Review: ‘Traveling Light’ (2022), starring Danny Huston, Tony Todd, Stephen Dorff and Olivia d’Abo

August 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Danny Huston, Stephen Dorff and Duke Nicholson in “Traveling Light” (Photo courtesy of Xenon Pictures)

“Traveling Light” (2022)

Directed by Bernard Rose

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles on May 30 and May 31, 2020, the dramatic film “Traveling Light” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Various strangers, who end up crossing paths each other in some way or another, have different ways of coping with quarantine lockdowns and other restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Culture Audience: “Traveling Light” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of stars Danny Huston, Stephen Dorff and Tony Todd and any rambling and aimless movies that are a complete waste of time.

Stephen Dorff and Olivia d’Abo in “Traveling Light” (Photo courtesy of Xenon Pictures)

One of the many unfortunate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the entertainment industry is that it’s spawned a lot of awful movies with a COVID-19 theme. “Traveling Light” is one of these cinematic abominations. It’s utterly incoherent and pointless.

How bad is “Traveling Light”? When I saw the movie in a New York City movie theater, at a screening attended by members of the ticket-buying public, there were only three people in the room, including myself. By the end of the movie, the other two people—who clearly disliked the movie and couldn’t take watching it anymore—had walked out in disgust. One person left about halfway through the film, while the other person had enough of “Traveling Light’s” nonsense about three-quarters of the way through the movie.

Because I planned to review the film, I stayed until the bitter end. “Traveling Light” (written and directed by Bernard Rose) is so sloppily made, the end credits are very incomplete. The only end credits that showed up on screen were quick listings of the music composers and songwriters whose work could be heard in “Traveling Light.” There are student films and amateur YouTube videos that are more professionally made than “Traveling Light.”

“Traveling Light” writer/director Rose is best known for directing and co-writing the 1992 horror film “Candyman,” which spawned several inferior sequels and a 2021 reboot/sequel. “Candyman” and Rose’s 1994 drama “Immortal Beloved” (starring Gary Oldman) are probably Rose’s best-received movies by critics. All of Rose’s other movies have been considered middling or forgettable flops with critics and general audiences.

Rose’s connection to the original “Candyman” movie explains why original “Candyman” star Tony Todd is in “Traveling Light” in a completely underdeveloped and embarrassing role. Rose apparently also used his past working relationship with longtime British actor Danny Huston (who usually plays American characters in American-made movies) to lure Huston into the junkpile trap of making “Traveling Light.” Rose and Huston previously worked together on the the 2012 comedy/drama “2 Jacks” and a substandard 2015 remake of the horror classic “Frankenstein.”

“Traveling Light” takes place in Los Angeles during a 24-hour period from May 30 to May 31, 2020, during the pre-vaccine quarantined lockdown days of the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie is somewhat trying to be an experimental, avant-garde 2020 version of the 2005 Oscar-winning drama “Crash,” a movie showing various Los Angeles residents who are seemingly strangers to each other, but it’s eventually revealed how they cross paths and affect each other lives.

If “Crash” had any influence on “Traveling Light,” it’s not worth bragging about, since “Crash” is considered one of the worst Best Picture winners of all time at the Academy Awards. And “Traveling Light” is far from award-worthy. “Traveling Light” is such an obscure bomb, it’s not even notable enough to get on the radar of the Razzie Awards.

In “Traveling Light,” the movie goes back and forth between showing various neurotic characters who are mostly middle-aged. Harry (played by Huston) is a famous spiritual guru who has a cult-like following. He has gatherings in the homes of affluent people, under the guise that these gatherings are spiritual enlightenment seminars/retreats. “Traveling Light” shows one of these gatherings, which is really just a party where people take all sorts of drugs with Harry. Being a celebrity guru has taken an emotional toll on Harry’s marriage to his long-suffering wife Blue (Rosie Fellner), who is living in Harry’s shadow.

Todd (played by Stephen Dorff) is a semi-famous actor who is one of Harry’s devoted followers. Todd feels so restless and bored in his marriage to his loyal and responsible wife Mary (played by Olivia d’Abo), it’s not unusual for Todd to disappear for several days, so that he can avoid having to interact with Mary. After Todd does a virtual group meditation session with Harry, a star-struck Todd comments to Mary about Harry’s supposed genius skills: “I don’t think I can meditate that fast. He’s channeling something.”

Caddy (played by “Candyman” star Todd) is a brooding bachelor loner who has come out of retirement (his previous job is never mentioned) during the pandemic to become a rideshare driver because he doesn’t want to be cooped up in his house during a quarantine. Caddy is adamant that he and other people around him need to wear face masks during this pandemic. He is superstitious about getting infected with COVID-19, so he carries a bag of juju and a crucifix with him as good luck charms. Caddy is also dealing with the emotional pain of looking for his missing adult son Cecil, who is homeless and has mental health issues.

Arthur (played by Matthew Jacobs) is a British oddball with a fixation on trying to monitor people who are not wearing a mask and/or not social distancing. In one aggravatingly stupid sequence in the movie, Arthur uses his phone to video record a homeless couple named Anne (played by Jen Kuhn) and Blaster (played by Jeff Hilliard) because Anne and Blaster are not wearing masks and not social distancing while out on a public street. Anne and Blaster get annoyed when they see Arthur video recording them and tell him to stop. He refuses.

Arthur’s video recording is creepy but not illegal, as long as he doesn’t use the footage for any commercial purposes that would require signed release forms. For example, people on a public street can be recorded without their permission for security surveillance, for private (non-commercial use), or for news-gathering purposes. The problem is that Arthur refuses to tell Anne and Blaster where he’s going to put the video footage that he took of this homeless couple.

It leads to a confrontation where Anne and Blaster chase after Arthur on the street. They corner Arthur and get into a physical altercation with him, until Arthur agrees to delete the video footage. This sequence is neither amusing nor interesting. And it just makes Arthur look weird and petty, because homeless people have a lot bigger problems to worry about than a stranger trying to shame them for not social distancing on a street during this pandemic.

Arthur is acquainted with another eccentric who also has a very meddling and preachy attitude about whether or not people are wearing face masks in public. This busybody is named Gretchen (played by Vanessa Yuille), who has gone as far as making hand-held signs with slogans lecturing people to wear face masks. “Traveling Light” has some contrived and awkward-looking scenes where Arthur and Gretchen communicate by phone or meet each other in person to come up with schemes to catch people aren’t wearing face masks.

As far as Gretchen and Arthur are concerned, people who aren’t wearing face masks during the pandemic are health terrorists who are putting other people’s lives in danger. Gretchen proudly shows Arthur one of her hand-held signs, which says: “Don’t be a [dick], wear a mask!” Instead of the word “dick,” she put an illustration of a penis on the sign. Gretchen thinks the penis illustration is appropriate, while Arthur does not, and they debate about it. This is what’s supposed to pass as comedy in “Traveling Light.”

“Traveling Light” makes a very superficial attempt at having a social conscience, when the movie shows in its opening scene that Caddy (who is African American) is watching with despair some TV news about the civil rights protests following the death of George Floyd by police brutality. As most people know by now, Floyd was an unarmed, 46-year-old African American man who was murdered on a Minneapolis street by a white police officer who put his full body weight on Floyd’s neck, while three of the cop’s colleagues stood by and prevented bystanders from helping Floyd, who was begging for help. Floyd’s murder (which happened on May 25, 2020) was documented on video and led to worldwide protests over racist police brutality.

Unfortunately, “Traveling Light” does nothing substantial with the movie being set during the history-making anti-police-brutality protests in the days and weeks after Floyd’s murder. The movie could have explored the added anxiety that Caddy must have felt in knowing that his homeless son Cecil, a mentally ill African American man, is especially vulnerable to police brutality or unlawful arrests/detainments. Instead, these issues are tossed aside in “Traveling Light” like a discarded pandemic mask.

“Traveling Light” has tedious scenes showing the drug-induced ramblings of attendees at one of Harry’s retreats at a hillside mansion, where Harry hands out an unidentified liquid psychedelic drug that he calls an “elixir.” Harry repeats, “I ask for forgiveness, and I give forgiveness.” Todd is at one of these “retreats,” where various other drugs are consumed, including marijuana, cocaine, pills and alcohol. Expect to see some predictable druggie scenes that go nowhere and mean nothing.

Two people in their 20s named Clara (played by Lena Gora) and Sydney (played by Duke Nicholson) meet at this party and seem to have an attraction to each other. Too bad their drugged-out conversations are just the verbal equivalent of diarrhea. Sydney is so stoned, he can barely stand, let along comprehend what’s going on around him.

Clara then flirts with Todd when they end up alone together in a walk-in closet. Todd’s worried wife Mary suddenly shows up at the party and angrily demands to know what Clara is doing with recovering drug addict Todd, who is supposed to be clean and sober. Todd and Clara deny that anything sexual is going on between them. And then, Clara pretends that Sydney is her boyfriend. This part of the movie is like watching someone’s drugged-addled idea of a soap opera.

It should come as no surprise that some of these characters end up as passengers in Caddy’s car, as if he’s the only rideshare driver in Los Angeles. Caddy says at one point in the movie that he’s only been a rideshare driver for one day. The way that he berates some of his customers for not wearing masks, you get the feeling that he won’t last much longer as a rideshare driver because of all the bad reviews he’s going to get from customers. All of the cast members’ performances in “Traveling Light” range from lackluster to excruciatingly horrible.

At one point in this dreadful movie, Harry leads a group chant where he roars like an animal, because he’s so whacked out on drugs. His followers love it, because they think whatever comes out of Harry’s mouth is supposed to have some deeper meaning. “Traveling Light” is one of those pretentiously bad films that tries to make people think it has deeper meaning too, but it’s all just a sham that’s nothing but a load of rubbish and hot air.

Xenon Pictures released “Traveling Light” in select U.S. cinemas, beginning in Los Angeles on June 10, 2022, and in New York City and Seattle on August 19, 2022.

Review: ‘Emily the Criminal,’ starring Aubrey Plaza

August 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Aubrey Plaza in “Emily the Criminal” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment)

“Emily the Criminal”

Directed by John Patton Ford

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles and Mexico, the dramatic film “Emily the Criminal” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latin, white, Asian and a few African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A woman, who works at a low-paying job for a food delivery company and is heavily in debt, turns to a secret life of crime to pay off her debts. 

Culture Audience: “Emily the Criminal” will appeal primarily to people are are fans of star Aubrey Plaza and well-acted movies about desperate people who do desperate things.

Aubrey Plaza and Theo Rossi in “Emily the Criminal” (Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment)

More than being typical crime caper, “Emily the Criminal” is also a scathing portrayal of getting trapped in gig economy work and student loan debt. Aubrey Plaza gives an intense and memorable performance in this suspense-filled drama that might leave some viewers divided about how the movie ends. “Emily the Criminal” doesn’t pass judgment on the people involved in the criminal activities that are depicted in the movie. Instead, “Emily the Criminal” puts a spotlight on why some people commit these desperate acts in the first place.

Written and directed by John Patton Ford, “Emily the Criminal” is Ford’s first feature film, and the movie had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. The movie’s protagonist and namesake is Emily Benetto (played by Plaza), who is in almost every scene in the movie. Emily, who is in her 30s, lives in Los Angeles and is a bachelorette with no children. “Emily the Criminal” opens with a scene of Emily being interviewed for a job in an office at an unnamed medical company. Within the first minute, it’s obvious that things aren’t going well for Emily in the interview.

The interviewer (a man who is not seen on camera) informs Emily that a full background check was done on her before the interview. Emily admits that she has a DUI (driving under the influence) arrest on her record. She says the DUI was a mistake on her part, and the incident happened when she drove a drunk friend home from a concert. The interviewer then mentions that the background check also revealed that Emily was convicted in 2016 of assault, which she does not deny either.

The interviewer then tells Emily in a very condescending manner: “This is a very important job. You’d be handling important medical files.” At this point, Emily knows she’s not getting hired at this place. She snaps at the interviewer: “Fuck you! I don’t want this job!” And then she quickly leaves the office in a huff.

Why is Emily looking for a job? She has student loan debt totaling about $70,000. And she currently works as a delivery person for a company that’s similar to Uber Eats or DoorDash. It’s the type of job where the delivery employees are considered independent contractors, and are therefore not entitled to full-time staff benefits, such as health insurance or a retirement plan, even if they work at least 40 hours a week.

It’s also an example of “gig economy” work, which is the term for any work that relies heavily on independent contractors or freelancers. Worker turnover is high in these types of jobs, because the salaries are usually low, the jobs are short-term, and the workers have to pay for certain job-related expenses that would be covered by the company if the workers were full-time staff employees. Gig economy workers are almost never represented by unions.

Emily is barely making enough money to pay her other bills that are not related to her student loan debt. She currently lives with two roommates, who stay out of Emily’s personal life, and she stays out of theirs. It’s revealed later in the movie that Emily went to a prestigious liberal arts university and majored in art (her specialty is painting portraits), but she hasn’t able to find any work as an artist. Emily feels bitter and hopeless about her situation.

One day, a co-worker named Javier Santos (played by Bernardo Badillo) asks Emily on short notice to cover a delivery shift for him. It’s a work shift that Emily is reluctant to take because it’s in downtown Los Angeles at night, which can be unsafe. But she needs the money, so she takes the shift.

Javier is aware that Emily is having financial problems because he says that he can hook her up for a “dummy shopper” job that would pay her $200. He gives her a phone number to text for more information. An anonymous person replies that she can make $200 an hour for this job and gives her an address to go to the next morning if she wants more details.

The night before she goes to this mystery job, Emily goes to a bar to hang out with her talkative and extroverted friend Liz (played by Megalyn Echikunwoke), who works as a photo editor at a fashion magazine. Liz and Emily know each other because they went to the same high school in their hometown of Newark, New Jersey. Emily is embarrassed that her art career is going nowhere, while Liz is thriving in her chosen profession.

Emily swallows her pride and tells Liz that she desperately needs a job, and if she can’t find one, she’ll probably have to move back to New Jersey to live with her stepfather. There’s some unspoken history in this conversation implying that Emily doesn’t like her stepfather, and moving back in with him would be a very unwelcome last resort for Emily, who is an only child. Emily’s mother is apparently deceased.

Liz is sympathetic to Emily’s plight and tells her that she will inquire about any openings at Liz’s place of work and recommend Emily for any job that fits Emily’s qualifications. Liz is confident that something will work out because Liz says that her boss Alice (played by Gina Gershon) admires Liz. Emily and Liz then do cocaine in the bar’s restroom and enjoy the rest of their time in the bar. Later in the movie, Liz helps set up a job interview for Emily at the place where Liz works. It leads to one of the best scenes in the movie in showing how Emily reacts when things don’t sit well with her.

Emily might be desperate, but she’s no pushover, and she hates it when people try to take advantage of her. Her assault record indicates that she will get into physical conflicts. The details of why she was arrested for assault are left purposely vague in the movie, which keeps people guessing on how much of a “bad girl” Emily is willing to be to get what she wants.

Out of curiosity and with nothing to lose, Emily goes to the address of the mystery job. It’s at a warehouse-styled building, where she is immediately asked to hand over her driver’s license. The license is then photocopied and given back to her. She is then sent to a room, where there are about 20 other people gathered.

The leader of this group interview is named Youcef (played by Theo Rossi), who tells all of these job applicants up front that the job they would be expected to do is illegal. He says that if anyone has a problem with doing something illegal, they should leave immediately. Some people leave, but Emily decides to stay and hear more.

Youcef then explains that the job is to take stolen credit card information that’s on forged credit cards, go to stores to purchase big-screen TVs with these forged credit cards, and then hand over the TVs to the people working for his shady operation at a pre-determined drop-off location. The workers (who are responsible for whatever cars they use in these thefts) are told that they have to leave the store in eight minutes or less after making the purchase, which is the approximate time needed before the store finds out that the credit card is fraudulent. The pay is $200 a hour for this job. A worker cannot go to the same store twice.

It’s already revealed in the movie’s title and in the movie’s trailer that Emily ends up working for this criminal operation. Emily soon finds out that during the time that this orientation meeting was taking place with the potential workers, her driver’s license photo that was copied when she arrived was turned into a fake photo ID with someone else’s name on it. It’s the photo ID that she uses to get the TVs with the fraudulent credit cards. Later, Emily finds out that she can make $2,000 a day from this operation if she gets involved in actually forging credit cards by using the necessary equipment.

At first, Emily thinks it’s just an easy way to make money, but what she ends up going through is intense and harrowing. Complicating matters, Emily and Youcef have a growing attraction to each other. It’s a relationship where their loyalty to each other will be tested. In this operation, Youcef reports to his cousin Khalil (played by Jonathan Avigdori), who is a ruthless thug who doesn’t hesitate to get violent.

One of the most accurate things about “Emily the Criminal” is how it shows that committing crimes can be addicting for criminals. Many thieves say that it’s often not about the money but the adrenaline rush of committing a crime and getting away with it. Emily’s criminal record is a sign that she’s no stranger to getting in trouble with the law. However, viewers will get the sense that her involvement in this group of thieves has a lot to do with getting back at a system that punishes her for having a criminal record when she’s trying to find honest work.

“Emily the Criminal” is gripping not just because of the story but also because of Plaza’s fascinating performance. There’s nothing trite or stereotypical about it. Emily is not a hero, but Plaza gives a nuanced performance indicating that not everything about Emily is a villain either. From Emily’s perspective, life is not completely black and white. She’s someone who prefers to think of life of being in shades of grey.

Some viewers might not like how the movie doesn’t reveal too much about Emily’s background to explain why she makes the decisions that she does. However, it’s ultimately a wise choice to keep her background vague, because the point of the movie is to explain who Emily is now (not who she was in the past), and that she made these decisions of her own free will and under terrible financial strain. Her life of crime is not something that can be blamed on a bad childhood or someone in her life who led her astray. On a wider level, the lack of background information about Emily is the movie’s way of saying that the circumstances that led to her choosing this life of crime could happen to a lot of people of any background who find themselves in dire financial situations.

“Emily the Criminal” is not a perfect movie, since the last third of the film seems to cram in a lot of problems for Emily in a way that looks a bit too contrived. However, writer/director Ford has a knack for intriguing storytelling, and he made very good casting decisions with this movie. “Emily the Criminal” does not make Emily’s choices look glamorous, but it is an effective story in showing how this unhappy and restless person has to come to terms with who she really is and what type of life she really wants to have.

Roadside Attractions and Vertical Entertainment will release “Emily the Criminal” in select U.S. cinemas on August 12, 2022. The movie is available to rent on DirecTV, as of August 30, 2022. DirecTV has exclusive rental rights for a limited time.

Review: ‘Good Girl Jane,’ starring Rain Spencer, Andie MacDowell and Patrick Gibson

July 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rain Spencer in “Good Girl Jane” (Photo by Jake Saner)

“Good Girl Jane”

Directed by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz 

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, from 2005 to 2006, the dramatic film “Good Girl Jane” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and criminal underground.

Culture Clash: A quiet teenage misfit falls in with a druggie crowd at her high school, begins dating her drug dealer, and descends deeper into drug addiction, while she tries to hide her addiction from her family.

Culture Audience: “Good Girl Jane” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching well-acted cautionary tales about how easily drug addiction can take over someone’s life.

Rain Spencer and Andie MacDowell in “Good Girl Jane” (Photo by Jake Saner)

The dramatic film “Good Girl Jane” could have been yet another “good girl gone bad” story about a teenage drug addict. Rain Spencer’s emotionally stirring performance is the main reason to watch when the plot becomes predictable. This is not a movie that is groundbreaking, but some of it is heartbreaking, even if it’s told from the privileged perspective of a protagonist who is more likely to go to rehab than go to prison for drug crimes. “Good Girl Jane” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where it won two grand jury prizes: Best U.S. Narrative Feature and Best Performance in a U.S. Narrative Feature, a prize awarded to Spencer.

Written and directed by Sarah Elizabeth Mintz, “Good Girl Jane” hits a lot of familiar beats and tones of movies that have covered the same subject matter of middle-class American teenagers who become drug addicts. If it’s a teenage girl, she usually has a “good girl” reputation with no previous history of drug use. And then, she meets someone or a group of people who are heavy drug users. And in order to be “accepted” into this social circle, she starts doing drugs and becomes addicted. It’s a cliché because it happens all too often in real life.

If you know this is the plot of “Good Girl Jane,” then you know what’s coming even before the movie starts. Fortunately, “Good Girl Jane” is not preachy, nor does it try to put most of the blame on the druggie clique that influences the protagonist to start doing drugs. The mistakes and self-destructiveness are the full responsibility of the person who made these lifestyle choices.

In “Good Girl Jane” (which takes place in the Los Angeles area, from 2005 to 2006), the title character is Jane Rosen (played by Spencer, in her feature-film debut), who goes from being a shy loner to a “wild child” drug addict in a matter of months. The movie begins in the autumn of 2005, when 17-year-old Jane has transferred from an elite private school to a public school, where she hasn’t yet made any friends. The reason for the transfer is revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story.

Jane lives with her sister Izzie Rosen (played by Eloisa Huggins), who’s about 15 or 16 years old, and their divorced mother Ruth Rosen (played by Andie MacDowell), who is a therapist. It’s never specified how long Ruth and her ex-husband Elliott Rosen (played by Gale Harold) have been divorced. However, Elliott doesn’t live too far away, and he has visitation rights.

Elliott is a busy executive who works at an unnamed music company. Part of his job is to go to concerts and nightclubs. Elliott is only in a few scenes in the movie, but it’s easy to see why he and Ruth got divorced: He’s a very inattentive and flaky parent.

For example, Jane and Izzie are scheduled to spend a weekend of visitation time with Elliott. It was already pre-arranged that Jane and Izzie would be staying at Elliott’s place for the weekend. Instead, he takes them to dinner at a restaurant, and then rushes them through the meal because he says that after this dinner, he has to go to a nightclub for work-related reasons. Jane and Izzie are too young to go to the nightclub with him.

At the restaurant, Elliott also tells Jane and Izzie that they can’t stay for the weekend at his place after all because he’s too busy with work. Elliott then drops off Jane and Izzie back at their mother’s house with half-hearted apologies for backing out of this father-daughter visitation. Ruth is furious, but she tries not to have a loud argument with Elliott in front of their children.

Ruth wants to emotionally connect with Jane, but Ruth’s attempts to uplift moody and withdrawn Jane just come across as criticism that Jane doesn’t want to hear. For example, when Jane is at home, she’s usually on her laptop computer (where she frequents Internet chat rooms) while listening to hardcore heavy metal music. Ruth doesn’t like Jane’s choice of music and tells Jane that the music can have a negative effect on Jane’s attitude. Ruth might have noticed that Jane is unhappy. But instead of Ruth asking Jane what’s wrong and asking how she can help as a parent, Ruth chooses to complain about Jane’s taste in music.

Jane secretly smokes cigarettes at school. When Ruth picks up some of Jane’s clothes to do laundry, Ruth smells cigarette smoke on the clothes and says in a condescending voice, “Please don’t smoke,” and starts to lecture Jane about how smoking is unattractive and bad for her health. Jane denies that she smokes cigarettes and says the cigarette odor is from being around people who smoke cigarettes at school.

Ruth is not a deliberately alienating parent. However, Ruth gives the impression that she knows more about what’s going on in her clients’ lives than she knows what’s going on in Jane’s life because Ruth spends more time asking the right questions of her clients. On the other hand, Jane doesn’t give Ruth much leeway to have a close emotional bond with her, because Jane is the type of sulky and secretive teen who would most likely say everything is fine if a parent asked her what’s bothering her.

Jane likes to wear baggy clothes and hooded sweatshirts. She often walks with a slight slouch, as if she wants to be invisible yet noticed as being “aloofly cool” at the same time. At school, when she tries to sit at a table with some other students, they tell her that the seat she wants is saved for someone else. It’s a predictable “social outcast” scene in movies about teenage misfits.

Even though Izzie and Jane go to the same school, they rarely speak to each other when they’re at school. Viewers find out later that Izzie, who has an upbeat and outgoing personality, is having an easier time adjusting to this transfer and is making more of an effort than Jane to befriend other students. There are also hints that Jane feels like their mother loves Izzie more than she loves Jane.

There’s a reason why Jane seems to be anti-social: She was cruelly bullied at her previous school, which is the main reason why Jane and Izzie have transferred to their current school. The details of the bullying are eventually revealed in the movie. But there are indications that some of the bullies are still harassing Jane online, based on the messages she gets when she’s on her computer.

One day, after classes have ended for the day, some of the school’s stoners are taking a SUV ride near Jane while she’s walking somewhere, and they invite her to party with them. A rebellious brat named Bailey Avett (played by Odessa A’zion) is the driver. The other pals in the SUV are tall and blue-haired Benji (played by Diego Chiat), easygoing Kaya (played by Jules Lorenzo) and androgynous Abel (played by Olan Prenatt). Jane already knows about this clique’s druggie reputation.

At first, Jane is hesitant to go with them, because she says she has to be at home by a certain time. But she changes her mind when they say that where they’re going won’t take long. Inside the car, the partiers are smoking weed, and Benji snorts some cocaine. They all go to the rooftop of a house, where more marijuana is smoked, cocaine is snorted, and apparent tabs of LSD are consumed, but Jane declines to partake in any of these drugs.

Instead, Jane takes a drink of alcohol offered by Kaya. During this rooftop party, these new acquaintances somewhat taunt Jane for being a “good girl” for not doing drugs with them. And you know what that means: In order to fit in with them and prove them wrong, Jane is going to start doing the same drugs.

That moment comes one night when Jane goes to a house party that she was invited to by this group of stoners. It’s where Jane does cocaine for the first time. And it’s also the first time that Jane feels like she has found a group of people at her school who could be her friends.

Also at the party is the group’s main drug dealer. He’s a 21-year-old Irish immigrant named James “Jamie” McKenna (played by Patrick Gibson), who projects an image of laid-back confidence. Although Jane and Benji had a mild flirtation with each other when they first met, Jane ends up being more interested in Jamie. After eyeing each other with some interest, Jamie and Jane sense their mutual attraction, they start talking, and then have a dip together in the house’s swimming pool.

It’s the beginning of a very co-dependent and toxic relationship. The more experienced Jamie pursues Jane, who plays hard to get, but eventually she gives in to Jamie’s persistent and amorous attention. He showers her with compliments and says many other things that Jane wants to hear. Not much is known about Jane’s dating history, but there are plenty of hints that Jamie is the first adult whom Jane has ever dated.

It isn’t long before Jane has lost her virginity to Jamie in the back seat of his car. It’s not as romantic as Jane expected because it’s on the same night that Jane finds out that Jamie is a meth addict who has occasional seizures because of his addiction. Jane quickly gets addicted to cocaine, which she usually snorts. But she also joins Jamie in his meth-smoking binges because she wants to know what it feels like. Jamie also injects meth if he wants a quicker and more intense high.

You know where all of this is going, of course. The only questions are how low will Jane go in her drug addiction and if anything will happen to set her on a path to possible recovery. Jane gets so caught up in her relationship with Jamie that she starts skipping school to hang out with him. And that includes accompanying Jamie to some of his drug deals. Jane witnesses some things that are shocking to her but won’t be that shocking to people who’ve seen enough of these kinds of “drug addict downward spiral” movies.

Spencer’s performance as Jane is particularly effective in showing how quickly someone’s boundaries and tolerance for being in demeaning and dangerous situations can change when drug addiction is involved. It would be easy to blame Jamie for being a “bad influence” on Jane. But the truth is that Jane already had low self-esteem going into this relationship, and she made the wrong choices in where to get emotional validation. Her drug use was a direct result of her own free will.

“Good Girl Jane” is also authentic in showing how denial is a huge part of the disease of drug addiction. People try to tell Jane some unsavory things about Jamie, but Jane brushes off those concerns as just unsubstantiated gossip. Some of the things she hears about Jamie are that he sleeps around with a lot of the teenage girls who are his drug-buying customers and that he’s legally married to someone whom Jane has never met.

A cliché that “Good Girl Jane” thankfully avoids is showing a scenario where divorced parents put aside their differences to come to the rescue of a drug-addicted child. That doesn’t happen in “Good Girl Jane,” which takes a more realistic approach that emotionally distant parents don’t automatically change their ways when a child is crying out for help. The movie also shows that even when someeone is a therapist, that person still might have a hard time accepting and dealing with painful truths about having a drug addict in the family.

One of the best things about “Good Girl Jane” is showing how Izzie reacts to finding out that Jane is a drug addict. Spencer and Huggins have some emotionally powerful scenes together that are among the movie’s standout moments. And there’s a particularly impactful scene that Spencer and MacDowell have toward the end of the movie. This mother-daughter scene is a like a tidal wave of the pent-up despair that Jane has been feeling before and after Jane’s drug addiction.

There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about this tale of a teenager who becomes a drug addict. Sadly, what happens to Jane happens to people from all walks of life. However, one of the movie’s faults is that it seems to willfully take for granted that Jane is a lot better off than many drug addicts because she has the privilege and resources to get professional rehabilitation for her drug addiction.

And it goes without saying that if Jane were a person of color or if she were poor, she would most liklely be treated very differently by law enforcement if her illegal drug activity resulted in her getting entangled in the criminal justice system. It’s a reality that’s implied, based on things that are shown in the movie. “Good Girl Jane” doesn’t really explore these social inequality issues in-depth, because even with Jane’s privilege, what she goes through is enough to show that drug addiction can be a nightmare for anyone.

Review: ‘Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying,’ starring Parker Seaman and Devin Das

July 7, 2022

by Carla Hay

Devin Das and Parker Seaman in “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” (Photo by Tom Banks)

“Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying”

Directed by Parker Seaman

Culture Representation: Taking place on the West Coast of the United States in 2020 (with some flashbacks to 2017), the comedy film “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians, Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two aspiring filmmakers, who are best friends and work partners, go on a road trip from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho, to visit a quarantined friend who has been infected by COVID-19. 

Culture Audience: “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in comedies with a COVID-19 theme, no matter how silly and time-wasting those comedies are.

Devin Das and Parker Seaman in “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” (Photo by Tom Banks)

Dull and very manipulative, “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is the worst type of filmmaking with a COVID-19 theme. Viewers will have a hard time caring about the self-absorbed cretins at the center of this insipid comedy. It’s yet another movie about the COVID-19 pandemic that fails to have much purpose other than to try to cash in on this horrific pandemic that has killed millions of people.

Directed by Parker Seaman, “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” also represents the type of self-referential filmmaking that has insecure filmmakers desperately trying to make themselves look cool by constantly telling everyone watching the movie how cool they are. In these types of movies, the filmmakers usually portray versions of themselves while they go on rants or excursions where they trade barbs that are supposed to be witty and hip but are actually very mindless and juvenile, with no self-awareness of how awful and boring the filmmaking is. “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” had its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Unfortunately, a large chunk of “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is a road trip, so viewers are stuck with the two obnoxious main characters who make fools out of themselves on this trip. Parker (played by Seaman) and Devin (played by Devin Das), also known as Dev, are best friends, work partners and aspiring feature film directors who live in Los Angeles. Parker and Dev, who are both in their 20s, pay their bills by working as co-directors of commercials and music videos, until they can get their first big break in the movie industry. Seaman and Das co-wrote the terrible screenplay for “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying.”

The movie opens in 2017, on the set of a commercial that Parker and Dev are directing. They’re having a hard time because their stoner/slacker friend Wes Schlagenhauf (playing a version of himself) has a job to dress up as a dancing bear for this commercial, but Wes is being difficult. Parker and Dev want Wes to look like he’s dancing naturally. Wes whines in response: “You’re telling me to dance naturally in a fucking bear costume!”

Parker and Dev remind Wes that even though he’s their friend, and they are the co-directors of this commercial, it wasn’t easy to get him cast for this acting gig. More arguing ensues, until Wes snaps and walks off of this non-union job. Wes yells before he heads out the door while still in the costume: “You poked a bear, you guys! Huge mistake!” After he leaves, Parker and Dev wonder how they’re going to get another bear costume in time to finish this commercial.

The movie then fast forwards to 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. Parker and Dev now work from home. Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, it’s obvious that Parker thinks he’s the bossy “alpha male” of this duo. Parker acts like he thinks he’s not only smarter than Dev but also smarter than almost everyone Parker meets. Parker’s arrogance isn’t backed up with any real intelligence, since he continues to make irrational and moronic decisions.

A conversation reveals that after Wes’ meltdown in the bear costume, Wes abruptly quit the entertainment business, and he decided to move back to his hometown of Boise, Idaho. Not much is known about Wes, except he’s described as someone who “loves baseball, cocaine and LSD.” Wes hasn’t really kept in regular touch with Parker and Dev, who both still have a little bit of resentment over how Wes wrecked the job opportunity they gave to him and how he suddenly decided to leave Los Angeles.

However, things aren’t so bad with Parker, Dev and Wes that they’ve stopped communicating with each other. During a video conference call, Wes tells Dev and Parker that he’s sick with COVID-19 and is quarantining at home, where Wes lives with his mother and stepfather. Contrary to what the movie’s title suggests, Wes never gives the impression in this phone call that he’s dying or that he needs to go to a hospital.

Parker immediately thinks that Dev and Parker should visit Wes by going on a road trip to Boise, and that they should make a documentary about it. Dev is reluctant at first, but Parker convinces Dev to go. During the road trip, Parker and Dev check in on Wes on a regular basis to see how he’s doing.

Actor/filmmaker Mark Duplass has a cameo as a version of himself in “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying.” Mark shows up on video because he’s on the roster for a service called Cameo, which has famous people sending personal video messages to people who pay a fee for these video messages. Parker and Dev have signed up to have Mark do a personal “get well soon” message for Wes.

The rest of the movie is an idiotic slog, as Parker and Dev have some not-very-funny misadventures during their road trip, where they predictably have agruments with each other. The first of many signs that “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” is a bad movie is when Parker and Dev, who work with digital technology in their jobs and are supposed to be tech-savvy, get lost on their road trip. Viewers are supposed to believe that these two bozos suddenly don’t know how to use a smartphone to get directions. It’s just a lazy way to stretch out the already very thin plot.

Parker and Dev share the same agent, whose name is Chelsea (played by D’Arcy Carden), and they have a deal where Parker and Dev are always supposed to work together on jobs that they get. But there’s a tedious subplot about how one of these director pals betrays his friend by going behind the other’s back to take a lucrative commercial job for himself. As part of the deceit, he tells Chelsea that the other friend knows and approves of this decision to work solo, which is a dumb lie because Parker and Dev having the same agent means that the lie will inevitably be exposed. The movie also keeps repeating a very unfunny joke of Parker trying to persuade Dev to tell Parker the password for Dev’s Disney+ account.

It gets worse. By the time Dev and Parker arrive at the place where Wes lives, the movie takes some very ludicrous twists and turns until the very end. The story’s big “reveal” is truly an insult to viewers. Everything about “Wes Schlagenhauf Is Dying” looks like an amateurish skit that could have been a very short film but instead was elongated into a feature film that’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

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 has noticed that all of the donation figures, if each digit is added up in different combinations, end up totaling the number 88. It’s an unusual pattern that Femi can’t ignore.

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 donation 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’s 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: 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? Harold’s interview scenes with Ron reveal 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+
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  • 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.

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