Review: ’88’ (2022), starring Brandon Victor Dixon, Naturi Naughton, Thomas Sadoski, Michael Harney, Amy Sloan, Orlando Jones and William Fichtner

June 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Thomas Sadoski and Brandon Victor Dixon in “88” (Photo by Paul De Lumen)

“88” (2022)

Directed by Eromose

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the Los Angeles area, sometime before the primaries of the 2024 U.S. presidential election, the dramatic film “88” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white, with some Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A Super PAC (political action committee), which is raising funds for a Democratic candidate for the 2024 U.S. presidential election, finds itself embroiled in political intrigue and potential scandal when the Super PAC’s financial director finds out the source of the majority of the donations received by the Super PAC. 

Culture Audience: “88” will appeal primarily to people interested in a tension-filled political thrillers that have good acting and realistic discussions of race relations.

Brandon Victor Dixon, Naturi Naughton and Jeremiah King in “88” (Photo by Paul De Lumen)

With compelling performances and an absorbing story, the intriguing drama “88” succeeds in its intention to get viewers to think about how U.S. political campaign fundraising is directly tied to race relations in America. The movie has some minor flaws—the pacing drags in a few sections, and some of the dialogue is a little hokey—but these flaws are far outweighed by the above-average acting, realistic conversations and the riveting direction of the movie, which takes viewers on various twists and turns. “88” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Nigerian British filmmaker Eromose wrote, directed and edited “88,” which packs in a lot of issues without being too overstuffed. Eromose (whose real name is Thomas Ikimi) is also one of the producers of “88,” which takes place in the Los Angeles area sometime before the primaries of the 2024 U.S. presidential election. The movie’s protagonist is the smart, talented and ambitious Femi Jackson (played by Brandon Victor Dixon), who has recently become the financial director of a Super PAC (political action committee) called One USA. At the moment, One USA’s main focus is supporting a Democractic Party candidate named Harold Roundtree (played by Orlando Jones), who is the Democractic Party frontrunner for the 2024 U.S. presidential election.

Femi and his wife Maria Jackson (played by Naturi Naughton) are happily married and live a comfortable, middle-class existence. It’s mentioned briefly in the beginning of the movie that Femi and Maria have applied for a mortgage loan. Maria, who works as a bank loan manager, is about eight or nine months pregnant when the movie begins. Femi and Maria are expecting their second child together and have decided to wait until the birth to find out the child’s gender. Maria and Femi have an adorable 9-year-old son named Ola (played by Jeremiah King), who eventually becomes the center of a disagreement that Femi and Maria have about teaching Ola the realities of being a black male in America.

Femi admires Harold so much, he listens to Harold’s speeches when Femi does workout exercises. It’s shown in the movie’s opening scene when Femi is on his exercise bike at home, while a recording of one of Harold’s speeches that he gave at a factory can be heard playing loudly. Femi isn’t an ardent supporter of Harold just because both men happen to be African American. Femi thinks that Harold (who can be described as a moderate Democrat) has political values that are completely in line with Femi’s political values.

Harold says in the speech that Femi is listening to while on the exercise bike: “I was the first person in my family to go to college. My great-grandfather was a slave.” Harold then goes on to mention that Harold’s father and grandfather worked at the same factory where Harold is giving the speech, However, Harold says that his father and grandfather barely made living wages at the factory because they both lived in the Jim Crow era of legal racial segregation that treated anyone who wasn’t white as second-class citizens.

Harold then says in his speech: “I am the architect of my own destiny! I want to give every American the opportunity to be all they can be, to make a stronger home, to make a stronger America.” The assembled crowd can be heard giving enthusiastic cheers and applause after this speech.

Femi’s hero worship of Harold is not shared by everyone in the Jackson household. Maria has political leanings that are more left-wing and more progressive than Femi’s political beliefs. She doesn’t discourage Femi from working to get Harold elected, but she’s skeptical of Harold as a political candidate. It’s not mentioned which candidate (if any) Maria is supporting in this presidential election, but it’s definitely not Harold. Maria is also worried that Femi might be becoming too much of a workaholic in his campaign work for Harold.

The spouses’ different political views can be heard in a conversation early on in the movie. Femi and Ola are big fans of the blockbuster “Black Panther” franchise, based on the Marvel Comics, about an African king superhero named T’Challa (also known as Black Panther) and his colleagues from the fictional African country of Wakanda. When Femi and Ola say the catch phrase “Wakanda Forever!” (which was made popular in the 2018 “Black Panther” movie) and give the Wakanda handshake, it sets off Maria, who is uncomfortable with Ola and Femi being fans of the “Black Panther” franchise.

Maria has issues with “Black Panther” because she feels the stories in the franchise don’t show enough of the Wakandan leaders helping fellow Africans. Maria and Femi have a spirited debate about the merits of the “Black Panther” franchise and how much (or how little) it can be perceived as empowering to black people. When Femi argues that the franchise has made a fortune worth billions, Maria then counters with this statement: “For whom?” It’s her way of saying that even in entertainment that centers on black people, white people make the most money from it.

If this is the type of conversation that makes you uncomfortable, and you don’t want to watch a movie that has this type of discussion, then you might not like “88” very much. The movie has even more uncomfortable and sometimes disturbing conversations about how white supremacy and racism affect many aspects of everyday life. It’s a very thought-provoking film about how insidious and how deep the poison of racism goes in manipulating the outcomes of political elections.

And on a less frequent level, “88” has some discussion about prejudices within the African American community. Femi and his father were born in the United States, and Femi’s mother is a Nigerian immigrant. Femi tells Maria in one of their debates over race and nationality that he’s not going to consider himself less American, just because he has an immigrant mother and Maria’s ancestors were enslaved people in America. Although “88” doesn’t go into the hot-button topic of U.S. reparations for the descendants of enslaved people in the U.S., this conversation between Maria and Femi brings up the complicated issue of who is a “real American,” and how race and nationality of origin affect people’s definitions of being a “real American.”

Aside from some tensions in his otherwise stable marriage, Femi is dealing with an ongoing health issue: He’s a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for an unspecified period of time. At his job, Femi is visited by his unnamed addiction recovery sponsor (played by Kenneth Choi), who is also a recovering addict. The two men have a candid discussion about race, including how Asians and black people are perceived differently by each other and by racist white people. They both agree that racism can come from people of any race, but not everyone is racist.

Femi thinks his job is going smoothly, and he’s very proud of what One USA has been able to accomplish by raising millions in campaign funds for Harold. It’s shown in the movie that One USA has about 20 people working the phones in its non-descript Los Angeles-area headquarters. Harold’s campaign has recently gotten a haul of $40 million in donations from One USA. And that amount has come under scrutiny in the media.

While driving to work, Femi listens to the radio and hears two talk radio hosts wondering suspiciously if the money came from a secret super PAC. The movie also shows several scenes of Harold being interviewed by a TV journalist named Ron Holt (played by William Fitchner), who has a talk show that looks similar to the self-titled PBS show that used to be hosted by disgraced TV journalist Charlie Rose. Ron digs hard at Harold to try to get Harold to slip up and reveal any flaws. However, slick-talking Harold always seems to have an answer that makes Harold look honest and admirable, but always with a hint that maybe Harold is not revealing everything about himself.

The two biggest donors to Harold’s campaign are the non-profit groups Independence.nyc and Future Movement Frontiers. Donations from both of these groups account for about 75% of Harold’s campaign funds that were raised by One USA. As explained in an animated clip shown on Ron’s TV show, big-money donors launder their money through non-profits, which then donate to Super PACs. The non-profit groups don’t have to report these donations to the Federal Elections Committee (FEC) because these particular non-profit groups have 501 (c) (4) tax status.

The big mystery in the movie has to do with Femi discovering how and why 75% of the donations are coming from Independence.nyc and Future Movement Frontiers, which are relatively small non-profit groups. Femi emails some computer files to his friend Ira Goldstein (played by Thomas Sadoski), a former investment management executive who is now a financial investigative blogger. Femi asks Ira for his opinion on what he thinks is going on with these financial figures. Femi says, “Whoever is doing this, they’re masking their donations through the non-profits, packaging them, and then sending them to us as larger sums.”

Femi also takes his concerns to his immediate supervisor: One USA executive director Agatha “Aggie” Frost (played by Amy Sloan), who dismisses Femi’s concerns and rejects Femi’s idea to have this matter investigated further. As far as she is concerned, a Super PAC such as One USA isn’t supposed to care where the money comes from and should only care about getting the money. Agatha tells Femi sternly, “I gave you a chance when no one else would. Please don’t make me look like an asshole.” It’s later mentioned in the movie that Agatha’s work background is being the owner of an ad agency, which partially explains why she’s very concerned about One USA’s image.

In a staff meeting, Agatha enthusiastically introduces Femi and two other people who have recently joined the One USA team: deputy executive director Fred Fowlkes (played by Michael Harney) and a committee research director named Sahar (played by Pegah Rashti), who happens to be Agatha’s wife. Fred, who is in his 60s, is a well-respected political campaign veteran with a very impressive track record, because it mentioned that all of the candidates that he’s worked with in the past several years have won their elections.

At the conclusion of the meeting, Agatha gives a pep talk to the One USA employees, by saying: “We raised more money faster than any other Democratic Super PAC [in] this election cycle. And we won’t slow down until Harold Roundtree is in the White House … We’re more than suits and ties. We’re a movement.”

During a lunch meeting in a diner, Femi and Ira talk about Femi’s curiosity about why so much of the One USA’s donation money is coming from two small non-profit groups. Femi tells Ira that Femi’s boss Agatha has ordered him not to investigate further, but Ira is eager to look into this mystery. After some coaxing, Ira convinces Femi to give more files to Ira, so that Ira can do some independent research.

And what Ira finds and tells Femi further deepens the mystery: All of the donation figures, if each digit is added up in different combinations, end up totaling the number 88. Ira has a mind-blowing theory of what the number 88 means. This theory is spoiler information that won’t be revealed in this review. However, it’s enough to say that it’s a vast conspiracy theory that goes beyond just one presidential election.

The rest of “88” has Femi going further down a proverbial rabbit hole of investigating this conspiracy theory. He ends up crossing paths with an author/conspiracy theorist named Hans Muller (played by Jonathan Weir), an elderly recluse who uses a wheelchair and has to breathe through an oxygen mask. Femi’s meeting with Hans is one of the intentionally creepy scenes in the movie because of what Hans tells Femi.

There’s also a British billionaire named Sam Trask (played by Julian Wadham), who’s vacillating between supporting Harold and supporting Hank McGonville, who is Harold’s main Democratic Party rival in the presidential election. Hank is never seen in the movie, but his TV campaign “attack” ad against Harold triggers some desperate reactions from members of the One USA team. Harold’s campaign manager Tom Woods (played by Jon Tenney) plays an important role as a gatekeeper and decision maker in this story.

And just who is Harold Roundtree, the candidate at the center of all these political schemes and machinations? It’s revealed in Harold’s interview scenes with Ron that Harold used to be the CEO of the fictional City District Bank, until the bank went out of business during the bank financial crisis of 2008. But by 2009, Harold had started a non-profit group called the Roundtree Institute with an initial investment of $15 million. In the TV interview, Harold spins his bank failure as being a positive learning experience, and he says that at least his bank didn’t take any bailouts from the U.S. government.

One of the best things about “88” is that it has memorable characters and conversations that are very true-to-life. The dynamic between trusted friends Femi and Ira is entertaining to watch and brings a few moments of comic relief. Some of the movie’s best scenes with Dixon and Sadoski are when Femi and Ira are together.

Dixon (who is one of the “88” producers) gives a fascinating performance as someone who has to come to terms with his political ideals and harsh realities. Jones is quite effective in his portrayal of shrewd politician Harold, who is as calculating as he is charismatic. Harney and Sloan also give believable performances, especially in a scene where Fred and Agatha are in a pivotal meeting together.

The movie tends to wander from the main political story when it shows a subplot involving Maria and her willingness to help an ex-con named Jose Gutierrez (played by Elimu Nelson), who wants a bank loan to start a business selling his hand-carved wooden toys. Jose is having trouble getting a loan because he was a convicted felon. (He was in prison for selling marijuana, before California decriminalized its marijuana laws.) And “88” starts to veer a little into soap opera drama when Maria gives birth, and there are some health issues involved in this birth.

However, Naughton has some standout scenes showing where Maria’s political beliefs and life experiences affect Maria’s view of the world and how she interacts with people. There’s a great scene where Maria has a tense discussion with her supervisor Veronica Verton (played by Kelly McCreary) about Veronica’s decision for Jose’s loan application. This powerful scene speaks to issues that people of color have when it comes to helping other people of color.

What’s admirable about “88” is that the characters are not stereotypes but have complexities that are very authentic to real people. The movie shows how Maria isn’t a shallow cliché of a Black Lives Matter extremist who hates all cops. Maria’s sister is married to a white cop named Harry Quale (played by Jonathan Camp), who is welcome in the Jackson home and who spends some quality time with Ola. Maria and Femi teach Ola that there are good cops and bad cops, just like there are good people and bad people in any profession, but that people can be treated differently because of their race.

“88” writer/director/editor Eromose keeps a mostly taut pace throughout this 122-minute film, which sizzles with an intensity of a political thriller that could be based on real events. The conspiracy theory revealed in “88” is not far-fetched, considering all the wild and crazy facts about politics that have been uncovered in real life. Even though “88” is a fictional drama, it sounds an alarm to voters and other people to pay more attention to the sources of political funding. As the movie’s tag line says: “Follow the money.”

2022 Critics Choice Real TV Awards: ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and ‘Top Chef’ are the top winners

June 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

“Top Chef” host/judge Padma Lakshmi at the Fourth Annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles on June 12, 2022. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for the Critics Choice Real TV Awards)
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” producers and stars, including judge Michelle Visage (fourth from left), at the Fourth Annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles on June 12, 2022. (Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for the Critics Choice Real TV Awards)

The following is a press release from the Critics Choice Association:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) and nonfiction producers’ organization NPACT unveiled today the winners for the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards, which recognize excellence in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. Hosted by the Sklar Brothers, the annual event returned to an in-person ceremony and gala this year on June 12 at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “Top Chef” led the winners, taking home three awards each. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” captured Best Unstructured Series and Best Ensemble Cast in an Unscripted Series, while “Top Chef” won for Best Culinary Show and Best Show Host – Padme Lakshmi; the two shows shared a win as well, tying in the Best Competition Series category.

In the fan-voted categories, Robert Irvine of “Restaurant: Impossible” (Food Network) was awarded Male Star of the Year, while Selena Gomez of “Selena + Chef” (HBO Max) was named Female Star of the Year.

Bravo was the most awarded network of the evening, topping five categories.  

The late Bob Saget was honored with this year’s Critics Choice Real TV Impact Award, which recognizes an outstanding individual for career excellence and the positive impact they have made on the world of nonfiction content. John Stamos presented the Impact Award to Kelly Rizzo, wife of the late Bob Saget. Saget starred in many successful unscripted television shows, including the long-running “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and A&E’s “Strange Days with Bob Saget,” in addition to starring in the iconic “Full House.” He was also a Grammy-nominated standup comedian for over thirty years. Saget also previously hosted the inaugural NPACT Impact Awards (now the Critics Choice Real TV Awards) in 2018.

The Critics Choice Real TV Awards were launched in 2019 as a large-scale awards platform to give the robust (and still growing) unscripted genre critical attention and support. The awards celebrate programming across platforms, and also recognize industry leaders with special awards highlighting career achievements. Bob Bain and Joey Berlin serve as Executive Producers. Michelle Van Kempen also executive produces the show.

The Critics Choice Association monitors all awards submissions and selects the nominees in all competitive categories. Blue-ribbon nominating committees made up of CCA members with expertise in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming determine the nominees. Winners are chosen by a vote of the CCA membership. NPACT leads the selection of non-competitive discretionary awards and awards for platforms and production companies.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 525 media critics and entertainment journalists. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the intersection between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.

About NPACT

NPACT is the trade association for nonfiction production companies doing business in the U.S. Its members are comprised of production companies of all sizes, as well as allied services companies. NPACT serves as the voice for the nonfiction creative community, providing a forum for producers as they navigate changes in media and tackle business issues. For more information visit NPACT.org.

WINNERS AND NOMINEES OF THE FOURTH ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE REAL TV AWARDS

**=winner

BEST COMPETITION SERIES

  • Chopped (Food Network)
  • Making It (NBC)
  • **RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • **Top Chef (Bravo)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)

BEST COMPETITION SERIES: TALENT/VARIETY

  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • Finding Magic Mike (HBO Max)
  • Legendary (HBO Max)
  • **Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (Prime Video)
  • Next Level Chef (Fox)
  • The Voice (NBC)

BEST UNSTRUCTURED SERIES

  • Couples Therapy (Showtime)
  • **RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked (VH1)
  • The Kardashians (Hulu)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • We’re Here (HBO)

BEST STRUCTURED SERIES

  • Catfish: The TV Show (MTV)
  • Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network)
  • Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)
  • Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (National Geographic)
  • **How To with John Wilson (HBO)
  • Sketchbook (Disney+)

BEST CULINARY SHOW

  • Cooking with Paris (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene Kitchen (Fox)
  • Is It Cake? (Netflix)
  • Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
  • **Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST GAME SHOW

  • Family Game Fight! (NBC)
  • Holey Moley (ABC)
  • **Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Supermarket Sweep (ABC)
  • The Price Is Right (CBS)
  • Weakest Link (NBC)

BEST TRAVEL/ADVENTURE SHOW

  • Alone (History)
  • Family Dinner (Magnolia)
  • **Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals (Netflix)

BEST BUSINESS SHOW

  • American Greed (CNBC)
  • Bar Rescue (Paramount+)
  • Million Dollar Wheels (Discovery+) 
  • Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • **Shark Tank (ABC)
  • Undercover Boss (CBS)

BEST ANIMAL/NATURE SHOW

  • Crikey! It’s the Irwins (Discovery)
  • **Critter Fixers: Country Vets (National Geographic)
  • Eden: Untamed Planet (BBC America)
  • Growing Up Animal (Disney+)
  • Penguin Town (Netflix)
  • The Wizard of Paws (BYUtv)

BEST CRIME/JUSTICE SHOW

  • 911 Crisis Center (Oxygen)
  • Cold Justice (Oxygen)
  • Heist (Netflix)
  • Rich & Shameless (TNT)
  • **Secrets of Playboy (A&E)
  • Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller (National Geographic)

BEST SPORTS SHOW

  • 30 for 30 (ESPN)
  • Bad Sport (Netflix)
  • **Cheer (Netflix)
  • Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team (CMT)
  • Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
  • UNINTERRUPTED’s Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers (Freevee)

BEST RELATIONSHIP SHOW

  • 90 Day Fiancé (TLC)
  • La Máscara del Amor (Estrella TV)
  • **Love Is Blind (Netflix)
  • Love on the Spectrum (Netflix)
  • My Mom, Your Dad (HBO Max)
  • The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On (Netflix)

BEST LIFESTYLE: HOME/GARDEN SHOW

  • Celebrity IOU (HGTV)
  • Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia)
  • Houses with History (HGTV)
  • Married to Real Estate (HGTV)
  • **Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles (Bravo)
  • Rock the Block (HGTV)

BEST LIFESTYLE: FASHION/BEAUTY SHOW

  • Glow Up (Netflix)
  • Love, Kam (SurvivorNetTV)
  • Making the Cut (Prime Video)
  • My Unorthodox Life (Netflix)
  • **Project Runway (Bravo)
  • The Hype (HBO Max)

BEST LIMITED SERIES

  • Abraham Lincoln (History)
  • Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (Netflix)
  • Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo (Netflix)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (History)
  • **We Need to Talk About Cosby (Showtime)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN AN UNSCRIPTED SERIES

  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • **RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • The Voice (NBC)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST SHOW HOST

  • Mayim Bialik – Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez – Desus & Mero (Showtime)
  • **Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • John Oliver – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)

MALE STAR OF THE YEAR

  • Jeff Goldblum – The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • **Robert Irvine – Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • Phil Rosenthal – Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • Stanley Tucci – Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (CNN)

FEMALE STAR OF THE YEAR

  • Samantha Bee – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
  • Kelly Clarkson – The Kelly Clarkson Show (Syndicated); The Voice (NBC); American Song Contest (NBC)
  • Joanna Gaines – Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia); Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • **Selena Gomez – Selena + Chef (HBO Max)
  • Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Sandra Lee – Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PROGRAMMING BY A NETWORK OR STREAMING PLATFORM

  • Discovery+
  • **HBO Max
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • TLC

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PRODUCTION

  • Bunim/Murray Productions
  • **The Intellectual Property Corporation (IPC)
  • Kinetic Content
  • Raw TV
  • Sharp Entertainment
  • World of Wonder

WINNERS BY NETWORK FOR THE FOURTH ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE REAL TV AWARDS

Bravo – 5

HBO / HBO Max – 3

Netflix – 3

VH1 – 3

A&E – 1

ABC – 1

CBS Television/Syndicated – 1

Food Network – 1

Hulu – 1

National Geographic – 1

Prime Video – 1

Showtime – 1

Review: ‘Pleasure’ (2021), starring Sofia Kappel

May 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sofia Kappel and Xander Corvus in “Pleasure” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Pleasure” (2021)

Directed by Ninja Thyberg

Some language in Swedish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 2018 in the Los Angeles area, the dramatic film “Pleasure” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Swedish immigrant, who is 19 years old, moves to Los Angeles to become a porn star, and she finds out how far she’s willing to go to fulfill that goal.

Culture Audience: “Pleasure” will appeal primarily to viewers who are interested in very adult-oriented and voyeuristic-styled stories about people obsessed with pursuing fame and fortune.

Sofia Kappel and Zelda Morrison (also known as Revika Reustle) in “Pleasure” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Pleasure” takes a raw and realistic look at what women who want to be porn stars have to do to “make it” in adult entertainment. The movie’s ironic title comes from showing that the business of pleasure comes at a cost of emotional pain to the performers. Needless to say, “Pleasure” is not a movie for people who are easily offended by explicit sexual content or who are too young for this subject matter. Writer/director Ninja Thyberg makes a bold and uncompromising feature-film debut with “Pleasure,” which doesn’t sugarcoat the damage (sometimes self-inflicted) caused by being exploited in the porn industry. “Pleasure” made the rounds at some film festivals in 2021, including the Sundance Film Festival (where the movie had its world premiere), the Cannes Film Festival and AFI Fest.

Thyberg (who co-wrote the “Pleasure” screenplay with Peter Modestij) is Swedish, and so is the protagonist of “Pleasure”: a 19-year-old woman whose porn name is Bella Cherry (played by Sofia Kappel), but her real name is Linnéa. Only a few people in the story know Bella’s real name. She wants everyone in her porn life to call her Bella, because she is fixated on reinventing herself as a porn star. “Pleasure,” which takes place over the course of less than six months, is about Bella’s attempts to accomplish that goal.

Viewers will find out very little about Bella’s life before she moved to Los Angeles. The fact that Thyberg and Bella are both Swedish is an interesting creative choice, because it makes Bella’s story not only a story about an aspiring porn actress but also an immigrant story. In either case, Bella is an outsider who strives to be accepted into a culture where people have been in the culture a lot longer than she has. Kappel, who is also Swedish, makes a memorable feature-film debut in her role as Bella. Kappel’s performance is what keeps “Pleasure” interesting because of how authentically she portrays all the emotions that Bella goes through in the movie.

The movie opens with Bella being questioned at an airport customs area in the United States, where she is asked if she’s visiting for business or pleasure. Based on the title of this movie, it’s easy to predict Bella’s answer. Viewers later find out that Bella has lied to her mother about why she’s going to Los Angeles. She’s told her mother that her trip is because she got an internship at a sponsoring company whose industry is not mentioned in the movie. If Bella has any other family members, then they’re not mentioned in the movie either.

Bella’s mother has no idea that Bella actually financed the trip herself with one purpose in mind: to become a porn star and to get a work visa so that she can stay in America. Bella is living in a non-descript, somewhat shabby place that’s called a house for models, but the four or five female models who live there are really actresses in adult entertainment. Most are in their 20s, but one woman is over the age of 30.

One of these housemates is Joy (played by Zelda Morrison, also known Revika Reustle), who is in her 20s. Joy becomes Bella’s closest friend in Los Angeles. At one point, Joy and Bella tell each other their real first names and a little bit more of their backgrounds. Joy’s real name is Katie, and she’s originally from Florida.

Joy also cheerfully describes herself this way: “I do everything. I’m a whore.” Very little is revealed about Joy’s background, except she mentions that most people in her life have disappointed her or betrayed her. Joy is looking for a true friend in Bella, who likes Joy too, but Bella is more guarded about how close she wants to be to anyone else in the house.

Another woman in the house is a longtime porn actress named Ashley (played by Dana DeArmond), who is in her late 30s or early 40s. Ashley is very aware that she’s in an age group where women become less employable in porn, so she has to start thinking about other ways to make money. Another housemate is named Kimberly (played by Kendra Spade), who doesn’t say much and has a small role in the movie. On the night of Ashley’s birthday, Ashley and the other women in the house celebrate by getting drunk, smoking some marijuana, and heading out to a private party attended by other people in the adult entertainment industry.

“Pleasure” skips over a lot of details about what happened to Bella from the time that she arrived at the airport in Los Angeles to the time she does her first sex scene in a porn movie. It’s never shown how Bella ended up living in the house, which is occupied by women (including Bella), who all have the same agent. His name is Mike (played by Jason Toler), who actually is not a predator but who is someone who treats his clients with a decent amount of respect. However, as Bella later finds out, Mike has no use for clients who are hopelessly naïve about the type of work required in porn. Mike also doesn’t like it when people make promises that they can’t keep.

Bella’s first sex scene in a porn movie (which is filmed at a house) shows how she has a mixture of real and false confidence in how she wants to do this work. Before she starts filming the scene, she does a required video interview with a “jack of all trades” porn worker named Bear (played by Chris Cock), who acts as a camera operator, human resources supervisor and a porn actor—sometimes all on the same day. Bear is an easygoing person who has a secret that Bella finds out later in the movie. Bear’s secret isn’t shocking, but it’s surprising to Bella.

In the video interview, which is done for legal reasons, Bella has to show proof that she’s at least 18 years old by showing her ID. She says she was born on April 27, 1999, and she holds that day’s newspaper up to prove the date that she made this video. The video interview also includes Bella consenting to whatever she ends up doing on camera. In addition, she has to sign release forms and other legal paperwork related to making this porn movie. She does all of these procedures with self-assurance and no hesitation.

Even though Bella claims that her biggest goal in life is to be a porn star, she gets nervous and scared before her first sex scene, where she will be performing different sex acts with a flabby man named Brian (played by John Strong), who appears to be in his late 40s to early 50s. It’s one of many examples of “Pleasure” showing the double standard in the physical appearances of men and women performers who get hired to do porn movies. Unless the porn movie is about a specific fetish for big women, the women in professional porn movies are rarely allowed to be pudgy, overweight or over the age of 50, while men are allowed to be a variety of ages and body types.

Sensing her hesitation, the director Axel Braun (playing a version of himself) tells Bella that she has “stage fright.” Bella says, “I feel so stupid.” The director then tells her, “You just overcome it and push past it. But no pressure.” He then adds to convince her to do the scene: “I need you to be a little shy,” since the scene is about a virginal young woman being “seduced” by an older man.

After Bella finishes her scenes in the movie, she proudly takes photos of herself with semen all over her face and posts the photos on her social media, to announce to the world that she is now officially a porn actress. Later, Bella relaxes near the house swimming pool with Bear and Axel. She asks the director for advice on how to become a successful porn star. He tells her, “Just look like you’re enjoying yourself.”

Later, when Bear gives her a car ride, he asks her why she moved all the way from Sweden to become a porn star. Bella replies: “I’m out here because I just want to fuck. And Swedes, they just suck. They’re boring. They enjoy feeling sorry for themselves.”

Despite this display of arrogance, Bella still shows how young and naïve she is when she expresses surprise after Bear (who is African American) tells her that interracial sex scenes in porn are considered more taboo and more “deviant” than almost any other sex acts. When Bella tells Bear that this attitude sounds racist, he bluntly tells her that it is, but it’s reality. Bella says that if the opportunity came up, she wouldn’t mind doing a sex scene with Bear, who tells her that he will be there for her if she ever needs advice or help.

In an early scene in the movie, Bella also says that she’s open to any sex with a man or a woman on camera, except for anal sex. It’s another an example of how clueless Bella is if she thinks she can become a major porn star without doing anal sex on camera. It’s not long before she finds out that she’ll have to willingly change her “no anal sex on camera” rule if she wants to be a porn star.

The most sought-after porn agent in Los Angeles County is a sleazy-looking, middle-aged schlump named Mark Spiegler, playing a version of himself. “Pleasure” has several cast members who are in the adult entertainment industry in real life, including Mick Blue, Xander Corvus, Chanel Preston, Small Hands, Abella Danger and Ryan Mclane. Some are playing versions of themselves with the same names, while others are playing fictional characters with different names. It’s repeated several times in “Pleasure” that the actresses who work for Mark, who are often called Mark Spiegler Girls, are among the highest-paid in porn, because they are willing to do extreme sex acts on camera.

It should come as no surprise that Bella and Joy want Mark to be their agent. On the night of Ashley’s birthday, the women housemates head to a private party at a mansion, where they look on enviously outside the party, as Mark and his entourage are treated like porn royalty. Bella sees Bear outside as he’s about to go inside the mansion. Bella approaches Bear with a hug and a smile, and she uses him to gain admission, while leaving her housemates outside to figure out on their own how to get into the party. It’s the first sign that Bella will place her own needs above loyalty to any of her friends.

The other housemates end up getting access to the party, which has a special roped-off section reserved just for Mark and his entourage. Once inside the party, Joy and Bella try to figure out a way to get access to Mark. But in the meantime, Joy (who’s very drunk) gets somewhat giddy and star-struck when she sees a good-looking porn star named Caesar (played by Lance Hart), whom she finds very attractive.

Not long after eying Caesar from afar, Joy goes up to Caesar (who is talking in a group of people), and tries to flirt with him, but he calls her “trashy” and essentially dismisses her. An insulted Joy yells at Caesar and then pushes Caesar into a nearby pool. Joy, Bella and the rest of the housemates are kicked out of the party. There are repercussions to this incident that are shown later in the movie.

Joy has a quick temper, but she also has a very generous side, such as being willing to help the less-experienced Bella in many aspects of adult entertainment, including how to pose in photo shoots. At one such photo shoot, Joy and Bella meet a porn model/actress named Ava (played by Evelyn Claire), who is as standoffish as she is pretty. Ava has this snooty response when Joy tries to strike up a friendly conversation with her: “I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to work.” Ava also plays a big role in a major turning point in Bella’s journey in the porn industry.

People often hear that in the porn industry, female entertainers are generally paid more than male entertainers. But what “Pleasure” shows in no uncertain terms is that women in porn are degraded on camera much more than men in porn. Men are also usually the people in control of directing and owning the porn content. And the business owners (who are almost always men) of porn are really the ones who profit the most from porn. In other words, as much as some women can claim that doing porn is “empowering” for women, the reality is that porn is mainly controlled and dominated by men, who have most of the power in porn.

During the course of Bella’s experiences in porn, almost all the directors, crew members and photographers who tell her what to do are men. If there are any female crew members on the movie set or photo shoot, they have stereotypical non-supervisor roles of doing hair and makeup. On the rare occasion that Bella works with a female director (Aiden Starr, playing a version of herself), “Pleasure” shows how differently Bella is treated on the set of a porn movie directed by a woman. The process is more collaborative, and more care is taken to check in on Bella’s safety and what she’s willing or not willing to do on camera.

Most of all, “Pleasure” isn’t so much about the sex acts that are done in the movie. It’s about how blind ambition can chip away at someone’s self-worth and soul in an all-consuming quest for fame. At one point, Bella becomes so desperate, she offers to do porn for free.

There are moments in “Pleasure” when Bella trusts her instincts and knows that she’s doing things that she doesn’t really want to do in these porn movies, but she’s made to feel guilty by people telling her in various ways that if she hesitates, she’s being “unprofessional” and “immature” and “not ready” to be a porn star. And if she hesitates, she’s also put on a guilt trip (usually by the male director) about how her hesitation can cost everyone money on this movie production. Bella begins to experience more self-doubt, which further fuels any insecurities she already had.

At the same time, “Pleasure” doesn’t let Bella off the hook either, because she often brags to people that she’ll do whatever it takes to become a porn star. But when she’s expected to do “whatever it takes,” she sometimes backtracks. And that should be her right. However, “Pleasure” shows (without passing judgment) that a lot of people who think they can handle doing porn (and the repercussions that come with it) really are not emotionally equipped to handle it at all. Bella changes her mind about a lot of her “boundaries,” which is realistic for anyone who wants to become a porn star as badly as she does.

People who pay attention and notice if a movie has a “male gaze” or “female gaze” will notice that “Pleasure” can be considered a “female gaze” film. Full-frontal female nudity in “Pleasure” is rarely shown in the sex scenes, but male full-frontal nudity is shown more often. Female genitals are shown in the context of things other than sex, such as when Bella is shaving her vagina. The movie’s sex scenes show suggestions of what’s happening, but not actual penetration.

And although the scenes involving degradation and exploitation will be very difficult to watch for many viewers, “Pleasure” ultimately shows that in every situation, Bella does have the option to stop. This isn’t rape, forced prostitution or sex trafficking, but “Pleasure” shows how dangerously close the porn industry comes to taking away consent when pressuring people into doing things they feel hesitant about doing.

As realistic as “Pleasure” is in many aspects, the movie is a not a comprehensively accurate movie in how it depicts the porn industry. For example, issues regarding sexually transmitted diseases and rampant drug/alcohol abuse are barely mentioned or not mentioned at all. In real life, porn performers who do sex acts with people on camera are quick to tell people that they regularly get tested for STDs before being allowed to work in professional porn jobs. None of this STD testing is shown or mentioned in “Pleasure.” And neither is the porn occupational hazard of addictions to drugs and alcohol.

Bella is also a blank slate when it comes to her motivations in becoming a porn star. The only slight insight that the movie shows is when an emotionally bruised Bella has a phone conversation with her mother. In this conversation, Bella seems to want to go back to Sweden, without telling her mother the real reason why.

Bella tries to blame it on the people in Los Angeles, but her mother (voiced by Eva Melander) comments that Bella needs to face whatever problems she’s having in Los Angeles, because there will be difficult people no matter where she lives. Bella’s mother also mentions that Bella had similar complaints about the people in Sweden. This conversation reveals that Bella thought she’d be happier if she reinvented herself in another country, but she’s finding out that she can’t find happiness in superficial ways if she’s still unhappy within herself.

“Pleasure” is not going to be enjoyed by people who expect morality preaching about porn. Some viewers might also be disappointed if they expect “Pleasure” to have a very clear and definable ending. Bella’s ambivalence and contradictions about how far she’s willing to go are very realistic of people who do porn but who do not have a strong sense of who they really are. Porn might be an extremely risky way to find fame, but “Pleasure” shows how a fame-chasing mindset in any profession can lead to cutthroat acts of exploitation and degradation.

Neon released “Pleasure” in select U.S. cinemas on May 13, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital, VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on June 21, 2022. “Pleasure” was released in Sweden in 2021.

2022 Critics Choice Real TV Awards: ‘Top Chef’ is the top nominee

May 16, 2022

“Top Chef” judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio ad Gail Simmons (Photo by David Moir/Bravo)

The following is a press release from the Critics Choice Association and NPACT:

The Critics Choice Association (CCA) and nonfiction producers’ organization NPACT today unveiled the nominees for the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards, which recognize excellence in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming across broadcast, cable and streaming platforms. The annual event returns to an in-person ceremony and gala this year, taking place on June 12 at the Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles.

“Top Chef” leads this year’s nominations, earning nods in five categories including Best Competition Series, Best Culinary Show, and Best Ensemble Cast in an Unscripted Series, with Padma Lakshmi earning nominations for Best Show Host and Female Star of the Year. Netflix leads the networks, having projects recognized in 20 categories.

Actors, comedians and television and podcast hosts Randy and Jason Sklar will host the fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards. The brothers notably hosted and produced History Channel’s “United Stats of America” and created and starred in the ESPN cult hit series “Cheap Seats,” besides being guest hosts on “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle.” The Sklars can next be seen on “The Nose Bleeds,” a hilarious deep dive into UFC’s history that will launch this summer on UFC’s Fight Pass streaming service.

“Given its ongoing popularity across broadcast and cable networks, streaming services and other platforms, it’s clear that unscripted programming is deserving of special recognition by the Critics Choice Association,” said Ed Martin, President of the Critics Choice Association’s TV Branch. “The exciting programs and diverse personalities selected by our five nominating committees represent the best that this multi-faceted genre has to offer. The fourth annual Critics Choice Real TV Awards ceremony promises to be our most exciting yet.”

Said NPACT General Manager Michelle Van Kempen, “The amazing depth and quality of unscripted programming is evident in this year’s nominees, and we’re especially excited to be able to pay tribute to them and the entire unscripted community at an in-person gala, after two virtual years. It’s truly an honor to collaborate with the Critics Choice Association to celebrate the excellence and innovation of nonfiction content.”

Bob Bain and Joey Berlin will serve as Executive Producers. Michelle Van Kempen also executive produces the show.

The Critics Choice Real TV Awards were launched in 2019 as a large-scale awards platform to give the robust (and still growing) unscripted genre critical attention and support. The awards celebrate programming across platforms, and also recognize industry leaders with special awards highlighting career achievements.

The Critics Choice Association monitors all awards submissions and selects the nominees in all competitive categories. Blue-ribbon nominating committees made up of CCA members with expertise in nonfiction, unscripted and reality programming determine the nominees. Winners will be chosen by a vote of the CCA membership. NPACT leads the selection of non-competitive discretionary awards and awards for platforms and production companies.

About the Critics Choice Association (CCA) 

The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 525 media critics and entertainment journalists. It was established in 2019 with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the intersection between film, television, and streaming content. For more information, visit: www.CriticsChoice.com.

About NPACT

NPACT is the trade association for nonfiction production companies doing business in the U.S. Its members are comprised of production companies of all sizes, as well as allied services companies. NPACT serves as the voice for the nonfiction creative community, providing a forum for producers as they navigate changes in media and tackle business issues. For more information visit NPACT.org.

# # #

NOMINATIONS FOR THE FOURTH ANNUAL CRITICS CHOICE REAL TV AWARDS

BEST COMPETITION SERIES

  • Chopped (Food Network)
  • Making It (NBC)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)

BEST COMPETITION SERIES: TALENT/VARIETY

  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • Finding Magic Mike (HBO Max)
  • Legendary (HBO Max)
  • Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls (Prime Video)
  • Next Level Chef (Fox)
  • The Voice (NBC)

BEST UNSTRUCTURED SERIES

  • Couples Therapy (Showtime)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race: Untucked (VH1)
  • The Kardashians (Hulu)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • We’re Here (HBO)

BEST STRUCTURED SERIES

  • Catfish: The TV Show (MTV)
  • Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (Food Network)
  • Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)
  • Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted (National Geographic)
  • How To with John Wilson (HBO)
  • Sketchbook (Disney+)

BEST CULINARY SHOW

  • Cooking with Paris (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene Kitchen (Fox)
  • Is It Cake? (Netflix)
  • Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST GAME SHOW

  • Family Game Fight! (NBC)
  • Holey Moley (ABC)
  • Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Supermarket Sweep (ABC)
  • The Price Is Right (CBS)
  • Weakest Link (NBC)

BEST TRAVEL/ADVENTURE SHOW

  • Alone (History)
  • Family Dinner (Magnolia)
  • Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • The Amazing Race (CBS)
  • The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals (Netflix)

BEST BUSINESS SHOW

  • American Greed (CNBC)
  • Bar Rescue (Paramount+)
  • Million Dollar Wheels (Discovery+) 
  • Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • Shark Tank (ABC)
  • Undercover Boss (CBS)

BEST ANIMAL/NATURE SHOW

  • Crikey! It’s the Irwins (Discovery)
  • Critter Fixers: Country Vets (National Geographic)
  • Eden: Untamed Planet (BBC America)
  • Growing Up Animal (Disney+)
  • Penguin Town (Netflix)
  • The Wizard of Paws (BYUtv)

BEST CRIME/JUSTICE SHOW

  • 911 Crisis Center (Oxygen)
  • Cold Justice (Oxygen)
  • Heist (Netflix)
  • Rich & Shameless (TNT)
  • Secrets of Playboy (A&E)
  • Trafficked with Mariana van Zeller (National Geographic)

BEST SPORTS SHOW

  • 30 for 30 (ESPN)
  • Bad Sport (Netflix)
  • Cheer (Netflix)
  • Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team (CMT)
  • Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel (HBO)
  • Top Class: The Life and Times of the Sierra Canyon Trailblazers (Prime Video)

BEST RELATIONSHIP SHOW

  • 90 Day Fiancé (TLC)
  • La Máscara del Amor (Estrella TV)
  • Love Is Blind (Netflix)
  • Love on the Spectrum (Netflix)
  • My Mom, Your Dad (HBO Max)
  • The Ultimatum: Marry or Move On (Netflix)

BEST LIFESTYLE: HOME/GARDEN SHOW

  • Celebrity IOU (HGTV)
  • Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia)
  • Houses with History (HGTV)
  • Married to Real Estate (HGTV)
  • Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles (Bravo)
  • Rock the Block (HGTV)

BEST LIFESTYLE: FASHION/BEAUTY SHOW

  • Glow Up (Netflix)
  • Love, Kam (SurvivorNetTV)
  • Making the Cut (Prime Video)
  • My Unorthodox Life (Netflix)
  • Project Runway (Bravo)
  • The Hype (HBO Max)

BEST LIMITED SERIES

  • Abraham Lincoln (History)
  • Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes (Netflix)
  • Crime Scene: The Times Square Killer (Netflix)
  • Sparking Joy with Marie Kondo (Netflix)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (History)
  • We Need to Talk About Cosby (Showtime)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN AN UNSCRIPTED SERIES

  • Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
  • RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (Bravo)
  • The Real World Homecoming: New Orleans (Paramount+)
  • The Voice (NBC)
  • Top Chef (Bravo)

BEST SHOW HOST

  • Mayim Bialik – Jeopardy! (Syndicated)
  • Daniel “Desus Nice” Baker and Joel “The Kid Mero” Martinez – Desus & Mero (Showtime)
  • Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • John Oliver – Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)

MALE STAR OF THE YEAR

  • Jeff Goldblum – The World According to Jeff Goldblum (Disney+)
  • Robert Irvine – Restaurant: Impossible (Food Network)
  • Trevor Noah – The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
  • Phil Rosenthal – Somebody Feed Phil (Netflix)
  • RuPaul – RuPaul’s Drag Race (VH1)
  • Stanley Tucci – Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy (CNN)

FEMALE STAR OF THE YEAR

  • Samantha Bee – Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
  • Kelly Clarkson – The Kelly Clarkson Show (Syndicated); The Voice (NBC); American Song Contest (NBC)
  • Joanna Gaines – Fixer Upper: Welcome Home (Magnolia); Magnolia Table with Joanna Gaines (Magnolia)
  • Selena Gomez – Selena + Chef (HBO Max)
  • Padma Lakshmi – Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu); Top Chef (Bravo)
  • Sandra Lee – Dr. Pimple Popper (TLC)

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PROGRAMMING BY A NETWORK OR STREAMING PLATFORM

  • Discovery+
  • HBO Max
  • Hulu
  • Netflix
  • TLC

OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT IN NONFICTION PRODUCTION

  • Bunim/Murray Productions
  • The Intellectual Property Corporation (IPC)
  • Kinetic Content
  • Raw TV
  • Sharp Entertainment
  • World of Wonder

Review: ‘Father Stu,’ starring Mark Wahlberg

April 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mark Wahlberg in “Father Stu” (Photo by Karen Ballard/Columbia Pictures)

“Father Stu”

Directed by Rosalind Ross

Culture Representation: Taking place from the mid-1990s to late 2000s in Los Angeles and Helena, Montana, the dramatic film “Father Stu” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A washed-up amateur boxer, who has a history of committing violence and other crimes, moves from Montana to Los Angeles to become an actor, but he ends up becoming a priest. 

Culture Audience: “Father Stu” will appeal primarily to fans of star Mark Wahlberg and people who like formulaic dramas about toxic masculinity where men are excused and forgiven for things that women would not be allowed to get away with as easily.

Jacki Weaver, Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson in “Father Stu” (Photo by Karen Ballard/Columbia Pictures)

Boring and predictable, “Father Stu” is yet another film in Mark Wahlberg’s long list of one-note movies where he plays a foul-mouthed jerk who’s promoted as heroic. It’s another “toxic male who needs to be redeemed” story that does nothing new or clever. This tired retread has the word “flop” written all over it.

“Father Stu” is the feature-film debut of writer/director Rosalind Ross, who pollutes this movie with a lot of corny dialogue and cringeworthy scenarios. “Father Stu” is based on a true story, but so much of this biographical film looks phony because of the contrived ways that the characters speak and act. And the movie looks like it was made by people who’ve seen too many outdated TV-movie dramas and decided to rehash and dump the same formulas into this dreadful dud.

In “Father Stu,” Wahlberg (who is one of the movie’s producers) plays Stuart “Stu” Long, an aggressively obnoxious loser who decides to commit to Catholicism and becomes a priest after experiencing a health crisis. The movie takes place from the mid-1990s to the late 2000s, when the real Long was in his early 30s to mid-40s, although Wahlberg never looks convincing as someone in his 30s.

“Father Stu” starts off in Stu’s hometown of Helena, Montana, where he is an amateur boxer who’s never made it into the big leagues. While in his early 30s, Stu is seen in a doctor’s appointment with his devoted and sometimes sarcastic mother Kathleen Long (played by Jacki Weaver), when they get some bad news: The doctor says that Stu’s boxing injuries are life-threatening, and he will die if he doesn’t quit boxing.

Stu takes his anger out on his mother, by berating her for having him at this doctor’s appointment where Stu got news that he didn’t want to hear. When she tactfully tells Stu that she’s heard about an oil rig job that’s hiring, Stu snaps at her: “I ain’t doing no blue-collar bullshit!” Meanwhile, Stu (who is a bachelor with no children) hasn’t really figured out what he’s going to do to earn an income.

Even though “Father Stu” is written and directed by a woman, this stale excuse for a movie repeats all the clichés of misogynistic movies where women with significant speaking roles only exist as a banal “mother” or “love interest,” rarely with fully formed personalities. In these sexist movies, all of the action revolves around men, and the women are just there to react to whatever the men do. And that’s exactly what happens in “Father Stu.”

Soon after his boxing career ends, Stu decides he wants to move to Los Angeles and become an actor. (In real life, Stuart Long moved to Los Angeles in 1987, when he was 24.) Before Stu moves to L.A., he visits the grave of his younger brother Stephen Long, who died in 1971, at the age of 5 years old. (Stephen’s death is eventually talked about in more details.) It’s at this point, in this movie’s graveyard scene, that you know the filmmakers are going to use this tragic death as a way to garner sympathy for Stu and all the offensive and selfish things that he does.

While a drunken Stu is at the grave, he hallucinates seeing himself as a boy of about 9 or 10 years old (played by Tenz McCall), in a hokey moment that’s supposed to make viewers literally see Stu’s inner child. The adult Stu gets angry and punches a nearby statue of Jesus Christ. And just at that moment, a police car drives up. Viewers don’t see what happened between Stu and any cop on the scene, but it’s shown later that Stu was arrested for resisting arrest. The movie goes out of its way to erase or gloss over any crimes that he commits.

Instead, Stu is presented as someone who goes through life insulting others and who doesn’t hesitate to bully people to get what he wants. The movie tries to excuse his awfulness by showing that Stu comes from an emotionally damaged family: Stu’s younger brother died tragically, and Stu’s parents are estranged from each other. Stu is infuriated at his father for being what Stu calls a “deadbeat dad.” Stu is a lot more like his father than Stu would care to admit.

Stu’s father William “Bill” Long (played by Mel Gibson) is a truck driver, who passed on a lot of his bad personality traits to Stu. They are both crude, ill-tempered and quick to instigate fights where they curse at people or get violent. (And yes, you can do a countdown to the inevitable scene where Stu gets in a bar fight.) Stu’s mother Kathleen has gotten fed up with Bill, so they are no longer living together.

As an example of how “Father Stu” rips off familiar territory, Gibson and Wahlberg did another version of this “rude father and son” schtick in the 2017 annoying comedy film “Daddy’s Home 2.” Gibson is also probably in “Father Stu” because of his romantic relationship with “Father Stu” writer/director Ross. The couple began dating in 2014.

One thing that Stu’s parents both agree on is that Stu’s goal of becoming a professional actor is a foolish and unlikely dream. And sure enough, when Stu moves to L.A. and makes the rounds at talent agencies, he’s rejected. Viewers don’t see a lot of these rejections, but Stu mentions it in a scene where a lecherous male agent sexually propositions Stu when the two of them are alone together in the agent’s office. An angry Stu then roughs up this sexual predator and breaks a video camera in the office before slamming the door when he leaves.

Stu can’t get work as an actor, so he takes a job working behind the meat counter at a grocery store. In his desperate attempts to break into showbiz and make connections, Stu has an irritating and unprofessional habit of asking customers while he’s working if they’re in the entertainment business. It’s at this grocery store where he meets Carmen (played by Teresa Ruiz), a devoutly religious Catholic who becomes Stu’s love interest before he becomes a priest. It’s infatuation at first sight for Stu, who tries to flirt with Carmen when they first meet, but she’s not impressed.

“I didn’t catch your name,” Stu tells Carmen before she walks away. “You’re not much of a fisherman,” Carmen says coyly, as if she thinks it’s hilarious to make a reference to the phrase “fisherman’s catch.” This is the type of dumb dialogue in “Father Stu” that will have audiences rolling their eyes at how cornball this movie is.

Carmen left behind a church flyer with the store manager, so that’s how Stu finds out where Carmen goes to church. Soon enough, Stu shows up at the church like a stalker, and that’s how he discovers that Carmen is a Sunday school teacher at this Catholic church. At this point in Stu’s life, he’s a lapsed Catholic. Guess who’s going to be a regular attendee of this church? Guess who’s now going to want to look like a devoted Catholic? It’s Stu’s way of trying to charm Carmen into dating him.

Stu tells people that Carmen is “the love of his life” and his “future wife” shortly after meeting her. One of these people is the church’s Father Garcia (played by Carlos Leal), who is skeptical about Stu’s interest in Catholicism, but nevertheless has to listen to Stu’s rambling, self-indulgent diatribes when Stu does confessionals with Father Garcia. These confession scenes are very tiresome and have all the emotional resonance of air being let out of a windbag.

Carmen slowly falls for Stu, but then he gets into a horrific motorcycle accident where he is struck by a car and nearly dies. During his recovery, Stu and Carmen begin a sexual relationship, and she seriously starts to think that they will get married. But not so fast, Carmen. Stu has a religious epiphany and tells Carmen that he wants to become a priest during a conversation that she thought would be a marriage proposal to her. None of this is spoiler information, of course, because anyone who’s aware of this movie’s title should know what Stu’s vocation ends up being.

Carmen doesn’t take the news well at all. “You’re setting yourself up for failure,” Carmen tells Stu. She also calls Stu “delusional,” as she tearfully ends this conversation. But Carmen’s feelings are sidelined because the movie is on a mission to show the dubious redemption of Stu, as he goes from being a rough-talking hooligan to a rough-talking priest.

Stu’s father Bill also thinks Stu’s decision to become a priest is some kind of pathetic joke, just like the line that Bill delivers when he hears the news. Bill reacts to the news of Stu wanting to join the Roman Catholic priesthood by saying: “It’s like Hitler asking to join the ADL [Anti-Defamation League].” Considering that Gibson nearly ruined his career and permanently tarnished his reputation with his anti-Semitic rant during his 2006 arrest for drunk driving, it’s in very bad taste to have him tell a Hitler “joke” in a movie.

“Father Stu” then has numerous trite scenes where Stu is shown as a seminary “misfit” who’s determined to prove his naysayers wrong. Among those who don’t think that Stu has what it takes to become a priest is an uptight and pious seminary student (played by Cody Fern), who is the opposite of Stu in almost every way. Predictably, these two are forced to share the same sleeping quarters when they’re assigned to be roommates in their seminary.

Stu also shows that he’s racist against black people, when he expresses some bigoted points of view while interacting with an African American seminary student named Ham (played by Aaron Moten), who is a lot more patient with Stu than Stu deserves. Ham is essentially one of many characters who let Stu walk all over them and manipulate them. When Stu first meets Ham, he ridicules Ham for his name. Stu is so ignorant, he thinks the name Ham is some kind of “ethnic” thing.

Later, when Stu gets Ham to play basketball with him in their free time, Stu mocks Ham for not being as good at basketball as Stu expected. Stu literally says in the movie that he thinks Ham should be better at basketball because Ham is black. The scene is played for laughs, but it’s a putrid, tone-deaf scene where Stu never gets called out for his racism.

In addition to having a roommate that he despises, Stu also contends with a supervising teacher named Monsignor Kelly (played by Malcolm McDowell), who is a stereotypical stern priest who wants everyone to be as strictly religious as he is. Not surprisingly, Monsignor Kelly doubts that Stu is really serious about becoming a priest, so the two men inevitably clash with each other.

Time and time again, “Father Stu” spins Stu’s boorishness as being a freewheeling rogue who’s an underdog and underestimated by people around him. However, it just exposes the sexism in many aspects of society. After all, women who are this loathsome and violent probably wouldn’t be allowed to become Catholic nuns. And if they did, they certainly don’t get movies made about them.

“Father Stu” is essentially a vanity showcase for Wahlberg to play the same type of character that he’s been playing for years: cranky, argumentative and quick to step on people to get what he wants. Everyone else in “Father Stu” is just a two-dimensional sidekick in this tedious parade of enabling toxic masculinity, where the man who’s supposed to be redeemed gets many chances to turn his life around, while audiences are supposed to be cheering for him every step of the way. Needless to say, nothing about this movie is award-worthy, and lot of it is just a chore to watch.

Of course, the redemption of Stu also comes with a life-threatening disease: inclusion body myositis, so that audiences can feel even more sympathy for him. Unfortunately, in “Father Stu,” this disease is used as just another plot device to prop up Stu’s redemption arc. “Father Stu” is essentially a half-baked project that looks like a second-rate TV-movie. It certainly isn’t worth watching for the price of a movie ticket.

Columbia Pictures will release “Father Stu” in U.S. cinemas on April 13, 2022.

Review: ‘Ambulance’ (2022), starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Eiza González

April 6, 2022

by Carla Hay

Jake Gyllenhaal and Eiza González in “Ambulance” (Photo by Andrew Cooper/Universal Pictures)

“Ambulance” (2022)

Directed by Michael Bay

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the action film “Ambulance” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A longtime bank robber, who’s white, convinces his adopted black brother to rob a bank with him, and when things go wrong, they hijack an ambulance to make their getaway. 

Culture Audience: “Ambulance” will appeal primarily to people who like mindless action movies that repeat bigoted stereotypes of women and people who aren’t white.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Ambulance” (Photo by Andrew Cooper/Universal Pictures)

“Ambulance” is racist and sexist garbage that tries to cover up how stupid it is with car chases and gun shootouts. In this idiotic schlockfest, almost all black and Latino men are criminals, and women are a small minority. This movie hates black men so much, it makes the only black man in a group of bank robbers to be the one to commit the most violent and dumbest crimes. And by the end of the movie, there’s no doubt who is going to prison and who is not going to prison for the most serious crimes.

Directed by Michael Bay (who has a long history of making terrible movies) and written by Chris Fedak (in his feature-film screenwriting debut), “Ambulance” is a remake of writer/director Lars Andreas Pedersen’s 2005 Danish film “Ambulancen.” Both movies are essentially about bank robbers who make their getaway by hijacking an ambulance. The American version of “Ambulance” takes place in Los Angeles, where nearly half the population is Latino in real life. But in this horrible movie, the Latino men are criminals, and the sole Latina is a cold-hearted, difficult person who needs to be redeemed.

“Ambulance” opens with a scene that’s a very tired stereotype that’s been in too many other movies: an African American family is struggling financially. In this case, it’s the family of William “Will” Sharp (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a military war veteran who’s on the phone while he’s trying to get insurance coverage for his wife’s “experimental surgery” that his insurance won’t cover. Will and his wife Amy Sharp (played by Moses Ingram) have an infant son. Amy has cancer, although what type of cancer is never detailed in the movie. The character of Amy Sharp literally does nothing in this movie but hold a baby, look worried, and be a “stand by your man” woman, no matter how many violent crimes her husband commits.

Will is frustrated because the people he’s been dealing with at his insurance company are dismissive and downright rude. During this phone call, the insurance company employee hangs up on him when he expresses his irritation at being stonewalled. And you know what that means in a racist movie where an African American is financially desperate: The African American is going to commit a serious crime to get money.

Will has a brother named Daniel “Danny” Sharp (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), whom Amy dislikes and distrusts immensely. Amy warns Will not to contact Danny. And it’s precisely at this point in the movie that you know Will is going to contact Danny. Before Will leaves the house, he lies to Amy by saying that the insurance for her surgery was approved, and he’s going to work at a new job that he’s started. That job probably doesn’t exist.

Instead, Will goes straight to Danny, who is in a money laundering business of supervising a warehouse where wealthy people store their luxury cars. What Danny really does to make money is rob banks with his small crew of men. Later in the movie, it’s mentioned that Danny has been robbing banks since he was 17. “Ambulance” never mentions if Danny spent any time in prison for it, because the filmmakers want to make Danny look like a smooth mastermind who’s too clever to get caught.

Viewers find out during Danny and Will’s jumbled conversation in their awkward reunion that Will and Danny grew up together as brothers because Will was adopted as a very young child by Danny’s biological father, L.T. Sharp. L.T., who is now dead (for reasons not explained in the movie), is described in various parts of the movie as an evil, psychotic but brilliant criminal whose specialty was bank robberies. Not surprisingly, L.T. was the one who groomed Danny to become a bank robber, while L.T. eventually became estranged from Will. And because “Ambulance” doesn’t care about women, except to put them in the movie to react to whatever the men do, it should come as no surprise that this movie never mentions any mother that Danny and Will might have had in their lives.

Because of Danny’s criminal lifestyle, Will has been estranged from Danny for a long time, although how long is never detailed in the movie. What the movie does show more than once is the racism when people try to insult Will by saying that he’s not Danny’s “real” brother, because Will is black, and Danny is white. Will tells Danny that he needs $231,000 for Amy’s surgery. Danny says that he doesn’t have the money, but that he and his crew are about to commit a major bank robbery that day, in a theft where they expect to get $32 million.

Danny tells Will that Will can get more than enough of the money that he needs if Will is a part of the bank robbery. (The robbers’ target is Los Angeles Federal Bank & Trust, which is a fictional bank name for this movie. In real life, the movie’s bank scenes were filmed at a former branch of Bank of America.) And to put even more pressure on Will, Danny tells Will that Will has just five minutes to decide before they leave for the heist. We all know what Will decides, because almost all of the mayhem in “Ambulance” wouldn’t exist without Will’s bad decisions.

Meanwhile, viewers are introduced to Camille “Cam” Thompson (played by Eiza González), the only woman in “Ambulance” who has more than 10 minutes of dialogue in the movie. The filmmakers of “Ambulance” want viewers to forget that women and girls are 51% of the population in the U.S. and in the world. Cam (she insists on being called Cam, not Camille) is a very jaded and egotistical lead field-training officer of Falck Company’s Ambulance No. 3.

As an emergency medical technician (EMT), Cam is technically very proficient in her job, but her personality is emotionally detached and off-putting. She’s first seen responding to an emergency scene, where somehow a girl named Lindsey (played by Briella Guiza), who’s about 8 or 9 years old, has gotten a spike from a wrought-iron fence embedded in her abdomen. (The accident is not shown in the movie.) In the ambulance, Cam attends to Lindsey and talks to Lindsey’s frantic mother (played by Jenn Proske) in a way that is almost robotic. Cam says all the right things, but there’s no real empathy in her voice, and she often gets irritable with the people who need her help.

After Lindsey is taken to the hospital, Cam has a conversation with a new EMT trainee named Scott Daskins (played by Colin Woodell), who seems to be romantically attracted to Cam. Scott looks disappointed when Cam tells him that she’s dating a doctor who works at a local hospital. In this conversation, Cam makes it clear that the people with whom she comes in contact on the job are just names to her, and she just moves on to the next assignment. Cam advises Scott to take the same emotionally disconnected approach to the job, because she says it’s the best way to deal with all the trauma that they witness.

Later, when Cam and Scott have a meal together at a diner, Cam gets somewhat of a rude awakening when Scott tells her how much she’s disliked by her co-workers. Scott says that although Cam is considered one of the best EMTs on the job when it comes to the technical responsibilities, she has a reputation for being unlikable and “no one wants to be your partner.” Cam looks a little hurt and shocked by this revelation, but it still shows how huge her ego is that she has no self-awareness about how being cold and unfeeling to other people can make people dislike her. It’s at this point in the movie that you know Cam is going to get some “life lessons” that will possibly redeem her and her obnoxious attitude.

Danny has meticulously planned the bank robbery. But, of course, some unexpected things don’t go according to the plan. Danny has a motley crew of about six or seven robbers on this heist, including a hippie-ish dimwit named Trent (played by Brendan Miller), who insists on wearing Birkenstock sandals to the bank robbery, and he gets teased repeatedly about his choice of shoes. There’s also a hulking dolt nicknamed Mel Gibson (played by Devan Chandler Long), because Danny thinks the guy wears his long, bushy beard like a 13th century Scottish warrior in Mel Gibson’s Oscar-winning movie “Braveheart.” Apparently, Danny and the “Ambulance” filmmakers forgot that Gibson didn’t have a beard in “Braveheart.”

What Danny and his crew didn’t anticipate was that a rookie cop named Zach Parker (played by Jackson White) from the Los Angeles Police Department would insist on coming in the bank, without Zach knowing that a robbery was taking place at that exact moment. At this point in the robbery, Danny (who’s dressed in casual business wear) has locked the entrance door and disguised himself as the bank manager, by wearing the manager’s name tag. Zach wants to go in the bank to ask a bank teller named Kim (played by Kayli Tran) out on a date, because Zach has had a crush on Kim for a while.

While Zach’s more experienced, corporal-ranked cop partner Mark Ranshaw (played by Cedric Sanders) waits outside, Zach approaches the bank’s front door, while Danny tells him that the bank is temporarily closed and refuses to let Zach inside. Zach persists on being let in the bank and says that his reason for being in the bank won’t take long. Danny finally relents and lets Zach in, so as not to arouse suspicion.

Zach notices that he’s the only customer in the bank, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about it, because Danny told him that the bank was closed. Kim just happens to be at a bank teller window. Zach asks Danny what Kim’s last name is, and Danny quickly makes up a lie. Zach nervously asks Kim out on the date. When Zach notices that Kim is crying in distress, and that her last name on her name tag isn’t the same last name that Danny told him, Danny blows his cover and pulls a gun on Zach. Outside the bank, police officer Mark sees through the bank window that there’s an armed robbery in progress and calls for backup.

And that’s when all hell breaks loose. In the chaos of the robbers trying to get away, Will ends up shooting Zach in the leg. Much later in the movie, they find out that Zach was also shot in his spleen. During this desperate getaway, the rest of the robbers scatter outside, while Will and Danny stick together and hide in the bank. An ambulance is called for Zach, so Scott and Cam are the ambulance EMTs who arrive on the scene. The bank is surrounded by cops, and the robbers’ getaway driver becomes unavailable. And so, a trapped Will and Danny decide to hijack the ambulance to make their getaway.

Scott gets knocked down on the ground, while Danny and Will steal the ambulance, with Will driving and suddenly having the skills of a professional stunt driver throughout the rest of the movie. Cam is in the back of the ambulance while trying to give medical treatment to Zach, who is bleeding profusely and mostly unconscious during this entire ordeal. Danny, who alternates between the front and the back of the ambulance, thinks that he and Will should have more leverage if Cam and Zach are held as hostages.

It’s all just an excuse for “Ambulance” to show a lot of shaky cam chase footage and bombastic action scenes, with a lot of yelling and wreckage along the way. At various points in this moronic movie, Will punches Zach in the face to get him to shut up and render Zach unconscious; Danny tells a lot of bad jokes; and Cam (who’s not qualified to do surgery) does very unsanitary emergency spleen surgery on Zach, by getting videoconference advice from doctors on the ambulance’s laptop computer. Yes, it’s that kind of movie. And there are more silly shenanigans, such as people who are seriously injured and unconscious who then suddenly wake up as if they just took a harmless nap, or civilians show up at active crime scenes while law enforcement gives the kind of access to these civilians that wouldn’t be allowed in real life.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department’s S.I.S. (Secret Intelligence Service) team, led by an arrogant, macho imbecile named Captain Tyler Monroe (played by Garret Dillahunt), gets involved in the chase. Captain Monroe and his S.I.S. team were actually undercover and waiting outside the bank during the robbery, because they laid a trap when they heard that this bank might be targeted for a robbery, but Danny and Will still managed to escape. Some members of the S.I.S. (who are almost all white) unfairly blame Zach’s cop partner Mark for Zach getting shot, in a scene that has racist overtones because Mark is African American.

Captain Monroe makes dumb mistakes after dumb mistakes in his bungled efforts to capture these bank robbers. There’s a scene in the movie where Captain Monroe tells his subordinates to temporarily halt because he wants to rescue his English mastiff dog Nitro, who was unwittingly left in the back seat of one of the cars giving chase. Trivia note: Nitro’s real name is Nitro Zeus (named after a “Transformers” robot villain), and he is the real-life dog of “Ambulance” director/producer Bay, who has directed most of and produced all of the “Transformers” movies so far.

The LAPD isn’t the only law enforcement to get involved in the chase. An uptight FBI agent named Anson Clark (played by Keir O’Donnell) gets called to the scene. He gets the call while he’s in the middle of couples therapy with his husband Kyle (played by Brendan Robinson), who is very annoyed that Anson has to rush off and do his FBI job of catching criminals and trying to save people’s lives. Because “Ambulance” is such a badly made movie, Anson is the only FBI agent who’s shown doing any real work in this case.

And predictably, “new school” FBI Agent Clark (who wears suits on the job) and “old school” Captain Monroe (who wears camouflage pants and a baseball cap on the job) have opposite personalities and ways of working, so they clash with each other. But there’s an extra twist to Anson’s involvement in this case: Anson soon reveals that he knows Danny from their college days, when they both studied criminology at the University of Maryland. By the way, the law enforcement in “Ambulance” is depicted as completely incompetent and slow in doing background checks when they find out the identities of the bank robbers.

“Ambulance” tries to inject some comedy to lighten the mood of the intense violence and chase scenes, but it doesn’t erase the ugly stench of racism, sexism and overall stupid filmmaking that pollute this movie. Other than Cam, the movie’s only other female character who gets more than five minutes of dialogue is LAPD Lieutenant Dzaghig (played by Olivia Stambouliah), who talks for less than 10 minutes in the film. Her role is to be Captain Monroe’s sidekick, who delivers wisecracks in a deadpan manner.

Danny utters most of the tacky jokes in “Ambulance,” because the filmmakers want to portray Danny as an unhinged but lovable rogue who can laugh at himself and others around him. In a scene where Danny gets sprayed with a fire extinguisher, Danny is upset that the water ruined his clothing. “It’s cashmere!” Danny yells to no one in particular. During another part of the movie, Danny leads a bonkers sing-along to Christopher Cross’ 1979 hit “Sailing.”

Will is just there to follow Danny’s orders. On the surface, Will is portrayed as more sensitive and less prone to violence than Danny. However, based on who Will decides to shoot in the movie (Zach isn’t his only shooting victim), Will is not mentally stable at all. Will’s decisions actually make him look more violent and more foolish than everyone else in this bank robber crew, including Danny. Danny isn’t off the hook for dumb decisions either, because holding a wounded cop hostage after committing a bank robbery is almost a sure-fire way for criminals to get even harsher prison sentences, if the criminals aren’t killed by police during the hostage crisis.

As for Cam, she really is just another token lead female in a Michael Bay action movie, where she ends up with makeup that stays perfectly intact throughout the entire messy ordeal. Even her sweat looks polished. Sure, Cam has some fake-looking marks on her face that’s supposed to resemble dirt, and her clothes get somewhat ripped and “bloodied” in the pandemonium. But somehow, her bright red lipstick and other face cosmetic makeup never get smeared and remain perfectly contoured in ways that are unrealistic for anyone who goes through what Cam goes through in this insufferable film.

The only other Latinos with speaking roles in “Ambulance” are criminals, led by a menacing thug named Hector “Papi” Gutierrez (played by A Martinez), who owns an automobile warehouse/chop shop in downtown Los Angeles. Danny calls on Papi during the chase when Danny needs help. Papi used to work for L.T. Sharp, so he’s known Danny for a long time and is almost like an “uncle” to Danny.

And because “Ambulance” is a cesspool of empty-headed, racist clichés, there’s a buffoon African American character named Castro (played by Wale Folarin, also known as rapper Wale), who is portrayed as Danny’s most vapid subordinate. There’s a part of the movie where Danny tells Castro to meet him in a designated area to spray paint the entire exterior of the ambulance in less than two minutes, which is a dopey and unrealistic request in and of itself. Instead of bringing the requested blue paint, Castro brings neon green paint to do the job.

None of the cast members in this movie does anything great. In fact, they frequently embarrass themselves with all the junk dialogue they have to say and witless scenarios that they have to enact. “Ambulance” drags out the chase scenes to ridiculous levels, but ironically, the movie has probably the shortest time length for end credits of any major studio film released this year. That’s assuming anyone wants to stick around for the end credits after enduring this train wreck of a movie.

Anyone who is okay with this type of “entertainment” is okay with tone-deaf Hollywood filmmakers churning out bigoted and outdated content because these arrogant filmmakers think most movie audiences are too dumb to care. Needless to say, “Ambulance” is a sloppy and inferior remake of the original movie. If you care about supporting quality entertainment that doesn’t insult your intelligence, do not waste your time with “Ambulance,” which is nothing but mind-numbing trash with a major studio budget.

Universal Pictures will release “Ambulance” in U.S. cinemas on April 8, 2022.

Review: ‘The Devil You Know’ (2022), starring Omar Epps, Michael Ealy, Glynn Turman, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Will Catlett, Theo Rossi and Erica Tazel

March 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Omar Epps and Michael Ealy in “The Devil You Know” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“The Devil You Know” (2022)

Directed by Charles Murray

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the dramatic film “The Devil You Know” features a cast of predominantly African American characters (with some white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A recovering alcoholic, who’s trying to get his life back on track, struggles with finding out that his younger brother was involved in a home invasion that resulted in the murders of two people. 

Culture Audience: “The Devil You Know” will appeal primarily to people interested in stories about African American families, but this dull misfire is not a well-made film, and it perpetuates many negative stereotypes of African American men.

Will Catlett and Omar Epps in “The Devil You Know” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Relentlessly dull and with a lot of cringeworthy acting, “The Devil You Know” tries to be a gritty drama, but the movie does nothing innovative or special. It also repeats negative, racist stereotypes that African American men are most likely to become criminals—even the ones who come from “good families.” It’s unfortunate that some filmmakers think they need to have a criminal angle in stories about African American families in order to sell a movie. There are plenty of African American people who come from families who don’t have criminal records. But you don’t see many movies made about these law-abiding African American families, because those stories don’t pander to racist people’s ideas that African American families are usually about crime, poverty or drugs.

Written and directed by Charles Murray, “The Devil You Know” has a lot of other problems besides wallowing in pathetic, negative stereotypes. It’s a crime drama that’s supposed to be suspenseful, but there is no suspense to be had when the movie reveals fairly on who the obvious villain is. A lot of time is wasted with monotonous scenes and conversations that drag everything out until the movie’s predictable ending. Most of the actors seem bored in their roles and give performances where they just recite their lines, with no noticeable emotional connection to their characters.

“The Devil You Know,” which takes place in Los Angeles, centers on a tight-knit African American family whose last name is Cowans. The family is headed by patriarch Lloyd Cowans (played by Glynn Turman) and his wife Della Cowans (played by Vanessa Bell Calloway), who have a healthy and loving relationship with each other. Lloyd and Della have four sons, whose ages range from their 50s to 30s. Lloyd and Della’s marriage is one of the few positive relationships shown in the movie, but that relationship is overshadowed by the criminal acts that cause trauma in the family.

Eldest sons Anthony Cowans (played by Curtiss Cook) and Marcus Cowans (played by Omar Epps) are in completely opposite points in their lives. Anthony, who is the most level-headed and stable of his four brothers, is steadily employed and happily married. Marcus, who is a bachelor, is a recovering alcoholic who’s trying to get his life back on track after spending time in rehab and in prison for an unnamed crime or crimes. Marcus has recently gotten a job as a city bus driver, thanks to Lloyd’s connections.

Youngest sons Drew Cowans (played by Will Catlett) and Terry Cowans (played by Vaughn W. Hebron) are also almost polar opposites too. Drew is a hothead who has been hiding the fact that he’s been unemployed for the past six months. Terry, the youngest son, is mild-mannered and easygoing. The movie skimps on the details about what anyone in this family, except for Marcus, does for a living.

“The Devil You Know” opens with three masked men invading the home of 58-year-old Nicholas Gervich (played by Jeph Loeb), his 52-year-old wife Wendy Gervich and their 17-year-old son Kyle Gervich (played by Conor Sherry), during an armed robbery that takes place at night. The horrific violence that happens in that household is not shown in the movie. However, the crime scene is shown in the aftermath, when police detective Joe McDonald (played by Michael Ealy) shows up with his team to investigate the murders and other crimes that took place in the Gervich home. Nicholas and Wendy have been shot dead. Kyle was brutally assaulted, but he survived. A number of items, including some cash, have been stolen from the Gervich home.

Because the trailer and synopsis for “The Devil You Know” already reveal that Drew was involved in this home invasion, it should come as no surprise who the home invaders are. Drew hangs out with two shady thugs named Al Edwards (played by Theo Rossi) and Stacy Griffin (played by B.J. Britt), who don’t do much in this movie but show up and try to look menacing. Al has a constant smirky grin and takes the lead when making threats, while Stacy is more likely to be a follower instead of a leader.

For someone who’s in charge of the investigation, Detective McDonald isn’t in the movie as much as viewers might think he should be. Ealy’s total screen time in “The Devil You Know” is about 15 minutes. And he’s doing the kind of performance where he might as well wear a T-shirt that says: “I’m just here for the paycheck.” Ealy and Epps both have the title of executive producer of “The Devil You Know,” but that doesn’t mean their acting in the movie is exemplary.

“The Devil You Know” has a not-very-interesting subplot of Marcus dating a hospital nurse named Eva Dylan (played by Erica Tazel), who met Marcus at a Cowans family dinner. It was a matchmaking set-up from Marcus’ sister-in-law Tisha Cowans (played by Keisha Epps), who is Anthony’s wife. Unfortunately, Omar Epps and Tazel (who acts in a stiff and robotic manner) have no believable chemistry together as romantic couple Marcus and Eva, who fall in love with each other. It probably would’ve been a better casting choice to have Keisha Epps, who is Omar Epps’ real-life wife, as Marcus’ love interest in the movie.

Viewers of this movie are stuck having to sit through bland scenes where Marcus and Eva have a very tedious romance with snoozeworthy conversations. Even though Eva tries to play hard-to-get when she first meets Marcus, she’s the one who makes the first move, by asking Marcus out on a dinner date. Over dinner at a restaurant, Eva says that she hasn’t dated anyone in two years, while Marcus says that he’s a “born-again virgin.” While they’re trading “celibates are us” stories, their waitress asks Marcus and Eva if they are celebrating something, because the waitress says that Marcus and Eva look like they’re in happy and in love. No, they look like two actors who aren’t doing a very good job of acting like they have romantic chemistry together.

The movie then fast-forwards three months later. Marcus and Eva are now dating, and they have settled comfortably in their relationship. Marcus takes the big step of giving Eva her own set of keys to his home. Eva tells Marcus, “If I take this, you ain’t getting rid of me.” Marcus replies, “That is the point.” Get used to a lot of simplistic and uninspired dialogue in “The Devil You Know,” because this movie is full of it.

It isn’t until about halfway through the movie that Marcus finds out about Drew’s involvement in the home invasion. While watching a TV news report about the home invasion, Marcus sees assault survivor Kyle being interviewed, and it’s mentioned that a distinctive baseball card collection was stolen from the Gervich family during this robbery. It’s the same baseball card collection that has recently come into Drew’s possession.

When Marcus confronts Drew about it, Drew says he got the card collection from Stacy, who told Drew that Stacy got the card collection from a “crackhead.” Knowing this is stolen property, Marcus calls in an anonymous tip to tell the police that Stacy and Al were probably the robbers/murderers in the deadly home invasion. But if Marcus’ plan was for Stacy and Al to get in trouble, the plan somewhat backfires, because Stacy and Al blame Drew for the robbery, assault and murders.

Drew is arrested and questioned by police, but he vehemently denies to Detective McDonald and the other cops that he had anything to do with the home invasion. Drew is let out on bail. Privately, Drew admits to Marcus that he was the getaway driver, but he had nothing to do with the murders, because he was waiting in the car when the assault and murders happened. Considering that three men were seen entering the house, it’s already easy to figure out if Drew is telling the truth or not. And even without that big clue, the title of this movie says it all.

None of this is spoiler information, when so much of the plot is already revealed in the movie’s trailer. The only real mystery in the story is if Marcus and the rest of the family will continue to believe Drew, and if Drew will be punished for his part in the home invasion. “The Devil You Know” is so poorly written, the family is never seen discussing getting an attorney for Drew. Instead, there are several boring scenes that are the equivalent of handwringing, where family members wonder who among them snitched to the police.

There’s not much to the story about the Cowans family to give any background on them and what their family dynamics are. The movie just shows a series of scenes of family get-togethers that have an increasing number of arguments, as tensions begin to rise over Drew’s legal problems. Meanwhile, Al and Stacy are lurking around to make the expected threats to Drew, which can only lead to the inevitable result where not everyone in this trio of robbers will make it out alive by the end of the movie.

For a movie about a family drama to work well, there has to be more than just scenes of conversations strung together. The cast members have to look like they embody these characters in an authentic and believable way. And there has to be more to the story than just the tired, over-used stereotypes of an African American family dealing with someone in the family being accused of a serious crime.

“The Devil You Know” doesn’t care about showing who Marcus is beyond what the movie wants to define him as: someone who’s been involved in addiction and crime and trying to turn his life around for the better, but he gets pulled back into criminal entanglements because of his loser brother. Too many movies and TV shows have gone down that stereotypical route in ways that lack creativity. “The Devil You Know” is just another one of those forgettable movies.

In addition, the drab direction of “The Devil You Know” moves at such a sluggish pace, viewers will have a hard time keeping interest in a story where the characters are underdeveloped, there’s no real excitement or suspense, and the dialogue is bottom-of-the-barrel basic. If people want to see this movie for a lot of action scenes, such as shootouts or car chases, “The Devil You Know” comes up short in that area too. There’s some extreme melodrama thrown into the film in the last 15 minutes, but it’s not enough to save a movie that doesn’t deliver a story and characters that viewers can connect with in a meaningful way.

Lionsgate will release “The Devil You Know” in U.S. cinemas on April 1, 2022.

Review: ‘A Lot of Nothing,’ starring Y’lan Noel, Cleopatra Coleman, Justin Hartley, Lex Scott Davis and Shamier Anderson

March 21, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from top left: Y’lan Noel, Cleopatra Coleman, Lex Scott Davis, Shamier Anderson and Justin Hartley in “A Lot of Nothing” (Photo by John Keng)

“A Lot of Nothing”

Directed by Mo McRae

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles, the comedy/drama film “A Lot of Nothing” features a racially diverse cast of characters (African American, white and some Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: An African American husband and wife, who both work for the same law firm, kidnap and hold their white neighbor captive in their home after the spouses find out that he’s the cop who’s in the news for killing an unarmed young man.

Culture Audience: “A Lot of Nothing” will appeal mainly to people who think they are supporting a Black Lives Matter advocacy movie, but this horrendous misfire is anything but supportive of civil rights and positive portrayals of black people.

A complete tonal mess, the comedy/drama “A Lot of Nothing” makes a disgusting mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement and insults African American women the most. Apparently, the filmmakers think the best way for black people to fight racism is to become criminals and perpetuate racist stereotypes. If this trashy movie wanted to be a satire, it demolishes any credibility because it can’t decide if it wants to be an absurd farce or a serious thriller. Worst of all, it takes real-life trauma that families and other loved ones experience because of unjustified killings committed by cops, and uses this trauma as a gimmicky plot device, just so the filmmakers could get a cash grab out of this heinous movie. “A Lot of Nothing” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival.

The fact that “A Lot of Nothing” was directed by an African American (Mo McRae) does not excuse the utter depths of stupidity where this movie goes when it comes to exploiting these real-life tragedies. McRae wrote the abysmal screenplay for “A Lot of Nothing” with Sarah Kelly Kaplan. And they both seem to have particular contempt for black women, because of how black women are portrayed in this movie. That’s because out of all the dimwitted characters in “A Lot of Nothing,” the black women characters are the dumbest and the flakiest.

The moronic story of “A Lot of Nothing,” which takes place in Los Angeles, is that an African American married couple named James (played by Y’lan Noel) and Vanessa (played by Cleopatra Coleman)—who both work at the same law firm—kidnap and hold captive a white cop named Brian Stanley (played by Justin Hartley), who happens to be their next-door neighbor. Brian is divorced and lives alone, so there’s no one in his house who immediately notices that he’s missing when he’s kidnapped from his home. James is a lawyer, while Vanessa (who has an MBA degree) is some kind of business manager at the law firm.

What would cause this highly educated, upper-middle-class, respectable couple to commit such a drastic crime? Vanessa is angrily triggered because she saw on the news that Brian is under investigation for the shooting death of an unarmed, young adult man, who was killed during a traffic stop. Some of this incident was captured on video footage that went viral on the Internet and was shown on TV. Brian has been put on leave from his job, pending the investigation.

Before the kidnapping takes place, Vanessa rants to James in their home about how she’s tired of hearing about cops killing innocent black people. James tells Vanessa repeatedly that they need to hear all the facts of this case before they jump to conclusions. But that doesn’t stop Vanessa from obsessing over the idea that she needs to lecture and interrogate Brian about what happened, as if she’s a prosecutor questioning him during a trial. She marches over to Brian’s house and demands that he talk to her and explain what happened during the shooting. Brian doesn’t want to talk to her, but she insists.

As someone who’s married to a lawyer and as a business manager who works for a law firm, Vanessa should know that Brian is probably under an attorney’s orders not to talk about the investigation to anyone without an attorney present. As a black woman (and as a human being who should have common sense), Vanessa should also know how stupid it is to pick a fight with a cop who’s under investigation for shooting and killing an unarmed person. The filmmakers don’t care, because they want to make Vanessa the worst stereotype of an angry black woman.

Brian’s response to Vanessa’s hostile confrontation? He tells her: “As an officer of the law, I suggest you take your high yellow ass back to your nice little house and drop it.” That racist remark is enough for Vanessa to later go over to Brian’s house with a gun, while James is trying smooth things over with Brian. Vanessa wants to provoke a racist cop, and apparently doesn’t care about making things worse, and possibly doing something that could get people killed.

Vanessa pulls a gun on Brian, forces him into the couple’s garage, and orders James to tie up Brian. James is shocked and horrified. At first, James objects to Vanessa’s unhinged actions, but then he reluctantly goes along with this idiotic abduction and the rest of the crimes that Vanessa wants to commit in the name of Black Lives Matter. In other words, the movie is saying that educated black people with no criminal records are actually irrational, violent criminals who’ll use any racial excuse to commit crimes, thereby embodying the worst stereotypes that racists have of black people.

Vanessa is such an obnoxious lunatic, she commits this cop kidnapping less than an hour before James’ brother Jamal (payed by Shamier Anderson) and his pregnant fiancée Candy (played by Lex Scott Davis) are due to arrive for a family dinner. Candy and Jamal show up, find out about the kidnapping, and participate in the crime too. Jamal turns into a thug, while Candy is an airhead who spouts a lot of New Age gibberish.

There’s really no point in describing this awful movie anymore, except to say that the movie’s writing and direction are trash; the pacing is erratic; and all the cast members’ performances get worse as the story goes down a steep slide into a putrid abyss of racial hatred that’s hell-bent on making black people look as bad as possible. The movie ends with a “reveal” that just makes everyone involved look even more insanely stupid, with no real consequences. “A Lot of Nothing” is really just a lot of nonsense and a worthless train wreck that should be avoided at all costs.

2022 Critics Choice Awards: ‘The Power of the Dog,’ ‘Ted Lasso’ are the top winners

March 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

With four prizes, including Best Picture, Netflix’s Western drama “The Power of the Dog” was the top winner at the 27th annual Critics Choice Awards, which were presented on March 13, 2022. Also winning four prizes, including Best Comedy Series, was Apple TV+’s soccer sitcom “Ted Lasso.” For the first time in Critics Choice Awards history, the show was held in two cities: in Los Angeles (at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel) and in London (at the Savoy Hotel), in order to accommodate attendees of the 2022 BAFTA Film Awards in London, which was held on the same night.

Taye Diggs and Nicole Byer hosted the 2022 Critics Choice Awards ceremony, which was televised in the U.S. on The CW and TBS. Eligible movies were those released in the U.S. in 2021. Eligible TV shows were those with new episodes that premiered in 2021. The Critics Choice Association nominates and votes for the awards.

“The Power of the Dog” director/screenwriter/producer Jane Campion at the 27th Annual Critics Choice Awards at Fairmont Century Plaza in Los Angeles on March 13, 2022. (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association)

“The Power of the Dog,” which is about a dysfunctional rancher family in 1925 Montana, won the awards for Best Picture, Best Director (for Jane Campion), Best Adapted Screenplay (also won by Campion) and Best Cinematography (for Ari Wegner, the first woman to win in this Critics Choice Awards category). Focus Features’ Northern Ireland drama “Belfast” won three Critics Choice Awards: Best Original Screenplay (for Kenneth Branagh), Best Young Actor/Actress (for Jude Hill) and Best Acting Ensemble. Also winning three Critics Choice Awards was Warner Bros. Pictures’ sci-fi remake “Dune,” which took the prizes for Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects and Best Score.

In the TV categories, “Ted Lasso” won these four prizes: Best Comedy Series, Best Actor in a Comedy Series (for Jason Sudeikis), Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (for Hannah Waddingham) and Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (for Brett Goldstein). HBO’s “Succession” received three awards: Best Drama Series, Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (for Sarah Snook) and Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (for Kieran Culkin). TV shows that won two Critics Choice Awards each in 2022 were HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” Netflix’s “Squid Game” and HBO’s “The White Lotus.”

“Ted Lasso” co-stars Juno Temple, Brett Goldstein and Hannah Waddington at the 27th Annual Critics Choice Awards at the Savoy Hotel in London on March 13, 2022. (Photo by Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association)

In non-competitive prizes announced several weeks before the show, Halle Berry received the SeeHer Award (for advocacy of positive female representation on screen), while Billy Crystal was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Presenters includes Ava DuVernay, Carey Mulligan, Jamie Dornan, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Kristen Wiig, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mandy Moore, Zoey Deutch, Joel McHale, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, J.K. Simmons, Ray Romano, Ken Jeong, Alan Kim, Angelica Ross, Annie Mumolo, Dominique Jackson, Dylan O’Brien, Hailie Sahar, Indya Moore, Jacob Bertrand, Jung Ho-yeon, Kaci Walfall, Lee Jung-jae, Maria Bakalova, Mayim Bialik, Nasim Pedrad, Park Hae-soo, Ralph Macchio, Robin Thede, Los Angeles Rams Coach Sean McVay, Veronika Khomyn, Shawn Hatosy, Sonequa Martin-Green, Issa Rae and Jimmy Kimmel.

The following is the complete list of nominees and winners for the 2022 Critics Choice Awards:

*=winner

FILM

BEST PICTURE

  • Belfast
  • CODA
  • Don’t Look Up
  • Dune
  • King Richard
  • Licorice Pizza
  • Nightmare Alley
  • The Power of the Dog*
  • tick, tick…Boom!
  • West Side Story

BEST ACTOR

  • Nicolas Cage – Pig
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – The Power of the Dog
  • Peter Dinklage – Cyrano
  • Andrew Garfield – tick, tick…Boom!
  • Will Smith – King Richard*
  • Denzel Washington – The Tragedy of Macbeth

BEST ACTRESS

  • Jessica Chastain – The Eyes of Tammy Faye*
  • Olivia Colman – The Lost Daughter
  • Lady Gaga – House of Gucci
  • Alana Haim – Licorice Pizza
  • Nicole Kidman – Being the Ricardos
  • Kristen Stewart – Spencer

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

  • Jamie Dornan – Belfast
  • Ciarán Hinds – Belfast
  • Troy Kotsur – CODA*
  • Jared Leto – House of Gucci
  • J.K. Simmons – Being the Ricardos
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Power of the Dog

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

  • Caitríona Balfe – Belfast
  • Ariana DeBose – West Side Story*
  • Ann Dowd – Mass
  • Kirsten Dunst – The Power of the Dog
  • Aunjanue Ellis – King Richard
  • Rita Moreno – West Side Story

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS

  • Jude Hill – Belfast*
  • Cooper Hoffman – Licorice Pizza
  • Emilia Jones – CODA
  • Woody Norman – C’mon C’mon
  • Saniyya Sidney – King Richard
  • Rachel Zegler – West Side Story

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE

  • Belfast*
  • Don’t Look Up
  • The Harder They Fall
  • Licorice Pizza
  • The Power of the Dog
  • West Side Story

BEST DIRECTOR

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
  • Kenneth Branagh – Belfast
  • Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog*
  • Guillermo del Toro – Nightmare Alley
  • Steven Spielberg – West Side Story
  • Denis Villeneuve – Dune

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

  • Paul Thomas Anderson – Licorice Pizza
  • Zach Baylin – King Richard
  • Kenneth Branagh – Belfast*
  • Adam McKay, David Sirota – Don’t Look Up
  • Aaron Sorkin – Being the Ricardos

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

  • Jane Campion – The Power of the Dog*
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal – The Lost Daughter
  • Siân Heder – CODA
  • Tony Kushner – West Side Story
  • Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth – Dune

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Bruno Delbonnel – The Tragedy of Macbeth
  • Greig Fraser – Dune
  • Janusz Kaminski – West Side Story
  • Dan Laustsen – Nightmare Alley
  • Ari Wegner – The Power of the Dog*
  • Haris Zambarloukos – Belfast

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • Jim Clay, Claire Nia Richards – Belfast
  • Tamara Deverell, Shane Vieau – Nightmare Alley
  • Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo – The French Dispatch
  • Adam Stockhausen, Rena DeAngelo – West Side Story
  • Patrice Vermette, Zsuzsanna Sipos – Dune*

BEST EDITING

  • Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn – West Side Story*
  • Úna Ní Dhonghaíle – Belfast
  • Andy Jurgensen – Licorice Pizza
  • Peter Sciberras – The Power of the Dog
  • Joe Walker – Dune

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

  • Jenny Beavan – Cruella*
  • Luis Sequeira – Nightmare Alley
  • Paul Tazewell – West Side Story
  • Jacqueline West, Robert Morgan – Dune
  • Janty Yates – House of Gucci

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

  • Cruella
  • Dune
  • The Eyes of Tammy Faye*
  • House of Gucci
  • Nightmare Alley

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Dune*
  • The Matrix Resurrections
  • Nightmare Alley
  • No Time to Die
  • Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

BEST COMEDY

  • Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar
  • Don’t Look Up
  • Free Guy
  • The French Dispatch
  • Licorice Pizza*

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

  • Encanto
  • Flee
  • Luca
  • The Mitchells vs the Machines*
  • Raya and the Last Dragon

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

  • A Hero
  • Drive My Car*
  • Flee
  • The Hand of God
  • The Worst Person in the World

BEST SONG

  • Be Alive – King Richard
  • Dos Oruguitas – Encanto
  • Guns Go Bang – The Harder They Fall
  • Just Look Up – Don’t Look Up
  • No Time to Die – No Time to Die*

BEST SCORE

  • Nicholas Britell – Don’t Look Up
  • Jonny Greenwood – The Power of the Dog
  • Jonny Greenwood – Spencer
  • Nathan Johnson – Nightmare Alley
  • Hans Zimmer – Dune*

TELEVISION

BEST DRAMA SERIES

  • Evil (Paramount+)
  • For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
  • The Good Fight (Paramount+)
  • Pose (FX)
  • Squid Game (Netflix)
  • Succession (HBO)*
  • This Is Us (NBC)
  • Yellowjackets (Showtime)

BEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

  • Sterling K. Brown – This Is Us (NBC)
  • Mike Colter – Evil (Paramount+)
  • Brian Cox – Succession (HBO)
  • Lee Jung-jae – Squid Game (Netflix)*
  • Billy Porter – Pose (FX)
  • Jeremy Strong – Succession (HBO)

BEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

  • Uzo Aduba – In Treatment (HBO)
  • Chiara Aurelia – Cruel Summer (Freeform)
  • Christine Baranski – The Good Fight (Paramount+)
  • Katja Herbers – Evil (Paramount+)
  • Melanie Lynskey – Yellowjackets (Showtime)*
  • MJ Rodriguez – Pose (FX)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES

  • Nicholas Braun – Succession (HBO)
  • Billy Crudup – The Morning Show (Apple TV+)
  • Kieran Culkin – Succession (HBO)*
  • Justin Hartley – This Is Us (NBC)
  • Matthew Macfadyen – Succession (HBO)
  • Mandy Patinkin – The Good Fight (Paramount+)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES

  • Andrea Martin – Evil (Paramount+)
  • Audra McDonald – The Good Fight (Paramount+)
  • Christine Lahti – Evil (Paramount+)
  • J. Smith-Cameron – Succession (HBO)
  • Sarah Snook – Succession (HBO)*
  • Susan Kelechi Watson – This Is Us (NBC)

BEST COMEDY SERIES

  • The Great (Hulu)
  • Hacks (HBO Max)
  • Insecure (HBO)
  • Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
  • The Other Two (HBO Max)
  • Reservation Dogs (FX on Hulu)
  • Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)*
  • What We Do in the Shadows (FX)

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

  • Iain Armitage – Young Sheldon (CBS)
  • Nicholas Hoult – The Great (Hulu)
  • Steve Martin – Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
  • Kayvan Novak – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
  • Martin Short – Only Murders in the Building (Hulu)
  • Jason Sudeikis – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)*

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

  • Elle Fanning – The Great (Hulu)
  • Renée Elise Goldsberry – Girls5eva (Peacock)
  • Selena Gomez – Only Murders in the Building (Hulu) 
  • Sandra Oh – The Chair (Netflix)
  • Issa Rae – Insecure (HBO)
  • Jean Smart – Hacks (HBO Max)*

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES

  • Ncuti Gatwa – Sex Education (Netflix)
  • Brett Goldstein – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)*
  • Harvey Guillén – What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
  • Brandon Scott Jones – Ghosts (CBS)
  • Ray Romano – Made for Love (HBO Max)
  • Bowen Yang – Saturday Night Live (NBC)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES

  • Hannah Einbinder – Hacks (HBO Max)
  • Kristin Chenoweth – Schmigadoon! (Apple TV+)
  • Molly Shannon – The Other Two (HBO Max) 
  • Cecily Strong – Saturday Night Live (NBC)
  • Josie Totah – Saved By the Bell (Peacock)
  • Hannah Waddingham – Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)*

BEST LIMITED SERIES

  • Dopesick (Hulu)
  • Dr. Death (Peacock)
  • It’s a Sin (HBO Max)
  • Maid (Netflix)
  • Mare of Easttown (HBO)*
  • Midnight Mass (Netflix)
  • The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime Video)
  • WandaVision (Disney+)

BEST MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Come From Away (Apple TV+)
  • List of a Lifetime (Lifetime)
  • The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (Amazon Prime Video)
  • Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia (Lifetime)
  • Oslo (HBO)*
  • Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas (The Roku Channel)

BEST ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Olly Alexander – It’s a Sin (HBO Max)
  • Paul Bettany – WandaVision (Disney+)
  • William Jackson Harper – Love Life (HBO Max)
  • Joshua Jackson – Dr. Death (Peacock)
  • Michael Keaton – Dopesick (Hulu)*
  • Hamish Linklater – Midnight Mass (Netflix)

BEST ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Danielle Brooks – Robin Roberts Presents: Mahalia (Lifetime)
  • Cynthia Erivo – Genius: Aretha (National Geographic)
  • Thuso Mbedu – The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime Video)
  • Elizabeth Olsen – WandaVision (Disney+)
  • Margaret Qualley – Maid (Netflix)
  • Kate Winslet – Mare of Easttown (HBO)*

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Murray Bartlett – The White Lotus (HBO)*
  • Zach Gilford – Midnight Mass (Netflix)
  • William Jackson Harper – The Underground Railroad (Amazon Prime Video)
  • Evan Peters – Mare of Easttown (HBO)
  • Christian Slater – Dr. Death (Peacock)
  • Courtney B. Vance – Genius: Aretha (National Geographic)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A LIMITED SERIES OR MOVIE MADE FOR TELEVISION

  • Jennifer Coolidge – The White Lotus (HBO)*
  • Kaitlyn Dever – Dopesick (Hulu)
  • Kathryn Hahn – WandaVision (Disney+)
  • Melissa McCarthy – Nine Perfect Strangers (Hulu)
  • Julianne Nicholson – Mare of Easttown (HBO)
  • Jean Smart – Mare of Easttown (HBO)

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE SERIES

  • Acapulco (Apple TV+)
  • Call My Agent! (Netflix)
  • Lupin (Netflix)
  • Money Heist (Netflix)
  • Narcos: Mexico (Netflix)
  • Squid Game (Netflix)*

BEST ANIMATED SERIES

  • Big Mouth (Netflix)
  • Bluey (Disney Junior)
  • Bob’s Burgers (Fox)
  • The Great North (Fox)
  • Q-Force (Netflix)
  • What If…? (Disney+)*

BEST TALK SHOW

  • The Amber Ruffin Show (Peacock)
  • Desus & Mero (Showtime)
  • The Kelly Clarkson Show (NBC)
  • Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)*
  • Late Night with Seth Meyers (NBC)
  • Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen (Bravo)

BEST COMEDY SPECIAL 

  • Bo Burnham: Inside (Netflix)*
  • Good Timing with Jo Firestone (Peacock)
  • James Acaster: Cold Lasagne Hate Myself 1999 (Vimeo)
  • Joyelle Nicole Johnson: Love Joy (Peacock)
  • Nate Bargatze: The Greatest Average American (Netflix)
  • Trixie Mattel: One Night Only (YouTube)

Review: ‘Violet’ (2021), starring Olivia Munn, Luke Bracey and the voice of Justin Theroux

March 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Luke Bracey and Olivia Munn in “Violet” (Photo courtesy of Relativity Media)

“Violet” (2021)

Directed by Justine Bateman

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

Culture Clash: A woman who’s the head of production at an independent film production company is wracked with insecurities about herself and is haunted by her troubled past with her estranged mother. 

Culture Audience: “Violet” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in seeing a psychologically driven movie that shows a constant flow of a neurotic person’s conflicting thoughts.

Dennis Boutsikaris in “Violet” (Photo by Mark Williams/Relativity Media)

“Violet” is a multilayered movie that effectively shows three psychological layers of an insecure person: the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, and how the person acts on any conflicts between the conscious and subconscious. Oliva Munn gives a riveting performance as the movie’s title character: a 32-year-old woman who is very uneasy with herself, but who tries to project to the outside world that she’s happy and confident. “Violet” (written and directed by Justine Bateman) is intended to make viewers uncomfortable because of how candidly and realistically it portrays people who seem to be one way in public but are quite another way in their deepest thoughts.

On the surface, Violet Calder (played by Munn) seems to have the kind of life that a lot of people want: She works in the movie industry in the Los Angeles area, where she’s head of production at an independent film production company called Gaines Pictures. But from the movie’s opening scene, viewers see that Violet is in fact discontented with her life because she’s very unhappy with herself. She’s the very definition of someone who has “imposter syndrome”—feeling like a fraud who’s unworthy of accomplishments and praise.

Throughout the movie, viewers see and hear two types of Violet’s inner thoughts. Her true feelings (her conscious mind), which are often vulnerable but optimistic, are shown in hand-written scrawls on screen. Her negative and self-critical side, which lies deep in her subconscious, can be heard in voiceovers by actor Justin Theroux. These warring thoughts often make statements that are in direct contrast to each other. The way that Violet reacts to these thoughts shows her decision making in what she ultimately does for her actions and words that she wants people to see as representing herself.

In the beginning of the movie, Violet is temporarily living at the house of her longtime friend Red (played by Luke Bracey), whom she has known since they were 12 years old. Violet and Red are both single with no children. The movie’s opening scene shows Violet in her car before she heads off to work. A hand-written scrawl appears on screen with these words: “Is there something wrong with me?” The negative voice can then be heard saying, “You’re a pig,” and begins to berate her by saying that people will think she’s a loser for not having her own place.

At her job, Violet has a few subordinates who don’t treat her like a boss they respect. They treat her more like someone to take advantage of by slacking off on their workload. Gaines Pictures’ headquarters has an open-floor plan, where Violet doesn’t have her own office. She has a desk that is right in the middle of the desks of people who have lower rankings at the company. These desks are placed classroom-style, while Gaines Pictures founder Tom Gaines (played by Dennis Boutsikaris), a longtime director/producer, has his own office. This company’s work space is a reflection of the company’s power structure and how Tom runs the company.

There are obvious signs that Violet is underappreciated and disrespected on the job. A subordinate named Bradley (played by Zachary Gordon) calls her “sugar plum” and asks her for production reports that he should already have. Brad and another subordinate named Julie (played by Cassandra Cardenes), who are both in their 20s, waste time by standing near Violet’s desk and distracting her with petty gossip instead of being responsible and doing their work.

The disrespect is even worse from her boss Tom, who is a misogynistic creep. During a conference room meeting with an outside colleague named Darren Brightly (played by Al Madrigal), Tom demeans Violet by making sexual innuendos that imply that she’s in a sexual relationship with Tom, and that she uses sex to get what she wants. Violet looks humiliated, while Darren looks like he’s too much in shock to say anything.

One person at Violet’s job who really seems to respect her is an administrative assistant named Keith (played by Keith Powers), who gripes to Violet about Brad and Julie: “They’re always saying stuff, and you just let them? You’re head of production. They work for you. They’re always over here bothering you. Why don’t you just tell them to fuck off?”

Violet replies, “Listen, it’s just better for me not to say anything. The less opportunity I give them to label me a ‘bitch,’ the better.” Meanwhile, the negative voice inside Violet’s head tells her that she should ignore the disrespect and micro-aggressions from her work colleagues. For example, in reaction to Bradley’s condescending attitude to Violet (even though she’s his boss), the negative voice tells Violet: “Let it go, or he’ll quit. Don’t be bossy.”

Throughout the course of the movie, Violet is shown making compromises that make her uncomfortable because she doesn’t want to be accused of being difficult. Other times, she lets the negative voice in her head get to her, and she acts very mean-spirited and selfish. Viewers often have to guess what Violet will do when the conscious and subconscious thoughts are completely opposite.

In addition to her boss and colleagues, there are other people in Violet’s life who see various sides of her. How much they take the time to know the real Violet is a reflection of how much they care about her. Red is a loyal and supportive friend, who tells Violet that she can talk to him about anything at any time. He seems to know she’s got a lot of inner turmoil that she finds difficult to disclose.

Violet has another close friend named Lila (played by Erica Ash), who thinks that Violet and Red should be a couple. However, Red is a screenwriter, and Violet thinks dating a writer would be a “step down” for her, so Violet tells Lila that she wants to continue to date executives in the entertainment industry. But based on Violet’s unhappy and unfulfilled love life, that decision isn’t working out so well for her.

To show a contrast between Violet’s self-esteem and Lila’s self-esteem, the movie has a scene where the two friends meet at a restaurant/bar for dinner and drinks. Violet says that she has her own “naysayer committee” in her head, and she tells Lila that she has to learn to stop listening to this inner negativity. Lila says she sometimes has self-doubt too, but her parents raised her to believe that she’s great, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. Violet definitely did not have that type of upbringing, so it’s yet another reason for Violet to feel insecure about herself. It also makes Violet envious of Lila’s genuine self-confidence.

Violet has some brief encounters with some other people during her emotional and psychological journey in this movie. In a parking lot, she randomly sees an ex-boyfriend named Martin (played by Simon Quarterman), a music executive who currently lives in New York City, but who’s visiting Los Angeles for work-related reasons. When Violet sees Martin again, it triggers painful memories of why Violet and Mike broke up. Viewers find out why in flashback scenes.

The movie’s flashbacks also include scenes of 8-year-old Violet (played by Liliana Mijangos) riding her bicycle, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. These childhood flashbacks are often shown on a giant video screen, as if it’s replaying inside Violet’s head, and her inner voice tells her this childhood experience of riding a bike was the last time she truly felt freedom. But in one of those flashback scenes, Violet rides home on her bike, only to get a barrage of shouted insults and criticisms by her mother (who’s never seen on camera, but who is voiced by Erin Cantelo) as soon as Violet arrives at the front door.

You don’t have to be a psychiatrist to see that Violet’s fractured relationship with her abusive mother is the root cause of most of Violet’s self-esteem problems. Through conversations, it’s eventually revealed that Violet, whose closest family members live thousands of miles away in an unnamed U.S. state, has not spoken to her widow mother for the past three years. Violet’s older brother Rick (played by Todd Stashwick) and Violet’s maternal aunt Helen (played by Bonnie Bedelia) express resentment and hostility to Violet because she’s distanced herself from the family. They think Violet is too caught up in her Hollywood movie job and showbiz lifestyle to care about them.

“Violet” will probably have extra appeal to people who like seeing movies that authentically depict behind-the-scenes Hollywood production workers, what their jobs entail and the types of social events they go to outside of work. Getting a job in the movie industry can really come down to who you know and being in the right place at the right time, not having a college degree or lots of experience. For example, at a party, Violet is offered a job on the spot by two movie executives she knows named Dennis (played by Jim O’Heir) and Harry White (played by Jason Dohring), who have co-founded a new independent production company called Phoenix Circle Films. The movie shows whether or not she takes this job offer.

An example of why Violet feels like a failure is how her plans have stalled to make a movie out of a poetry book that she loves called “Fox Run.” The “Fox Run” movie was a pet project of Violet’s, and even had a screenplay, but the project has been stuck in “development hell.” Violet has pretty much given up on the movie ever getting made. Her obnoxious boss Tom comments to her about the “Fox Run” movie in front of her co-workers: “You were always a pussy for art films.”

Bradley and Tom know how much “Fox Run” means to Violet, so these toxic male colleagues both use that information to try to embarrass her in passive-aggressive ways. The “Fox Run” movie is obviously symbolic of how Violet feels about herself and how she’s treated by others: misunderstood, unappreciated and stuck in a rut. The “Fox Trot” movie is such a sore subject for Violet, when Lila asks Violet about the movie, Violet loses her temper and snaps, “Just drop it! It’s none of your fucking business!”

All of the cast members of “Violet” give credible performances, but how people respond to this movie mostly depends on how realistic they think Munn is in embodying this complicated character. It’s not about Violet being “likable.” It’s about her being believable.

“Violet” writer/director Bateman impressively uses techniques to show that Violet’s life sometimes plays like a movie in her head. In addition to the childhood flashbacks shown on a giant projector screen, other flashbacks are revealed as compelling quick-cut edits. Whenever the negative voice thoughts overwhelm Violet, the cinematography turns the screen a crimson red, with an effect simulating people fading out of vision and a monotone electronic noise drowning out the sound.

What “Violet” also does well is show how women in the workplace have to navigate differently than men, because women are more likely to have the threat of sexual harassment or the hassle of sexist people who automatically think the female gender is inferior to the male gender. “Violet” also poignantly shows how an abusive childhood can have long-lasting effects well into adulthood. It’s not always a pleasant film to watch, and the constant “war of words” in Violet’s head might be a turnoff to some viewers, but it’s hard not to be curious about how this psychological drama is going to end.

Relativity Media released “Violet” in select U.S. cinemas on October 29, 2021, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on November 5, 2021. The movie was released on digital and VOD on November 9, 2021.

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