Review: ‘Dolittle,’ starring Robert Downey Jr.

January 17, 2020

by Carla Hay

Robert Downey Jr.  and parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson) in “Dolittle” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)


Directed by Stephen Gaghan

Culture Representation: Set primarily in the United Kingdom, this dramatic adventure movie’s live-action characters are nearly all white; the voice actors portraying the animated animals are a racially mixed cast; and the social classes range from working-class to royalty.

Culture Clash: A reclusive doctor with the special power to talk to animals reluctantly goes on a journey to find a rare medical cure, and faces obstacles that include more than one villain.

Culture Audience: “Dolittle” will appeal primarily to fans of children-oriented entertainment who don’t mind if the visuals are much better than the storytelling.

Dab-Dab the duck (voiced by Octavia Spencer), polar bear Yoshi (voiced by John Cena), parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson), Dr. John Dolittle (played by Robert Downey Jr.), ostrich Plimpton (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani), Tommy Stubbins (played by Harry Collett) and gorilla Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek) in “Dolittle” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

It’s not really a good sign when a major-studio film headlined by A-list movie star is released in January, the month that’s a notorious dumping ground for bad movies. Universal Pictures must have known that “Dolittle” was going to be a dud, even with star Robert Downey Jr. coming off his major hot streak in the blockbuster superhero “Avengers” and “Iron Man” movies. (“Avengers: Endgame,” Downey’s 2019 movie that was released before “Dolittle,” now holds the record as the world’s biggest box-office movie hit of all time, ending the 10-year reign at the top held by “Avatar.”) “Dolittle” isn’t a terrible film. It’s just a terribly generic film in an era when we’ve been bombarded with kids-oriented animated movies that have talking animals.

By making “Dolittle” an action-adventure film, “Dolittle” director Stephen Gaghan, who wrote the screenplay with Dan Gregor and Doug Mand, tried to do something different from previous “Dolittle” movies. The original 1967 “Dr. Dolittle” film, starring Rex Harrison, was a British musical adapted from Hugh Lofting’s “Dr. Dolittle” book series. The three “Dr. Dolittle” movies from the 2000s were slapstick American comedies—the first two starred Eddie Murphy as the title character, and a third film was an ill-conceived flop starring Kyla Pratt, who played Dolittle’s daughter in the first two Murphy-starring films.

Gaghan’s “Dolittle” goes back to the original United Kingdom location, during the mid-1800s era of a young Queen Victoria (played by Jessie Buckley), who has come down with a mysterious illness. During the film’s animated opening sequence, viewers see that veterinarian John Dolittle once led a happy life taking care of animals with his beloved wife Lily (played by Kasia Smutniak), who died tragically.

Fast forward seven years later, and Dr. Dolittle has become a cranky hermit who has neglected his hygiene (he’s so unkempt that a mouse has been living in his beard), as he lives with his animals on his farm-like estate. The filmmakers have made Dolittle a Welshman, so it might take a while for some viewers to getting used to hearing Downey speak in a Welsh accent that sounds a little too pretentious for a movie where most of his co-stars are animated talking animals. This is a kids’ movie, not Shakespeare.

Tommy Stubbins (played by Harry Collett), a boy from the small village of Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, is an orphaned misfit who lives with his aunt and uncle. Tommy loves animals, and is therefore uncomfortable when he’s forced to go hunting with his uncle. When Tommy accidentally shoots a squirrel while hunting, he decides to take the injured animal to the mysterious Dr. Dolittle, even though the doctor has a reputation for being a curmudgeon. Instead of being afraid of Dolittle’s menagerie of wild animals, Tommy is fascinated and finds out that he has a knack for communicating with animals too. Affected by Tommy’s presence, Dolittle cleans himself up, as he notices that Tommy sees him as a role model and possible mentor.

It isn’t long before Dolittle gets another visitor: Queen Victoria’s attendant Lady Rose (played Carmel Laniado), who arrives with orders to bring Dolittle to Buckingham Palace to give medical aid to the queen. While at the palace, Dolittle has an awkward reunion with a former school rival: royal physician Dr. Blair Müdfly (played by Michael Sheen), who is jealous of Dolittle’s talent and acclaim. Müdfly is such an over-the-top villain that he practically twirls his moustache and gnashes his teeth. And there’s another antagonist in the story: the ambitious Lord Thomas Badgley (played by Jim Broadbent), who will inherit the throne if Queen Victoria dies. (At this point in her life, Victoria is unmarried and has no children.)

Dolittle determines that the best cure for the queen’s life-threatening illness is fruit from the Eden Tree on Eden Tree Island, because this fruit is said to have magical powers. (How biblical.) Tommy has essentially decided that he doesn’t really want to go home, so he tags along on Dolittle’s voyage, with Dolittle’s numerous animals in tow as they set sail on a ship called the Water Lily.

Now, about the animals. The problem with “Dolittle” is that there are too many of them in this film. If you’re someone with a short attention span, good luck trying to keep track of all the talking animals. The “Madagascar” movies (another animated series with a variety of wild animals that talk) worked so well because the animals were in a relatively small group and their personalities were so distinct. In “Dolittle,” the personalities of most of the animals tend to blend together in a crowded mush, with the notable exception of the parrot Polynesia (voiced by Emma Thompson), a dutifully efficient assistant/caretaker with a whip-smart attitude. Polynesia holds a special place in Dolittle’s heart because the parrot used to be owned by Dolittle’s late wife Lily.

The other animals in this mixed-bag menagerie are Chee-Chee (voiced by Rami Malek), an insecure gorilla; Dab-Dab (voiced by Octavia Spencer), a maternal, scatterbrained American Pekin duck; Plimpton, a nervous osctrich (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani); Yoshi (voiced by John Cena), a polar bear who hates the cold, loves adventure, and often bickers with Plimpton; Betsy (voiced by Selena Gomez), a kind giraffe; Kevin (voiced by Crag Robinson), the injured squirrel that was accidentally shot by Tommy and who has a cheeky sense of humor; Tutu (voiced by Marion Cotillard), a fearless fox with leadership qualities; and Mini (voiced by Nick A. Fisher), a baby sugar glider that constantly curious.

Meanwhile, other talking animals include brainy dog Jip (voiced by Tom Holland), a long-haired Lurcher tasked with guarding the queen; Humphrey (voiced by Tim Treloar), a whale that helps navigate the Water Lily; James (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas), a nervous dragonfly; Barry (voiced by Ralph Fiennes), a Bengal tiger with mommy issues and a grudge against Dolittle; Don Carpenterino (voiced by David Sheinkopf), the leader of an ant colony; Army Ant (voiced by Matthew Wolfe), Don’s sidekick; and Dragon (voiced by Frances de la Tour), guardian of the Eden Tree.

As for other human characters, there’s also Pirate King Rassouli (played by Antonio Banderas), who lives on Monteverde Island, one of the stops along the way to Eden Tree Island. Banderas hams it up as yet another adversary to Dolittle and his crew. Large ensembles can work for well-written, live-action films geared to adults. But when it’s a mostly animated film geared to kids, the movie can come across as too cluttered for its own good.

“Dolittle” certainly has an impressive cast of acting talent. It’s too bad that so many of the characters are bland. Furthermore, Chee-Chee (the gorilla that’s a visual standout) is a missed opportunity, since the character was miscast for its voice. Malek sounds more like the minature “Frozen” snowman Olaf than a massive gorilla. The Chee-Chee character needed an actor with a deeper voice to better reflect the gorilla’s intimidating physical presence. Former wrestling champ Cena, who’s the voice of Yoshi the polar bear, would have been better in the role of Chee-Chee.

Although the characters in this movie are very underdeveloped, the compelling visual effects (overseen by visual effects supervisors Nicolas Aithadi and John Dykstra) are the most entertaining aspect of the film. Young children who are dazzled by visuals should enjoy “Dolittle” for the movie’s colorful ambiance, even if they won’t remember most of the movie’s animal characters weeks after seeing this film. (Don’t expect there to be a high demand for “Dolittle” toys.) More mature viewers might get easily bored with this movie, because it wallows in a lot of mediocrity that wastes this talented cast.

Simply put: “Dolittle” is not the kind of movie that people looking for high-quality entertainment will rush to see multiple times while it’s in theaters. We all know how this movie is going to end anyway.

Universal Pictures released “Dolittle” in U.S. cinemas on January 17, 2020.




Review: ‘Weathering With You,’ an animated romance from Japan

January 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

"Weathering With You"
“Weathering With You” (Photo courtesy of GKIDS)

“Weathering With You”

Directed by Makoto Shinkai

Available in the original Japanese version (with English subtitles) or in a dubbed English-language version.

Culture Representation: This Japanese animated fantasy film takes place primarily in Tokyo, with teenagers as the lead characters and adults as supporting characters.

Culture Clash: In this alternate and supernatural world, underage teenagers who live on their own try to find their identities and independence, while sometimes clashing with adults who might try to control or exploit them.

Culture Audience: “Weathering With You” is a family-friendly film that will appeal mostly to fans of Japanese anime and romantic animated films.

“Weathering With You” (Photo courtesy of GKIDS)

“Weathering With You” is an old-fashioned love story wrapped up in a modern setting with futuristic and sci-fi/supernatural elements. This charming animated movie (written and directed by Makoto Shinkai) was Japan’s official 2019 entry for the Best International Feature Film category for the Academy Awards—and it’s almost the polar opposite from Japan’s 2018 entry: the bleak drama “Shoplifters,” which was about a group of thieves from different generations who live together. Interestingly, both movies do have something in common. The central characters are financially unstable people who are living outside the margins of regular society and who find themselves with a surrogate family.

In “Weathering With You,” viewers first see 16-year-old runaway Hokada Morishima on a ship going to Tokyo, where he wants to escape from his remote island home. While on the ship, and after hearing that a major rainstorm is headed that way, Hokada foolishly goes outside during the storm and almost gets swept overboard. He’s saved by a young man, and as a thank you, Hokada buys dinner for the stranger when they arrive in Tokyo. It’s clear from this scene that Hokada is an impulsive risk-taker, but he also has a kind heart.

Because Hokada is underage and doesn’t have any proper ID, it’s difficult for him to find a job. While figuring out where he’s going to get his next meal, a teenage girl who works at a local café takes pity on him and gives him a free hamburger. Hokada eventually runs out of money, and he ends up homeless and living on the street, where he finds a gun in a paper bag and keeps the weapon. That gun will get him into trouble later in the story. Meanwhile, Tokyo and other parts of Japan are experiencing torrential rainstorms.

As luck would have it, Hokada lands a job interview, based on going to an address of a business card he’s found. It’s a small magazine company run by a mysterious widower in his 30s named Keisuke “Kei” Suga, who works out of his cluttered home with his young female assistant named Natsumi. Keisuke and Natsumi report supernatural news stories, and the latest trends they’re chasing have to do with unusual weather-related events. Hokada is hired on the spot to be an assistant/housekeeper. His salary is very low, but he gets a free place to live and free meals as part of his employment.

Shortly after getting the job, Hokada sees the girl from the café being manhandled on the street by a sleazy local club owner, who’s pressuring her to work for him. (It’s implied in the movie but not said out loud that he owns a strip club.) As the club owner and a henchman try to force the girl into the club, and she resists, Hokada intervenes and is punched in the face by the club owner. Hokada then pulls out the gun and shoots it in the air, giving him and the girl a way to escape.

The girl’s name is Hina Amano, and she says she’s 17 and soon about to turn 18. As a thank you for rescuing her, Hina invites Hokada over to her place and makes him lunch. It’s during their lunch date that they both find out that they have something in common: They are living on their own without parental supervision. Hokada confesses that he ran away from home because he thinks living with his parents is too stifling. Hina lives with her younger brother Nagisa (nicknamed Nagi), and she says that the mother who raised them died about a year ago. (Somehow, Hina and Nagisa, who don’t seem to have any other living relatives, have avoided going into foster care.)

Hina also has another big secret that she reveals to Hokada: She’s a “sunshine girl”—a rare “weather maiden” who has the ability to make it stop raining and bring the sun out, simply by praying. Because Hina has recently quit her job, and Hokada wants to supplement his measly income, they both decide to go into business together by offering her weather-control services to the public. They start a website together, and almost immediately, their business becomes a successes, with Nagisa often tagging along when they go to different locations to fulfill weather-changing requests.

But their success comes at a price: According to folklore, the more a sunshine girl uses her weather-changing abilities, the more her body begins to transform from flesh into spirit, until she is supposed to disappear forever into the spirit world. It couldn’t come at a worse time, since Hokada and Hina are starting to fall in love.

Complicating matters, the police (led by the stern Detective Takei) are on the hunt for Hokada, since his parents have reported him missing, and he was caught on surveillance video using the loaded gun in the street fight where he rescued Hina. Meanwhile, Keisuke (who’s depressed and has a drinking problem) has secrets of his own about his family that end up affecting his relationship with Hokada.

If you’ve seen Studio Ghibli films, then you’ll probably know what to expect for this movie’s animation (from production companies CoMix Wave Films and Story Inc.), which has an unfussy but expressive animation style that’s very similar to Studio Ghibli films. The voices of the “Weathering With You” characters are portrayed by different actors, depending on which version of “Weathering With You” that you see. The original Japanese version (with English subtitles) has Kotaro Daigo as Hokada, Nani Mori as Hina, Shun Oguri as Keisuke, Tsubasa Honda as Natsumi, Sakura Kiryu as Nagisa and Yûki Kaji as Detective Takei. There’s also a U.S. version, with the dialogue dubbed in English, that has Brandon Engman as Hokada, Ashley Boettcher as Hina, Lee Pace as Keisuke, Alison Brie as Natsumi, Emeka Guindo as Nagisa, Riz Ahmed as Detective Takei.

“Weathering With You” won’t be considered a major Oscar-winning Japanese animation classic, such as director Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” but “Weathering With You” is still a better-than-average modern animated film. Although “Weathering With You” includes serious social issues about homelessness and the hazards of messing with the environment, ultimately this is a sweetly sentimental film where the biggest messages are about taking life-changing risks for true love.

GKIDS released “Weathering With You” for special sneak-preview screenings in select U.S. cinemas on January 15 and January 16, 2020. “Weathering With You” arrived in wider release in U.S. cinemas on January 17, 2020. The movie was originally released in Japan in 2019.

True Crime Entertainment: What’s New This Week

The following content is generally available worldwide, except where otherwise noted. All TV shows listed are for networks and streaming services based in the United States. All movies listed are those released in U.S. cinemas. This schedule is for content and events premiering this week and does not include content that has already been made available.

Monday, January 13 – Sunday, January 20

TV/Streaming Services

All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.

Netflix’s three-part limited series “Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” premieres Wednesday, January 15, at 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT.

Monday, January 13

“Live PD: Police Patrol”
(Episode 244)
Monday, January 13, 8 p.m., A&E

“Live PD: Police Patrol”
(Episode 245)
Monday, January 13, 8:30 p.m., A&E

“Fatal Attraction”
(Episode 908)
Monday, January 13, 9 p.m., TV One

“The Night That Didn’t End”
“John Doe 57” (Episode 205)
Monday, January 13, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“People Magazine Investigates”
“Suburban Secrets” (Episode 411)
Monday, January 13, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“American Greed”
“Diagnosis: Temptress Health” (Episode 205)
Monday, January 13, 10 p.m., CNBC

Tuesday, January 14

“Homicide City: Charlotte”
“ABC’s of Murder” (Episode 105)
Tuesday, January 14, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Body Cam”
“Hunted” (Episode 205)
Tuesday, January 14, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Wednesday, January 15

“Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez” (three-part limited series) 
Wednesday, January 15, 3 a.m. ET/12 a.m. PT, Netflix

“Live PD: Roll Call”
Wednesday, January 15, 7 p.m., A&E

“Live PD: Rewind”
Wednesday, January 15, 8 p.m., A&E

“Killer Bods”
“Fit for Murder” (Episode 103) 
Wednesday, January 15, 8 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Homicide Hunter: Lt. Joe Kenda”
“Animal Nature” (Episode 918)
Wednesday, January 15, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“True Life Crime”
“Suicide or Sinister Plot?”(Episode 102)
Wednesday, January 15, 9 p.m., MTV

“Live PD”
Wednesday, January 15, 10 p.m., A&E

“In Pursuit With John Walsh”
“American Nightmare”(Episode 201) **Season Premiere**
Wednesday, January 15, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Copwatch America”
(Episode 110)
Wednesday, January 15, 11 p.m., BET

Thursday, January 16

“The First 48”
“The Dead Stop/Uninvited” (Episode 1903)
Thursday, January 16, 8 p.m., A&E

“An Unexpected Killer”
(Episode 107)
Thursday, January 16, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Alaska PD”
“Taste of Blood” (Episode 104)
Thursday, January 16, 9 p.m., A&E

“Dead of Winter”
“Frozen Waters” (Episode 203) 
Thursday, January 16, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“60 Days In”
“Fresh Meat” (Episode 603)
Thursday, January 16, 10 p.m., A&E

“Hometown Homicide”
“Hold the Line” (Episode 201)
Thursday, January 16, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Friday, January 17

“Dateline NBC: Secrets Uncovered”
“The Threat” (Episode 814)
Friday, January 17, 8 p.m., Oxygen

“Live PD: Roll Call”
Friday, January 17, 8 p.m., A&E

“Live PD: Rewind”
Friday, January 17, 8:06 p.m., A&E

“Live PD”
Friday, January 17, 9 p.m., A&E

Friday, January 17, 9 p.m., ABC

Friday, January 17, 9 p.m., NBC

“How to Survive a Murder”
“A Search for Truth” (Episode 102)
Friday, January 17, 10 p.m.,  Reelz

Saturday, January 18

“Criminal Confessions”
“Who Killed Little Mama?” (Episode 307)
Saturday, January 18, 6 p.m., Oxygen

“A Killer Affair”
(Episode 111)
Saturday, January 18, 7 p.m., Oxygen

“Stolen by My Mother: The Kamiyah Mobley Story” (TV Movie)
Saturday, January 18, 8 p.m., Lifetime

“Aaron Hernandez’s Killing Fields”
(Episode 101)
Saturday, January 18, 8 p.m., Reelz

“Live PD: Roll Call”
Saturday, January 18, 8 p.m., A&E

“Live PD: Rewind”
Saturday, January 18, 8:06 p.m., A&E

“Live PD”
Saturday, January 18, 9 p.m., A&E

“Aaron Hernandez’s Killing Fields”
(Episode 102)
Saturday, January 18,  9 p.m., Reelz

“Aaron Hernandez’s Killing Fields”
(Episode 103)
Saturday, January 18, 10 p.m., Reelz

“48 Hours”
Saturday, January 18, 10 p.m., CBS

“Beyond the Headlines: The Kamiyah Mobley Story With Robin Roberts” (TV Special)
Saturday, January 18, 10 p.m., Lifetime

Sunday, January 19

(Episode 2622)
Sunday, January 19, 6 p.m., Oxygen

“Murdered by Morning”
(Episode 101) *Series Premiere*
Sunday, January 19, 7 p.m., Oxygen

“Obsession: Dark Desires”
“Can’t Let Go” (Episode 506) *Season Finale
Sunday, January 19, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“Evil Lives Here”
“The Nights I Don’t Remember” (Episode 703)
Sunday, January 19, 9 p.m., Investigation Discovery

“On the Case With Paula Zahn”
“The Hero Who Wasn’t” (Episode 1914)
Sunday, January 19, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery

Movies in Theaters

No new true-crime movies in theaters this week.


No new podcast series debuts this week.


All start times listed are local time.

No new events this week.

2020 Critics’ Choice Awards: ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the top winner

January 12, 2020

by Carla Hay

With four prizes, Columbia Pictures’ movie drama “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”(set in 1969) emerged as the top winner at the 25th Annual Critics’ Choice Awards, which were presented on January 12, 2020, at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California. Taye Diggs hosted the show, which was televised in the U.S. on The CW.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” won the top movie prize (Best Picture), as well as Best Original Screenplay (for writer/director Quentin Tarantino), Best Supporting Actor (for Brad Pitt) and Best Production Design (for Barbara Ling and Nancy Haigh). Coming close behind  in movie wins was Universal Pictures’ World War I drama “1917,” which won three awards: Best Director (for Sam Mendes, who won the prize in a tie with “Parasite” director Bong Joo); Best Cinematography (for Roger Deakins); and Best Editing (for Lee Smith).

In the TV categories, “Fleabag” was the top winner, with three awards: Best Comedy Series, Best Actress in a Comedy Series (for Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (for Andrew Scott).

Netflix’s “The Irishman” was the top nominee overall, going into the ceremony with 14 nods. But in the end, the mob drama only one Critics’ Choice Award: Best Acting Ensemble. The cast includes Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Al Pacino and Ray Romano.

The ceremony also had mutliple categories that resulted in a voting tie this year. In addition to a tie for Best Director, there were ties for Best Song and Best Tall Show. The winners for Best Song were “Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” from the drama “Wild Rose” and “(I’m Gonna) Love You Again” from the musical “Rocketman.” The winners for Best Talk Show were “Late Night With Seth Meyers” and “The Late Late Show With James Corden.”

Eddie Murphy received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Kristen Bell got the #SeeHer Award, which is given to a female entertainer who is a role model for female empowerment.

The 25th annual Critics’ Choice Awards show was produced by Bob Bain Productions and Berlin Entertainment.

According to a Critics Choice Association press release: “The Critics Choice Association is the largest critics organization in the United States and Canada, representing more than 400 television, radio and online critics. It was organized this year with the formal merger of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Broadcast Television Journalists Association, recognizing the blurring of the distinctions between film, television, and streaming content.”

The following is the complete list of winners and nominations for the 2020 Critics’ Choice Awards:



“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”*
“Uncut Gems”

Antonio Banderas – “Pain and Glory”
Robert De Niro – “The Irishman”
Leonardo DiCaprio – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Adam Driver – “Marriage Story”
Eddie Murphy – “Dolemite Is My Name”
Joaquin Phoenix – “Joker”*
Adam Sandler – “Uncut Gems”

Awkwafina – “The Farewell”
Cynthia Erivo – “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson – “Marriage Story”
Lupita Nyong’o – Us
Saoirse Ronan – “Little Women”
Charlize Theron – “Bombshell”
Renée Zellweger – “Judy”*

Willem Dafoe – “The Lighthouse”
Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony Hopkins – “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino – “The Irishman”
Joe Pesci – “The Irishman”
Brad Pitt – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”*

Laura Dern – “Marriage Story”*
Scarlett Johansson – “Jojo Rabbit”
Jennifer Lopez – “Hustlers”
Florence Pugh – “Little Women”
Margot Robbie – “Bombshell”
Zhao Shuzhen – “The Farewell”

Julia Butters – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Roman Griffin Davis – “Jojo Rabbit”*
Noah Jupe – “Honey Boy”
Thomasin McKenzie – “Jojo Rabbit”
Shahadi Wright Joseph – “Us”
Archie Yates – “Jojo Rabbit”

“The Irishman”*
“Knives Out”
“Little Women”
“Marriage Story”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Noah Baumbach – “Marriage Story”
Bong Joon Ho – “Parasite”* (tie)
Greta Gerwig – “Little Women”
Sam Mendes – “1917”* (tie)
Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie – “Uncut Gems”
Martin Scorsese – “The Irishman”
Quentin Tarantino – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”

Noah Baumbach – “Marriage Story”
Rian Johnson – “Knives Out”
Bong Joon Ho and Han Jin Won – “Parasite”
Quentin Tarantino – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”*
Lulu Wang – “The Farewell”

Greta Gerwig – “Little Women”*
Noah Harpster and Micah Fitzerman-Blue – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”
Anthony McCarten – “The Two Popes”
Todd Phillips & Scott Silver – “Joker”
Taika Waititi – “Jojo Rabbit”
Steven Zaillian – “The Irishman”

Jarin Blaschke – “The Lighthouse”
Roger Deakins – “1917”*
Phedon Papamichael – “Ford v Ferrari”
Rodrigo Prieto – “The Irishman”
Robert Richardson – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Lawrence Sher – “Joker”

Mark Friedberg, Kris Moran – “Joker”
Dennis Gassner, Lee Sandales – “1917”
Jess Gonchor, Claire Kaufman – “Little Women”
Lee Ha Jun – “Parasite”
Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”*
Bob Shaw, Regina Graves – “The Irishman”
Donal Woods, Gina Cromwell – “Downton Abbey”

Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie – “Uncut Gems”
Andrew Buckland, Michael McCusker – “Ford v Ferrari”
Yang Jinmo – “Parasite”
Fred Raskin – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Thelma Schoonmaker – “The Irishman”
Lee Smith – “1917”*

Ruth E. Carter – “Dolemite Is My Name”*
Julian Day – “Rocketman”
Jacqueline Durran – “Little Women”
Arianne Phillips – “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
Sandy Powell, Christopher Peterson – “The Irishman”
Anna Robbins – “Downton Abbey”

“Dolemite Is My Name”
“The Irishman”
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”

“Ad Astra”
“The Aeronauts”
“Avengers: Endgame”*
“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
“The Lion King”

“Frozen II”
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”
“Missing Link”
“Toy Story 4”*

“Avengers: Endgame”*
“Ford v Ferrari”
“John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”
“Spider-Man: Far From Home”

“Dolemite Is My Name”*
“The Farewell”
“Jojo Rabbit”
“Knives Out”

“Ad Astra”
“Avengers: Endgame”

“Les Misérables”
“Pain and Glory”
“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”

“Glasgow (No Place Like Home)” – “Wild Rose”* (tie)
“(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” – “Rocketman”* (tie)
“I’m Standing With You” – “Breakthrough”
“Into the Unknown” – “Frozen II”
“Speechless” – “Aladdin”
“Spirit” – “The Lion King”
“Stand Up” – “Harriet”

Michael Abels – “Us”
Alexandre Desplat – “Little Women”
Hildur Guðnadóttir – “Joker”*
Randy Newman – “Marriage Story”
Thomas Newman – “1917”
Robbie Robertson – “The Irishman


“The Crown” (Netflix)
“David Makes Man” (OWN)
“Game of Thrones” (HBO)
“The Good Fight” (CBS All Access)
“Pose” (FX)
“Succession” (HBO)*
“This Is Us” (NBC)
“Watchmen” (HBO)

Sterling K. Brown – “This Is Us” (NBC)
Mike Colter – “Evil” (CBS)
Paul Giamatti – “Billions” (Showtime)
Kit Harington – “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Freddie Highmore – “The Good Doctor” (ABC)
Tobias Menzies – “The Crown” (Netflix)
Billy Porter – “Pose” (FX)
Jeremy Strong – “Succession” (HBO)*

Christine Baranski – “The Good Fight” (CBS All Access)
Olivia Colman – “The Crown” (Netflix)
Jodie Comer – “Killing Eve” (BBC America)
Nicole Kidman – “Big Little” Lies (HBO)
Regina King – “Watchmen” (HBO)*
Mj Rodriguez – “Pose” (FX)
Sarah Snook – “Succession” (HBO)
Zendaya – “Euphoria” (HBO)

Asante Blackk – “This Is Us” (NBC)
Billy Crudup – “The Morning Show” (Apple)*
Asia Kate Dillon – “Billions” (Showtime)
Peter Dinklage – “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Justin Hartley – “This Is Us” (NBC)
Delroy Lindo – “The Good Fight” (CBS All Access)
Tim Blake Nelson – “Watchmen” (HBO)

Helena Bonham Carter – “The Crown” (Netflix)
Gwendoline Christie – “Game of Thrones” (HBO)
Laura Dern – “Big Little Lies” (HBO)
Audra McDonald – “The Good Fight” (CBS All Access)
Jean Smart – “Watchmen” (HBO)*
Meryl Streep – “Big Little Lies” (HBO)
Susan Kelechi Watson – “This Is Us” (NBC)

“Barry” (HBO)
“Fleabag” (Amazon)*
“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
“Mom” (CBS)
“One Day at a Time” (Netflix)
“Pen15” (Hulu)
“Schitt’s Creek” (Pop)

Ted Danson – “The Good Place” (NBC)
Walton Goggins – “The Unicorn” (CBS)
Bill Hader – “Barry” (HBO)*
Eugene Levy – Schitt’s Creek (Pop)
Paul Rudd – “Living with Yourself” (Netflix)
Bashir Salahuddin – “Sherman’s Showcase” (IFC)
Ramy Youssef – “Ramy” (Hulu)

Christina Applegate – “Dead to Me” (Netflix)
Alison Brie – “GLOW” (Netflix)
Rachel Brosnahan – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)
Kirsten Dunst – “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” (Showtime)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – “Veep” (HBO)
Catherine O’Hara – “Schitt’s Creek” (Pop)
Phoebe Waller-Bridge – “Fleabag” (Amazon)*

Andre Braugher – “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (NBC)
Anthony Carrigan – “Barry” (HBO)
William Jackson Harper – “The Good Place” (NBC)
Daniel Levy – “Schitt’s Creek” (Pop)
Nico Santos – “Superstore” (NBC)
Andrew Scott – “Fleabag” (Amazon)*
Henry Winkler – “Barry” (HBO)

Alex Borstein – “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” (Amazon)*
D’Arcy Carden – “The Good Place” (NBC)
Sian Clifford – “Fleabag” (Amazon)
Betty Gilpin – “GLOW” (Netflix)
Rita Moreno – “One Day at a Time” (Netflix)
Annie Murphy – “Schitt’s Creek” (Pop)
Molly Shannon – “The Other Two” (Comedy Central)

“Catch-22” (Hulu)
“Chernobyl” (HBO)
“Fosse/Verdon” (FX)
“The Loudest Voice” (Showtime)
“Unbelievable” (Netflix)
“When They See Us” (Netflix)*
“Years and Years” (HBO)

“Brexit” (HBO)
“Deadwood: The Movie” (HBO)
“El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” (Netflix)*
“Guava Island” (Amazon)
“Native Son” (HBO)
“Patsy & Loretta” (Lifetime)

Christopher Abbott – “Catch-22” (Hulu)
Mahershala Ali – “True Detective” (HBO)
Russell Crowe – “The Loudest Voice” (Showtime)
Jared Harris – “Chernobyl” (HBO)
Jharrel Jerome – “When They See Us” (Netflix)*
Sam Rockwell – “Fosse/Verdon” (FX)
Noah Wyle – “The Red Line” (CBS)

Kaitlyn Dever – “Unbelievable” (Netflix)
Anne Hathaway – “Modern Love” (Amazon)
Megan Hilty – “Patsy & Loretta” (Lifetime)
Joey King – “The Act” (Hulu)
Jessie Mueller – “Patsy & Loretta” (Lifetime)
Merritt Wever – “Unbelievable” (Netflix)
Michelle Williams – “Fosse/Verdon” (FX)*

Asante Blackk – “When They See Us” (Netflix)
George Clooney – “Catch-22” (Hulu)
John Leguizamo – “When They See Us” (Netflix)
Dev Patel – “Modern Love” (Amazon)
Jesse Plemons – “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” (Netflix)
Stellan Skarsgård – “Chernobyl” (HBO)*
Russell Tovey – “Years and Years” (HBO)

Patricia Arquette – “The Act” (Hulu)
Marsha Stephanie Blake – “When They See Us” (Netflix)
Toni Collette – “Unbelievable” (Netflix)*
Niecy Nash – “When They See Us” (Netflix)
Margaret Qualley – “Fosse/Verdon” (FX)
Emma Thompson – “Years and Years” (HBO)
Emily Watson – “Chernobyl” (HBO)

“Big Mouth” (Netflix)
“BoJack Horseman” (Netflix)*
“The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance” (Netflix)
“She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” (Netflix)
“The Simpsons” (Fox)
“Undone” (Amazon)

“Desus & Mero” (Showtime)
“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” (TBS)
“The Kelly Clarkson Show” (NBC)
“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” (HBO)
“The Late Late Show with James Corden” (CBS)* (tie)
“Late Night with Seth Meyers” (NBC)* (tie)

“Amy Schumer: Growing” (Netflix)
“Jenny Slate: Stage Fright” (Netflix)
“Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons’” (ABC)*
“Ramy Youssef: Feelings” (HBO)
“Seth Meyers: Lobby Baby” (Netflix)
“Trevor Noah: Son of Patricia” (Netflix)
“Wanda Sykes: Not Normal” (Netflix)

Movie and TV Reviews

Reviews for New Movies Released January 10 – January 16, 2020


Les Misérables (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)
Like a Boss (Photo by Eli Joshua Ade)
The Sonata (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)
Underwater (Photo by Alan Markfield)
Weathering With You (Photo courtesy of GKIDS)

Complete List of Reviews

17 Blocks — documentary

Aamis — drama

Advocate — documentary

After Class (formerly titled Safe Spaces) — comedy/drama

After Parkland — documentary

All I Can Say — documentary

Amazing Grace — documentary

American Woman — drama

The Apollo — documentary

At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal — documentary

Blessed Child — documentary

Blow the Man Down — drama

The Boys (premiere episode) — drama

Breslin and Hamill: Deadline Artists — documentary

Buffaloed — comedy

Burning Cane — drama

Changing the Game — documentary

Circus of Books — documentary

Clementine — drama

Come to Daddy — horror

Crown Vic — drama

CRSHD — comedy

A Day in the Life of America — documentary

Days of Rage: The Rolling Stones’ Road to Altamont — documentary

Decade of Fire — documentary

Devil’s Pie – D’Angelo — documentary

The Dog Doc — documentary

Dreamland — drama

For They Know Not What They Do — documentary

Framing John DeLorean — documentary

Ganden: A Joyful Land — documentary

The Gasoline Thieves — drama

Gay Chorus Deep South — documentary

Good Posture — comedy

The Grudge (2020) — horror

He Dreams of Giants — documentary

Healing From Hate: Battle for the Soul of a Nation — documentary

House of Hummingbird — drama

I Am Human — documentary

I Want My MTV — documentary

I’m Gonna Make You Love Me — documentary

Initials SG — drama

Inna Da Yard: The Soul of Jamaica — documentary

It Takes a Lunatic — documentary

Jay Myself — documentary

The Kill Team (2019) — drama

Leftover Women — documentary

Les Misérables (2019) — drama

Like a Boss — comedy

Limerence — comedy

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice — documentary

The Longest Wave — documentary

Los Últimos Frikis — documentary

Lost Bayou — drama

Lost Transmissions — drama

Low Tide — drama

Lucky Grandma — drama

Lydia Lunch: The War Is Never Over — documentary

Mai Khoi & the Dissidents — documentary

Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound— documentary

Martha: A Picture Story — documentary

Martin Margiela: In His Own Words — documentary

Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back — documentary

Mystify: Michael Hutchence — documentary

Noah Land — drama

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin — documentary

Only — drama

Otherhood — comedy

Other Music — documentary

Our Time Machine — documentary

Picture Character — documentary

The Place of No Words — drama

Plucked — documentary

Plus One — comedy

The Quiet One — documentary

Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project — documentary

A Regular Woman — drama

Rewind — documentary

Seahorse — documentary

Scheme Birds — documentary

See Know Evil — documentary

See You Yesterday — sci-fi/drama

The Short History of the Long Road — drama

The Show’s the Thing: The Legendary Promoters of Rock — documentary

Slay the Dragon — documentary

The Sonata — horror

Standing Up, Falling Down — comedy/drama

Stevenson Lost & Found — documentary

Stray Dolls — drama

Sublime — documentary

Swallow — drama

A Taste of Sky — documentary

To Kid or Not to Kid — documentary

Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts — documentary

Two/One — drama

Tyson — documentary

Underwater — sci-fi/horror

Unbelievable (premiere episode) — drama

Vas-y Coupe! — documentary

Watson — documentary

Weathering With You — animation

What Will Become of Us — documentary

What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali — documentary

Wig — documentary

A Woman’s Work: The NFL’s Cheerleader Problem — documentary

Woodstock: Three Days That Defined a Generation — documentary

XY Chelsea — documentary

You Don’t Nomi — documentary

2021 Golden Globe Awards: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler return as hosts

January 11, 2020

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (Photo by Heidi Gutman/NBCUniversal)

The following is a press release from Dick Clark Productions and NBC:

Award-winning comedy icons Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are returning to the Golden Globes as co-hosts for the 2021 telecast.

The announcement was made by NBC Entertainment Chairman Paul Telegdy during the network’s day at the Television Critics Association Tour in Pasadena, Calif.

The date of next year’s Golden Globes will be announced at a later time.

Fey and Poehler were critically applauded when they hosted the Globes from 2013-15, receiving universal praise for their witty on-stage banter and effortless rapport with one another.

“NBC has long been the home to two of the funniest people on the planet – Tina Fey and Amy Poehler – and we didn’t want to wait any longer to share the great news that they’ll be hosting the Globes once again,” said Paul Telegdy, Chairman, NBC Entertainment.

“There’s no denying that Tina and Amy’s comedic chemistry is infectious,” said Lorenzo Soria, President of the HFPA. “We can’t wait to see the dynamic duo return to the Golden Globes stage.”

“Tina and Amy have provided Golden Globes viewers with some of the most memorable moments the show has ever seen,” said Amy Thurlow, President of dick clark productions. “We’re thrilled to welcome them back in 2021.”

Fey, along with Robert Carlock, is co-creator and an executive producer of NBC’s upcoming Universal Television-produced untitled comedy series starring Ted Danson as L.A.’s mayor. Holly Hunter also stars.

Fey has won two Golden Globes and six Emmys for writing and/or acting for the multi-Emmy Award-winning comedy “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live.” Fey and Robert Carlock are also producers of the Netflix/Universal Television series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The show was Emmy nominated four times for Outstanding Comedy Series and an upcoming interactive special is due out later this year.

Poehler is a Golden Globe and Emmy winner, well known for her portrayal of eternal optimist Leslie Knope on NBC’s beloved comedy “Parks and Recreation.” She is currently an executive producer of the Emmy-nominated Netflix comedy “Russian Doll” and executive producer/co-host of NBC’s “Making It.” She also is an executive producer and co-star of the upcoming animated series “Duncanville” on Fox.

The Golden Globe Awards, often referred to as “Hollywood’s Party of the Year,” is one of the biggest nights on the calendar for live viewing. It’s also one of the few award shows that combine the honorees of both film and television. The 2020 Golden Globe Awards telecast averaged a 4.7 rating in adults 18-49 and 18.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, and was the No. 1 primetime entertainment telecast on the broadcast networks in adults 18-49 since the Academy Awards on Feb. 24, 2019 (7.7 rating).

Produced by Dick Clark Productions in association with the HFPA, the Golden Globe Awards are viewed in more than 210 territories worldwide. Lorenzo Soria is president of the HFPA. Mike Mahan, CEO of Dick Clark Productions, Amy Thurlow, President of Dick Clark Productions and Barry Adelman, Executive VP of Television at Dick Clark Productions served as executive producers.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) was founded in 1943 – then known as the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association – by a group of entertainment journalists based in Los Angeles. During World War II, the non-profit organization established a cultural bridge between Tinseltown and millions of cinema fans around the world who demanded drama and inspiration through entertainment. The HFPA continues to do so today with a membership representing more than 55 countries. Since 1944, the group has hosted the annual Golden Globe® Awards – the premier ceremony which honors achievements in both television and film. The licensing fees from the Golden Globe® Awards has enabled the organization to donate more than $37.5 million to more than 70 entertainment-related charities, film restoration, scholarship programs and humanitarian efforts over the last 25 years. For more information, please and follow us on Twitter (@GoldenGlobes), Instagram (@GoldenGlobes), and Facebook (

Dick Clark Productions (DCP) is the world’s largest producer and proprietor of televised live event entertainment programming with the “Academy of Country Music Awards,” “American Music Awards,” “Billboard Music Awards,” “Golden Globe Awards,” “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest” and the “Streamy Awards.” Weekly television programming includes “So You Think You Can Dance” from 19 Entertainment and DCP. DCP also owns one of the world’s most unique and extensive entertainment archive libraries with over 60 years of award-winning shows, historic programs, specials, performances and legendary programming. DCP is a division of Valence Media, a diversified media company with divisions and strategic investments in premium television, wide release film, specialty film, live events and digital media. For additional information, visit

Review: ‘Les Misérables’ (2019), starring Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti and Djibril Zonga

January 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Damien Bonnard, Alexis Manenti and Djibril Zonga in “Les Misérables” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Les Misérables”

Directed by Ladj Ly

French with English subtitles

Culture Representation: With almost no connection to Victor Hugo’s famed novel “Les Misérables,” this male-dominated French drama film takes place in the present-day, predominantly black Paris ghetto of Montfermeil, which is policed by mostly white law-enforcement officers.

Culture Clash: The movie tells a brutal story of how police corruption and abuse of power make conflicts worse in an underprivileged community that already mistrusts the police.

Culture Audience: “Les Misérables” will appeal primarity to arthouse audiences who have a high tolerance for violent acts committed on screen.

Issa Perica (center) and Al-Hassan Ly (far right) in “Les Misérables” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

It’s been pointed out many times before, but it must be said in every review of “Les Misérables,” the feature-film debut from director Ladj Ly: This movie has almost nothing in common with the Victor Hugo novel “Les Misérables,” which has been famously adapted into stage musicals, plays, TV shows and movies. (“Les Misérables” translates to “the miserable ones” in English.) The only common threads between Ly’s “Les Misérables” and Hugo’s “Les Misérables” are that the movie takes place in the Paris ghetto of Montfermeil (the home of street urchin Gavroche in Hugo’s novel), and much of the story is about a cop pursuit.

Ly’s “Les Misérables” is France’s 2019 official entry for the Academy Awards category of Best International Feature Film. The movie won the Jury Prize (in a tie with the Brazilian film “Bacurau”) at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, and it was released in France later that year. It’s an interesting Academy Awards choice for France, considering that France has another very strong 2019 awards contender with writer/director Céline Sciamma’s 18th century-set drama “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which won the Best Screenplay award at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Perhaps France chose “Les Misérables” because it’s perceived as more socially relevant to today’s culture than “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” a lesbian romance that takes place in 1770.

Viewers should be warned that Ly’s “Les Misérables” is intense and often depressing. There’s no Jean Valjean hero who has mercy on the poor and saves people’s lives. The U.S. already has dozens of movies and TV shows about police brutality inflicted on financially disadvantaged communities that are populated mostly by people of color, so American audiences might not be as in shock and awe over Ly’s “Les Misérables” as other audiences might be who are in countries where police gun violence isn’t as prevalent.

Ly based his feature film “Les Misérables” (which he wrote with Giordano Gederlini  and Alexis Manenti) on his short film of the same title. Both films were inspired by the real-life 2005 World Cup riots in France. The actors who portray the three cops at the center of the story in the short film reprise their roles in the feature film: Damien Bonnard is earnest new employee Stéphane (nicknamed Pento); Manenti is alpha-male racist bully Chris; and Djibril Zonga is “go along to get along” follower Gwada.

At the beginning of the film, field sergeant Chris establishes his dominance as the leader of the pack by taunting newcomer Stéphane about his hairstyle. Stéphane is a divorced father who has transferred to the precinct so that he can live closer to his son. During most of the movie, Stéphane is doing ride-along training with Chris and Gwada in crime-ridden Montfermeil. Chris (who’s proud that he’s nicknamed Pink Pig) is the type of dirty cop who takes pleasure in using his authority to intimidate people.

For example, when he sees a group of three teenage girls who are hanging out on the street, he uses it as an excuse to stop and frisk search one of them whom he suspects has been smoking a joint. He also sexually harasses her by telling her he can put his finger up her anal area if he wants to do it. When one of the teenage girls objects to the harassment and starts filming the illegal search with her phone, Chris angrily grabs the phone and smashes it by throwing it on the ground. Ultimately, there are no arrests, but Stéphane and Gwada stand by and do nothing to stop loose-cannon Chris, who is fully aware that he has the power to get away with his corruption. Apparently, he’s been doing it for years, and his hot-headed temperament is well-known in the police force. When Stéphane first shows up for work, fellow officers let it be known  that they think that Chris and Gwada are the “loser” cops, and anyone assigned to field duties with them is very unlucky.

Meanwhile, teenage Buzz (played by Al-Hassan Ly) has been going around the neighborhood causing mischief with a drone, including secretly video recording young female neighbors whose windows are exposed. When one of the teenage girls confronts Buzz with two of her female friends, he expresses sheepish contrition and agrees to delete the embarrassing videos and use the drone to record one of their upcoming basketball games.

The cop trio soon gets involved in solving an unusual crime: a baby lion has been stolen from a zoo, and the suspect is a young male who lives in Montfermeil. During a series of events that go horribly wrong, Buzz’s drone video catches Gwada committing a crime against the suspected lion thief: a teenage boy named Issa (played by Issa Perica), who’s also one of Buzz’s friends. Even though Chris has spotted the drone and knows that there are eyewitnesses, he decides to cover up the crime anyway. A horrified Stéphane objects, but ultimately goes along with the plan. The cop trio then spends the rest of the movie in pursuit of finding the video evidence so it can be destroyed.

There’s a gritty realism to “Les Misérables” that will hit hard with people who are disturbed by police brutality. The film’s unrelenting negativity doesn’t leave much room for hope or positive inspiration, since almost every major character in the movie either participates in crimes or looks the other way when they see crimes being committed. And even though the movie’s pace often builds suspense over what will happen next, director Ly accurately portrays the deep-rooted cynicism and defeatist attitude that disenfranchised people have that their fates are already sealed. They know that even if they’re not guilty of crimes, they can be easily framed by cops and mistreated by an uncaring and overwhelmed legal system.

The ultimate message in the movie is: “Should these disenfranchised communities take this abuse, or should they fight back?” The ending of Ly’s “Les Misérables” might not be satisfying enough for people who are used to having conflicts clearly resolved in a story, but the movie’s conclusion is a reflection of real life, where there aren’t always easy answers.

Amazon Studios released “Les Misérables” in select U.S. cinemas on January 10, 2020. The film was originally released in France in 2019.


Review: ‘Like a Boss,’ starring Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek

January 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek in "Like a Boss"
Tiffany Haddish, Rose Byrne and Salma Hayek in “Like a Boss” (Photo by Eli Joshua Ade)

“Like a Boss”

Directed by Miguel Arteta

Culture Representation: Taking place in Atlanta and centered on the beauty industry, the comedy “Like a Boss” has a racially mixed cast that includes representation of white people, African Americans, Latinos and Asians in the middle and upper classes.

Culture Clash: Pandering to the worst stereotypes of women, the plot of “Like a Boss” is basically about a corporate catfight.

Culture Audience: “Like a Boss” will appeal primarily to people who like mindless comedies that sink to low and crude levels.

Tiffany Haddish, Salma Hayek and Rose Byrne in “Like a Boss” (Photo by Eli Joshua Ade)

If you were someone who sat through the excruciatingly dumb trailer of “Like a Boss” as it played during previews of a movie you saw in a theater, you might have seen from the repulsed reactions of people in the audience that this movie was not only a turn-off but it was also going to be a flop. “Like a Boss” tries to pass itself off as a raunchy feminist film, but in the end, the movie (written and directed by men) treats women like trash by presenting them as clueless about business and being at their cruelest to other women. “Like a Boss” director Miguel Arteta and screenwriters Adam Cole-Kelly and Sam Pitman should be embarrassed about putting this crap into the world, because it shows how inept they are at making a female-centric comedy.

The plot centers on entrepreneurs Mel Paige (played by Rose Byrne) and Mia Carter (played by Tiffany Haddish), two best friends since childhood who have an Atlanta store that sells their own brand of beauty products called M&M. Mel handles the financial matters of the business, while Mia handles the creative aspects. On the surface, things seem to be going well, but Mel is hiding a secret that she eventually confesses to Mia: their company is $493,000 in debt. (This isn’t a spoiler, since the confession is in the movie’s trailers. And if you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve basically seen what could be called the best parts of this bad movie.) It doesn’t help the company’s finances that Mia likes to give deep discounts to customers for random reasons.

However, M&M is making enough sales to attract the attention of corporate shark Claire Luna (played by Salma Hayek), the owner of the successful  beauty corporation Ovieda that’s supposed to be a market leader. The writers of this movie clearly don’t know that the biggest U.S.-based beauty companies in America are actually headquartered in New York or Los Angeles, but maybe the filmmakers got financial incentives from Atlanta to have this cheap-looking movie take place there.

Claire swoops in to make an offer to buy 51% of M&M and pay off all the company’s debts. Mel wants to do the deal, but Mia is reluctant because it would break Mel and Mia’s pact to never sell the business. Mia, who is more street-smart than Mel, also senses that Claire can’t be trusted. However, Mel is desperate to erase the company’s debts, and argues with Mia that the sale would be good for the company.

After Claire observes the tension that the proposed deal is causing between the two longtime friends, Claire offers to buy 49% of the company on the condition that if either Mel or Mia leaves the company, Claire will get 51% ownership of the business. Of course, in a movie as stupid and unrealistic as this one, not only do Mel and Mia cave in to Claire’s demands that they make their decision in one day, but they also sign the deal in Claire’s office without any attorneys involved.

As a further insult to women, the screenwriters came up with the catty motivation that Claire targeted Mel and Mia for a takeover because she’s jealous of their close friendship and wants the deal to break up Mel and Mia. It turns out that Claire started Ovieda with her longtime best friend, whom Claire ended up firing because Claire is basically a greedy you-know-what. Claire wants to split up Mel and Mia because Claire failed at working with her best friend, so Claire can’t stand to see two female best friends work well together as business partners. In other words, Claire isn’t thinking like a real business person but is thinking like a petty high schooler. If this corporate raider were a man, there’s no way the filmmakers would come up with this moronic motivation to take over a company.

But the cattiness doesn’t stop there in “Like a Boss.” Mel and Mia have a circle of bourgeois “frenemies”—Kim, Jill and Angela (played by Jessica St. Clair, Natasha Rothwell and Ari Graynor)—mostly married mothers who apparently look down on the unmarried and childless Mel and Mia, who still live like college students. Mel and Mia are roommates who regularly smoke pot and have meaningless flings with boy toys. Meanwhile, Mel and Mia are convinced that their own lifestyles are better than their domesticated friends because Mel and Mia don’t have the responsibilities of husbands and children. Mel and Mia and their “Real Housewives”-type friends spend almost all of their scenes together trying to outdo and impress each other instead of genuinely having fun together as real friends do.

There’s also an unnecessary subplot where Claire pits Mia and Mel against two sexist men named Greg (played by Ryan Hansen) and Ron (played by Jimmy O. Yang), who have their own beauty company that’s competing with M&M for the millions being offered by Claire in the acquisition deal. Greg and Ron are portrayed as dorks who think they’re “woke,” but they’re really dismissive of their customers’ needs. They see beauty products as a way to exploit customers’ insecurities about their looks instead of enhancing natural beauty, and so their company uses a lot of cringeworthy marketing techniques that reflect this condescending attitude.

“Like a Boss” is polluted with some not-very-funny slapstick moments and an annoying fixation on telling jokes about women’s private parts every 10 minutes. There are cheesy Lifetime movies that are better than “Like a Boss,” which certainly isn’t worth spending any money to see. Byrne is capable of doing better work in comedies (as evidenced by “Bridesmaids” and “Neighbors”), but in “Like a Boss,” her Mel character is such a one-dimensional, uptight neurotic that there’s no room for any nuanced complexities.

Haddish continues to put herself in Typecast Hell as the foul-mouthed, quick-tempered, loud caricature that she keeps doing in every movie she’s done since her breakout in 2017’s “Girls Trip,” which is still her best film. Even though her Mia character in “Like a Boss” is college-educated, Mia is an unsophisticated mess. Unfortunately, there are many people in this world who have little or no contact with black women, and they get their ideas and stereotypes of black women from what they see on screen. Fortunately, we have versatile and intelligent actresses like Viola Davis, Kerry Washington and Lupita Nyong’o to offset the damaging, negative stereotypes of black women that Haddish continues to perpetuate in her choice of roles.

“Like a Boss” also has some Hispanic racial stereotyping, since Claire makes Mel and Mia do some salsa-like dance moves with her in the office while Mexican music suddenly plays in the background. (Hayek is Mexican, in case you didn’t know.) There’s also a running gag that Claire can’t speak proper English because she’s constantly mispronouncing and fabricating English words. The not-so-subtle message the filmmakers are conveying is that Latino immigrants who are successful in American business still aren’t smart enough to master the English language. Just because “Like a Boss” director Arteta is also Latino doesn’t excuse this awful stereotyping.

Meanwhile, Hayek and Billy Porter (who plays the sassy Barrett, an openly gay employee of Mel and Mia) have the talent to be doing Oscar-caliber work. Instead, they are slumming it in this garbage movie. Supporting characters that could have been interesting are instead poorly written knock-offs that have been seen countless times before in other movies. Jennifer Coolidge plays the ditzy blonde (Sydney, an employee of Mel and Mia), while Karan Soni plays the villain’s smarmy lackey (Josh, who is Claire’s assistant).

“Like a Boss” is supposed to be a comedy about female empowerment in corporate America, but instead this movie has a very ghetto, misogynistic mindset that belongs in the same trash pile as a bunch of toxic and outdated cosmetics products.

Paramount Pictures released “Like a Boss” in U.S. cinemas on January 10, 2020.


Review: ‘Underwater,’ starring Kristen Stewart

January 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Kristen Stewart in “Underwater”
Kristen Stewart in “Underwater” (Photo by Alan Markfield)


Directed by William Eubank

Culture Representation: The movie’s characters are a predominately white, educated crew of underwater explorers (with one African American and one Asian) who are tasked with drilling for resources in the deep ocean when they come under attack and fight for their lives.

Culture Clash: Telling a story with an implied environmental message, “Underwater” shows what happens when deep-ocean creatures fight back against humans who plunder their territory.

Culture Audience: “Underwater” will primarily appeal to those looking for a suspenseful sci-fi/horror movie that won’t be considered a classic but will provide about 90 minutes of escapist entertainment.

Kristen Stewart in “Underwater” (Photo by Alan Markfield)

Kristen Stewart: action hero? Taking massive cues from Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character in “Alien,” Stewart goes from brainy, introspective crew member to kick-ass warrior, as she takes on deep-sea monsters in the sci-fi/horror film “Underwater.” After starring in the 2019 comedy reboot fiasco of Columbia Pictures’ “Charlie’s Angels,” Stewart (who’s been making mostly arty indie films for the past several years) has taken another step into major-studio action fare—but in 20th Century Fox’s “Underwater,” she’s going for scares instead of laughs.

During the opening credits of “Underwater,” there are flashes of media headlines and news reports about unconfirmed sightings of mysterious creatures in the deep ocean. According to the headlines, a major corporation named Kepler has been mining the deep oceans for resources, and hasn’t been giving full explanations for why employees have apparently disappeared from the underwater drilling sites. These elaborate, high-tech facilities (which are seven miles below the ocean surface) look like a cross between a factory, a spaceship and an underground bunker. They’re so high-tech that the Kepler workers living in these facilities for weeks or months at a time don’t need to wear oxygen masks or submarine suits when they’re in the building.

Within the first five minutes of the film, we’re barely introduced to Stewart’s mechanical/electrical engineer character Norah Price (who looks pensive as she brushes her teeth, muses about her isolation in a voiceover, and thinks about her broken love affair with her former fiancé) when the facility is hit with a massive explosion that kills many people in the crew and destroys the emergency equipment. Six of the surviving crew members, including Norah, find each other and agree to a desperate plan to walk across the ocean floor to an abandoned facility named Roebuck, in the hopes that Roebuck’s emergency equipment still works so they can escape or call for help.

The other five crew members are crew captain Lucien (played by Vincent Cassel), a take-charge Frenchman who has a 14-year-old daughter waiting for him at home; marine biology student Emily (played by Jessica Henwick), an inquisitive type who scares easily; operations expert Smith (played by John Gallagher Jr.), who’s in a romantic relationship with Emily; systems manager Rodrigo (Mamoudou Athie), a solid guy who has a dorky side; and wisecracking Paul (played by T.J. Miller, who can’t seem to break out of his typecast as a supporting character who’s socially awkward and talks too much). They soon find out what caused the explosion (Hint: It wasn’t faulty equipment.)

Because the frantic action begins so early in the film, the “Underwater” screenplay by Brian Duffield and Adam Cozad doesn’t leave much room for character development. The actors do the best that they can with the generic characters and mostly forgettable dialogue that were written for them. The movie’s biggest asset, under the choppy direction of William Eubank, is the way it ramps up suspense, even if there are glaring plot holes the size of the ocean where these crew members are trapped. The visual effects for the sea monsters also achieve their intended impact, but the creatures’ very existence in the ocean (much like Godzilla) requires a huge suspension of disbelief. And cinematographer Bojan Bazelli serves up some compelling shots that might give some people the feelings of dizziness or claustrophobia if the movie is watched on a big screen.

However, the “Underwater” filmmakers don’t want viewers of this movie to think too hard, because then you’ll start to ask questions that unravel the plot, such as: “How could creatures of this size and quantity escape detection for so long?” Even if one company tried to cover up the existence of these monsters, their impact on the environment would be noticed already by too many marine biologists and people who work directly in the ocean. Monsters in outer space make more sense if they’re supposed to be undetected by humans on Earth. And at least in the world of Godzilla, millions of people in that world know that Godzilla is a creature that lives in the ocean. In “Underwater,” these monsters are a total surprise to the unlucky crew members who encounter them.

Just like a lot of movies whose plot is driven by suspense, “Underwater” also has a “race against time” element because (of course) the survivors are running out of oxygen. But this plot device is conveniently ignored when these so-called trained underwater professionals waste a lot of oxygen by talking too much. Paul, the annoying motormouth, is the chief culprit. In order to enjoy this movie, you can’t pay attention to the screenplay’s inconsistencies in how their underwater suits are supposed to work.

And since this is a horror movie, not everyone is going to get out alive. But there will be moments of further disbelief when certain characters go through things that would kill someone in real life, and then they survive, and you’re left wondering, “How are they still alive…and with their hair still neatly in place?” And—this is no joke—you can see freshly applied beauty makeup on one of the actresses’ faces after her character has supposedly gone through underwater hell. There must be some industrial-quality waterproof lipstick they have in that underwater bunker. There’s also a small stuffed animal that gets carried around as a good luck charm that somehow doesn’t get lost or destroyed during all the mayhem. “Underwater” is not a movie made for people who pay attention to these kinds of details.

“Underwater” is certainly not the worst horror film of 2020, and the movie’s ending should be commended for not being a total cliché. However, if you want a horror flick with memorable characters and a solid plot, then you’ll have to look elsewhere.

20th Century Fox released “Underwater” on January 10, 2020.

Review: ‘The Sonata,’ starring Freya Tingley

January 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Freya Tingley in "The Sonata"
Freya Tingley in “The Sonata” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

“The Sonata”

Directed by Andrew Desmond

Culture Representation: Taking place in England and France, “The Sonata” is a horror flick that centers mostly on people in the European world of classical music, a culture that is almost exclusively Caucasian.

Culture Clash: A supernatural ghost story, “The Sonata” uses the age-old conflict of good versus evil, with a minor subtext about resentments that working-class people can have for people in the upper class.

Culture Audience: “The Sonata” will primarily appeal to people who have the time to watch a B-movie that covers a lot of the same tropes that many other horror movies have already covered.

Freya Tingley in “The Sonata” (Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

When it comes to horror movies about evil spirits, “The Sonata” follows the formula so closely that horror fans can easily predict what’s going to happen. Directed by Andrew Desmond, who co-wrote the screenplay with Arthur Morin, “The Sonata” checks the boxes of many familiar clichés used by movies of this ilk. Attractive young lead actress? Check. Spooky old house? Check. Nightmarish sightings of dead people? Check. The first two acts of the movie are far superior to the third and final act, which devolves into a disappointing dud. But if you must sit through this movie, here’s what to expect, without revealing any spoilers.

Rose Fisher (played by Freya Tingley), a British woman in her late 20s, is a talented and intensely focused professional solo violinist whose life revolves around her work. From the first scene, we find out that she’s an emotionally distant loner with no family ties. When her agent/manager Charles Vernais (played by Simon Abkarian) interrupts her rehearsal to inform her that her father has died, her response is: “I don’t have time for this right now.”

It turns out there’s a reason for Rose’s cold reaction to the news of her father’s death: He abandoned her and her mother (who is now deceased) when she was just 14 months old. The death of her father also exposes the secret that Rose has been keeping for years: Her father was the famous composer Richard Marlowe (played by Rutger Hauer), who disappeared at the height of his fame and became a recluse in France. Because of his abrupt departure from the spotlight, many people had assumed he had died years earlier.

Rose never really knew her father, and he never kept in touch with her and her mother. Therefore, Rose doesn’t really feel sad that he’s died, and she doesn’t even ask how he passed away. (It’s shown in the beginning of the movie that he set himself on fire.) Before his death, she had also kept her father’s identity a secret from everyone (including Charles) in her line of work because she didn’t want to trade in on his name to advance her career. It should be noted that Dutch actor Hauer, who died in July 2019, has screen time in the movie that’s less than 10 minutes, so it would be a mistake for people to think he has a lead role in this movie.

Richard Marlowe did not leave a will, and Rose is his only heir. She finds out that even though he didn’t have much money, he did leave behind his secluded mansion in France and all of his copyrighted work, so Rose inherits it all. Rose decides to bail out on some commitments to do concerts and album work by traveling to France to check out the mansion. Charles is naturally upset by her decision, and there’s further tension in the relationship when Rose tells him that a big agency has offered to sign her. Ultimately, she sticks with Charles, who is (as he points out to her) the only person in her life who’s like a family member to her.

Early on in the movie, it’s established that Rose is a loner, so it actually makes sense that she has no qualms about staying in an isolated mansion by herself. Soon after arriving, she meets the housekeeper Thérèse (played by Catherine Schaub-Abkarian), who goes to the mansion once a week to clean and do other domestic duties. Thérèse tells Rose that when her father was alive, he kept to himself and was despised by the townspeople, who suspected that he was behind the disappearance of a local boy, who has remained missing. Thérèse also tells Rose how her father died.

While looking through some items in her father’s study, Rose finds a hand-written sonata in a locked desk drawer. Because her father’s initials are signed at the end of the sonata, she rightfully assumes that he was the one who wrote it. There are also four mysterious symbols on the sheets of paper. It’s easy to figure out that these symbols have something to do with the dark and foreboding atmosphere in and around the mansion. When Rose plays the sonata, she sees a shadowy adult figure, which just as quickly disappears. Thus begins her sightings of ghostly figures (some more menacing than others) in her nightmares as well as in her waking hours. It’s clear that playing the sonata has unleashed something evil.

Meanwhile, Rose tells Charles about the secret sonata, which was her father’s last work, and sends it to him to take a look at it. Charles does some research on the Internet and finds a video of an old TV interview that Marlowe gave about a masterpiece that he was working on at the time. Figuring out that the hidden sonata is the masterpiece in question, Charles goes behind Rose’s back and consults with some industry experts to feel out the market value of the sonata and to ask if they know what the mysterious symbols mean. There’s an ulterior motive to these consultations: Charles (a former classical musician and a recovering alcoholic) is in a precarious financial situation, since Rose (his only client) still might end up leaving him for a big agency, so he’s looking for a way to cash in on the sonata for some financial security.

While Charles consults with the enigmatic Sir Victor Ferdinand (played by James Faulkner), a former colleague of Marlowe’s, Sir Victor tells Charles the true meaning behind the four symbols, which represent power, immortality, appearance and duality. He also reveals that a French secret society created these symbols in the 19th century, and the society had certain beliefs on how to conjure up the devil.

The best parts of “The Sonata” are the production design by Audrius Dumikas, the art direction by Janis Karklins and the cinematography by Janis Eglitis, because they all convincingly evoke the Gothic atmosphere of an old haunted mansion in the French countryside. The film’s musical score by Alexis Maingaud is also effective in eliciting moods in all the right places. Less impressive are the movie’s basic visual effects, which look like something you’d see in a mid-budget TV show. The actors do a competent job with this trite and sometimes problematic script. The melodramatic turn of one of the characters toward the end of the movie is just a little too over-the-top and is almost laughable.

If you’re looking for a horror movie with some mild scares and compelling set designs, then “The Sonata” is worth watching. Just don’t expect to see any scares that are original or an ending that is particularly satisfying.

Screen Media Films released “The Sonata” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on January 10, 2020.