2021 Creative Arts Emmy Awards: ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ is the top winner

September 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Anya Taylor-Joy in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Photo by Phil Bray/Netflix)

With nine awards, Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” was the top winner at the 2021 Creative Arts Emmy Awards (the technical categories of the Primetime Emmys), which were presented in a three-part ceremony on September 11 and September 12 on Emmys.com. FXX will televise highlights from the ceremony on September 18, 2021. Other big winners at the 2021 Creative Arts Emmy Awards included Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” with seven prizes each. Netflix’s “Love, Death + Robots” won six awards. VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and Netflix’s “The Crown” received four awards each. Out of all the TV networks and streaming services, Netflix came out on top with 31 awards, followed by Disney+ with 13 prizes, and HBO/HBO Max with 10 awards.

The biggest categories at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards will be presented September 19 in a ceremony hosted by Cedric the Entertainner. CBS will telecast the show in the U.S. at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT. Paramount+ will livestream the ceremony. “The Crown” and “The Mandalorian” have the most nominations (24 each) in all categories.

First-time Emmy winners at the 2021 Creative Arts Emmy Awards included Dolly Parton, an executive producer and star of Netflix’s “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square,” which won for Outstanding Television Movie. Bo Burnham won Emmys for writing, directing and music direction of his Netflix variety special “Bo Burnham: Inside.” Other first-time Emmy winners were J.B. Smoove (Outstanding Actor in a Short-Form Comedy or Drama Series, for Quibi’s “Mapleworth Murders”) and Keke Palmer (Outstanding Actress in a Short-Form Comedy or Drama Series, for Facebook Watch’s “Keke Palmer’s Turnt Up With the Taylors”).

Here is the complete list of winners for the 2021 Creative Arts Emmy Awards:

Outstanding Television Movie: “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square”
Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program: “RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked”
Outstanding Structured Reality Program: “Queer Eye”
Outstanding Hosted Non-Fiction Series or Special: “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy”
Outstanding Short-Form Non-Fiction or Reality: “Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man”
Outstanding Short-Form Comedy, Drama, or Variety Series: “Carpool Karaoke: The Series”
Outstanding Short-Form Animated Program: “Love, Death + Robots”
Outstanding Individual Achievement in Animation: “Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal” – David Krentz (lstoryboard artist); “Love, Death + Robots” – Robert Valley (production designer); “Love, Death + Robots” – Patricio Betteo (background artist); “Love, Death + Robots” – Daniel Gill (stop motion animator); “Love, Death + Robots” – Laurent Nicolas (character designer); “The Simpsons” – Nik Ranieri (lead character layout artist)
Outstanding Animated Program: “Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal”
Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Series: “Secrets of the Whales”
Outstanding Documentary/Non-Fiction Special: “Boys State”
Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking: “76 Days”
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Dave Chappelle, “Saturday Night Live”
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series: Maya Rudolph, “Saturday Night Live”
Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series: Courtney B. Vance, “Lovecraft Country”
Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series: Claire Foy, “The Crown”
Outstanding Host for a Reality Competition Program: RuPaul Charles, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”
Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance: Maya Rudolph, “Big Mouth”
Outstanding Narrator: Sterling K. Brown, “Lincoln: Divided We Stand”
Outstanding Actor in a Short-Form Comedy or Drama Series: J.B. Smoove, “Mapleworth Murders”
Outstanding Actress in a Short-Form Comedy or Drama Series: Keke Palmer, “Keke Palmer’s Turnt Up With the Taylors”
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series: Don Roy King, “Saturday Night Live”
Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special: Bo Burnham, “Bo Burnham: Inside”
Outstanding Directing for a Reality Program: Nick Murray, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”
Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Non-Fiction Special: Kristen Johnson, “Dick Johnson Is Dead”
Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Series: “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver”
Outstanding Technical Direction, Camerawork, Video Control for a Limited Series, Movie or Special: “Hamilton”
Outstanding Writing for a Variety Series: Bo Burnham, “Bo Burnham’s Inside”
Outstanding Writing for a Non-Fiction Program: Vickie Curtis, David Coombe and Jeff Orlowski, “The Social Dilemma”
Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (half-hour): “The Mandalorian”
Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (one hour): “The Crown”
Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-Camera Series: “Country Comfort”
Outstanding Cinematography for a Limited Series or Movie: “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Cinematography for a Reality Program: “Life Below Zero”
Outstanding Cinematography for a Non-Fiction Program: “David Attenborough: Life on Our Planet”
Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Series: “Saturday Night Live”
Outstanding Lighting Design/Lighting Direction for a Variety Special: “David Byrne’s American Utopia”
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series: “The Crown”
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series: “Ted Lasso”
Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Limited Series or Movie: “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Multi-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series: “The Conners”
Outstanding Picture Editing for a Structured or Competition Reality Program: “RuPaul’s Drag Race”
Outstanding Picture Editing for an Unstructured Reality Program: “Life Below Zero”
Outstanding Picture Editing for Variety Program: “A Black Lady Sketch Show”
Outstanding Picture Editing for a Non-Fiction Program: “The Social Dilemma”
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama series (half-hour) and Animation: “Love, Death + Roberts”
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama (one hour): “Stranger Things”
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Limited Series, Movie or Special: “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Non-Fiction Program (single- or multi-camera): “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama series (half-hour) and Animation: “Ted Lasso”
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama series (one hour): “The Mandalorian”
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Limited Series or Movie: “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Non-Fiction Program (single- or multi-camera): “David Attenborough: Our Planet”
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Series or Special: “David Byrne’s American Utopia”
Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (half-hour or less): “WandaVision”
Outstanding Production Design for Narrative Contemporary Program: “Mare of Easttown”
Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative for a Narrative Period or Fantasy Program: “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Production Design for a Variety, Reality or Reality Competition Series: “Saturday Night Live”
Outstanding Production Design for a Variety Special: “The Oscars”
Outstanding Period and/or Character Hairstyling: “Bridgerton”
Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling: “Pose”
Outstanding Contemporary Hairstyling for a Variety, Non-Fiction or Reality Program: “Saturday Night Live”
Outstanding Contemporary Makeup: “Pose”
Outstanding Contemporary Makeup for a Variety, Non-Fiction or Reality Program: “Saturday Night Live”
Outstanding Period and/or Character Makeup (non-prosthetic): “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup for a Series, Limited Series, Movie or Special:  “The Mandalorian”
Outstanding Contemporary Costumes: “Pose”
Outstanding Period Costumes: “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes: “WandaVision”
Outstanding Costumes for Variety, Non-Fiction or Reality Programming: “Black Is King,”  “The Masked Singer” and “Sherman’s Showcase Black History Month Spectactular” (tie)
Outstanding Stunt Coordination: “The Mandalorian”
Outstanding Stunt Performance: Lateef Crowder, “The Mandalorian”
Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (original dramatic score): Ludwig Göransson, “The Mandalorian”
Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited Series, Movie or Special (original dramatic score): Carlos Rafael Rivera, “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (original dramatic score):  Steven Price, “David Attenborough: Life on Our Planet”
Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music: Blake Neely, “The Flight Attendant”
Outstanding Original Music and Lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, “Agatha All Along” from “WandaVision”
Outstanding Music Direction: “Bo Burnham: Inside”
Outstanding Music Supervision: “I May Destroy You”
Outstanding Choreography for Variety or Reality Programming: Derek Hough, “Dancing With the Stars”
Outstanding Choreography for Scripted Programming: Debbie Allen, “Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square”
Outstanding Main Title Design: “The Good Lord Bird”
Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Single Episode: “Star Trek: Discovery”
Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Season or a Movie: “The Mandalorian”
Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series: “Ted Lasso”
Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series: “The Crown”
Outstanding Casting for a Limited Series: “The Queen’s Gambit”
Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program: “RuPaul’s Drag Race”
Outstanding Commercial: “You Can’t Stop Us,” Nike
Outstanding Motion Design: “Calls”
Outstanding Interactive Program: “Space Explorers: The ISS Experience”
Outstanding Innovation in Interactive Program: “For All Mankind: Time Capsule”

2021 Primetime Emmy Awards; ‘The Crown,’ ‘The Mandalorian’ are the top nominees

July 13, 2021

Pennie Downey, Marion Bailey, Josh O’Connor, Charles Dance, Olivia Colman, Tobias Menzies, Helena Bonham Carter, Erin Doherty, Michael Thomas and Pennie Downie in “The Crown” (Photo by Des Willie/Netflix)

Pedro Pascal in “The Mandalorian” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

The following is a press release from the Television Academy:

Nominations for the 73rd Emmy® Awards were announced today recognizing a wealth of innovative storytelling, exceptional new programs, and a robust and diverse group of talent nominees.

The live virtual ceremony was hosted by father-daughter duo Ron Cephas Jones (“This Is Us”) from Los Angeles and Jasmine Cephas Jones (“Blindspotting”) from New York along with Television Academy Chairman and CEO Frank Scherma. “The Crown” and “The Mandalorian” have tied for the top spot for program nominations with 24 followed by “WandaVision” (23), “The Handmaid’s Tale” (21), “Saturday Night Live” (21), “Ted Lasso” (20), “Lovecraft Country” (18), “The Queen’s Gambit” (18) and “Mare of Easttown” (16).

HBO/HBO Max leads the nominations in totals by platform with 130. Netflix has the second-most nominations with 129, and rounding out the top four are Disney+ with 71 and NBC with 46.

“Television has provided a lifeline for so many around the globe this year, delivering a constant source of entertainment, information and inspiration during some of our most difficult days,” said Scherma. “We are thrilled to honor the diversity of storytelling in television today by recognizing talented artists, programs, producers, directors and craftspeople throughout our industry and celebrating their commitment to this extraordinary medium.”

“Bridgerton,” “Lovecraft Country” and “The Boys” are newcomers to the Outstanding Drama Series category, joining returning nominees “Pose,” “The Crown,””The Mandalorian,” “This Is Us” and previous category winner “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Seventy-five percent of this year’s nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series are new to the category including “Cobra Kai,” “Emily in Paris,” “Hacks,” “Pen15,” “Ted Lasso” and “The Flight Attendant.” Returning favorites include “black-ish” and “The Kominsky Method.”

In total, there were 44 first-time performer nominations across the Lead, Supporting, Guest and Short Form categories this season.

Jonathan Majors, Josh O’Connor and Regé-Jean Page received their first-ever Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series joining previous Emmy winners in this category Sterling K. Brown, Billy Porter and Matthew Rhys. Emma Corrin, Jurnee Smollett and Mj Rodriguez received their first nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, while previous Emmy winner Uzo Aduba was nominated for the first time in this category. They are joined by returning nominee Olivia Colman and previous Emmy winner in this category Elisabeth Moss.

Kaley Cuoco received her first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, while previous Emmy winner Jean Smart and previous Emmy nominee Aidy Bryant were nominated for the first time in this category. They join previous Emmy nominee Tracee Ellis Ross and Emmy winner Allison Janney.

Jason Sudeikis received his first-ever Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, while previous Emmy winner Kenan Thompson was nominated for the first time in this category. They join six-time nominee in the category Anthony Anderson, along with previous Emmy winners Michael Douglas and William H. Macy. Individuals with multiple nominations this year include David Attenborough, Sterling K. Brown, Aidy Bryant, Bo Burnham, Steven Canals, Dave Chapelle, Michaela Coel, Jon Favreau, Derek Hough, Brendan Hunt, Maya Rudolph, Jean Smart, Jason Sudeikis and Kenan Thompson.

The nominations rosters may be revised in cases where names or titles are incorrect or appeals for changes—including the addition or removal of names—are approved by the Television Academy’s Emmy Awards Committee. Producer eligibility is based primarily on title; the producer nominees in certain program categories will be announced by mid-August. Final-round online voting begins Aug. 19, 2021.

The complete list of Emmy nominations, as compiled by the independent accounting firm of Ernst & Young LLP, and other Academy news are available at Emmys.com. As recently announced, the 73rd Emmy Awards will be hosted by Cedric the Entertainer. Executive Producers Reginald Hudlin and Ian Stewart and Director Hamish Hamilton have been selected to helm the show for production companies Done+Dusted and Hudlin Entertainment. The Emmys will be broadcast on Sunday, Sept. 19 (8:00-11:00 PM, live ET/5:00-8:00 PM, live PT) on the CBS Television Network and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+. The 2021 Creative Arts Awards will be broadcast on Saturday, Sept. 18 (8:00 PM ET/PT) on FXX.

Review: ‘The 8th Night,’ starring Lee Sung-min, Nam Da-reu, Park Hae-joon, Kim Dong-young, Lee Eol and Kim Yoo-jeong

July 11, 2021

by Carla Hay

Nam Da-reum and Lee Sung-min in “The 8th Night” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“The 8th Night”

Directed by Kim Tae-hyung

Korean with subtitles and dubbing

Culture Representation: Taking place in South Korea, the horror film “The 8th Night” features an all-Asian cast representing the working-class and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A monk and his apprentice pursue and try to defeat an evil spirit that takes possessions of humans. 

Culture Audience: “The 8th Night” will appeal primarily to people who like horror movies with artistically creepy imagery and stories rooted in ancient mythology.

Kim Yoo-jeong in “The 8th Night” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Filled with stylistically chilling imagery, “The 8th Night” is a somewhat convoluted supernatural horror movie, but the suspenseful and surprising twists can make up for the film’s messy final showdown scene. Written and directed by Kim Tae-hyung, “The 8th Night” (which is his feature-film directorial debut) makes effective use of vertigo-like cinematography and some gruesome visuals of being possessed by an evil spirit. It’s not a movie for the faint of heart, but it can be an engrossing ride for horror fans who are intrigued by stories of ancient curses.

The beginning of “The 8th Night” has a fairly long voiceover narration, with drawings and animation, explaining the mythology behind the movie’s plot. According to the mythology, which is called the Legend of the Diamond Sutra: 2,500 years ago a monster opened the door that bridge the gap between the human realm and hell, “in order to make humans suffer.” Buddha defeated the monster by pulling out both of its eyes. One eye is black, and the other eye is red.

Both eyes escaped. Buddha was able to capture the Black Eye and lock it in a sarira casket. The Red Eye was harder to get and eluded capture for seven nights while hiding in seven different people’s bodies. When the Red Eye saw that it could not escape the Buddha—because the path that the Red Eye was on was really a bridge consisting of seven stepping stones over a narrow shallow stream—the Red Eye surrendered and got into the surira casket voluntarily.

The surira casket with the Black Eye was sealed and buried off the steep cliffs in the east. The surira casket with the Red Eye was sealed and buried in the vast deserts of the west. Buddha said to his nameless disciples about the Black Eye and the Red Eye: “You must make sure that they never meet again. That is your fate.” The monster is also called That Which Must Not Awaken.

The movie then fast-forwards to October 2005, at the India-Pakistan border, where an ambitious anthroplogy professor named Kim Joon-cheol (played by Choi Jin-ho) has dug up the surira casket containing the Red Eye. His goal is prove that the Legend of the Diamond Sutra is true. However, the plan backfired, because Kim Joon-cheol was accused of forging the surira casket, and his teaching career ended in disgrace.

Kim Joon-cheol keeps the surira casket. And one night during a lunar eclipse, when he’s at home, Kim Joon-cheol decides he’s going to prove that the Legend of the Diamond Sutra is true by conjuring up the Red Eye so that it can reunite with the Black Eye. He does a ritual where he draws blood and chants something mystical, which rouses the Red Eye to emerge from the casket.

This re-awakening of the Red Eye sets off a chain of events where history repeats itself and the Red Eye spends seven days and seven nights inhabiting the bodies of seven different people. The eighth person the Red Eye is forecast to inhabit is a young female shaman who is a virgin. If the Red Eye succeeds in possessing all eight of these people, then by the eighth night, the Red Eye will be reunited with the Black Eye, and the ancient monster’s full power will be restored.

Kim Joon-cheol immediately regrets letting the Red Eye loose. It later emerges in the story (it’s not spoiler information) that Kim Joon-cheol became a monk to atone for this misdeed. At the monastery, an elderly monk named Ha-jeong (played by Lee Eol) finds out that the Red Eye is now on the loose and is on a quest to reunite with the Black Eye. And so, Ha-jeong gives the task of finding the Red Eye to two other men at the monastery: A middle-aged monk named Seonwha (played by Lee Sung-min) and his apprentice Cheong-seok (played by Nam Da-reum), who’s in his 20s.

It’s later revealed that before he became a monk, Seonwha’s name was Park Jin-soo. And he has a tragedy from his past that is motivating him to go on this quest for the Red Eye. When the Red Eye leaves a body it possesses and enters another body, the body left behind becomes a shriveled-up corpse. And that’s why dead bodies in this decrepit condition are mysteriously showing up in an unnamed part of South Korea.

The homicide detective who’s leading the investigation is a no-nonsense taskmaster named Kim Ho-tae (played by Park Hae-joon), who doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Kim Ho-tae has a nerdy young assistant named Dong-jin (played by Kim Dong-young) who believes that the supernatural exists. Dong-jin suspects that the deformed corpses have something to do with the Legend of the Diamond Sutra. However, his supervisor Kim Ho-tae doesn’t want to hear it and threatens to fire Dong-jin if he keeps telling him supernatural conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, it’s a race against time for monks Seonwha and Cheong-seok to catch the Red Eye before it’s too late. They decide that the best strategy is to find the female virgin shaman, whose name is Ae-ran (played by Kim Yoo-jeong), who might or might not be aware of the evil that’s coming her way. Seonwha and Cheong-seok are seen on surveillance video in areas where people end up dead, so the police start to suspect that these two monks might be the reason for the mysterious, shriveled-up corpses.

The most horrific and memorable scenes in “The 8th Night” are not when people get murdered but when people get possessed. There’s a lot of imagery of eyes poking out of skin, as well as veins turning black, that will definitely give viewers the creeps. The possessed people also have an insane stare and a sinister grin when they become possessed. No one does it better than an unnamed teenage girl in a school uniform (played by Park Se-hyun), who wreaks some bloody havoc when she becomes possessed by the Red Eye.

The most nonsensical part of the movie is in the final showdown, which takes place in a forest. Without giving away too much spoiler information, it’s enough to say that the chases and fights in this scene require a lot of suspension of disbelief that certain people being chased wouldn’t get killed right away when they’re trapped by whoever or whatever is chasing them. However, there are a few interesting surprises that make more sense if viewers remember that some of the characters might have ulterior motives.

“The 8th Night” has some creative cinematography and visual effects that make “The 8th Night” more artistic than the average horror movie. There are times when the movie can be style over substance, but the basic plot of the movie is solid and there are touches of comedy that prevent “The 8th Night” from being completely grim. Some viewers might be confused by the plot, which is why it’s crucial to pay attention to the movie’s opening sequence, which explains the Legend of the Diamond Sutra. Ultimately, “The 8th Night” has enough captivating mystery and horror that viewers, confused or not, shouldn’t get easily bored from watching this movie.

Netflix premiered “The 8th Night” on July 2, 2021.

Review: ‘All the Bright Places,’ starring Elle Fanning and Justice Smith

July 10, 2021

by Carla Hay

Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in “All the Bright Places” (Photo by Michele K. Short/Netflix)

“All the Bright Places”

Directed by Brett Haley

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed Indiana city, the dramatic film “All the Bright Places” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two troubled teenagers—one who’s grieving over the accidental death of her older sister, and the other who’s dealing with mental health issues—try to avoid their emotional problems by finding comfort with each other. 

Culture Audience: “All the Bright Places” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching teen dramas that tackle heavy issues.

Elle Fanning and Justice Smith in “All the Bright Places” (Photo by Walter Thomson/Netflix)

If you’re not in the mood to watch a movie about people suffering from anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, then you might want to skip “All the Bright Places.” The movie might seem like it’s about a cutesy teen romance, but it’s not. It’s about very real and very dark issues of mental health and coping with grief. There are moments of levity, but the film’s main characters always have an underlying internal threat to being truly happy.

Directed by Brett Haley, “All the Bright Places” is based on Jennifer Niven’s 2015 “All the Bright Places” novel, which was inspired by real events that she experienced as a teenager. Niven and Liz Hannah co-wrote the “All the Bright Places” screenplay, which makes some changes from the novel but is compassionately enlivened by memorable performances by Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. Although “All the Bright Places” won’t be an easy film to watch for people who are triggered by the same issues that the movie’s teen characters are coping with, the movie’s intention is to help bring awareness to these issues so that people can get and give help in real life.

One of the biggest changes from the book is the movie’s opening scene. In the book, teenagers Violet Markey and Theodore Finch meet when they both end up on the ledge of their high school’s bell tower, as they both contemplate suicide. In the movie, Violet (played by Fanning) and Theodore (played Smith), who prefers to be called Finch, meet when Finch sees Violet standing on the wall of a bridge, as if she’s thinking about jumping at any moment.

Violet and Finch are both in their last year of the same high school in an unnamed city in Indiana. They know about each other, since they’re in the same graduating class and have classes together, but this is the first time they’ve actually met. Finch jumps on the bridge wall to join Violet and reaches out his hand to help bring her off of the wall. Violet seems a little embarrassed and downplays her apparent contemplation of suicide. Finch seems to understand, and they make some small talk before going their separate ways.

On the surface, Violet and Finch couldn’t be more different. Violet is a classic “good girl” who does well in school, is obedient and well-liked by her peers. Finch is a classic “bad boy” who’s disruptive at school, is rebellious and a social outcast. Slowly but surely, it’s revealed how Violet and Finch have more in common that it first appears. It’s why they eventually become close and fall in love.

Violet is overwhelmed with grief over the death of her beloved older sister Eleanor, who was killed in a car accident where Eleanor was hit by a drunk driver. Violet was in the car with Eleanor and feels survivor’s guilt. And the reason why Violet was thinking about jumping off of the bridge that day was because that day would have been Eleanor’s 19th birthday, and that bridge was the site of the car accident.

Violet’s depression has caused her to become withdrawn to the point where she’s lost interest in a lot of social activities that she used to do, and she spends most of her free time by herself. Violet’s parents Sheryl (played by Kelli O’Hara) and James (played by Luke Wilson) gently suggest to Violet that she get back into more social activities, but she ignores their suggestions. Her parents are going through their own grieving process, so they don’t pressue Violet into doing anything that she doesn’t want to do.

In an early scene in the movie, Violet’s close friend Amanda (played by Virginia Gardner) asks Violet if she wants to hang out with her, but Violet says no. There’s an arrogant pretty boy at school named Roamer (played by Felix Mallard), who has a romantic interest in Violet, but she brushes off his attempts to impress her. When she finally decides to go to a party, she mopes and feels very insulted when Roamer tries to tell her, without saying the words, that she needs to get over Eleanor’s death and go back to the way she used to be.

There are hints that because Violet isn’t as sociable as she used to be, her popularity in school has declined. For example, she eats lunch in the school cafeteria by herself. When she walks into a classroom and accidentally drops her books, most of the other students laugh. Violet’s body language and facial expression show that she feels humilated and doesn’t want to call attention to herself. As a show of solidarity, Finch overturns his desk as a distraction so that people can laugh at him. It’s later revealed in the movie that many of the school’s students call Finch a “freak” behind his back.

Why does he have this reputation? It’s because in the previous year, Finch had a violent outburst where he physically attacked a teacher. Due to this incident and a few other unnamed disruptions that Finch has caused, Finch is now on probation and is in danger of not graduating. When he meets with a concerned teacher named Embry (played by Keegan-Michael Key), Finch is sarcastic and dismissive when Embry tries to talk to Finch about Finch’s problems.

Although Finch is treated like a pariah by most of the school’s students, two fellow students are his close friends and have stuck by him through good times and bad times. Charlie (played by Lamar Johnson) has been Finch’s friend longer than anyone else. Charlie, who is easygoing and very loyal, knows that Finch can be unpredictable and can have extreme mood swings. Finch’s other close friend at school is Brenda (played by Sofia Hasmik), who’s smart with an acerbic wit. Finch, Charlie and Brenda have lunch together at school and spend some time together outside of school.

Finch’s home life is very fractured. His backstory is revealed in bits and pieces. Finch’s father, who left the family when Finch was very young, was mentally and physically abusive. Finch’s mother, who isn’t seen in the movie until toward the end, has a job that requires her to travel a lot. Finch is essentially being raised by his understanding older sister Kate (played by Alexandra Shipp), who works as a bartender.

Based on conversations that Finch has with people, he has an undiagnosed mental illness that sounds like bipolar disorder. It’s hinted that Finch’s father, who’s never seen in the movie, might have had the same mental illness, because Finch expresses a fear that he will turn out like his father. Finch’s teacher Embry encourages Finch to join a support group for people coping with various mental and emotional issues. The movie shows if Finch ends up taking this advice.

The walls and ceiling of Finch’s bedroom are covered with color-coordinated Post-It notes of random sayings and thoughts that he writes to himself. Some of the words on the Post-It notes are “Breathe Deeply” and “Because She Smiled at Me.” During the course of the movie, Finch mentions that he often has trouble keeping up with his racing thoughts. He also has a habit of randomly cutting off contact from people and sometimes disappearing for unpredictable periods of time.

Meanwhile, Finch seems infatuated with Violet, ever since their first conversation. He tries to talk to her at school, but she’s withdrawn and aloof, as she has been with almost everyone around her. On social media, he tags her with a video of himself playing acoustic guitar and singing a song that he wrote about her. She’s creeped out and asks him to remove the video immediately, and he grants her request.

But one day, Violet and Finch’s sociology teacher Hudson (played by Chris Grace) gives the class an assignment called the Wandering Project. The assignment, which must be done in duos, requires the students to write about two or more wonders in Indiana that they have seen in person while traveling. Finch immediately knows that he wants Violet to be his partner, but she declines his request because she doesn’t feel ready to do this type of social assignment.

Violet’s mother doesn’t think it’s a good idea to back out of the assignment, but she’s willing to write a note so that Violet can avoid doing the Wandering Project. However, Hudson the teacher won’t allow Violet to back out. And so, Violet reluctantly agrees to be Finch’s partner on the assignment. She has one major condition if they travel together: “No cars. I’m not getting into a car.” (She’ll eventually change her mind about that too.)

There’s many scenes in All the Bright Places” that have all the characteristics of a sappy teen romance. Violet and Finch read Virginia Woolf quotes and other literary quotes to each other over the phone. Finch gives Violet a quote from “The Waves” that reads, “I feel a thousand capacities in you, even if you don’t think so.” Finch adds, “You’ve got at least a thousand capacities in you, even if you don’t think so.”

Violet and Finch see an outdoor art wall with chalk writings that say “Before I Die, I Want to….” and people can fill in the blanks. Finch completes the sentence by writing, “Stay Awake,” Violet answers, “Be Brave.” As they get closer, they eventually open up to each other about their hopes, fears and traumas that haunt them. They find a secluded wooded area near a lake that becomes a special place for them.

“All the Bright Places” sows the tender blossoming of Violet and Finch’s romance. However, there are parts of the movie that might irritate some people who will think that Finch is yet another “angry young black man” stereotype that’s seen in many other movies about troubled young people. Finch could have been played by an actor of any race. This movie obviously wants to be “color blind.”

However, it’s an artistic choice that brings some flaws when race is never even mentioned at all in the movie. And that’s very unrealistic for interracial couples, especially a couple still in high school and not old enough to have their own homes. Amanda warns Violet to stay away from Finch because he has a reputation for being “dangerous.” But Violet ignores this warning

Violet’s protective and loving parents seem very unaware of Finch’s troubled past. The parents’ ignorance or unwillingness to find out more about the teenage guy who’s been spending time with their daughter could be explained by speculating that Sheryl and James are so relieved tha Violet has found a new friend who’s bringing Violet out of her grief-stricken shell, they don’t want to find out anything bad about Finch.

And, for a while, things do go well for Violet and Finch, as they become each other’s close confidants. But the cracks in the relationship begin when Finch pulls a disappearing act. Violet is not prepared for dealing with Finch’s unpredictability, and she takes it very personally when he doesn’t respond to her messages for days. Violet has an insightful conversation with Charlie about how Finch has always been this erratic, but somehow Violet thinks that her love and friendship will be strong enough to help Finch improve.

What this movie shows, in very layered ways, is that signs of mental illness can be right in front of a loved one to see, but people often ignore these signs, or they think that with enough love, they can “fix” the person with the mental illness. It’s a common trap for people who end up being co-dependent in unhealthy ways. What Violet doesn’t understand is that she’s also vulnerable and hasn’t healed from her own emotional trauma (her grief has obviously made her depressed), so she’s not fully equipped to deal with Finch’s mental illness. It’s no one’s fault. That’s just the way it is.

Fanning (who is one of the producers of “All the Bright Places”) is extremely talented at conveying emotions that look so authentic that they don’t look like acting. Smith is also convincing in his role, but the movie has a tendency to give more weight to Violet’s perspective than Finch’s perspective. The technical aspects of “All the Bright Places” work best in Rob Givens’ cinematography, which gorgeously captures the landscapes of a Midwestern autumn. (The movie takes place in Indiana but was actually filmed in Ohio.)

But this movie wouldn’t work as well without Fanning’s and Smith’s admirable performances. Is there some typical teen melodrama in the movie? Absolutely. But in other ways, “All the Bright Places” is not a typical teen movie. It will make people feel a range of emotions that might cause discomfort but also a renewed appreciation for the fragility of life.

Netflix premiered “All the Bright Places” on February 28, 2020.

Netflix debuts ‘Cat People’ series: See photos and videos

July 1, 2021

The following is a press release from Netflix:

Dogs may get credit for being humanity’s best friend, but to many people, cats are just as much our loyal partners — even though if you asked cats they might not admit it! “Cat People” explores our fascinating relationship with cats through the lens of some of the most remarkable and surprising “cat people” in the world, defying the negative stereotypes of what it means to be a cat person while revealing the fundamental truths of what it means to have deep bonds with these fiercely independent, mysterious creatures.

“Cat People” premieres on Netflix on July 7, 2021.

(All photos courtesy of Netflix)

Netflix unveils Season 2 of ‘Dogs’: See photos and videos

July 1, 2021

The following is a press release from Netflix:

Our beloved best friends are back! Dogs returns to explore the powerful bond between humanity and dogs in four new intimate, heartwarming episodes. Whether it’s the story of an astronaut, a priest, a military contractor, or the handler of a legendary university mascot, Dogs shows us how these beautiful animals occupy the same place in all of our hearts — one reserved not just for pets, but for family.

Season 2 of “Dogs” premieres on Netflix on July 7, 2021.

(All photos courtesy of Netflix)

Netflix premieres ‘High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America’

May 21, 2021

“High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America” Episode 1, “Our Roots” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

The following is a description from Netflix:

“High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America”

Series premiere: May 26, 2021

Black food is American food. Chef and writer Stephen Satterfield traces the delicious, moving throughlines from Africa to Texas in this docuseries.

Review: ‘My Octopus Teacher,’ starring Craig Foster

April 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Craig Foster and Rosetta in “My Octopus Teacher” (Photo by Tom Foster/Netflix)

“My Octopus Teacher”

Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed

Culture Representation: Taking place off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, the documentary “My Octopus Teacher” features white South African filmmaker chronicling his year-long journey of observing and befriending a female octopus named Rosetta living in a kelp forest.

Culture Clash: The octopus Rosetta frequently encounters dangerous predators, such as pyjama sharks.

Culture Audience: “My Octopus Teacher” will appeal primarily to people interested in nature documentaries that have visually immersive cinematography and emotionally moving examples of how humans and animals can bond with each other.

Rosetta in “My Octopus Teacher” (Photo by Craig Foster/Netflix)

Nature documentaries about humans who befriend or grow close to animals tend to be about mammals. And in animated films with underwater creatures, the octopus is rarely the star. The documentary “My Octopus Teacher” tells a distinctive and memorable tale of how a filmmaker formed an unusual friendship with an octopus that taught him more about life than he expected. It’s a movie that’s unabashedly sentimental but also thoroughly entertaining and educational.

Directed by Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed, “My Octopus Teacher” was eight years in the making, but the footage in the movie is about how South African documentary filmmaker Craig Foster observed and eventually grew close to a female octopus during an approximately one-year period. Foster named the octopus Rosetta, and he visited her every day in False Bay, off the coast of his hometown of Cape Town, South Africa. Foster, whose specialty is nature documentaries, produced “My Octopus Teacher,” and he was inspired to film in the kelp forests that he remembered playing in as a child.

The documentary’s stunning cinematography by Foster and Roger Horrocks completely immerses viewers in the underwater kelp forest that is Rosetta’s domain. At first, the octopus is wary and mistrustful of Foster, but she eventually figures out that he won’t hurt her, and she learns to trust him. There’s a breakthrough moment when she reaches a tentacle out to him, like a handshake.

And much later, their bond is strong enough where she lets him cradle her in his arms like a baby. There’s very much a “cute” factor to this movie that will delight people of all ages and especially people who have a fondness for animals. What’s also unique about the movie is that, unlike most animal documentaries that focus on a family of animals, “My Octopus Teacher” is only about one animal. It’s mentioned in the film that an octopus, by nature, tends be a loner.

“My Octopus Teacher” shows how the intelligence of an octopus is much higher than a lot of people might think it is. In the documentary, Foster (who gives constant on-camera and voiceover narration throughout the film) says that an octopus has approximately the same intelligence as a dog or a cat. But Rosetta gets herself out of predicaments in such a way that will make people think she’s smarter than the average octopus.

Foster’s underwater excursions were unusual for a documentarian because he refused to wear a wet suit or a scuba tank. As he explains in the documentary, “Having a scuba tank is not optimal for me. I want to be more like an amphibious animal. Instinctively, I knew not to wear a wet suit. If you really want to get close to an environment like this, it helps tremendously to have no barrier to that environment.”

The narration of “My Octopus Teacher” is deeply personal, since Foster tells his story like someone giving testimony about a life-changing experience. Thanks to skillful editing from Ehrlich and Dan Schwalm, footage that’s shown is an effective match to what he recounts in his storytelling. Foster says that around the year 2010, he got burned out from making films in exotic but harsh locations (such as Africa’s Kalahari Desert, where he filmed “The Great Dance”) and was experiencing stress-related anxiety. And so, he decided that he would go back to the kelp forests of his childhood for a more relaxing underwater environment.

As Foster tells it in the documentary, he didn’t expect that he would become so personally attached to this octopus. By his own admission, he became “obsessed” with Rosetta’s well-being and what she was up to on a daily basis. It’s very clear that Foster became emotionally attached to the octopus as someone might be for a pet that doesn’t live in the home.

Of course, life for Rosetta wasn’t all happiness and joy. She was under constant threat from predators, with the most dangerous being pyjama sharks. A nature documentary is almost required to show chase scenes that could end in life or death. And “The Octopus Teacher” certainly delivers on this type of suspense.

There’s also a segment early on the film when Rosetta is scared off because Foster accidentally dropped a camera near her. His sudden lens also spooked her and she ran off and abandoned the den where she was living. Foster than had to learn how to track down an octopus in this vast environment.

He comments in the movie about this investigative mission: “You have to start thinking like an octopus. It’s like being a detective. You just slowly start getting all of your clues together. And then I started to make little breakthroughs.”

Some of the clues involved tracing Rosetta by the type of discarded food she was likely to have left behind. And the strategy works. Foster’s elation at reuniting with Rosetta after a week of not seeing her is almost palpable through the screen. And the octopus’ reaction is also a sight to behold.

“My Octopus Teacher” was absolutely designed to pull at people’s heartstrings. The lively musical score from Kevin Smuts hits all the right emotional buttons. And Foster gets teary-eyed in a few moments of the film that will also make a lot of viewers cry too.

If there’s any main criticism that people might have of the movie it’s that there’s too much narration. And some viewers might think that it’s a bit too anthropomorphic when Foster (who is not a scientist) tells viewers what Rosetta was feeling. However, the flip side to that argument is Foster spent a year developing a close bond to this octopus, so he’s entitled to his opinion. Some cynics might also snipe that the documentary is a promotional vehicle for the Sea Change Project, a diver community that Foster co-founded and which is mentioned in the movie’s epilogue.

Even without the sentimentality of this story, “My Octopus Teacher” has lessons in humility that people can learn when it comes to human beings’ tendency to underestimate the intelligence of other animals. The end of the movie shows how Foster’s friendship with Rosetta affected his relationship with his son Tom, who was a teenager at the time this documentary was filmed and who appears briefly in the movie. “My Octopus Teacher” is such an emotionally stirring film, it’s bound to have an effect on viewers too.

Netflix premiered “My Octopus Teacher” on September 7, 2020.

Review: ‘Project Power,’ starring Jamie Foxx, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Dominique Fishback, Rodrigo Santoro, Colson Baker, Amy Landecker and Courtney B. Vance

August 16, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in “Project Power” (Photo by Skip Bolen/Netflix)

“Project Power”

Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman

Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the action thriller “Project Power” features a racially diverse cast (African American, white and Latino) representing the middle-class and the criminal underworld.

Culture Clash:  An underground drug called Power, which has the ability to give people superpowers for five minutes each time the drug is ingested, is at the center of a power struggle between criminals, cops, a man on a revenge mission and the teenage rebel enlisted to help him.

Culture Audience: “Project Power” will appeal mostly to people who like “race against time” stories that have sci-fi elements, numerous fight scenes and gory visual effects.

Dominique Fishback in “Project Power” (Photo by Skip Bolen/Netflix)

How do you get a superpower? In fictional stories, there are so many ways. And in the world of the action thriller “Project Power,” getting a superpower means swallowing a capsule pill called Power that can have one of two results: give someone a superpower for five minutes or immediately kill the person who ingests it. And in the world of “Project Power,” people are each born with a superpower that they won’t know they have until they take the Power pill that will unleash the power. When the pill kills someone instantly, it’s usually a bloody and gruesome death, such as someone’s body self-exploding.

Is it worth the risk to take the Power pill? That’s a dilemma that characters in this movie, which is set in New Orleans, constantly have to face when they have access to Power. Of course, this is the type of drug that’s not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so the underground/illegal status of the pill makes it even more valuable, especially to criminals. It’s why in the beginning of the movie, New Orleans is pretty much under siege by criminals who are taking the drug to commit and get away with violent crimes.

It’s during this chaos that three people’s lives collide: Frank (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cop who’s secretly ingesting Power to fight criminals; Robin (played by Dominique Fishback), a feisty teenager who’s been selling Power; and Art (played by Jamie Foxx), a military veteran who likes to call himself “The Major” who’s out for revenge. (The reason for Art’s vendetta is revealed in the movie.)

Frank knows Robin because she’s the one who sells Frank his Power pills. To ensure her loyalty, he also buys her a motorcycle for her birthday. Frank’s superpower is that he’s bulletproof and can can heal quickly from any injuries.

Frank is involved in a big chase scene with a robber, and it becomes almost impossible for Frank not to hide that he’s taken a Power pill, based on the superhuman way that he was able to be immune to deadly bullets. It might only be a matter of time before Frank’s boss Captain Craine (played by Courtney B. Vance) notices that Frank has superhuman abilities on the job.

Meanwhile, Art rolls into the area from Tampa, Florida, because he’s on a revenge mission. He has to do some investigating into who is responsible for a crime that he’s avenging. He knows that the people he’s looking for are involved in dealing the Power drug. Art stops by the apartment of a lowlife named Newt (played by Colson Baker), who takes a Power pill when he figures out that Art is looking for him and there’s going to be a big fight. This showdown between Art and Newt kicks off a series of high-octane action scenes that involve a lot of mayhem, blood and destruction.

Art and Robin “cross paths” when Art kidnaps her and basically forces her to help him on his mission to find the crime lord responsible for overseeing the illegal sales of Power in the area. Why? Because Robin is a local drug dealer of Power, and Art figures that she can be easily pressured into giving up information that will lead to the higher-ups on the drug-dealing hierarchy.

When she finds out the reason why Art is hell-bent on revenge, Robin becomes more sympathetic to him and a willing ally. But Frank is after Art because he’s convinced that Art is one of the bad guys. And so, Robin is somewhat caught in the middle, and she has to decide which person she can trust more.

The two chief villains of the story are Biggie (played by Rodrigo Santoro), who’s a typical scumbag type who inevitably takes someone hostage in the movie, and Gardner (played by Amy Landecker), the type of boss who walks around in power suits and gets other people to do the dirty work. There’s nothing inherently scary or memorable about these two generic villains.

“Project Power” (directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman) is the type of movie where the characters are constantly chasing after or at the mercy of something that can “get into the wrong hands.” The main reason why people will want to see “Project Power” is to see what type of superpowers that characters will get to when they take the pill. The movie is essentially a showcase for these visual effects and chase scenes.

On the one hand, it’s refreshing to see an African American teenage girl have a prominent role in an action flick, when this type of role usually goes to male actors. On the other hand, “Project Power” (written by Mattson Tomlin) falls back on some over-used and negative stereotypes that African American teens in urban areas are criminals, because Robin is basically a drug dealer.

And the movie has this other tired cliché about African Americans: This teenage drug dealer is also an aspiring rapper. If this role had gone to someone who isn’t African American, it’s doubtful that the character would be a drug dealer/wannabe rapper. There’s a scene in the movie where Robin does a freestyle insult rap to a teacher who tries to discipline her.

The movie also has Robin as another African American negative stereotype: She’s the product of a financially deprived, broken home: She lives with her single mother Irene (played by Andrea Ward-Hammond), who’s struggling with an unnamed illness, and Robin has to be her caretaker. Andrea has no idea that her daughter is a drug dealer, even though it’s obvious that Robin’s minimum-wage, part-time job at a fast-food joint isn’t the reason why Robin has enough cash on her to help with the household bills.

All of these negative stereotypes would be extremely annoying if not for the fact that there is some redemption for Robin, and “Project Power” doesn’t spend a lot of time on these lazy and unimaginative clichés. What saves this movie from being a mindless set of action sequences is that Foxx and Gordon-Levitt have a push-and-pull rapport that is very entertaining to watch. Fishback also has some moments where she’s a scene-stealer.

“Project Power” also has some not-so-subtle messaging about how power (or the idea of having power) can be so addicting that people will stop at nothing to get it, even if it means risking death. There are some scenes where superpowers that are only supposed to last five minutes seem to go longer than five minutes. But most people watching this movie aren’t going to sit there and nitpick by keeping track of the length of time that the superpowers are really in effect. They just want to a lot of thrilling action scenes and at least one “freak creature” that hasn’t been seen before in a movie.

Netflix premiered “Project Power” on August 14, 2020.

Review: ‘Work It,’ starring Sabrina Carpenter, Liza Koshy, Keiynan Lonsdale and Jordan Fisher

August 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Neil Robles, Bianca Asilo, Tyler Hutchings, Liza Koshy, Jordan Fisher, Sabrina Carpenter, Nathaniel Scarlette and Indiana Mehta in “Work It” (Photo by Brendan Adam-Zwelling/Netflix)

“Work It” 

Directed by Laura Terruso

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the dramedy film “Work It” has a racially diverse cast (white, African American and Asian) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash:  A high-school senior, who’s an overachiever but a clumsy dancer, wants to win a group dance contest in order to impress a college admissions officer, so she recruits a group of misfits to train as dancers and dethrone the reigning champs.

Culture Audience: “Work It” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic movies about students involved in dance contests.

Pictured in front row: Kalliane Bremault, Keiynan Lonsdale and Briana Andrade-Jones in “Work It” (Photo by Brendan Adam-Zwelling/Netflix)

Imagine a movie that takes almost every stereotypical plot in a teen movie and piles it on top of more clichés until it becomes a mindless mush of forgettable unoriginality. The result is the “Work It,” a dramedy that’s so derivative that even the movie’s title is recycled and bland. Directed by Laura Terruso and written by Alison Peck, “Work It” follows every formula of a teen dance movie to the point where people can predict what can happen even without seeing a second of this film. What saves “Work It” from being completely awful is much of the eye-catching choreography and the comedic talents of some of the cast members.

Here some of the high-school movie tropes in “Work it” that check a lot cliché boxes: Is there a nerdy protagonist who wants to transform into becoming more popular? Check. In “Work It,” she’s overachiever Quinn Ackerman (played by Sabrina Carpenter), a senior at the fictional Woodbright High School, which is located in an unnamed U.S. city. Quinn is consumed with her goal to get into Duke University, her late father’s alma mater.

Is there a big upcoming contest that will be a test of her popularity? Check. It’s the annual Work It dance competition, and Woodbright’s elite dance team the Thunderbirds are the reigning champs. Is there a sassy best friend who provides most of the comic relief? Check. She’s Jasmine “Jas” Hale (played by Liza Koshy), who is one of the best dancers on the Thunderbirds team.

Is there a villain? Check. The very arrogant captain of the Thunderbirds is Isaiah “Julliard” Pembroke (played Keiynan Lonsdale), who insists that people call him Julliard, because he’s convinced that he has what it takes to be admitted to this prestigious performing-arts college. Is there a love interest for the protagonist? Check. And is there a group of misfits who will band together with the protagonist to help her achieve her popularity goal? Check.

At the beginning of “Work it,” the conflict between Quinn and Julliard starts when Quinn, who has been a volunteer lightboard operator for the Thunderbirds, accidentally spills coffee on the lightboard during a Thunderbirds rehearsal. The accident results in a big electrical malfunction that singes the hair of one of the Thunderbirds named Brit Turner (played by Kalliane Bremault), who is one of Julliard’s fawning sidekicks.

Julliard storms into the studio control area with Brit and his other main sycophant Trinity (played by Briana Andrade-Jones), and rudely scolds Quinn about the mishap: “It is my responsibility to lead the team to a fourth consecutive victory!” Quinn makes a profuse apology and promises that the accident won’t happen again. But Julliard is not having it.

“Brit’s hair was singed,” he huffs imperiously. “She probably has to get bangs now, and she doesn’t have the face for it.” Julliard then haughtily fires Quinn by telling her, “You are banished from this room!”

Quinn’s feelings are hurt by the dismissal, but she has something bigger to worry about: her upcoming in-person interview with an admission officer at Duke University. Quinn, who narrates this film, explains in a voiceover that she’s fixated on attending Duke because her father was a Duke alum, and Quinn has happy memories of going to Duke football games and alumni events. Quinn says of Duke: “It feels like home—if you had a less than 6% acceptance rate.”

Quinn’s supportive mother Maria Ackerman (played by Naomi Snieckus) is equally enthusiastic about Quinn attending Duke. Maria and Quinn share a tendency to be worried, neurotic and over-prepared. They are both nervous wrecks by the time that Maria drives Quinn to Duke for Quinn’s interview.

At the interview, Quinn lists her qualifications for why she’s an ideal candidate for Duke: She’s a national Merit Scholar with a 4.0 GPA. She’s the student government treasurer at her high school. For extracurricular activities, she’s president of the school’s AV Club; she volunteers at a nursing home three days a week; and she plays the cello.

The Duke admissions officer Veronica Ramirez (played by Michelle Buteau) makes it clear to Quinn that she’s bored and unimpressed because other applicants have the same qualifications. Ms. Ramirez tells Quinn that they’re looking for risk-takers who are passionate about something, so Quinn blurts out that she really likes the Thunderbirds, who are the reigning champs of the Work It competition.

Ms. Ramirez comments that she loves the Work It competition, and she assumes that Quinn is part of the Thunderbirds dance team. Quinn doesn’t correct her and tell her the truth: That she’s not a dancer and she’s not even part of the Thunderbirds anymore as their lightboard operator.

But then, Quinn soon regrets this deliberate misleading, because Ms. Ramirez then excitedly tells Quinn that she’ll be at the Work It competition this year and that she looks forward to seeing Quinn there. The Work It contest happens before Quinn will find out if she got accepted into Duke, so she leaves the interview silently panicking over how she’s going to be able to get out of this big lie with the one person who can make or break her admission into Duke.

After thinking about writing an apology email confessing her lie, Quinn changes her mind and comes up with a desperate plan: She’ll learn how to dance in the few weeks left before the qualifying stage of the contest, audition for the Thunderbirds, and then get into the Work It competition as part of the Thunderbirds dance team. Quinn begs a reluctant Jas to be her dance teacher, by reminding Jas that Quinn has helped her with her academics, and it’s time to return the favor.

The big problem, of course, is that Quinn is an uncoordinated klutz. Quinn also wants to dancer/choreographer Jake Taylor (played by Jordan Fisher), who’s a few years older than she is, to coach her. Jake was expected to make it big as a dancer after a won a major dance contest, but his dance career was cut short after he got an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, and he disappeared from the professional dance scene.

Of course, Quinn tracks him down, and finds out that he’s been making a living teaching elementary-school-aged kids how to dance. Jake still has a lot of talent, but the injury has shaken his confidence in becoming a professional dancer again. Quinn shows up unannounced at one of his classes and tells him that she wants him to teach her how to dance and she won’t take no for an anwer. He’s annoyed and amused by Quinn’s persistence and basically tells her to go away. But since he’s Quinn’s obvious love interest, this won’t be the last we see of Jake in this story.

Quinn’s audition for the Thunderbirds goes as badly as you think it does. Julliard gets a big laugh over Quinn’s humiliation, especially when she begs him to join the team. He sarcastically suggests that maybe Quinn should start her own dance team. And you just know she does.

Quinn’s first recruit is Jas, who’s reluctant at first to quit the Thunderbirds. But Julliard treats everyone on the Thunderbirds team like crap, so it isn’t long before Jas is all-in for Quinn’s team. Quinn can’t think of an official name, so she calls the team TBD—as in, to be determined.

And this is where the misfits come in: One by one, Quinn convinces other unlikely students at the school to join her team. Raven (played by Bianca Asilo) is a pessimistic Goth girl who likes to dance to heavy-metal songs for videos that she puts on social media. Chris Royo (played by Neil Robles) is a social outcast on his soccer team, but he has good rhythm. Quinn appeals to Chris’ ego by telling him that he’ll be more appreciated on her dance team than on the soccer team.

DJ Tapes (played by Nathaniel Scarlette) is a dancer who seems to be straight out of the ‘80s, with a boombox and hip-hop breakdancing style. Robby G. (Tyler Hutchins) is a tall, thin dorky type whose claim to fame is he was once seen doing a back flip. Quinn tracks him down at a karate dojo. Priya Singh (played by Indiana Mehta) is a sarcastic roller skater, who has a knack for twirling, so she’s enlisted for the dance team too.

“Work It” has the expected montages of Quinn and the rest of her motley crew being terrible dancers (except for Jas), with the expected clumsy falls and uncoordinated moves, with Quinn being the driving force for them not to give up. There’s also a running joke in the film that Jas has a crush on a hunky guy named Charlie (played by Drew Ray Tanner), who works as a salesman in a mattress store. And so, there are multiple scenes of Jas engaging in all sorts of hijinks (including asking Charlie to “spoon” with her on a bed mattress), in order to get his attention.

Koshy is one of the few bright spots in this dreadfully predictable film. Even though she and the other cast members have a lot of cringeworthy dialogue, Koshy’s comedic timing and facial expressions show that she has real knack for bringing a humorous flair that can elevate some horrible screenwriting. She’s a bit of a scene stealer. Lonsdale also looks like he’s having funny playing a flamboyant villain, even if the role at times veers too much into some stereotypical tropes that male dancers have catty, effeminate qualities.

Carpenter is just fine in her role as Quinn, the story’s heroine, although she’s played the “good girl” many times before on screen, so it’s not much of an acting stretch for her. As for Fisher, he is charming enough in his role, but his Jake character is written as kind of a blank slate, with no sense of who his family or friends are.

The chemistry and dancing between Carpenter and Fisher are fairly tame (this movie is no “Dirty Dancing”), as is most of the film’s humor. However, there is one scene where a male dancer’s erection is played for cheap laughs. The target audience for this movie is obviously kids in the age range of 12 to 17, so the erection scene is this movie’s way of being “edgy” for this type of audience.

Most of this movie’s attempts at humor fall flat and have very cheesy lines. For example, when Quinn and her dance team decide to go to the nursing home where she volunteers, so that they can practice in front of a live audience, the only person who’s in the audience is a nursing home resident, who ends up dying during the performance. Priya says as the man’s corpse is being taken away in an ambulance: “I’m pretty sure the key to a live audience is keeping them alive.”

The movie’s dancing and choreography are very “So You Think You Can Dance.” There are some eye-catching moments, but nothing that will make “Work It” a classic dance film. The movie’s soundtrack is also a predictable collection of pop tunes, including Dua Lipa’s “Break My Heart,” Normani’s “Motivation,” Ciara’s “Thinkin Bout You,” Meghan Trainor’s “Treat Myself” and Zara Larsson’s “WOW.”

All the energy put into the dance numbers still can’t erase the fact that “Work It” is hopelessly lazy when it comes to the generic way that the story is told. The only steps that this vapid movie seems concerned with are those that move from story cliché to story cliché.

Netflix premiered “Work It” on August 7, 2020.