. It’s appalling, low-quality work from “Too Late” director Thomas, who also edited this movie. As someone with a film editing background, she should know better than to have these choppy and distracting edits in the first feature film that she’s directed.

However, it’s not as if the main story of “Too Late” is all that compelling. It’s downright dumb. The gist of the main plot is that an overworked and underappreciated stand-up comedy booker/assistant named Violet Fields (played by Alyssa Limperis) has a tyrant boss named Bob Devore (played by Ron Lynch), and they both have a secret: Bob is really a cannibal monster, and Violet’s real job with him is to book stand-up comedians so that Bob can kill and eat them. He eats them whole, so their bodies aren’t found.

Violet is afraid to quit because Bob has told her that he’ll kill her if she quits. At one point in the movie, Bob ominously says to Violet, “Violet would never leave me, would you Violet? … In fact, you would probably die without me.” Bob also keeps telling Violet, as if he’s some kind of cannibal self-help guru: “Life’s too short.”

The plot of “Too Late” immediately raises questions that the movie never bothers answering. Wouldn’t it be obvious for the police to figure out that the missing stand-up comedians all worked for Bob, thereby making him a person of interest? Even though several people are murdered in the movie, there are no police investigations. And why should viewers root for Violet, who’s an accomplice to murder?

According to what’s said in the movie, she’s been working with Bob for several years, which makes Violet even more despicable for participating in and covering up these murders over such a long period of time. Violet has a housemate friend named Belinda (played by Jenny Zigrino), who keeps telling Violet that Violet should quit working for Bob, but Violet ignores this advice. Violet’s work as Bob’s assistant requires her to be at his constant beck and call. It’s taken a toll on Violet’s love life, which Belinda calls “a drought.”

Belinda comments to Violet about Bob: “He’s never going to let you go!” Violet responds, “I feel like I’m on an island. I feel like there’s a million bridges off of it, but every single one burns the second I try to leave.” You know it’s a bad comedy when the lines that are supposed to be funny aren’t funny, and the lines that are supposed to be serious might unintentionally make people laugh because they’re so cheesy.

Bob is the promoter of a stand-up comedy series called Too Late, which is held at a small theater called The Hayworth. It’s supposed to be one of the hottest comedy promotions in Los Angeles. Well, apparently not, because comedians can get murdered by Bob shortly after they’re booked to perform at Too Late. And no one in this silly movie figures it out, so people keep getting murdered.

Meanwhile, Violet books her own stand-up comedy series at a tiny coffee shop. It’s here that she meets an obnoxious aspiring stand-up comedian named Dax Hanlan (played by Billy Breed), who says he’s originally from Boston. Dax sidles up to Violet as she’s watching a comedian on stage and tries to flirt with her. Once he finds out that she’s the booker for Too Late, he tries to weasel his way into getting her to book him.

Violet is cold and dismissive when she repeatedly tells Dax that he can apply on the Too Late website. He won’t take the hint and still desperately tries to get Violet to pay attention to him. Finally, Violet tells Dax that it’s not a good idea to alienate the person who’ll decide whether or not he’ll be booked at Too Late. As she walks away, Dax mutters underneath his breath, “Stuck-up bitch.” Violet doesn’t hear him say this derogatory comment, but it’s at this point in the movie that you know that Dax is going to be an upcoming meal for Bob.

The comedians whom Violet books and sometimes hangs out with are very untalented and have shallow personalities. The worst is David Zeller (played by Jack De Sena), who’s the type of loser who throws a costume party with a mass suicide theme, so people come dressed to the party as cult members. Yes, this heinous movie tries to make mass suicides a comedic plot gimmick.

David hasn’t gotten on Violet’s bad side, so she’s decided she’s not going to feed him to Bob. Is that supposed to make her look classy? During the course of the story, Violet makes promises to some other comedians to book them for Too Late: Andy Jocelyn (played by Paul Danke), Chase Morrow (played by Brooks Wheelan) and Jimmy Rhodes (played by Will Weldon). These unskilled hacks might or not become murder victims of cannibal Bob and his cowardly assistant Violet.

Jimmy actually becomes Violet’s love interest, but their romance is so boring, it might put viewers to sleep. It isn’t until Violet starts developing feelings for Jimmy that she tries to deter him from wanting to be booked for Too Late. Violet and Jimmy have a not-so-meet-cute moment when Violet finds herself hiding in David’s bedroom closet during David’s “mass suicide” party, because David has unexpectedly gone into the room to have a sexual tryst with a female party guest. Violet doesn’t want David to know she was in his room to have some time alone, so that’s why she thinks it’s better to hide in the closet like a creep, rather than politely excuse herself and walk out of the room with some dignity.

While hiding in this closet, Violet meets Jimmy, who tells her that he’s renting the closet from David as a place to live. (As far-fetched as these living conditions might be to some people, there are many real-life examples of people who pay rent to live in a closet because it’s all they can afford, usually in big cities where the cost of living is much higher than in other places.) And what do you know, Jimmy is an aspiring stand-up comedian too. Based on the way this terrible screenplay is written, the only men Violet can meet in Los Angeles are aspiring stand-up comedians. It’s pathetic.

If anyone is wondering if Violet books any female comedians, the answer is yes, but she’s never actually shown booking any female comedians or talking to any female comedians about booking them. There’s a fairly even mix of male and female comedians shown on stage in the annoying and unfunny performance clips that are inserted throughout the movie. But apparently, Violet only chooses male comedians to be cannibal victims for Bob.

Wait, isn’t that gender discrimination in this fake feminist movie? You know it’s a fake feminist movie because the filmmakers try to make it look like when a woman wants men to be killed, it’s supposed to be “female empowerment.” Real feminism is about gender equality, not hating on men and wanting them to be murdered. This movie is so despicable.

Mary Lynn Rajskub plays experienced and jaded comic Gina Obispo, one of the Too Late comedians who does a terrible stand-up comedy routine that this movie wants viewers to think is funny. It’s a small and useless role, because all Gina does when she meets Violet for the first time is try to get Violet to admit to two things: (1) that Bob is horrible and (2) that Violet wants to become a stand-up comedian.

Throughout the movie, people keep asking Violet if she’s a stand-up comedian, even though there’s absolutely nothing that indicates that dull-as-dirt Violet has a sense of humor. Violet keeps denying that she has an interest in being a stand-up comedian. It’s all just an obvious set-up for what comes later in the movie, in some very phony pandering to feminism.

And in a disservice to this movie’s so-called “feminist” message, Violet only cares about hanging out with and mentoring male comedians, not female comedians. The only female comedian whom Violet interacts with in this movie is Gina, and it’s for less than five minutes. Gina seems like she’s been doing stand-up comedy longer than Violet has been alive. In other words, Gina doesn’t need Violet to mentor her.

Another pointless role in “Too Late” is the one played by Fred Armisen. His character in the movie is dorky Fredo Muñoz, a sound/lighting engineer at The Hayworth. The Fredo character adds nothing to the story, unless you think it’s important to watch scenes where Bob berates Fredo for not having the type of blue tint that Bob wants for the stage lighting. Someone must’ve called in a big favor to have a well-known actor like former “Saturday Night Live” star Armisen be in this cesspool movie, which is a big step down from the work that he’s capable of doing.

As for “boss from hell” Bob, the movie doesn’t bother to describe his origins on how and why he’s a cannibal. He looks human, but he can, of his own free will, transform into a monster with long nails, fangs and decrepit-looking flesh. He sleeps in a coffin, but he’s not a vampire. He keeps yapping to Violet about the “dark of the moon,” but he’s not a werewolf. The visual effects are as tacky and unconvincing as you would expect them to be in this garbage film.

The filmmakers try very hard to make Violet look like she’s some kind of heroine, but she’s not. It’s as if viewers are supposed to forget that Violet has actively participated in serial murders. The entire concept of this movie is simply awful, just like the screenwriting and direction. “Too Late” should’ve been titled “Too Little, Too Late,” because that’s an accurate description of the quality of this movie.

Gravitas Ventures released “Too Late” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 25, 2021.

Review: ‘Mark, Mary & Some Other People,’ starring Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield

June 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Hayley Law and Ben Rosenfield in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People”

Directed by Hannah Marks

Culture Representation: Taking place mainly in the Los Angeles area, the sex comedy “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A newlywed interracial couple decide to have an open marriage and have to deal with the jealousy and complications that ensue.

Culture Audience: “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” will appeal mainly to people who like watching self-conscious hipster comedies with characters who are foul-mouthed, shallow, and have an annoying tendency to act as if their lifestyles are better than anyone else’s.

Ben Rosenfield and Hayley Law in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (Photo by Casey Stolberg)

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is an occasionally funny but very flawed swinger sex comedy made by and for people who want a movie where interracial spouses don’t talk about race, and Hispanics in Los Angeles are underrepresented and don’t speak. The movie is a clumsy mismatch of being very woke and very tone-deaf. The cast members who portray the swinger married couple in the film’s title are talented in their performances, and the movie does have some genuine charm here and there. (The final scene is a highlight.) But ultimately, it’s a movie that comes across as a little too smug for its own good. When it comes right down to it, this is a story about immature people who are so obsessed with appearing to be “open-minded” that they don’t see how self-absorbed they really are.

The word “woke” is often used as an insulting way for conservatives to describe people they think are too politically correct. But in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” (which is set mainly in the Los Angeles area and takes place over a two-year period), even the “woke” characters call themselves “woke,” and they love to announce how politically progressive they are, every chance they get. But it’s the type of “wokeness” where people, who identify as progressive liberals and live in a racially diverse city, can’t be bothered to have any close friends who are black or Hispanic. To fill their “diverse friendship” quota, they might have one or two Asians in their social circle. That’s exactly what’s going on in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which was written and directed by Hannah Marks. The movie had its world premiere at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

In this movie, no one is guiltier of this self-congratulatory virtue signaling than Mary Lewis (played by Hayley Law), a motormouth in her mid-20s, who has to spew something politically correct every five minutes to prove how “enlightened” she is. She’s more about platitude posturing than being a well-rounded person. Mary also happens to be African American/bi-racial. One of her parents is white, and one is black, although the movie never reveals which parent is which race. Mary’s mother is dead, and her father is not mentioned at all.

Mary plays bass guitar in an all-female rock trio that keeps changing its name to things that Mary thinks will make the band sound like edgy feminists. It’s a running joke in the movie. One of the band’s names is Butter Cunt, which tells you right there what this movie thinks is funny. Because the band has no talent and can’t get any paying gigs, Mary works at various part-time menial jobs during the course of the movie. She does some speaking-voice work for places that need recordings for outgoing phone messages and PA system announcements. She also works as a housecleaner and a food server.

Mary’s husband is Mark Kenneth Sampson (played by Ben Rosenfield), also in his mid-20s, who is a “beta male” man-child that has become the stereotypical male lead character in mumblecore movies where everyone tries to outdo each other in looking like trendy, progressive hipsters. Mark is the type of person who identifies as a male feminist, which is basically a mumblecore movie way of depicting a man who is whiny, insecure, and so afraid of appearing sexist that he lets his domineering female partner treat him like crap. Mark works with his father in a vague “plastics manufacturing” job, but Mark’s father is never shown in the movie. Mark is never actually shown working at his “plastics manufacturing” job, but he is shown doing his other job as a dog walker. The movie doesn’t give any mention of Mark’s mother.

Mark is white, but the movie unrealistically shuts out any conversations that interracial couples would have about being in an interracial relationship. It’s one of the many flaws about “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which goes out of its way to be frank and detailed (often to the point of monotonous vulgarity) about many other aspects of sexual attraction, dating and marriage, except for race. It’s almost as if writer/director Marks and the other filmmakers thought that having an interracial couple as the main characters would be enough to fulfill their racial diversity checklist, and they want to pretend that racism and discussions about race simply don’t exist in a world that they decided to center on an interracial couple.

Mary will lecture people all day long about sexuality and gender politics, but her refusal to talk about race actually makes her look very phony and willfully ignorant. What kind of progressive liberal who’s supposed to care about social justice doesn’t want to talk about race? A hypocrite like Mary, who wants to live in a delusional bubble where she floats through life and doesn’t want to deal with a messy topic such as racism, even though she’s someone who has inevitably experienced racism. It should come as no surprise that Mary doesn’t have any black friends. (Sex partners who are treated like disposable sex toys don’t count as real friends.)

Women of color who are written this way in movies and TV shows are usually written by people who have no idea what it’s like to be a woman of color. And so, in this movie where one of the two main characters is black, “black culture” is avoided, ignored or sidelined. That’s probably why “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is the type of movie where the only African American people who have speaking roles in the movie (two women) are light-skinned, bi-racial people. There are less than a handful of Hispanic/Latino and dark-complexioned African Americans who get listed actor credits in the movie, and they’re really just extras: They don’t speak, they’re nameless characters in the movie’s many hookup scenes, and they’re on screen for less than 30 seconds each.

And it’s why this movie that tries so hard to look progressive and “woke”—as these swingers accumulate sexual conquests throughout Los Angeles County—is shamefully out-of-touch and backwards when it comes to representing what the population of Los Angeles County actually looks like. This movie is set in Los Angeles County, where 48.6% of the population identify as Hispanic/Latino, according the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 statistics. That number is expected to be higher when the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 statistics are announced.

But the filmmakers of “Mark, Mary & Some Other People”—who probably want the world to think they’re open-minded and progressive, based on how the movie’s characters talk—couldn’t be bothered to give any Hispanic/Latino actors any speaking lines in this movie that takes place in a county where nearly half the population is Hispanic/Latino. When people say that Hispanics/Latinos are underrepresented in American-made movies, “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” is an example of this problem. Filmmakers who act like they’re progressive liberals need to do better in practicing what they preach.

It isn’t nitpicking to bring up the races/ethnicities of this movie’s cast members, because this entire movie is relentlessly “in your face” about the characters (especially the main characters) being progressive liberals. Therefore, it would be foolish and (quite frankly) irresponsible not to point out this movie’s hypocrisy, flaws and blind spots when it comes to the very same issues. People who live in certain “bubbles” probably won’t notice these flaws, because they’ll be too enamored with the self-approving hipster dialogue and titillation of seeing a swinger lifestyle depicted in a movie.

But “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” has a lot of flaws, such as showing how obvious it is that Mark and Mary are very mismatched from the start. For a movie like this to succeed in resonating with adults (this movie’s intended audience), audiences should be rooting for the couple to be happy and supportive of each other—not spending most of the movie cringing and hoping that the couple will break up, so the couple won’t keep wallowing in the misery of jealousy, power struggles and incompatibility that are all over this relationship.

Every movie about a couple with an “open relationship” ends up being about how they handle jealousy over other sex partners. The trick is in keeping people guessing on whether or not the couple will stay together. Unfortunately, “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” telegraphs very early on how immature and messy Mark and Mary are in relationships, because Mark and Mary don’t even seem to like themselves very much. People with enough life experience will notice this low self-esteem right away, while people with less life experience might have more of a fairy-tale perspective of love and sex.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” doesn’t waste time with Mark and Mary’s “meet cute” moment because it’s the very first scene in the movie. Actually, it’s more like a “re-meet cute” moment, because it’s not the first time that they’ve met, although only one of them immediately remembers where they previously met. Mark and Mary, who both live in the city of Los Angeles, see each other at a convenience store. Mark shows an instant interest in her, while it takes Mary a little longer to show she’s attracted to him.

Mark and Mary met before when they attended the same college (which is unnamed in the movie), but Mary doesn’t remember Mark at first because he was a lot heavier in college than he is now. The movie doesn’t have flashbacks. Anything that happened before this story takes place is described in conversations.

At the convenience store, Mark notices that Mary is buying a pregnancy test, but she hastily tells him that the pregnancy test isn’t for her. (It’s an obvious lie.) After Mark checks out Mary’s rear end, he immediately asks her to go to a smoothie place with him on a date.

She says yes, and during their conversation at the smoothie place, Mary admits that the pregnancy test is for her. Mark expresses disappointment that Mary might already be in a committed relationship, but she assures him that she’s very single and available. She also tells him up front that she’s sexually interested in men and women, because she mentions a woman whom she describes as a former lover of hers.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” then takes an “only in a movie” turn when Mark tells Mary that it just so happens that he’s working with his father on an invention where pregnancy test results can come from saliva, not urine. It’s a very far-fetched part of the movie that will have viewers rolling their eyes in disbelief if they know anything about human biology. The movie wants us to believe that human salivary glands are somehow connected to the urethra, but it’s just an example of how dumb the filmmakers expect this movie’s audience to be.

Unfortunately, this salivary pregnancy test isn’t a random joke. It’s depicted as very real in this movie, and it becomes a big part of one of the movie’s pivotal scenes. A salivary pregnancy test is actually an unnecessary medical invention for this story, and it’s a bizarre twist to Mark’s “plastics manufacturing” job. Maybe the filmmakers were inspired by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, because there’s a concerted and almost laughable effort to make this salivary pregnancy test look convincing.

Mark is very nerdy and eager to impress. Mary is very manipulative and notices these personality traits in Mark, so immediately she figures she can have the upper hand in the relationship. When Mark asks her if he can have her phone number, she plays hard to get. Then, she tests Marks boundaries by telling him that he can have her phone number if he goes in the smoothie place’s public restroom with her while she takes the pregnancy test. He hesitates at first, but then obliges. Yes, that it’s that kind of movie.

It should be noted that there’s no nudity in “Mark, Mary & Some Other People,” which might be director Marks’ way of avoiding criticism of being exploitative in a movie filled with sex. However, no filmmaker should get extra praise for not having nudity in a sex-oriented movie. The movie should be judged on other things, such as the quality of directing, writing and acting.

When Mark and Mary go into the public restroom, he shows that he’s a gentleman by not looking at her while she urinates. It should come as no surprise to the audience when Mary finds out that she’s not pregnant, because having a pregnancy would get in the way of the swinger antics that this movie is using as a hook to get an audience. And it’s also not surprising that Mary—who manipulates a guy on a first date to go in a public restroom with her while she urinates for a pregnancy test, just so he can get her phone number—is someone who’s kind of nasty and very insecure.

It sets the tone for the relationship though: Mary is the one who comes up with the ideas that make Mark uncomfortable, and she makes him think he’s too uptight if doesn’t say yes to the ideas. She’s not bossy about it, but she’s very skilled at knowing people’s weaknesses and pushing those buttons. And she’s one of these people who gives off a conceited attitude of “I’m better than you because I’m so woke and trendy.”

It will ultimately turn a lot of viewers off from Mary, who is not a genuine free spirit who will let people be who they are. She won’t back off when Mark expresses discomfort with what she wants to do. She acts like she really won’t approve of someone and that person will make her unhappy unless they conform to what she wants at all times. And for someone like Mark, who’s obviously less experienced at dating than Mary is and desperate for someone to love him, he’s an easy target.

Case in point: When the movie fast-forwards about a year after Mark and Mary’s first date, Mark and Mary are getting married, and Mary has to be the “woke police,” even during their elopement wedding. Mark and Mary are at a cheap-looking wedding chapel in an unnamed city, where they are getting married. In another example of how this movie stumbles on realistic details, the only people at this wedding ceremony are Mark, Mary and the guy who’s marrying them. There are no other witnesses, even though witnesses other than the married couple and wedding officiator would be required to make the ceremony legal.

After Mark and Mary say their wedding vows, the wedding officiator says, “You may now kiss the bride.” Mary starts complaining and asks why that statement is male-centric because it gives the man the power to initiate the kiss. Mary begins ranting that no one ever says, “You many now kiss the groom” at wedding ceremonies where a man and woman get married. The wedding officiator says he doesn’t know the answers, but “You may now kiss the bride” is in his wedding script, and he’s just doing his job. But that answer doesn’t make Mary happy. (Almost nothing seems to make her happy, which is why Mary is so insufferable.)

Mary nags at the wedding officiator to change the wording to “You may now kiss the groom,” or else she won’t kiss Mark. Just to get this miserable shrew off of his back, the wedding officiator obliges, and probably feels relieved when these newlyweds leave so he doesn’t have to deal with her again. Mary and Mark spend their honeymoon at the Madonna Inn (a famously kitschy lodging in San Luis Obispo, California), where they take psychedelic mushrooms, with a typical mumblecore movie montage of them having drug-induced hallucinations during their honeymoon bliss.

If it was the filmmakers’ intention to make feminism look cool, the end result is just the opposite in this movie. Mary is supposed to embody modern feminism in this movie, but she’s just a pretentious brat who makes real feminists (and women in general) look bad. The only genuinely feminist thing about this movie is that it shows how women can be just as sexually active as men and shouldn’t have to make any apologies for it.

Mark isn’t going to win any Personality of the Year awards either. And he comes across as less-than-smart. After knowing that Mary is the type of person who thinks it’s unrealistic to be monogamous, and he married her anyway, he’s shocked and angry when she brings up the idea that they should have an open marriage. Did he honestly think she would suddenly want to be monogamous, just because they got married? A lot of people make this mistake of thinking a spouse will change fundamental things about their character, just because of a marriage certificate.

Mary pretentiously describes having an open relationship, or swinging, as “ethical non-monogamy.” Perhaps Mark and Mary can contact Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow (who famously called their divorce a “conscious uncoupling”) to come up with some more self-important and pompous-sounding names for relationship situations that can turn messy. And it does get messy, as it always does when couples bring other lovers into their lives.

This is the type of conversation that Mary and Mark have when Mark gets angry at Mary for suggesting that they try an open marriage. As Mark sulks, Mary says, “You’re being immature.” Mark replies, “Well, you’re being a whore.” 

Mary wonders out loud if it was the wrong time to bring up the subject of open marriage. Mark tells Mary why he’s so offended that Mary wants to have sex with other people during their marriage: “It’s not about you bringing it up. It’s that you’re thinking about it at all.” Apparently, Mark was under the delusion that Mary would change her “monogamy doesn’t work for me” mindset after they got married.

Mary has, in fact, chosen the wrong time to ask Mark to be swingers, because it’s shortly before they go to a costume party, where a furious Mark decides to show Mary that he’s going to immediately find a new lover. He gets drunk, picks up a pretty blonde named Bunny (played by Kelly Berglund), and goes back to her place. The sexual encounter is awkward because Mark starts crying out of guilt and has some “performance issues.”

At the same party, a jealous Mary sees that Mark is trying to seduce Bunny, so she picks up a willing man, and spends the night with him. That encounter is never seen in the movie, but Mary is shown waking up the next morning in a messy van and getting dressed by herself. She’s crying, with a look of regret and misery on her face.

When Mark and Mary see each other again, they burst into tears and tell each other how sorry they are for what happened. (There will be more tears later in the story.) And they decide to set the rules of this new arrangement in their marriage.

After some hemming and hawing during rules negotiations, Mark and Mary agree on some fundamental rules: (1) No sex with an ex-lover; (2) No oral sex with anyone outside the marriage; (3) Always practice safe sex; and (4) If anyone in the marriage wants to stop having an open marriage, they will stop.

Mark tells Mary that this last rule is the most important one to him. He says of this “open marriage” arrangement: “This is a trial run. This is not forever thing. This is a ‘see if we like it’ thing. And if one of us doesn’t like it, we can go back to being us.”

Easier said than done. There are a few other rule negotiations that aren’t as firmly resolved. Mark and Mary make a tentative agreement to limit their sexual ecounters with other people to four sexual encounters per person, although Mary seems to want to leave it up to negotiation in the future to increase it to five.

Mark and Mary don’t agree on how much they should tell each other about their sexual encounters outside the marriage. Mark doesn’t want to hear details (such as the names of the lovers and what kind of sex they had), while Mary says she wouldn’t mind hearing details. They agree to disagree on that subject.

When the subject of threesomes comes up, Mary refuses to consider having a threesome with Mark, unless there’s gender equality with the third partner. Mary insists that if she and Mark have a threesome with another woman, then at another time, Mark and Mary need to have a threesome with another man. Mark is very reluctant to agree to a threesome involving another man, because he says he’s not comfortable with having any type of sex with a man.

However, Mary shames Mark into thinking that he’s homophobic if he doesn’t agree to these terms. He gives in to her demands and promises her that if they have a threesome, it will be with a man and a woman on separate occasions. In this particular negotiation, Mary isn’t thinking about what will make her and Mark happy. She’s only thinking about herself and getting her way.

This type of sexual manipulation is an example of how annoying and aggressive Mary can be with her “wokeness.” She doesn’t understand that just because someone doesn’t feel like ever having sexual relations with someone of the same gender, it doesn’t automatically make that person homophobic. Mary’s view on this matter is very narrow-minded and ignorant.

It’s simple courtesy and respect among sex partners: Don’t pressure people into doing something they don’t feel comfortable doing. Mary doesn’t have a grasp of that concept when she tries to make her husband feel “old-fashioned” and “uptight” if he doesn’t agree to what she wants.

Viewers won’t feel too sorry for Mary when her plan to show “old-fashioned” and “uptight” Mark how an open relationship works ends up backfiring on her when he starts to like polyamory a little too much for her comfort level. There are some very predictable things that happen regarding pregnancy and STD concerns. And there’s the inevitable jealousy and partner mistrust that a lot of swingers think they’ll be immune to, but it’s a lifestyle hazard of being a swinger that some people are more honest about than others.

One of the ways that the movie shows that Mark and Mary aren’t entirely comfortable with this open marriage arrangement is that they almost always get drunk and/or high to have sexual encounters with other people. Mary brought up the idea of open marriage to Mark only after her band’s lead singer/guitarist Lana (played by Odessa A’zion), who is by far the most obnoxious character in the movie, called Mary a “crusty married person.” Lana made this comment during a conversation where Mary confessed to a fear of being perceived as old and boring, now that she’s married.

The implication is that Mary is so caught up in projecting an image of being a progressive hipster that she lets a stupid comment like being called “a crusty married person” affect her self-esteem. Observant viewers will see that Mary doesn’t genuinely know if she’s ready for a swinger lifestyle. And this is where the movie does have some authenticity: A lot of people don’t have their lives figured out yet in their mid-20s, and this movie isn’t trying to pass judgment. Most of the characters in this movie are in their early-to-mid-20s, which goes a long way in explaining why many of them are so emotionally immature. 

The open marriage arrangement has its ups and downs in Mark and Mary’s relationship. As time goes on, it’s pretty clear that this couple’s biggest problem is how ineffectively they communicate. They argue about things that they obviously didn’t talk about before getting married. It’s one of many examples that this couple is a train wreck.

And in one of the screenplay’s big flaws, it never gives any indication that Mary was ever interested in meeting Mark’s father or anyone else in his family, even though Mark works with his father, who presumably lives nearby. Viewers will have to assume that Mary is just too self-absorbed to bother with meeting any of Mark’s loved ones. And based on her actions throughout this entire story, that assessment is accurate.

By contrast, Mark has met the two relatives of Mary who are shown in the movie: Mary’s younger sister Tori (played by Sofia Bryant), who is the drummer in Mary’s band, and Mary’s aunt Carol (played by Lea Thompson, in a cameo), who is depicted as a cynical, eccentric, queer woman with years of experiences as a swinger. Unlike Mary, Tori is down-to-earth and isn’t caught up in trying to look like she’s the queen of the progessive hipsters. Mark admits that Carol intimidates him, but he gets along with Tori just fine.

Tori and Mary briefly discuss their mother in one scene that gives no insight into how long their mother has been dead or her cause of death. It’s hinted that their mother was also a progressive liberal, but Tori and Mary believe that their mother probably would have hated Mark and his unflattering moustache. Maybe this conversation is this movie’s way of saying that even Mary and Tori’s dead mother would know what a mistake it was for Mark and Mary to get married.

Tori and Mary are such a part of each other’s small social circle that Tori ends up dating one of Mark’s two best friends who are shown in the movie. Tori’s boyfriend is AJ (played by Matt Shively), who’s kind of a stereotypical meathead. AJ identifies as straight. Mark’s other best friend is Kyle (played by Nik Dodani), who’s kind of a stereotypical sassy queer guy. Kyle identifies as bisexual. And apparently, Mary’s social circle consists of her husband, her band and her husband’s two best friends.

And that’s why Mark and Mary use a dating app called Crush’d to meet potential new sex partners. They even take photos of each other for their online profile pics, in a photo session montage that’s supposed to make Mark and Mary look adorable. It comes across as trying too hard.

Mark suggests this photo session after he’s alarmed to see the original profile pic that Mary wanted for herself: Mary licking a large knife that appears to have blood on it. Mary thinks she looks hot and unique in that pose. Lindsay Lohan did that whole “look at me, I’m licking a large knife” gimmick back in 2007. Get over yourself.

For a comedy film about a married couple navigating a swinger lifestyle, it’s somewhat ironic that the funniest scenes in the movie aren’t even about Mark and Mary as a couple. Some of the best comedic scenes in the movie are with AJ and Kyle, as they have bickering banter when they’re by themselves. Sometimes AJ and Kyle act more like a married couple than Mark and Mary do.

Fair warning to anyone who hates hearing the derogatory slur that’s used the most against gay/queer men: There’s a scene where Kyle says that “f” word several times, and he says he’s allowed because he’s part of the LGBTQ community. It’s not the best scene between AJ and Kyle. And frankly, hearing that word used so gratiutously is not funny. There are other scenes with AJ and Kyle that are much better-written and should get big laughs. 

Someone who’s a lot less endearing is Lana, who identifies as queer and has the maturity of a 12-year-old. There’s a scene that’s a comedic dud where Lana gets into an argument with a next-door neighbor named Chris (played by Joe Lo Truglio), who’s upset because the band is rehearsing too loudly. It’s a valid complaint, especially since this band is terrible. Instead of being reasonable about it, Lana just shouts, “Fuck you!” It turns into a shouting match where Chris and Lana yell “Fuck you” back and forth for way too long. It’s tedious and lazy screenwriting.

The movie is divided into chapters introduced by cutesy and colorful graphics that look like something from a 1990s mumblecore movie that was influenced by the 1970s. It’s all so self-consciously twee. But it’s overly staged when so much of this movie is just gutter-mouthed and raunchy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to be romantic and vulgar, but not many films can successfully achieve a balance of being both.

Gillian Jacobs has a cameo, as Mary’s gynecologist Dr. Jacobs, that’s also amusing, but a little one-note in the gag. The sex partners/dates whom Mark and Mary meet on the dating app aren’t given enough screen time to show any real personalities, except for the movie’s final scene that involves two people named Alexandra (played by Haley Ramm) and Aaron (played by Pete Williams). Most of the movie is about the neurotic reactions of Mark and Mary when they find out that having a swinger lifestyle creates more chaos in their marriage than they thought it would.

The movie also falls into the same predictable tropes of swinger sex comedies about a man and a woman who decide to have an open relationship: Any queerness almost always has to be from the woman, so the man can get his girl-on-girl sexual needs fulfilled. But when it comes to the man possibly being queer or willing to have a sexual experience with a man, there’s a lot of cringing and hesitation from the man about having sexual relations with another man.

“Mark, Mary & Some Other People” follows this trope too, although one mid-credits scene is a half-hearted and very tame attempt to distance the movie from that trope. Let’s put it this way: The movie spends a lot more screen time making it clear that Mary has sex with other women, while making it very ambiguous if Mark actually goes through with his promise to have sex with a man during a threesome.

People who’ve watched enough of these types of movies can see that the filmmakers seem afraid of alienating the privileged, cisgender, heterosexual male audience that they want to attract to give this movie “indie cred” praise. And that’s why there’s no actual sex between men that’s depicted in the movie. However, the movie’s “woke” characters, such as Mary, sure love to vilify cisgender, heterosexual men as society’s biggest “oppressors.”

Rosenfield and Law show some very good comedic timing in their roles as Mark and Mary. It’s too bad that their characters are such a horrendous mismatch of personalities, it’s kind of repugnant to watch Mark and Mary’s imcompatibility. It also gets tedious to watch two people in a marriage when their relationship becomes a competition to see who can outdo each other in being the more sexually adventurous partner. 

Except for sexual attraction, there’s not much that Mark and Mary see in each other, because they sure don’t talk about anything substantial that shows they’re in this marriage for the long haul. Mary is hard to take with her politically correct preaching over the most trivial of things. Mark is just a hypocritical whiner who lacks common sense. Anyone who thinks that Mark and Mary are a great couple probably has a distorted view of what a healthy relationship is.

Here’s an example of how Mark and Mary are terrible at communicating: There’s a scene where, after Mark and Mary have agreed to have an open marriage, Mark notices that the bedsheet on their bed has been stained with sexual activity from Mary and an unknown lover. He rips the sheet off in disgust, as if he’s shocked that Mary could possibly have sex with someone else in their bed. 

It turns out that in their first time doing “ethical non-monogamy” rule negotiations, Mark and Mary never discussed where they would be allowed to have sex with other people. And this is after Mark said he didn’t want to know the details of Mary’s sexual encounters outside the marriage. If he had any common sense, it should have led to him to say that they couldn’t bring any lovers to their home, because of the very real likelihood that he’d see things he doesn’t want to see.

Mark finding the stained bedsheet was really just a means to create another cutesy titled chapter about Part 2 of Mark and Mary’s rules negotiations. Yes, Mark and Mary are young, but they’re not children. However, watching “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” feels like you’re watching people who are stuck in a selfish teenage mentality and who are pretending to be emotionally mature adults. No thank you.

Vertical Entertainment will release “Mark, Mary & Some Other People” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Wrath of Man,’ starring Jason Statham

May 6, 2021

by Carla Hay

Holt McCallany, Jason Statham, Josh Hartnett and Rocci Williams in “Wrath of Man” (Photo courtesy of Metro Goldwyn Mayer Pictures)

“Wrath of Man”

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the action flick “Wrath of Man” features a nearly all-male, predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class, law enforcement and the criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A crime boss goes undercover as an armored truck driver to avenge the murder of his teenage son, who was killed during a heist of an armored truck.

Culture Audience: “Wrath of Man” will appeal primarily to people who want to see a predictable and violent movie with no imagination.

Raúl Castillo, Deobia Oparei, Jeffrey Donovan, Chris Reilly, Laz Alonso and Scott Eastwood as Jan in “Wrath of Man” (Photo by Christopher Raphael/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc.)

The fourth time isn’t the charm for director Guy Ritchie and actor Jason Statham in the vapid action flick “Wrath of Man,” their fourth movie together. It’s tedious and predictable junk filled with cringeworthy dialogue and stunts with no creativity. People who are familiar with Statham’s work already know that his movies are almost always schlockfests that are essentially about violence and car chases. However, Ritchie’s filmography is much more of a mixed bag. “Wrath of Man” isn’t Ritchie’s absolute worst film, but it’s a movie that could have been so much better.

Ritchie co-wrote the “Wrath of Man” screenplay with Marn Davies and Ivan Atkinson. The movie is based on the 2004 French thriller “Le Convoyeur,” directed by Nicolas Boukhrief and written by Boukhrief and Éric Besnard. Ritchie and Statham previously worked together on 1998’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (Ritchie’s feature-film debut), 2000’s “Snatch” and 2005’s “Revolver.” Whereas those three movies had plenty of sly comedy with brutal action, “Wrath of Man” is so by-the-numbers and soulless, it seems like a computer program, not human beings, could’ve written this movie.

The movie’s simplistic plot could’ve been told in 90 minutes or less. Instead, it’s stretched out into a nearly two-hour slog with repetitive and unnecessary flashbacks. In “Wrath of Man,” which takes place in Los Angeles, Statham plays a mysterious crime boss who’s out to avenge the murder of his son Dougie (played by Eli Brown), who was about 17 or 18 and an innocent bystander when he was shot to death by a robber during a heist of an armored truck.

Dougie’s murder (which is not spoiler information) is shown in a flashback about halfway through the movie. Until then, viewers are left to wonder who Statham’s character really is when he shows up at the headquarters of Fortico Security to apply for a job working as a guard in an armored truck. When he applies for the job, he identifies himself has Patrick Hill, a divorcé with more than 25 years of security experience. Later, viewers find out that it’s an alias; his real last name is Mason.

But he was able to create an entire false identity as Patrick Hill, with documents provided by his trusty assistant Kirsty (played by Lyne Renée), one of the few women with a speaking role in this movie. The false identity includes phony job references and a fake job stint at the now-defunct Orange Delta Security, which was a well-known company. Based on this elaborate scheme, Patrick is easily able to get a job at Fortico.

Fortico is described in the movie as one of the top armored vehicle companies that does cash pickups and deliveries in the area. The company’s clients include retail department stores, marijuana dispensaries, cash vaults, casinos and private banks. On a typical pickup or delivery, there are two or three employees in the truck: a driver, a guard and/or a messenger. The company isn’t huge (it only has 12 trucks), but it’s very profitable. A Fortico truck haul can total around $15 million a day, sometimes more.

Patrick is trained by Hayden Blair (played by Holt McCallany), who goes by the nickname Bullet. Almost everyone Bullet works with directly seems to have a nickname, so he immediately gives Patrick the nickname H, an abbreviation of Hill. Patrick/H goes through the training process (including gun defense skills) and he barely gets passing grades. He’s assigned to work with a cocky driver named David Hancock (played by Josh Hartnett), whose nickname is Boy Sweat Dave. Another colleague is Robert Martin (played by Rocci Williams), whose nickname is Hollow Bob.

When Bullet introduces H to these two co-workers, Bullet says, “He’s H, like the bomb. Or Jesus H.” The bad dialogue doesn’t get any better. H is told that he’s replacing a co-worker named Sticky John (who came up with these cringeworthy nicknames?), who died during a heist that killed multiple employees. The robbers got away, so the Fortico employees on are on edge about this shooting spree, which they call the Gonzo Murders. Boy Sweat Dave says, “We ain’t the predators. We’re the prey.”

The insipid dialogue continues throughout the entire movie. In a scene with some Fortico workers off-duty in a bar, Boy Sweat Dave is playing pool with Dana Curtis (played by Niamh Algar), the token female on Fortico’s armored truck crew. Dana says sarcastically to Boy Sweat Dave: “The point of the game is to get the ball in the hole.” Boy Sweat Dave snaps back, “The point of a woman is to shut the fuck up, Dana.”

Dana replies, “Well, that Ivy League education is really working for you, Boy Sweat.” (How can you say a line like that with a straight face?) Boy Sweat Dave retorts, “Pretty soon, you’ll all be working for me. The power is in this big head here.” Dana snipes back, “Well, it’s definitely not in your little head. Or are you still blaming the beer?”

The character of Boy Sweat Dave is an example of how “Wrath of Man” wastes a potentially interesting character on silly dialogue. What kind of person with an Ivy League education wants to work as an armored truck driver, a job which doesn’t even require a high school education? Viewers never find out because Boy Sweat Dave is one of several characters in the movie who are shallowly introduced, just so there can be more people in the body count later.

And because Dana is H’s only female co-worker, this movie that treats women as tokens can’t let her be just a co-worker. No, she has to serve the purpose of fulfilling H’s sexual needs too, since he and Dana have a predictable fling/one night stand. He finds out something about her when he spends the night at her place that helps him unravel the mystery of who killed his son.

It isn’t long before Patrick/H experiences his first heist as a Fortico employee. He’s partnered with Boy Sweat Dave, who’s driving, while H is the lookout. The heist is unrealistically staged in the movie as one of those battles where one man (in this case, H) can take down several other men in a shootout where a Fortico employee has been taken hostage by the thieves. Post Malone fans (or haters) might get a kick out of the scene though, since he plays one of the nameless robbers who doesn’t last long in this movie. H has saved his co-workers’ lives in this botched heist, so he’s hailed as a hero by the company.

Meanwhile, the FBI has been looking for Patrick because he’s been an elusive crime boss. There are three FBI agents, all very uninteresting, who are on this manhunt: FBI Agent Hubbard (played by Josh Cowdery), FBI Agent Okey (played by Jason Wong) and their supervisor Agent King (played by Andy Garcia). Hubbard and Okey come in contact with Patrick/H, when they investigate the botched robbery where Patrick/H ended up as the hero.

Agent King orders Hibbard and Okey not to let on that they know H’s real identity and to keep tabs on why this crime boss is working at an armored truck company. Eddie Marsan, a very talented actor, has a very useless role in “Wrath of Man,” as an office assistant named Terry. Terry becomes suspicious of who H really is, because in his heroic rescue, H showed the type of expert combat skills that contradicts the mediocrity that he displayed in the company’s training.

And just who’s in this group of murderous thieves? They’re led by mastermind Jackson (played by Jeffrey Donovan), a married man with two kids who lives a double life. This seemingly mild-mannered family man works in a shopping mall. But he also apparently has time to lead a group of armored truck thieves, who pose as street construction workers when they commit their robberies. The robbers use a concrete mixer truck to block the armored truck and then ambush the people inside the armored truck.

What’s really dumb about “Wrath of Man” is that these armed robbers use the same tactic every time. In real life, repeating this very cumbersome way of committing an armed robbery would make them easier to catch, not harder. Apparently, these dimwits think that the best way to not call attention to yourself during a robbery is to haul out a giant concrete mixer truck.

Jackson’s crew consists of a bunch of mostly generic meatheads: Brad (played by Deobia Oparei), Sam (played by Raúl Castillo), Tom (played by Chris Reilly) and Carlos (played by Laz Alonzo), with Jan (played by Scott Eastwood) as the loose cannon in the group. Guess who pulled the trigger on Patrick/H/Mason’s son Dougie? Guess who’s going to have a big showdown at the end of the movie?

Of course, a crime boss has to have his own set of goons. Patrick/H/Mason has three thugs who are closest to him and who do a lot of his dirty work: Mike (played by Darrell D’Silva), Brendan (played by Cameron Jack) and Moggy (played by Babs Olusanmokun). There’s a vile part of the movie that shows Patrick/H/Mason ordering his henchman to beat up and torture anyone who might have information on who murdered Dougie. The operative word here is “might,” because some people who had nothing to do with the murder are brutally assaulted.

Mike has a conscience and he says that he won’t commit these vicious attacks anymore to try to find Dougie’s killer. Mike advises Patrick/H/Mason to think of another way to find the murderer. And that’s when Patrick/H/Mason got the idea to go “undercover” at Fortico, with the hope that he could catch the murderous thieves in their next heist on a Fortico truck.

And what do you know, this gang of thieves will be doing “one last heist” on a Fortico truck, to get a haul that’s said to be at least $150 million. What could possibly go wrong? You know, of course.

Ritchie’s previous film “The Gentlemen” (which was also about gangsters and theives) had a lot of devilishly clever dialogue and crackled with the type of robust energy that hasn’t been seen in his movies in years. And although “The Gentlemen” wasn’t a perfect film about criminal antics, it at least made the effort to have memorable characters and to keep viewers guessing about which character was going to come out on top. “Wrath of Man” is a completely lazy film that has no interesting characters, no suspense, and not even any eye-popping stunts. It’s just a silly shoot ’em up flick that’s as empty as Statham’s dead-eyed stares.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM) Pictures and Miramax Films will release “Wrath of Man” in U.S. cinemas on May 7, 2021.

2021 Academy Awards: ‘Nomadland’ is the top winner

April 25, 2021

by Carla Hay

“Nomadland” producer Peter Spears, Frances McDormand, Chloé Zhao, Mollye Asher and Dan Janvey at the 93rd annual Academy Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, April 25, 2021. (Photo courtesy of ABC)

With three prizes, including Best Picture, “Nomadland” was the top winner for the 93rd Annual Academy Awards, which took place place at Union Station and at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on April 25, 2021. There was no host for the ceremony, which was telecast in the U.S. on ABC. Searchlight Pictures’ “Nomadland” also won the awards for Best Director (for Chloé Zhao) and Best Actress (for Frances McDormand). In the movie, McDormand portrays a widow who lives out of her van and travels across different states in U.S. to find work.

With 10 nods, the Netflix drama “Mank” was the top nominee and ended up with two Academy Awards. Movies that won two Oscars each included:

  • “Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros. Pictures): Best Supporting Actor (for Daniel Kaluuya), Best Original Song (“Fight for You”)
  • “Mank” (Netflix): Best Production Design, Best Cinematography
  • “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Netflix): Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design
  • “Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios): Best Film Editing, Best Sound
  • “Soul” (Pixar Studios): Best Animated Feature, Best Original Score

The awards are voted for by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. For the 2021 ceremony, eligible movies were those released in the U.S. in 2020 and (due to the coronavirus pandemic) the eligibility period was extended to movies released in January and February 2021. Because of the pandemic, movies that were planned for a theatrical release but were released directly to home video or on streaming services were also eligible. Beginning with the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony, there will be a required 10 movies nominated for Best Picture. From 2009 to 2021, the rule was that there could be five to 10 movies per year nominated for Best Picture.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were less people invited to the Oscar ceremony in 2021. The presenters included Riz Ahmed, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Bong Joon Ho, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Steven Yeun, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya.

The 2021 Oscar ceremony also marked big changes to the show in other ways. Performances of the year’s Oscar-nominated songs usually take place during the ceremony. Instead, the performances of the five nominated songs were in pre-recorded and televised during the 90-minute pre-show telecast “Oscars: Into the Spotlight,” which included live interviews from the Oscar red carpet. This pre-show telecast was hosted by actors Ariana DeBose and Lil Rel Howery.

Howery acted as an unofficial emcee during parts of the Oscar telecast, which included a segment where Howery played a trivia game where people in the audience had to guess if a song was an Oscar winner, an Oscar nominee or wasn’t nominated for an Oscar at all. The segment started out flat and awkward. Andra Day got her answer correct that Prince’s “Purple Rain” song wasn’t even nominated. (However, the “Purple Rain” soundtrack score did an Oscar.)Kaluuya incorrectly guessed that Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” didn’t win an Oscar. (It did.)

But the segment end up being saved by Glenn Close, who correctly guessed that E.U.’s “Da Butt” (from Spike Lee’s 1988 movie “School Daze”) wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, and she proceeded to show her knowledge of ’80s hip-hop by getting up and doing “Da Butt” dance. This moment got a lot of laughs and cheers and will be sure to be remembered as the most unexpected comedic moment at the 2021 Academy Awards. This moment with Close could have been pre-planned and rehearsed since she seemed a little too prepared with an answer, but it didn’t take away from it being one of the show’s highlights that didn’t involve an acceptance speech.

Steven Soderbergh, Stacey Sher and Jesse Collins were the producers of the Academy Awards show. They also made some changes to the show’s format. Instead of presenting the prizes for Best Picture last, the awards for Best Actor and Best Actress were presented last. The award for Best Picture was the third-to-last award presented. The prize for Best Director was handed out in the middle of the ceremony, instead following the tradition of being the second-to-last award handed out during the ceremony.

Another big change was that winners were not limited to a 90-second acceptance speech. Some acceptance speeches lasted longer than three minutes. In addition, there was no live orchestra at the ceremony. Instead, musician Questlove was a DJ at the award show. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the nominees were shown via satellite in various parts of the world, such as London, Paris and Sydney.

The Oscar ceremony made history in some diversity issues, as Zhao (a Chinese-born filmmaker) became the first woman of color to win Best Director. She is also the second woman in Oscar history to win this Best Director prize. (Kathryn Bigelow, director of the 2009 war film “The Hurt Locker,” was the first woman to win the Best Director award in 2010.) Zhao’s victory had been widely predicted, since Zhao won all of the year’s major Best Director awards for “Nomadland” prior to winning the Oscar.

Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” made Oscar history by being the first black people to be nominated for and to win the prize for Best Makeup and Hairstyling. This breakthrough was acknowledged during their acceptance speech for the award, which they share with Sergio Lopez-Rivera. Neal said in her acceptance speech: “I want to say thank you to our ancestors who put the work in, who were denied, but never gave up. I also stand here—as Jamika and I break this glass ceiling—with so much excitement for the future.”

Meanwhile, South Korean actress Yuh-jung Youn of “Minari” became the first Asian-born woman to win in the Best Supporting Actress category. In 1958, Japanese American actress Miyoshi Umeki of the 1957 movie “Sayonara” became the first Asian woman overall to win in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Although the late Chadwick Boseman was widely predicted to win the Best Actor award for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which was his last film role, the prize went to Anthony Hopkins for “The Father.” (Hopkins did not attend the Oscar ceremony and was not available by video.) At 83 years old, Hopkins became the oldest person to win an Oscar in an actor/actress category, surpassing the record set by “Beginners” co-star Christopher Plummer, who won the Best Supporting Actor award in 2012, at the age of 82.

Boseman won several Best Actor prizes (including a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award) for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” leading up to Oscar ceremony. However, there was a foreshadowing that Boseman might not win the Oscar when he was nominated for but didn’t win the prizes for Best Actor at the BAFTA Awards and Film Independent Spirit Awards, which were the two major award shows that took place closest to the Oscars. Boseman died in August 2020 of colon cancer.

The Motion Picture & Television Fund (MPTF) received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, with MPTF officials Bob Beitcher, Norma Carranza and Jennifer Jorge acceping the prize on stage. Tyler Perry received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, a non-competitive prize. In his speech, he urged people to “stand up to hate” and to be more giving and compassionate with each other.

Here is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2021 Academy Awards:

*=winner

Best Picture

“The Father” (Sony Pictures Classics) 

“Judas and the Black Messiah” (Warner Bros.) 

“Mank” (Netflix) 

“Minari” (A24) 

“Nomadland” (Searchlight Pictures)*

“Promising Young Woman” (Focus Features) 

“Sound of Metal” (Amazon Studios) 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Netflix) 

Best Director

Thomas Vinterberg (“Another Round”)

David Fincher (“Mank”) 

Lee Isaac Chung (“Minari”) 

Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland”)*

Emerald Fennell (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Leading Role

Riz Ahmed (“Sound of Metal”) 

Chadwick Boseman (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Anthony Hopkins (“The Father”)*

Gary Oldman (“Mank”) 

Steven Yeun (“Minari”) 

Best Actress in a Leading Role

Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) 

Andra Day (“The United States v. Billie Holiday”) 

Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) 

Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”)*

Carey Mulligan (“Promising Young Woman”) 

Best Actor in a Supporting Role

Sacha Baron Cohen (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”) 

Daniel Kaluuya (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)*

Leslie Odom Jr. (“One Night in Miami”) 

Paul Raci (“Sound of Metal”) 

LaKeith Stanfield (“Judas and the Black Messiah”)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role

Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) 

Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”) 

Olivia Colman (“The Father”) 

Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”) 

Yuh-jung Youn (“Minari”)*

Best Adapted Screenplay

“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer, Peter Baynham, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Mazer, Jena Friedman and Lee Kern; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Dan Swimer and Nina Pedrad

“The Father,” Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller*

“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao 

“One Night in Miami,” Kemp Powers 

“The White Tiger,” Ramin Bahrani 

Best Original Screenplay

“Judas and the Black Messiah.” Screenplay by Will Berson, Shaka King; Story by Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas and Keith Lucas

“Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung 

“Promising Young Woman,” Emerald Fennell*

“Sound of Metal.” Screenplay by Darius Marder and Abraham Marder; Story by Darius Marder, Derek Cianfrance

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Aaron Sorkin 

Best Cinematography

“Judas and the Black Messiah,” Sean Bobbitt 

“Mank,” Erik Messerschmidt*

“News of the World,” Dariusz Wolski 

“Nomadland,” Joshua James Richards 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Phedon Papamichael 

Best Film Editing

“The Father,” Yorgos Lamprinos

“Nomadland,” Chloé Zhao 

“Promising Young Woman,” Frédéric Thoraval 

“Sound of Metal,” Mikkel E.G. Nielsen*

“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” Alan Baumgarten 

Best Sound

“Greyhound,” Warren Shaw, Michael Minkler, Beau Borders and David Wyman

“Mank,” Ren Klyce, Jeremy Molod, David Parker, Nathan Nance and Drew Kunin

“News of the World,” Oliver Tarney, Mike Prestwood Smith, William Miller and John Pritchett

“Soul,” Ren Klyce, Coya Elliott and David Parker

“Sound of Metal,” Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortés and Phillip Bladh*

Best Original Score

“Da 5 Bloods,” Terence Blanchard 

“Mank,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross 

“Minari,” Emile Mosseri 

“News of the World,” James Newton Howard 

“Soul,” Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste*

Best Original Song

“Fight for You,” (“Judas and the Black Messiah”). Music by H.E.R. and Dernst Emile II; Lyric by H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas*

“Hear My Voice,” (“The Trial of the Chicago 7”). Music by Daniel Pemberton; Lyric by Daniel Pemberton and Celeste Waite

“Húsavík,” (“Eurovision Song Contest”). Music and Lyric by Savan Kotecha, Fat Max Gsus and Rickard Göransson

“Io Si (Seen),” (“The Life Ahead”). Music by Diane Warren; Lyric by Diane Warren and Laura Pausini

“Speak Now,” (“One Night in Miami”). Music and Lyric by Leslie Odom, Jr. and Sam Ashworth

Best Animated Feature Film

“Onward” (Pixar) 

“Over the Moon” (Netflix) 

“A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (Netflix) 

“Soul” (Pixar)*

“Wolfwalkers” (Apple TV+/GKIDS) 

Best International Feature Film

“Another Round” (Denmark)*

“Better Days” (Hong Kong)

“Collective” (Romania) 

“The Man Who Sold His Skin” (Tunisia)

“Quo Vadis, Aida?”(Bosnia and Herzegovina) 

Best Documentary Feature

“Collective” (Magnolia Pictures and Participant) 

“Crip Camp” (Netflix) 

“The Mole Agent” (Gravitas Ventures) 

“My Octopus Teacher” (Netflix)*

“Time” (Amazon Studios) 

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

“Emma,” Marese Langan, Laura Allen, Claudia Stolze

“Hillbilly Elegy,” Eryn Krueger Mekash, Patricia Dehaney, Matthew Mungle 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Sergio Lopez-Rivera, Mia Neal, Jamika Wilson*

“Mank,” Kimberley Spiteri, Gigi Williams, Colleen LaBaff

“Pinocchio,” Mark Coulier, Dalia Colli, Francesco Pegoretti

Best Costume Design

“Emma,” Alexandra Byrne 

“Mank,” Trish Summerville 

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Ann Roth*

“Mulan,” Bina Daigeler 

“Pinocchio,” Massimo Cantini Parrini

Best Production Design

“The Father.” Production Design: Peter Francis; Set Decoration: Cathy Featherstone

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Production Design: Mark Ricker; Set Decoration: Karen O’Hara and Diana Stoughton

“Mank.” Production Design: Donald Graham Burt; Set Decoration: Jan Pascale*

“News of the World.” Production Design: David Crank; Set Decoration: Elizabeth Keenan

“Tenet.” Production Design: Nathan Crowley; Set Decoration: Kathy Lucas

Best Visual Effects

“Love and Monsters,” Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Matt Everitt and Brian Cox 

“The Midnight Sky,” Matthew Kasmir, Christopher Lawrence, Max Solomon and David Watkins

“Mulan,” Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury and Steve Ingram

“The One and Only Ivan,” Nick Davis, Greg Fisher, Ben Jones and Santiago Colomo Martinez

“Tenet,” Andrew Jackson, David Lee, Andrew Lockley and Scott Fisher*

Best Documentary Short Subject

“Colette” (Time Travel Unlimited)*

“A Concerto Is a Conversation” (Breakwater Studios) 

“Do Not Split” (Field of Vision) 

“Hunger Ward” (MTV Documentary Films)

“A Love Song for Latasha” (Netflix) 

Best Animated Short Film

“Burrow” (Disney Plus/Pixar)

“Genius Loci” (Kazak Productions) 

“If Anything Happens I Love You” (Netflix)*

“Opera” (Beasts and Natives Alike) 

“Yes-People” (CAOZ hf. Hólamói) 

Best Live-Action Short Film

“Feeling Through” 

“The Letter Room” 

“The Present” 

“Two Distant Strangers”*

“White Eye” 

2021 Academy Awards: presenters and performers announced

April 23, 2021

The following is a combination of press releases from ABC:

Oscar® nominee Steven Yeun will join the ensemble cast slated to present at the 93rd Oscars®, show producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh announced today. “The Oscars” will air live on Sunday, April 25, 2021, on ABC.

“Surprise! We’re so excited to welcome Steven to the crew, and he completes our Oscars cast. No, really, this is it,” said Collins, Sher and Soderbergh.

The previously announced lineup includes Riz Ahmed, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Bong Joon Ho, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya.

Celeste, H.E.R., Leslie Odom Jr., Laura Pausini, Daniel Pemberton, Molly Sandén and Diane Warren will perform the five nominated original songs in their entirety for “Oscars: Into the Spotlight,” the lead-in to the 93rd Oscars. One performance will be recorded in Húsavík, Iceland, and four at the Dolby Family Terrace of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Hosted by actors Ariana DeBose (“Hamilton”) and Lil Rel Howery (“Bad Trip”), the 90-minute “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will highlight the nominees’ journey to Hollywood’s biggest night, give fans around the world the ultimate insiders’ sneak peek to the party and, for the first time, bring Oscar music to the festivities. The show will feature a special appearance by DJ Tara. “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will air Oscar Sunday, April 25, at 6:30 p.m. EDT/3:30 p.m. PDT.  

The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby® Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and international locations via satellite.  “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will air live on ABC at 6:30 p.m. EDT/3:30 p.m. PDT. “The Oscars” will be televised live on ABC at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT and in more than 200 territories worldwide.  “Oscars: After Dark” will immediately follow the Oscars show.

ABOUT THE ACADEMY
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global community of more than 10,000 of the most accomplished artists, filmmakers and executives working in film. In addition to celebrating and recognizing excellence in filmmaking through the Oscars, the Academy supports a wide range of initiatives to promote the art and science of the movies, including public programming, educational outreach and the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards: Harry Styles, Roddy Ricch are the top nominees

April 7, 2021

EDITOR’S NOTE: Harry Styles and Roddy Ricch lead the list of nominees, with seven nods each. Following close behind is The Weekend, with six nominations.

The following is a press release from iHeartRadio and Fox:

 iHeartMedia and FOX announced today the nominees for the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards, airing LIVE from The Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, Thursday, May 27 (8:00-10:00 PM ET live / PT tape-delayed) on FOX. The event also will be heard on iHeartMedia radio stations nationwide and on the iHeartRadio app.

Now in its eighth year, the iHeartRadio Music Awards will celebrate the most-played artists and songs on iHeartRadio stations and the iHeartRadio app throughout 2020, while also offering a preview of the upcoming hits of 2021. The show will feature award presentations in multiple categories, live performances from the biggest artists in music, surprise stage moments and will tell the stories of the winning artists’ road to #1.  Since the Awards’ inception in 2013, the show has included live performances and appearances by superstar artists, such as Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars, Garth Brooks, Rihanna, Halsey, Justin Bieber, John Legend, Kacey Musgraves, Chris Martin, Bon Jovi, Maroon 5, Camila Cabello, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Big Sean, Sam Smith, Madonna, Blake Shelton, Pharrell, Pitbull and many others.

“The iHeartRadio Music Awards is a true awards show recognizing the artists and songs fans have listened to and loved all year long,” said John Sykes, President of Entertainment Enterprises for iHeartMedia. “We are excited to be continuing our partnership with FOX on this unforgettable evening of music and stories.”

Artists receiving multiple nominations include 24kGoldn, AC/DC, AJR, All Time Low, Ariana Grande, Bad Bunny, Beyoncé, Billie Eilish, blackbear, BLACKPINK, Blake Shelton, BTS, Calibre 50, Cardi B, Charlie Puth, Chris Brown, Christian Nodal, DaBaby, Doja Cat, Drake, Dua Lipa, Future, Gabby Barrett, H.E.R., Harry Styles, J Balvin, Jhené Aiko, JP Saxe, Justin Bieber, KAROL G, Lady Gaga, Luke Bryan, Luke Combs, Maluma, Maren Morris, Megan Thee Stallion, Ozuna, Ozzy Osbourne, Pop Smoke, Post Malone, Roddy Ricch, Shawn Mendes, Snoh Aalegra, Summer Walker, Surf Mesa, Taylor Swift, The Pretty Reckless, The Weeknd, twenty one pilots and Young Thug. All nominees are listed below. For a full list of categories, visit iHeartRadio.com/awards.

“We couldn’t be more excited for this year’s iHeartRadio Music Awards,” said Tom Poleman, Chief Programming Officer for iHeartMedia. “This year’s awards will be a can’t-miss music event.  We are looking forward to celebrating these top artists and their accomplishments, especially after a year that brought unprecedented challenges to the music industry and live events.”

In addition to paying tribute to music and artists, the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards will again celebrate the fans, giving iHeartRadio listeners the opportunity to decide winners in several new and established categories. Fan voting will determine this year’s Best Fan Army, Best Lyrics, Best Cover Song, Best Music Video, the Social Star Award, Favorite Music Video Choreography Award and the first-ever TikTok Bop of the Year Award.

Social voting begins today, April 7, and will close on May 19 at 11:59 PM ET for all categories. Fans can vote on Twitter using the appropriate category and nominee hashtags or by visiting iHeartRadio.com/awards

Due to the pandemic, the 2020 live TV broadcast event of the iHeartRadio Music Awards on FOX was cancelled and winners were revealed for the first time on-air throughout Labor Day weekend across iHeartRadio stations nationwide and on the iHeartRadio App. Among the many winners of the 2020 Awards were Lizzo for Song of the Year, Billie Eilish for Female Artist of the Year, Post Malone for Male Artist of the Year and Jonas Brothers for Best Duo/Group of the Year. The 2020 iHeartRadio Music Awards also honored Elton John with the Tour of the Year Award for his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.”

This year’s awards will once again feature a broad array of categories — finalists (by alphabetical order) are:

Song of the Year:

  • “Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd
  • “Circles” – Post Malone
  • “Don’t Start Now” – Dua Lipa
  • “ROCKSTAR” – DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch
  • “Watermelon Sugar” – Harry Styles

Female Artist of the Year:  

  • Ariana Grande
  • Billie Eilish
  • Dua Lipa
  • Megan Thee Stallion
  • Taylor Swift

Male Artist of the Year: 

  • Harry Styles
  • Justin Bieber
  • Post Malone
  • Roddy Ricch
  • The Weeknd

Best Duo/Group of the Year: 

  • BTS
  • Dan + Shay
  • Jonas Brothers
  • Maroon 5
  • twenty one pilots

Best Collaboration:

  • “Go Crazy” – Chris Brown & Young Thug
  • “Holy” – Justin Bieber featuring Chance the Rapper
  • “I Hope” – Gabby Barrett featuring Charlie Puth
  • “Mood” – 24kGoldn featuring iann dior
  • “Savage” (Remix) – Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé

Best New Pop Artist: 

  • 24kGoldn
  • blackbear
  • Doja Cat
  • JP Saxe
  • Pop Smoke

Alternative Rock Song of the Year:

  • “Bang!” – AJR
  • “Bloody Valentine” – Machine Gun Kelly
  • “everything i wanted” – Billie Eilish
  • “Level Of Concern” – twenty one pilots
  • “Monsters” – All Time Low featuring blackbear

Alternative Rock Artist of the Year:

  • AJR
  • All Time Low
  • Billie Eilish
  • Cage the Elephant
  • twenty one pilots

Best New Rock/Alternative Rock Artist:

  • Ashe
  • Dayglow
  • Powfu
  • Royal & The Serpent
  • Wallows

Rock Song of the Year:

  • “Death By Rock And Roll” – The Pretty Reckless
  • “Patience” – Chris Cornell
  • “Shame Shame” – Foo Fighters
  • “Shot In The Dark” – AC/DC
  • “Under The Graveyard” – Ozzy Osbourne

Rock Artist of the Year:

  • AC/DC
  • Five Finger Death Punch
  • Ozzy Osbourne
  • Shinedown
  • The Pretty Reckless

Country Song of the Year:

  • “Even Though I’m Leaving” – Luke Combs
  • “I Hope” – Gabby Barrett
  • “Nobody But You” – Blake Shelton with Gwen Stefani
  • “One Margarita” – Luke Bryan
  • “The Bones” – Maren Morris

Country Artist of the Year:

  • Blake Shelton
  • Luke Bryan
  • Luke Combs
  • Maren Morris
  • Thomas Rhett

Best New Country Artist:

  • Ashley McBryde
  • Gabby Barrett
  • HARDY
  • Ingrid Andress
  • Jameson Rodgers

Dance Song of the Year:

  • “Head & Heart” – Joel Corry x MNEK
  • “ily (i love you baby)” – Surf Mesa featuring Emilee
  • “Lasting Lover” – Sigala & James Arthur
  • “Rain On Me” – Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande
  • “Roses” (Imanbek Remix) – SAINt JHN

Dance Artist of the Year: 

  • Anabel Englund
  • Diplo
  • Marshmello
  • Surf Mesa
  • Tiësto

Hip-Hop Song of the Year: 

  • “High Fashion” – Roddy Ricch featuring Mustard
  • “Life Is Good” – Future featuring Drake
  • “ROCKSTAR” – DaBaby featuring Roddy Ricch             
  • “Savage” (Remix) – Megan Thee Stallion featuring Beyoncé
  • “The Box” – Roddy Ricch

Hip-Hop Artist of the Year: 

  • DaBaby
  • Lil Baby
  • Megan Thee Stallion
  • Pop Smoke
  • Roddy Ricch

Best New Hip-Hop Artist:

  • Jack Harlow
  • Moneybagg Yo
  • Pop Smoke
  • Rod Wave
  • Roddy Ricch

R&B Song of the Year: 

  • “B.S.” – Jhené Aiko featuring H.E.R.    
  • “Go Crazy” – Chris Brown & Young Thug
  • “Heat” Chris Brown featuring Gunna
  • “Playing Games” – Summer Walker
  • “Slide” – H.E.R. featuring YG

R&B Artist of the Year: 

  • Chris Brown
  • H.E.R.
  • Jhené Aiko
  • Snoh Aalegra
  • Summer Walker

Best New R&B Artist

  • Chloe x Halle  
  • Lonr.
  • Mahalia
  • Skip Marley
  • Snoh Aalegra

Latin Pop/Reggaeton Song of the Year:  

  • “Caramelo” – Ozuna
  • “Dákiti” – Bad Bunny & Jhay Cortez
  • “Hawái” (Remix) – Maluma & The Weeknd
  • “RITMO (Bad Boys For Life)” – Black Eyed Peas & J Balvin
  • “Tusa” – KAROL G & Nicki Minaj

Latin Pop/Reggaeton Artist of the Year: 

  • Bad Bunny 
  • J Balvin
  • KAROL G
  • Maluma
  • Ozuna

Best New Latin Artist: 

  • Chesca
  • Jay Wheeler
  • Natanael Cano
  • Neto Bernal
  • Rauw Alejandro

Regional Mexican Song of the Year:

  • “Palabra De Hombre” – El Fantasma
  • “Se Me Olvidó” – Christian Nodal
  • “Sólo Tú” – Calibre 50
  • “Te Volvería A Elegir” – Calibre 50
  • “Yo Ya No Vuelvo Contigo” – Lenin Ramírez featuring Grupo Firme  

Regional Mexican Artist of the Year:  

  • Banda Los Sebastianes
  • Calibre 50
  • Christian Nodal
  • Edwin Luna y La Trakalosa de Monterrey
  • Gerardo Ortíz

Producer of the Year: 

  • Andrew Watt
  • Dr Luke
  • Frank Dukes
  • Louis Bell
  • Max Martin

Songwriter of the Year:

  • Ali Tamposi
  • Amy Allen
  • Ashley Gorley
  • Dan Nigro
  • Finneas

Best Lyrics: *Socially Voted Category

  • “Adore You” – Harry Styles
  • “Before You Go” – Lewis Capaldi
  • “Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd
  • “cardigan” – Taylor Swift
  • “Don’t Start Now” – Dua Lipa
  • “everything i wanted” – Billie Eilish
  • “I Hope” – Gabby Barrett featuring Charlie Puth
  • “If The World Was Ending” – JP Saxe featuring Julia Michaels
  • “Intentions” – Justin Bieber featuring Quavo
  • “Life Is Good” – Future featuring Drake

Best Cover Song: *Socially Voted Category

  • “Adore You” (Harry Styles) – Lizzo cover
  • “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons) – Shawn Mendes cover
  • “Fix You” (Coldplay) – Sam Smith cover
  • “Heart Of Glass” (Blondie) – Miley Cyrus cover
  • “Juice” (Lizzo) – Harry Styles cover

Best Fan Army: *Socially Voted Category

  • #Agnation – Agnez Mo
  • #Arianators – Ariana Grande
  • #Beliebers – Justin Bieber
  • #BLINK – BLACKPINK
  • #BTSARMY – BTS
  • #Harries – Harry Styles
  • #Limelights – Why Don’t We
  • #Louies – Louis Tomlinson
  • #MendesArmy – Shawn Mendes
  • #NCTzens – NCT 127
  • #Selenators – Selena Gomez
  • #Swifties – Taylor Swift

Best Music Video: *Socially Voted Category

  • “Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd
  • “Don’t Start Now” – Dua Lipa
  • “Dynamite” – BTS
  • “Hawái” – Maluma
  • “How You Like That” – BLACKPINK
  • “Life Is Good” – Future featuring Drake
  • “Rain On Me” – Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande
  • “WAP” – Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion
  • “Watermelon Sugar” – Harry Styles
  • “Yummy” – Justin Bieber

Social Star Award: *Socially Voted Category

  • Dixie D’Amelio
  • Jaden Hossler
  • LILHUDDY
  • Nessa Barrett
  • Olivia Rodrigo
  • Tate McRae

Favorite Music Video Choreography: *Socially Voted Category

  • BTS – Son Sung Deuk
  • “34+35” (Ariana Grande) – Scott & Brian Nicholson
  • “Do It” (Chloe x Halle) – Kendra Bracy & Ashanti Ledon
  • “Honey Boo” (CNCO & Natti Natasha) – Kyle Hanagami
  • “Physical” (Dua Lipa) – Charm La’Donna
  • “Rain On Me” (Lady Gaga & Ariana Grande) – Richy Jackson
  • “Say So” (Doja Cat) –    Cortland Brown
  • WAP” (Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion) – JaQuel Knight
  • “Bop” (DaBaby) – Coach Cherry & DaniLeigh

TikTok Bop of the Year (New Category): *Socially Voted Category 

  • “Blinding Lights” – The Weeknd
  • “Lottery (Renegade)” – K CAMP
  • “Savage” – Megan Thee Stallion
  • “Savage Love” (Laxed-Siren Beat) – Jawsh 685, Jason Derulo
  • “Say So” – Doja Cat
  • “WAP” – Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion

Additional categories include Label of the Year, Titanium Song of the Year and Titanium Artist of the Year, and individual winners for Album of the Year in music’s biggest genres, including Pop, Country, Alternative Rock, Rock, Dance, Hip-Hop, R&B, Latin Pop/Reggaeton and Regional Mexican formats. Nominations are based on consumption data, including streaming, album sales, song sales and radio airplay.

For a full list of categories visit iHeartRadio.com/awards.

Proud partners of the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards include Taco Bell® and Dr Pepper Zero Sugar, with more to be announced.

iHeartRadio and Taco Bell are once again teaming up to celebrate the fans, artists and music that kept us all connected over the past year. Fans can tune in to a memorable moment in the show, compliments of iHeartRadio and Taco Bell.

Executive producers for the “iHeartRadio Music Awards” are Joel Gallen for Tenth Planet and John Sykes, Tom Poleman and Bart Peters for iHeartMedia. 

For breaking news and exclusive iHeartRadio Music Awards content visit iHeartRadio.com/awards or follow the social buzz on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+.

About iHeartMedia, Inc.

iHeartMedia, Inc. [Nasdaq: IHRT] is the leading audio media company in America, reaching over 250 million people each month.  It is number one in broadcast and streaming radio as well as podcasting and audio ad tech, and includes three segments: The iHeartMedia Multiplatform Group; the iHeartMedia Digital Audio Group; and the Audio and Media Services Group.

Visit iHeartMedia.com for more company information.

About FOX Entertainment

FOX Entertainment’s 30-year legacy of innovative, hit programming includes 9-1-1, 9-1-1: LONE STAR, THE MASKED SINGER, LEGO MASTERS, PRODIGAL SON, LAST MAN STANDING, THE SIMPSONS, “Empire,” “24,” “The X-Files” and “American Idol.” Delivering high-quality scripted, non-scripted, animation, live content and major sports, FOX won the 2019-2020 broadcast season for the first time in eight years and was the only major network to post year-over-year growth among Adults 18-49 and Total Viewers. In addition to its broadcast network, FOX Entertainment oversees the operations of FOX Alternative Entertainment, its in-house unscripted studio that produces THE MASKED SINGER, I CAN SEE YOUR VOICE and THE MASKED DANCER, among other series; and the award-winning animation studio Bento Box Entertainment, which produces animated content for FOX, including the Emmy Award-winning hit BOB’S BURGERS and DUNCANVILLE, THE GREAT NORTH and HOUSEBROKEN, as well as programming for other broadcast, streaming and cable platforms.  Tubi, FOX Entertainment’s fast-growing ad-supported video-on-demand (AVOD) service, features more than 30,000 movies and television series, and news content that’s available in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Australia.