Review: ‘A Shot Through the Wall,’ starring Kenny Leu, Ciara Renée, Tzi Ma, Fiona Fu, Dan Lauria, Clifton Davis and Lynn Chen

February 18, 2022

by Carla Hay

Kenny Leu in “A Shot Through the Wall” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“A Shot Through the Wall”

Directed by Aimee Long

Some language in Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the dramatic film “A Shot Through the Wall” features a racially diverse cast (Asian and white, with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Chinese American police officer accidentally shoots and kills an unarmed and innocent black man through an apartment building wall, and he becomes embroiled in a controversy over whether or not he should be convicted of manslaughter.

Culture Audience: “A Shot Through the Wall” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in suspenseful dramas that address real-life, hard-hitting issues about the American criminal justice system.

Ciara Renée and Kenny Leu in “A Shot Through the Wall” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

Gripping and well-acted, the drama “A Shot Through the Wall” brings a somewhat flawed but mostly realistic look at how the American criminal justice system deals with a police officer who shoots and kills an unarmed black man who wasn’t committing a crime. Most of the news stories about these tragedies are about white police officers who pulled the trigger. “A Shot Through the Wall” takes the unusual approach of telling this story from the perspective of a Chinese American police officer who did the killing.

Written and directed by Aimee Long, “A Shot Through the Wall” also explores immigrant issues, as well as prejudices that can exist between people of color from different races. Even though the story takes place in New York City, “A Shot Through the Wall” can apply to many places where racial inequalities determine how people are treated by the criminal justice system. The movie is fictional but inspired by the real-life case of Peter Liang, who was a New York City Police Department officer when he accidentally shot an unarmed, young black man named Akai Gurley through a wall in a Brooklyn apartment building. The 2020 documentary “Down a Dark Stairwell” is about this case.

At times, “A Shot Through the Wall” becomes melodramatic in how the accused police officer reacts to the accusations, when he does some things that would make a defense attorney cringe in real life. However, the movie makes up for some of these contrived-looking dramatics with a lot of dialogue and scenarios that are entirely realistic. The acting performances by the cast members also infuse a lot of authentic emotions into the movie.

The cop at the center of the story is Mike Tan (played by Keny Leu), who is in his late 20s. He lives in Brooklyn with his parents, who are both Chinese immigrants. His domineering mother May Tan (played by Fiona Fu) and his more laid-back father Chow Tan (played by Tzi Ma) were both wary but ultimately supportive of Mike’s decision to become a New York City police officer. Mike has an older sister named Grace Tan (played by Lynn Chen), who frequently visits this family home. Mike and Grace have a close relationship and, for the most part, they get along with each other.

In the beginning of the movie, Mike’s life seems to be going well. He and his fiancée Candace Walker (played by Ciara Renée) are very much in love with each other and will be making plans for their wedding. Candace’s father just happens to be Mike’s boss at the New York City Police Department. His name is Bill Walker (played Clifton Davis), who is deputy chief of the NYPD. Bill approves of Mike and Candace’s relationship, and so do Mike’s parents.

Candace’s mother abandoned the family when Candace was a child because (according to Candace) she didn’t want to raise a biracial child. Candace’s father is black, and her mother is white. Candace’s mother has not been in contact with Bill and Candace and is completely out of their lives. This abandonment has left emotional scars on Candace that come out in different ways. One of those ways is how she has vowed not to be like her mother, so Candace is very loyal to her loved ones.

People’s racial identities are at the forefront of this story, because these identities affect how people view themselves and others. Candace is like a lot of biracial or multiracial people who feel pressure to identify with one race more than any other. Because she was raised by a single black father, and because her skin tone and parentage automatically put her in the racial category of not being white/Caucasian, Candace chooses to identify as black. All of this is important background information when issues over race become the biggest source of tension in the story.

One day, Mike and his white cop partner Ryan Doheney (played by Derek Goh) are walking on patrol in Brooklyn. They talk about how Mike’s parents and Candace’s father will be meeting each other for the first time on an upcoming Friday of that week. Ryan is cocky and gives the impression that he’s kind of a bully. Ryan makes a racist comment that Mike’s “Chinese parents are afraid of meeting their black in-laws.”

Mike laughs it off as a light-hearted joke and replies, “I’m sure they’ll be fine.” Ryan says, “Yeah, that’s what you said about Candace.” Mike answers, “I love Candance now.” Ryan then smirks, “That’s because she’s ‘half,’ bro. You like the white part.” Mike then says with a trace of annoyance, “Go fuck yourself.”

This brief conversation is a peek into the racial dynamics between Ryan and Mike, and what Ryan thinks of black people. It’s also enough to figure out that if Ryan encounters a black person while he’s on duty as a cop, Ryan is likely to instigate a situation to try to get that person in trouble. And sure enough, when Ryan sees five black teenage boys walking down the street together and minding their own business, he immediately tries to accuse them of doing something wrong.

Ryan points out this group of teens to Mike. The two cops walk toward the teenagers, while Mike shouts at the group: “Aren’t you supposed to be in school right now?” One of the boys says that their school sessions have ended for the day. That answer isn’t good enough for these cops. Would these teens have gotten so much scrutiny from these cops if these children were all white? Most people living in the real world would say, “Definitely not.”

Mike asks to see what’s in the teenagers’ backpacks. It’s a request that’s inappropriate, considering the teenagers weren’t bothering anyone. Cops in America don’t have a right to search belongings without a warrant, probable cause related to a crime, or permission from the owner of the belongings. One of the teens (played by Justin Withers) knows it and says so, which annoys Mike and Ryan that this teen knows his rights. Before this disagreement turns into a full-blown argument, one of the other teens (played by Michael Kelly) panics by quickly running away.

It’s reason enough for Mike and Ryan to give chase. After running through some streets, the teen goes into an apartment building. Mike and Ryan run in the building too. They follow the teen until he loses them on the floor where he’s hiding. Mike and Ryan don’t know which apartment unit could be the hiding place of the teenager. And that’s when Mike makes a critical mistake: Mike takes out his gun.

When people talk about unconscious or conscious racial bias, this act of a cop pulling out a gun for this minor situation can be used as an example of this type of racial bias. When the teenager was running away, he was not making any threats. He did not appear to have a weapon. And so, what would make Mike think that this teenager needed to have a gun pulled on him at that moment? It’s an example of racial bias that “A Shot Through the Wall” demonstrates well without saying a word.

Anyone can argue that the teenager shouldn’t have run away. But it’s more important to remember that the cops shouldn’t have approached the teenagers so aggressively in the first place. Maybe the teenager had nothing to hide, but he didn’t want to be around in a situation where the cops might start physically harassing him and his friends. There are all sorts of reasons why people might run away, just like the teenager did. It doesn’t automatically make that person a criminal.

The cops never do find the teenager because something horrible happens that turns this police chase into a tragedy: In Mike’s heightened state of being ready to pull the trigger, Mike accidentally discharges his gun. The bullet goes through a wall. And seconds later, a woman is heard wailing inside the apartment that someone has just shot her son.

Mike and Ryan go inside the apartment where they hear the woman screaming for help. And that’s where they see the victim on the kitchen floor. His name is Jordan Wiggins (played by Darrell Leal), a 27-year-old black man, who was not involved in the chase that led to this shooting. Jordan’s panicked and distraught mother Felicia Wiggins (played by Michelle Wilson) begs the cops to save her son’s life.

Mike and Ryan call for an ambulance and frantically use CPR methods to try to revive Jordan, but it’s too late to save him. A neighbor (played by Timothy Ware-Hill) hears the commotion and goes to the open door to find out what’s happening. When the neighbor sees that it’s an emergency situation, he starts filming this activity with his phone. Mike angrily tells the neighbor to stop filming. The neighbor backs off, but he keeps the video footage. And you just know what’s going to happen to that footage.

Later, Mike and Ryan find out that Jordan was a social worker with no criminal record. The shooting is all over the local news. And immediately, Mike and Ryan are told to meet with the NYPD’s union lawyer Ritchie Barrett (played by Dan Lauria), a jaded and no-nonsense counselor. Ritchie tells Mike and Ryan not to talk to the media and that these two cop partners better get their stories straight. In the meantime, Mike and Ryan have been suspended without pay, as the NYPD’s internal affairs department conducts an investigation. Ritchie also assures Mike and Ryan that this incident will eventually blow over, and they’ll be back on the job.

Mike feels a lot of guilt and shame over what happened, but he doesn’t think that he should go to prison over it. Mike’s family and Candace are horrified too, but they also don’t think that Mike should go to prison. For a brief period of time, Mike’s and Ryan’s names are kept out of the media, because the NYPD and most police departments don’t publicly release the names of cops who are under investigation by internal affairs.

During this brief period of anonymity, Mike and Candace go to an outdoor candlelight vigil being held in tribute to Jordan. The event is open to the public. Jordan’s mother Felicia is there, and so are some civil rights activists in the community. Felicia gives a short but emotional speech. Mike and Candace keep to themselves at this vigil and don’t reveal who they are. When Mike sees the impact of what he did by taking the life of an innocent man, it hits him hard.

After coming home from the vigil, Mike and Candace have a big argument, which is one of the best scenes in the movie. Candace tells Mike, “You don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a world where talking to a cop can get you killed, just because of the color of your skin. It’s not something that happens to someone like you.”

Mike defensively replies, “What? It happens to you? You’re the daughter of a cop!” Candace then says, “You’re right, but my mom walked out on us because of the color of my skin. My dad gets dragged up on the podium to be a black face for the department, every time a black man is shot in Brooklyn. So no, I don’t have the problems they have, but I’ve been dealing with this shit my entire life!”

And just what does Candace’s father think of this shooting? For obvious reasons, Bill doesn’t want Mike to go to prison either. However, that doesn’t mean he will always be on Mike’s side as other things start to happen. Eventually, news of Mike and Ryan being suspended quickly gets leaked, and it’s reported in the media. The identities of Mike and Ryan are now public.

Ryan’s attitude is that he won’t get in as much trouble as Mike because Mike was the one who pulled the trigger. Therefore, when Mike tries to get some emotional support from Ryan, it’s easy for Ryan to tell Mike: “It was an accident. Remember that. It was a horrible thing. You shot him as that happened, but you are not to blame here. You were just doing your job.”

The media attention over the case leads to several public protests and rallies from civil rights activists, who don’t want Ryan and Mike to be let off the hook so easily. After all the media attention, a district attorney named Cynthia Kostas (played by Catherine Curtin) gets involved. Mike finds out the hard way that Ritchie was wrong when he assured Mike and Ryan that everything would be okay.

Mike gets indicted for manslaughter. It’s not spoiler information, since the trailer for “A Shot Through the Wall” shows Mike in court being asked what his plea is. Whether or not he goes to trial is revealed in the movie. But during this legal process, Mike ends up getting his own high-profile defense attorney named Larry Berman (played by Kelly AuCoin), a slick operator who advises Mike to do a TV interview to tell his side of the story. As shown in the movie’s trailer, Mike chooses to do an interview with TV journalist Holly Crane (played by Janie Brookshire), who remains neutral but wants to get as many exclusive scoops that she can from this story.

But the TV interview just makes Mike’s face more well-known to the public. And you can imagine the backlash that Mike experiences as a result. And even though Mike is at the center in this controversy, the movie raises the question of whether or not he would’ve been treated differently by his colleagues and by the public if he had been white. Fortunately, “A Shot Through the Wall” does not shy away from the unique challenges and issues that Asian cops face in police departments where Asians are a small percentage of the racial minorities.

“A Shot Through the Wall” takes a few twists and turns—some more predictable than others. Viewers see how the stress of this shooting case takes a toll on everyone who’s been affected the most by this tragedy. It also becomes apparent that Mike and Grace place a high level of importance on getting approval from their traditional parents, because there’s a very minor subplot about Grace being afraid to tell her parents that she’s queer. Grace is secretly dating a woman and hides this romance from her family.

This fear of parental disapproval and possibly being disowned leads Mike to keep a secret from his parents, who have given Mike a place to live when he’s at an age when most people no longer live with their parents. The movie opens with a scene of Mike and his mother May in the kitchen, as she directs him on the correct way to make and prepare boiled eggs. It seems like a tranquil family moment. But the movie then flashes back three months earlier, to show what led up to this tragedy. The scene is revisited later again in the movie to show that the circumstances under this mother/song bonding in the kitchen aren’t so tranquil after all.

Although “A Shot Through the Wall” is told from Mike’s perspective, other people in the movie get their moments that add depth to their characters. All of the cast members give admirable performances, but Leu and Renée are particularly effective in portraying how this tragedy can forever change a relationship and bring a reckoning over racial issues. Fu and Ma, as Mike’s parents, are also quite good at expressing the anguish they feel as well as how generational racism can still have ripple effects, even with people who claim that they aren’t racists.

The movie’s pacing and well-placed scenes make it engrossing to watch, even when some situations look condensed for dramatic purposes. “A Shot Through the Wall” is an emotional roller coaster that’s intended to make viewers think about how people are really affected by these tragedies, in ways that aren’t necessarily in news reports. It might be easy for some people to say that this type of shooting death is a cop problem, but the movie poignantly peels back the layers in showing how it’s a larger society problem that often begins with how people treat others who are of different races.

Vertical Entertainment released “A Shot Through the Wall” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 21, 2022.

Review: ‘Uncharted’ (2022), starring Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg

February 15, 2022

by Carla Hay

Sophia Ali, Mark Wahlberg and Tom Holland in “Uncharted” (Photo by Clay Enos/Columbia Pictures)

“Uncharted” (2022)

Directed by Ruben Fleischer

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, Boston, Spain and the Philippines, the action film “Uncharted” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 25-year-old American man who’s had a longtime obsession with finding Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s legendary gold fortune teams up with two cynical art thieves—a middle-aged man and a woman in her 20s— to find this treasure.

Culture Audience: “Uncharted” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of stars Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg, because their on-screen appeal is one of the few highlights of this messy and idiotic action flick.

Antonio Banderas in “Uncharted” (Photo by Clay Enos/Columbia Pictures)

Even by standards of suspending disbelief for far-fetched action movies, “Uncharted” is still a disjointed and disappointing mess that thinks it’s funnier and better than it really is. Not even the on-screen charisma of stars Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg can save this movie from being relentlessly moronic, with sloppily staged stunts, characters with cardboard personalities, and a storyline that often drags. Unfortunately, “Uncharted” is just another in a long list of movies based on video games that fail to improve on the video game in a cinematic way.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer, “Uncharted” starts off with an over-the-top stunt scene that’s an indication of the idiocy to come for the rest of the movie: Nathan “Nate” Drake (played by Holland), a 25-year-old adventurer, is hanging off of a string of cargo boxes held together by rope and dangling out of an airplane that’s high in the sky. Considering that Nate is not wearing a helmet for protection, and he doesn’t appear to be affected by the deadly wind velocity, you just know that “Uncharted” is going to be the type of movie where viewers will be rolling their eyes and asking themselves, “Are we supposed to believe that people could survive these stunts in real life?”

Nate (who is not a superhero with superhuman abilities) is able make leaps and bounds in the air, like he’s Spider-Man, a character played by Holland in other movies. Maybe the filmmakers of “Uncharted” think that just because Holland is Spider-Man in other movies, audiences are supposed to believe any human character that Holland plays in another movie can magically have Spider-Man-like powers too. It just makes this movie (and its visual effects) look even more absurd.

As Nathan bounces around and leaps unrealistically from box to box in the air, a red Mercedes 300 Gullwing suddenly starts barreling out of the airplane directly toward Nate. Someone then grabs Nate’s hand, but the movie then does a dissolve edit to show a flashback to 15 years earlier in Boston, when Nate’s older brother Sam grabs Nate’s hand to prevent him from falling from a building. In the last third of the movie “Uncharted” circles back to the airplane scene by showing what caused Nate to fall out of that plane.

In this flashback, 10-year-old Nate (played by Tiernan Jones) and Sam (played by Rudy Pankow), who’s about five or six years older than Nate, are breaking into a museum at night to steal what is purported to be the very first map of the world. The screenplay for “Uncharted” (written by Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum and Matt Holloway) is so shambolic, it never really explains why these two brothers want to steal this priceless art. Is it a prank? Is it to sell the map on the black market? Is it because they think they can keep the map like a trophy and are too stupid to know better?

Whatever their reasons are for this inept break-in, Nate and Sam are quickly apprehended by security guards. Nate and Sam are orphans whose parents have gone missing and are presumed dead. They are living in an orphanage run by Catholic nuns. Because Sam has been in trouble before, and now has “three strikes against him,” he’s kicked out of the orphanage and is expected to be held in a juvenile detention center. For whatever reason that’s never explained in the movie, Nate escapes any punishment.

Sam runs away from the orphanage the night before he’s supposed to be taken into custody. Before he leaves, Sam gives Nate his most cherished possession: a brass ring on a chain, as proof that he has an incentive to see Nate again. Sam tells Nate: “I’ll come back for you, Nate. I promise.” Nate hasn’t seen Sam in person since that night.

Nate and Sam are history buffs who are obsessed with the legend of a gold fortune hidden in the 1500s by Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. As children, they planned for years to go looking for this treasure when they got old enough to do so. But this separation has put a big halt to those plans.

“Uncharted” then fast-forwards to the present day. Nate is now a bartender at a trendy lounge in New York City. He’s still a history buff who likes to spout trivia, such as who invented certain things and when. This type of knowledge doesn’t really impress a pretty blonde customer named Zoe (played by Alana Bolden), whom Nate flirts with one night when he’s working. She has this response: “You’re kind of weird, but you’re kind of cute too.”

The same night, after the lounge has closed, a customer sitting at a table refuses to leave. He introduces himself as Victor “Sully” Sullivan (played by Wahlberg), and he tells Nate that he wants to hire Nate for an adventurous job. Nate is suspicious, but he takes Victor’s business card, which lists Victor’s address, phone number and business title as “Private Acquisitions.”

Out of curiosity, Nate shows up unannounced to the address on the card. Victor is there, and that’s how Nate finds out that Victor collects valuable and historical artifacts, most of which are stolen. And that’s not all: Victor knows Sam, whom he says he hasn’t seen or heard from in about two years. “He ghosted me,” Victor says about Sam.

Victor is also interested in finding Magellan’s gold treasure, which is valued at about $5 billion. Victor has sought out Nate because Victor figures that Sam might have left some clues for Nate to find this treasure. Victor suggests to Nate that if they both team up to find the gold together, there’s a chance they’ll also find Sam. Does that make any sense? Of course not, but Nate goes along with it anyway, mainly because Victor has the money and resources to finance this trip.

But not so fast, Nate. Victor is skeptical that Nate has what it takes for some of the violence that’s sure to come with this job. Victor sees Nate as just a nerdy young guy who might be too sheltered and inexperienced to be an effective partner for Victor. And so, Victor wants Nate to pass a test.

There’s an upcoming auction of rare Spanish art from the Renaissance era. Victor’s plan is to steal a jewel-encrusted crucifix at this auction. And he wants Nate to be his accomplice. And this auction leads Victor and Nate to encounter the two chief villains in the story.

At the auction are two people who will stop at nothing to get this crucifix too. Santiago Moncada (played by Antonio Banderas) is a wealthy Spanish collector who’s the heir to a family fortune. But not for long, because Santiago’s father Armando Moncada (played by Manuel de Blas) has recently announced that he’s giving away the family fortune to charity. Santiago, who’s the head of the Moncada Foundation, is infuriated by this decision, but Armando remains unmoved by Santiago’s pleas to change his mind. “I should have cut you off years ago,” Armando tells Santiago with disgust.

The other person who’s at the auction to get the crucifix is a mysterious and shady mercenary named Jo Braddock (played by Tati Gabrielle), who wants to be called by her last name. Braddock used to be romantically involved with Victor, but he broke up with her. She’s very bitter about it, so there’s an extra reason why she wants to beat Victor at his own game. It’s briefly mentioned that when Braddock and Victor were romantically involved with each other, she was his partner in crime too.

The auction devolves into one of many of the movie’s ridiculous fight scenes, where people with weapons spend too much time trading insults when they could easily defeat their opponent by using the weapons. And even though Braddock has combat skills, she unrealistically defeats several armed people who are much taller and stronger than she is when they gang up on her in a group. In reality, anyone would be easily defeated when being the only person to fight a group of at least five or six armed and dangerous people.

Victor and Nate soon find out there’s someone else who wants the crucifix too. She’s a skilled thief named Chloe Frazer (played by Sophia Ali), who’s also looking for Magellan’s treasure. Victor already knows Chloe, since they’ve been rivals in previous art thefts. Predictably, Nate and Chloe have an instant dislike of each other, which turns into mutual attraction, which they try to fight/deny/suppress in a cliché “will they or won’t they get together” subplot. Nate and Chloe have a hard time trusting each other, since one of them could betray the other at any moment.

Victor, Nate and Chloe team up for a flimsy reason explained in the movie. Their shenanigans take them to Spain and the Philippines, two landmark destinations for Magellan’s voyage around the world. The villains are never far behind, of course. Santiago wants Magellan’s treasure too, because he claims it was stolen from the Moncada family. The bombastic and moronic fight scenes that would kill people in real life will have viewers wondering by the middle of the movie: “How are these characters still alive?”

Victor and Nate’s reluctant partnership just rehashes the over-used movie stereotype of “the grouchy older guy who’s annoyed with the eager younger guy, but they have to find a way to work together.” On the way to the auction that’s shown in the beginning of the movie, Victor ridicules Nate for chewing bubblegum at this black-tie, formal event. The bubblegum comes in handy though, when Nate uses it to prop open a door to a room that can only be accessed through an electronic system.

Victor keeps calling Nate a “kid” in a condescending manner, which gets very tiresome, very quickly. There’s a scene shown in one of the trailers for “Uncharted” where Victor has a newly grown moustache. Nate asks Victor, while pointing and grinning, “What is that thing on your face?” Victor replies, “Puberty’s right around the corner, kid. You can grow your own.” It’s more than a little ridiculous that Victor treats a 25-year-old Nate as if Nate is a pre-pubescent child, but that’s what you’re going to see while Victor and Nate exchange unfunny jokes that fall flat.

The movie also tries to have “cutesy” banter between Victor and Nate. An example is when Nate tells Victor during an action scene: “You can get shot in the head, or you can come down here for a cuddle.” Fortunately, the stale and witless dialogue between Victor and Nate isn’t in the majority of “Uncharted,” because there’s a long stretch of the movie where Nate and Chloe work together without Victor being around at all.

In addition to having cringeworthy dialogue, “Uncharted” has very phony-looking production design. Hidden tunnels and hidden caves that are supposed to show signs of rot and decay instead look like very polished and overly staged movie sets. This lack of authenticity is very distracting and just makes “Uncharted” look too glossy instead of being the gritty action flick that it should have been.

“Uncharted” takes a steep nosedive into stupidity with too many action scenes that would cause death or serious injuries in real life, but the characters barely show any signs of being affected. One of the worst is a scene where Chloe and Nate plunge deep into the ocean as a result of falling from high above in the air. When they emerge after being thrashed around by deadly waves, they have no injuries, their clothes are still fully intact, and Chloe still has full makeup on.

As much as Holland tries to inject some fun into his Nate character, Holland is just doing an older version of the teenage Peter Parker character that he plays in the “Spider-Man” movies. Wahlberg’s portrayal of Victor is just recycling the same sarcastic grump character that Wahlberg has played in dozens of other movies. Banderas hams it up as a generic villain, which is essentially a shallower version of the wealthy villain he played in the obnoxiously bad 2021 action flick “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard.”

Ali’s portrayal of Chloe is adequate, but Ali is stymied by the filmmakers not letting Chloe be a fully developed person but just a character to do stunts and trade sardonic quips with Nate and Victor. Chloe tells a little bit of a backstory about herself to explain why she has a hard time trusting people, but this background information is literally a brief mention that seems like a half-hearted attempt to try give Chloe more depth. As for Gabrielle’s Braddock character, she has no depth at all and has some of the worst lines in this terrible movie.

“Uncharted” might satisfy people who have very low standards on what makes a good action film. Not all action films have to be completely realistic, but they should at least have coherent storytelling, an exciting pace and compelling characters. “Uncharted” has none of those qualities.

The characters are boring villains and superficial heroes. This horribly edited movie also tends to drag and get repetitive. An epilogue and mid-credits scene make it obvious that the “Uncharted” filmmakers want to make a sequel. “Uncharted” is such a horrendous dud, any plans for an “Uncharted” movie series should be left permanently off of the movie industry map, but good taste never gets in the way of filmmakers who want to make millions from churning out garbage movies.

Columbia Pictures will release “Uncharted” in U.S. cinemas on February 18, 2022.

Review: ‘Marry Me’ (2022), starring Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson and Maluma

February 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Owen Wilson, Jennifer Lopez and Chloe Coleman in “Marry Me” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Marry Me” (2022)

Directed by Kat Coiro

Some language in Spanish with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and briefly in Peoria, Illinois, the romantic comedy film “Marry Me” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Superstar music diva Kat Valdez impulsively marries a mathematics teacher—who is a socially awkward stranger she picked out from her concert audience and wed on the night they met—and they both try to make the marriage work.

Culture Audience: “Marry Me” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Jennifer Lopez and anyone who likes formulaic and unimaginative romantic comedies.

Jennifer Lopez. Michelle Buteau, Khalil Middleton (back row, third from left), Maluma, John Bradley and Owen Wilson in “Marry Me” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Marry Me” is just an extended music video for Jennifer Lopez to sing songs that she wants to sell in a hackneyed story with no surprises. She and a bland Owen Wilson have no believable chemistry together, even though they star in the movie as an unlikely couple who are supposed to fall in love with each other. The entire movie looks as fake as the myriad of wigs and hair extensions that a superstar diva would wear.

Directed by Kat Coiro, “Marry Me” starts out with a somewhat intriguing concept that asks these questions: What if two famous singers were supposed to get married on a concert stage with a televised audience of millions, but the bride-to-be-finds out minutes before the wedding that her groom-to-be cheated on her? And what if she impulsively decided to marry a “regular guy” stranger in the audience instead? And what if this diva and this “regular guy” actually tried to make their marriage work?

That’s the entire story in “Marry Me,” but the movie does absolutely nothing original with this idea, which might have worked well with a genuinely hilarious screenplay and the right people cast in the roles. Unfortunately, “Marry Me” (written by Harper Dill, John Rogers and Tami Sagher) takes the lazy and unimaginative route, by cramming in cliché after cliché seen in many other romantic comedies until the movie comes to a very underwhelming and formulaic end. The screenplay is based on author Bobby Crosby’s 2020 graphic novel “Marry Me.” The movie “Marry Me” tries too hard to be sweet and likable, but it all comes across as cloying and pandering, especially when this movie is actually designed to peddle Lopez’s music and anything else that got product-placement deals for this movie.

In “Marry Me,” Kat Valdez (played by Lopez) is the heartbroken diva who rebounds quicker than you can say “rom-com garbage.” On the night of her lavish wedding, which takes place at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, she finds out just a few minutes before the ceremony that her heartthrob singer fiancé Bastian (played Maluma) cheated on her with her assistant Tyra (played by Katrina Cunningham). A tabloid website has posted a video of Bastian and Tyra having a sexual tryst, and the video has instantly gone viral. Kat and Bastian have a duet called “Marry Me” that they were going to sing to each other during the wedding, which is expected to have a global audience of about 20 million people. As soon as Kat finds out about Bastian’s infidelity, she breaks up with him backstage.

Instead of canceling the wedding, Kat sees mathematics teacher Charlie Gilbert (played by Wilson) in the audience, while he’s holding a sign that says “Marry Me.” Charlie is a mild-mannered divorcé who’s in the audience with his 12-year-old daughter Lou (played by Chloe Coleman) and Charlie’s school counselor co-worker Parker Debbs (played by Sarah Silverman), who was the one who convinced Charlie to go to this event since she had two extra tickets. Lou and Parker are big fans of Kat’s, but Charlie doesn’t really know who Kat is. He’s only holding the “Marry Me” sign because “Marry Me” is the name of this wedding event, and Parker (who’s a lovelorn lesbian) made the sign.

The next thing you know, Charlie is called up on stage, and he and Kat get “married.” This on-stage wedding isn’t legal, because Charlie never signed any marriage documents before he exchanged vows with Kat. The wedding officiator didn’t even say Charlie’s name during the ceremony. He just said “some guy” instead of Charlie’s name.

However, Kat decides with her annoying manager Colin Calloway (played by John Bradley) that she might as well get some publicity out of this fiasco, so she comes up with the idea to make the marriage legal. And if the marriage doesn’t work out in a few months, so be it. With this cavalier attitude toward marriage, it should come as no surprise that Charlie is Kat’s fourth husband. Her three previous marriages ended in divorce. (It might have been a nod to Lopez’s real-life failed marriages, because when Lopez made this movie, she had already been divorced three times.)

Since Charlie doesn’t know anything about Kat when they first meet, she gives him a brief summary of two of her previous failed marriages. Kat mentions that she was married to her first husband for 48 hours. (Sounds a lot like Britney Spears.) Kat also says that her second husband was a music producer who sold a private sex video they did together. (It’s probably a reference to when Lopez in real life sued her first ex-husband, Ojani Noa, for $10 million in 2009, when he tried to sell private sex videos that they made during their honeymoon.)

Kat then says that she and Bastian were together for about a year-and-a-half, and they got together after the breakup from her second ex-husband. There’s no mention of the third ex-husband and where he fits into the timeline of Kat’s train-wreck love life. Kat self-servingly makes it sound like bad things happen to her in her romantic relationships, yet she takes no responsibility for anything that she might have done wrong too that caused the relationships to fail.

At first, Charlie is reluctant to have his marriage to Kat be legal. “I have a daughter. I don’t want to drag her into a circus,” he tells Colin. This shady manager then blatantly lies and says that Lou won’t be affected by the publicity of Charlie being married to Kat. Colin says that the spin on this hasty marriage is that it’s a “break from tradition.” Charlie’s co-worker Parker then convinces Charlie to make the marriage legal, so that Charlie can get Kat to donate some money to the school where Charlie and Parker work.

It’s all so crass and cringeworthy. And this marriage doesn’t make Charlie look like he’s thinking of what’s best for his daughter Lou, who already has a tense relationship with Charlie because she thinks he’s boring, out-of-touch and a more than a little embarrassing. Charlie and his ex-wife (who has remarried and is never seen in the movie) share custody of Lou, who stays with Charlie three days a week. Lou is also a student at the middle school where Charlie teaches. Charlie is Lou’s math teacher and the leader of the school’s math club, where Lou is a reluctant member.

After this spontaneous wedding, Charlie gets thrust into the public spotlight, as he and Kat try to make their marriage work. Cue the expected scenes of Charlie not fitting in well with Kat’s superstar lifestyle. He is shocked and irritated when he’s hounded by paparazzi. Kat is someone who has 250 million followers on Instagram, but Charlie is someone who hates social media. Charlie doesn’t even have a smartphone. He still uses an outdated flip phone.

Charlie also has problems adjusting to the fact that Kat constantly has a camera operator with her to film her life for her social media channels. His name is Kofi (played by Khalil Middleton), who doesn’t say much, but Charlie thinks it’s intrusive and unnecessary for Kat to document her life in this way. Did Charlie forget that he married a superstar?

And there’s more of Charlie’s ignorance on display: Charlie finds it surprising and distasteful that Kat has signed several endorsement deals. “Her whole life is sponsored,” Charlie gripes. How do you think she makes much of her fortune, Charlie?

It’s not through selling recorded music (in real life, music superstars make most of their money through other means, such as touring and sponsorship deals), although “Marry Me” has blatant shilling of Lopez’s forgettable tunes in scenes that are really music video clips. There’s also some very over-the-top product placement in the movie. These products and song titles won’t be mentioned in this review because “Marry Me” does more than enough over-selling of what it’s trying to sell.

One of the corniest things about “Marry Me” is when Kat spouts some of her platitudes to try to explain why she’s so flaky in love and marriage, even though she has no credibility in giving advice on how to have a healthy and loving marriage that doesn’t end in divorce. In one scene, she tells Charlie: “I believe in marriage. It’s like math. If you get a problem wrong, you keep trying until you get it right.”

And immediately after Kat singles out Charlie in the audience with the intent to get him to marry her, she gives this semi-rambling speech: “If you want something different, you do something different. So this time, for the first time, you make a different choice. You jump off a cliff so high, you don’t even see the fall, and you just say yes.”

Even worse: “Marry Me” has a misguided way of trying to make Kat’s bad romantic judgment look like she’s a modern feminist. In reality, she’s an emotionally immature person who has some very outdated views on being single: She’s so afraid of being without a man, she pressures a total stranger to marry her. Confident and independent women don’t use marriage as a way to prove their self-worth, but as a way to share a committed relationship with another person.

Kat admits in one part of the movie that her impulsive wedding to Charlie was so she could save face after being humiliated by Bastian. In other words, the marriage to Charlie was more of a reaction than an independent-minded action. And you can bet there’s a part of the movie where Kat tries to make Bastian jealous and makes it obvious that she has lingering feelings for him. These mind games make Charlie insecure, of course, and you know where this is going in the “boy loses girl” part of the rom-com formula.

During their first press conference as spouses, Kat uses feminist-speak to try to justify using Charlie to boost her ego: “The rules, as they exist, pretty much suck for women. I mean, why do we have to wait until men propose? Why is everything on his terms? I think it’s time to shake things up!”

Kat continues, “How about this? We pick the guy, we keep our name, and let him earn the right to stay.” It sounds like a rousing feminist speech, except that Kat forgot that when she was on stage and saw Charlie, she actually did things the “old-fashioned” way with the man proposing. She saw Charlie’s “Marry Me” sign, and declared to him in front of the crowd, “Yes, I’ll marry you!” The filmmakers of this mindless movie expect viewers to forget that part too.

At the press conference, Charlie sounds even less convincing than Kat when trying to say that their marriage is a good idea. He awkwardly mentions that marriage has a history of being transactional, because in the old days, women were basically treated as property to be bought and sold into marriage. (He doesn’t mention that arranged marriages are still prevalent in many cultures.)

Charlie reminds the assembled reporters that a woman’s marital worth used to be based on her dowry in the old days, and how it’s so great that women have made progress since then. And yet, Charlie forgets to mention that this progress includes being a wealthy divorcée who can choose to marry a man who wants her money for his own personal agenda, such as making a large donation to his workplace. Hey, Charlie, what did you just say about a dowry being outdated?

And just who did Kat marry as her fourth husband? Charlie is a loner whose closest companion is his bulldog Tank. Not much is said about Charlie’s love life before he met Kat, except that Charlie and his ex-wife split up when Lou was too young to even remember when they were together. Predictably, Lou thinks her stepfather Steve (who is never seen in the movie) is a lot cooler than Charlie is, so Charlie feels inadequate and jealous. Guess who’s going to be the cool stepmother who will bring Charlie and Lou closer together?

You can almost do a countdown to when Kat shows up as a “surprise guest” in Charlie’s classroom, where she teaches the students how to correlate learning how to solve complicated math problems with learning how to dance like Kat Valdez. Later in the movie, Charlie’s math club students go to a big math competition in Peoria, Illinois, so you know exactly what that means in this cornball movie. Kat is completely unbelievable as someone who would be an attentive stepmother to Lou, unless it involves a photo op or self-serving video that Kat can put on her social media.

Lopez, who is one of the producers of “Marry Me,” is basically playing a version of herself as Kat Valdez in “Marry Me,” so the role really isn’t much of an acting stretch for her. Wilson just goes through the motions as dreadfully drab Charlie, who married a superstar, and then spends too much time whining about how famous Kat is. One of the most grating things about Charlie is that he acts personally offended when Kat does things to maintain her fame and fortune and fulfill her celebrity obligations, as if she’s suddenly supposed to change her lifestyle in the way that he sees fit.

Coleman is playing another in her long list of kid characters who are precocious, bratty or both. Silverman does her usual sarcastic schtick with a character who mouths off to people. Maluma doesn’t have much to do in this movie except sing and play a smooth-talking sex symbol. Michelle Buteau has an empty and superficial role as Kat’s image-conscious and sycophantic personal assistant Melissa, who doesn’t think too highly of nerdy Charlie. Utkarsh Ambudkar hams it up in a brief appearance as Coach Manny, the mean-spirited leader of the math competition’s arrogant reigning championship team.

“Marry Me” is a continuous pile-on of silly schmaltz and stereotypes, including the over-used “race to the airport” rom-com scene, because someone has to make a grand gesture that shows a commitment to love “before it’s too late.” And the movie’s 112-minute run time is too long, considering a lot of it is music video filler and rehashing of the same story arcs that have already been in hundreds of other romantic comedies. The movie’s pace drags in too many places, and the last third of “Marry Me” gets more and more ridiculous. “Marry Me” is not only a movie divorced from reality, but it’s also a movie divorced from any real wit and creativity.

Universal Pictures released “Marry Me” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on February 11, 2022.

Review: ‘Nanny,’ starring Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Sinqua Walls, Leslie Uggams, Morgan Spector and Rose Decker

January 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Anna Diop in “Nanny” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“Nanny”

Directed by Nikyatu Jusu

Some language in French and Wolof with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the horror film “Nanny” features a cast of white and black characters (with a few Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: An undocumented Senegalese immigrant, who works as a nanny for an upper-middle-class white family in New York City, has nightmarish visions, as she anxiously waits for the arrival of her 6-year-old son from Senegal.

Culture Audience: “Nanny” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in watching movies that draw parallels between mythical horror and the psychological horror of being an underprivileged immigrant who’s experiencing family separation.

Anna Diop and Rose Decker in “Nanny” (Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute)

“Nanny” uses horror-movie techniques that don’t always work as well as they should, but this haunting story nevertheless effectively shows the anguish and terror of being a vulnerable, undocumented immigrant who’s separated from family. It’s yet another horror film where the protagonist (usually a woman) keeps seeing strange, nightmarish visions. And the movie eventually reveals what those visions are about and who will survive in this ordeal. “Nanny” had its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the U.S. Dramatic Competition’s Grand Jury Award, which is the festival’s top prize.

In “Nanny” (written and directed by Nikyatu Jusu), the story centers on an undocumented immigrant from Senegal who lives and works in New York City as a nanny. Her name is Aisha (played by Anna Diop), and the main thing that’s on her mind is her planned upcoming reunion with her 6-year-old son Lamine (played by Jahleel Kamara), who lives in Senegal. Aisha is a single mother, so Lamine is in the care of her cousin Mariatou (played by Olamide Candide-Johnson), who keeps in touch with regular phone calls that include video chats with Lamine. Mariatou and Aisha have such a close relationship, they refer to each other as “sister.”

Aisha has been saving enough money to bring Lamine to live with her in the United States. Lamine will be an undocumented immigrant too, but Aisha thinks it’s worth the risk so that they can be reunited with each other. In a conversation that Aisha has with a confidante named Sallay (played by Zephani Idoko), a Nigerian hairdresser who also lives in New York City, viewers find out that Lamine’s biological father is married, and these spouses know about Lamine. It’s implied that Lamine was born out of an extramarital affair.

Aisha had a falling out with Lamine’s father, so she no longer speaks to him. When Sallay suggests that Aisha get financial help from Lamine’s father, by apologizing to him and his wife, Aisha makes this comment that essentially sums up what went wrong: “Apologize?” Aisha says with annoyance. “It is him who should apologize when he impregnates every teen girl on the way to school … He doesn’t care if his own son lives or dies … He cut me off when I was pregnant.”

Before she moved to the U.S., Aisha was a schoolteacher who taught English and French in Senegal. (She mentions it in a conversation. The movie doesn’t have flashbacks.) In other words, Aisha is educated enough to get a higher-paying job than being a nanny. But as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S., her employment options are limited.

In the beginning of the movie, Aisha is seen getting a new job working as a nanny for an upper-middle-class family living in a sleek apartment. The family matriarch who hires Aisha is Amy Harold (played by Michelle Monaghan), a busy corporate executive, who at first seems pleasant and accommodating. Amy’s husband Adam Harold (played by Morgan Spector) is a photojournalist who frequently travels for his job. Amy and Adam have a 5-year-old daughter named Rose (played by Rose Decker), who is a curious and friendly child.

Aisha doesn’t live with the Harold family, but Amy shows Aisha the bedroom where Aisha can stay during the occasions when Aisha might have to do overnight work. As stresses pile on in Aisha’s life, she starts to have nightmares and strange visions, often in this guest bedroom. At first, it might seem that “Nanny” is a haunted house movie, but Aisha starts having nightmares in her own home and starts having hallucinations during the day at various places.

Working overnight in the Harold household involves an extra fee, which Amy and Aisha agreed would be $150. Even though Amy smiles and hugs Aisha on Aisha’s first day on the job, there are some red flags that Amy is a control freak who tests Aisha in how much Amy can get away with in taking advantage of Aisha. One of those red flags is that Amy tries to lowball the amount for the overnight fee until she sees that Aisha didn’t forget the agreed-upon amount and won’t lower the fee.

Amy gives Aisha a journal-sized book of instructions on how to take care of Rose. The journal also has blank pages, where Aisha is expected to keep meticulous entries of what Rose was doing while in Aisha’s care. That might be a fair-enough demand from an overprotective parent. Another reasonable demand is that Aisha cannot burn incense or candles in the home, because Amy says that Rose is “sensitive to smells.”

But Amy is extremely controlling about what Rose can and cannot eat. And it’s not because Rose is on a strict, medical-based diet. Amy will not allow Rose to eat any food that’s considered “exotic” or “spicy.” Rose is expected to eat only bland food that’s considered American or European cuisine. You know what this diet restriction implies, of course.

It doesn’t take long for Aisha to break this rule, when she cooks some African dishes for herself, such as jollof rice, and Rose insists on eating it too. Rose likes eating African food so much that Aisha secretly gives Rose some of this food to eat when Amy isn’t there. Rose and Aisha have a very good rapport with each other. In many ways, because Aisha isn’t as controlling and moody as Amy, Rose seems to like Aisha more than Rose likes her own mother.

Over time, Amy becomes a much more difficult and unpleasant employer. She makes last-minute demands for Aisha to stay overnight, without much regard for the possibility that Aisha could have other plans that she wouldn’t be able to change on such short notice. Amy also expects Aisha to listen to Amy’s complaints about Amy’s job, even though it isn’t part of Aisha’s job description to be a counselor for Amy.

Even worse, Amy stops paying Aisha, with vague excuses that it’s not a good time to pay her, and that Aisha just has to be patient to get the money that Aisha is owed. When Aisha asks Adam to help with this problem, he agrees to help on one occasion when he gives Aisha some cash as a partial payment. But then, Adam passes the responsibility completely back to Amy, who makes veiled threats to Aisha that she can have Aisha deported if Aisha complains about not getting paid.

These are all tactics used by unscrupulous employers who take advantage of undocumented workers, because they know the workers don’t want to be deported. Ironically, in a conversation that Aisha has with Sallay fairly early on in the movie, Sallay comments, “I’d rather be a slave in America than a slave in Africa. At least here, when you work, you see the money.” “Nanny” shows how easily it is for undocumented workers to become modern-day slaves when employers refuse to pay for employees’ work.

It might be easy for some viewers to wonder why Aisha didn’t just quit and find a job somewhere else. But the type of domestic work she would be looking for relies almost entirely on personal referrals. (She can’t go to an employment agency, for obvious reasons.) Someone in Aisha’s situation would be terrified of being “blackballed” or labeled a “troublemaker” by the usually insular community of well-to-do people in New York City who hire undocumented workers to be their domestic employees.

In addition, Aisha has some sexual harassment to deal in this job. It’s telegraphed as soon as Adam is first seen in the movie. When he arrives home from a business trip, he coldly and rudely reacts to Amy as she greets him warmly with a hug and a kiss. Adam soon finds out that he has come home to a surprise birthday party that Amy has arranged. He immediately puts on his “happy husband” face to the party guests, but the tension in this marriage is noticeable to anyone who saw how dismissively Adam was acting toward Amy when he walked in the door.

Aisha notices it, but she avoids getting in the middle of Amy and Adam’s marital problems. It’s perhaps unavoidable that at some point, Aisha and Adam are alone together. On one of those occasions, Adam shows her a photo portrait on display in the home that he says is probably one of the best photos he’s ever taken. It’s a photo of a young African man during a civil uprising protest. Adam also says that his specialty is taking these types of photos because he cares about social justice. He brags about it, as if it’s supposed to make him look like an open-minded liberal.

Eventually, Aisha makes the mistake of confiding in Adam that she’s anxiously awaiting the arrival of her son Lamine from Senegal. As soon as Adam finds out that Aisha has this emotional vulnerability, it’s not much of a surprise when he makes a sexual advance on her by kissing her fully on the mouth. She reacts with surprise, but makes it clear to Adam that she’s not interested.

Adam makes a profuse apology, and he promises that it won’t happen again. But at this point, it’s obvious to viewers (and Aisha) that Adam can’t really be trusted. Aisha tries to act like Adam’s sexual harassment never happened. After all, Aisha is too afraid to report this sexual harassment because she doesn’t want to expose her undocumented immigrant status. Adam knows it too, which is probably why he felt emboldened to sexually harass her.

Meanwhile, Aisha has caught the attention of a doorman who works in the apartment building. He’s a single father named Malik (played by Sinqua Walls), who flirts with her and is persistent, even when she doesn’t seem interested. Eventually, Malik charms Aisha to go on a date with him.

The icebreaker happens when Malik’s son Bishop (played by Jamier Williams), who’s about 7 or 8 years old, happens to be visiting Malik in the apartment lobby when Aisha is there. Malik introduces Bishop to Aisha. Bishop then blurts out: “My dad has a crush on you!” Aisha likes that Malik seems to be a devoted and loving father, so she agrees to go on a date with him.

Mailk and Aisha eat at a soul-food restaurant on their first date. Before they head to the restaurant, Malik brings her to his grandmother’s place for a brief meeting with his grandmother Kathleen (played by Leslie Uggams), whom he adores and respects. Malik also says that Kathleen is psychic.

During this short visit, Aisha mentions to Kathleen that she’s been having unsettling dreams about a mermaid who’s trying to drown Aisha. Viewers find out later that Aisha’s dreams are related to the African folklore of the mermaid Mami Wata. Aisha tells Kathleen that she’s not superstitious, and she doesn’t believe in magic.

Kathleen replies, “Whether you do or not, you are magic.” Kathleen also asks, “What’s your boy’s name?” A startled Aisha replies, “How did you know?” Before she leaves, Aisha says to Kathleen, “His name is Lamine.”

During their dinner date, Malik and Aisha both talk about their lives and their families. Malik is co-parenting Bishop with Bishop’s mother, who is Malik’s ex-girlfriend. (This ex-girlfriend is not in the movie.) Aisha and Malik find out that they have something else in common besides being parents to young sons: Malik’s and Aisha’s mothers are both deceased. Malik mentions that his mother had schizophrenia.

Things continue to go well in the romance between Malik and Aisha, but her nanny job and her hallucinations become increasingly alarming. She begins to see spiders in her bed. In one scene, a spider crawls into her mouth. It’s a nod to the African horror myth of the spider Anansi.

Aisha really begins to come psychologically unglued when the visions or hallucinations she’s seeing begin happening outside of her sleep at night and occur in her daytime activities. While in a park with some other nannies, she sees Lamine, even though she knows he’s really in Senegal. And when she’s at a public swimming pool with Rose, Aisha sees the mermaid try to drown her again. But then she wakes up on the edge of the pool, with strangers around her telling her that she fainted.

And it gets worse for Aisha. “Nanny” keeps viewers guessing over whether or not Aisha is experiencing sleepwalking, psychotic breaks or something supernatural. There’s a very harrowing point in the movie where it looks like serious harm or death could happen to an innocent person.

Although there’s plenty of tension in “Nanny,” some of the movie’s intended “jump scares” get a little too repetitive. How many times do viewers have to see Aisha seeing something terrifying, only to find out that she was dreaming or unconscious? After a while, the impact of these scares diminishes, and it feels like too many jump scares that don’t further the movie’s story.

However, there’s a big “reveal” in the last third of the movie that explains why Aisha keeps having these frightening visions. The revelation is both tragic and emotionally devastating. Only in hindsight can viewers clearly see some of the clues leading up to to this big revelation.

Diop carries the movie quite well with the wide range of emotions that she has to convey. The character of Aisha is really the only one who comes closest to being a fully developed character in the movie. Writer/director Jusu effectively immerses viewers in Aisha’s interior and exterior life. And many the horror scenes are genuinely creepy, even though the spider scenes look a bit recycled from many other horror movies.

Unfortunately, the supporting characters aren’t very well-developed in this movie. All of the cast members in supporting roles do capable performances, but they are just performing “types” of people: Amy and Adam are the “exploitative boss” type. Rose is the “cute kid” type. Malik is the “nice guy” type. Kathleen is the “mysterious psychic” type.

All of the movie’s immigrant worker characters who are not Aisha don’t have enough screen time to make an impact on the story. The scene in the park has two Caribbean nannies named Cynthia (played by Keturah Hamilton) and Florence (played by Mitzie Pratt), who have a very realistic and sometimes hilarious conversation, but this brief scene is all that the movie has for these lively characters. Aisha’s friendship with Sallay is also quickly introduced and then ignored for the rest of the movie.

If “Nanny” wanted to make a statement about the culture and conditions under which immigrant nannies work in New York City, then Aisha is the only significant perspective that’s presented, to put an emphasis on her isolation. In that regard, the romance story with Malik seems a little extraneous and tacked on as a reason for Aisha to come in contact with Malik’s psychic grandmother. At one point in the movie, when Aisha starts to believe that maybe something supernatural is happening, she seeks out advice from Kathleen.

“Nanny” can be commended for putting the spotlight on the reality that many nannies in America are undocumented non-white immigrants, even though movies made in America usually depict nannies in America as white women who are U.S. citizens. “Nanny” is more of a psychological portrait than a general overview of the exploitation that can often occur in this line of work. It’s a movie that’s bound to make some people uncomfortable, but acknowledging that race, ethnicity and citizenship play big roles in how workers are treated is at least the first step in dealing with this discrimination problem.

UPDATE: Amazon Studios will release “Nanny” in select U.S. cinemas and on Prime Video, on dates to be announced.

Review: ‘Italian Studies,’ starring Vanessa Kirby

January 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Vanessa Kirby in “Italian Studies” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Italian Studies”

Directed by Adam Leon

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and briefly in London, the dramatic film “Italian Studies” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A British woman, who’s a book author with amnesia, wanders around New York City and tries to befriend a group of teenagers who are complete strangers to her. 

Culture Audience: “Italian Studies” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching meandering films that don’t have much of a plot.

Simon Brickner in “Italian Studies” (Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

“Italian Studies” is a misguided stream-of-consciousness drama about amnesia. Too bad the filmmakers forgot to make it an interesting movie. “Italian Studies” is an annoying and repetitive bore that’s trying desperately to be “artsy” and “meaningful,” but the movie ultimately isn’t very creative, and it has nothing to say.

Written and directed by Adam Leon, “Italian Studios” is essentially a 78-minute film where actress Vanessa Kirby plays a character who walks around and acts confused in New York City and briefly in London. In the movie, Kirby portrays a book author named Alina Reynolds, a Brit who has amnesia and no identification on her.

Don’t expect the movie to reveal how Alina got amnesia. Alina doesn’t find out her name until about halfway through the film, but she doesn’t do what most people with amnesia would do if they found out their names: Use that information to find out more about herself, where she lives, and if she has any loved ones who are looking for her.

Instead, the movie wastes a lot of time showing Alina, who is in her 30s, being fixated on hanging out with teenagers who are complete strangers to her. The teens, who are between 15 to 18 years old, are all part of a loosely knit social circle in New York City. Most of them are played by non-professional actors and most of the teenage characters in the movie don’t have names.

Some sections of “Italian Studies” try to go for a vibe that’s similar to Larry Clark’s 1995 teen movie “Kids,” by having several scenes of the teens partying and talking about their lives. The teenagers in “Italian Studies” aren’t as hedonistic as the ones in “Kids,” but they have the same concerns that a lot of teenagers do about finding their identities and where they can get acceptance from other people. Unfortunately, almost all of the teen characters in “Italian Studies” (including Maya Hawke in a small role as a character named Erin McCloud) are forgettable and don’t have distinct personalities. Expect to see these rambling teen scenes go nowhere in “Italian Studies.”

“Italian Studies” also has many scenes that drag out the repetition of showing Alina’s amnesia without her doing much to find out who she is. Before she finds out what her name is, Alina remembers that she was staying at a motel and the room number. She goes to the motel and asks the front-desk clerk (played by Sam Soghor) to give her a spare key to her room because she lost the key. When the clerk asks for her name, she says that she can’t remember, and she doesn’t have any ID on her.

Not surprisingly, the clerk gets suspicious and doesn’t give her the room key. Alina gets irritated that he won’t just hand over the key, which is an indication that not only has she lost her memory, she’s also lost her common sense. This is obviously a motel that doesn’t ask for photo IDs when people check in to get a room, which is why the motel has no record that her identify was verified before they gave her a room. Even if the motel has this lenient check-in policy, Alina should still know that motels don’t just hand out keys to anyone who asks, so her entitled attitude is not justified at all.

There’s another time-wasting sequence about Alina having a white poodle that she left outside on the street and tied to street post when she went into a convenience store. When she left the convenience store, she forgot to take the poodle with her. It isn’t until an untold number of days later that Alina remembers that she had a dog, and she tries to find it. For anyone who’s not interested in seeing this movie, the good news is that she eventually finds the dog, which was being kept at the convenience store.

“Italian Studies” has some random moments that look like they were put in the movie as filler. While walking on a street in New York City, Alina passes by two young Hasidic Jewish men (played by Misha Brooks and Luca Scoppetta-Stern), who repeatedly ask her, “Are you Jewish?” She answers, “I don’t know.”

In other scene, Alina steals some candy from a convenience store, because she’s hungry and has no money. Not once is she shown making any realistic attempt to find out who she is, or even try to get substantial help in finding out her identity. (This movie takes place in the 21st century, when the Internet and cell phones exist.) Most people with amnesia would seek help, in order not to reach a point of desperation where they have to steal food because they have no money.

A moment that looks “only in a movie” phony is how Alina meets a teenage stoner named Simon Brickner, played by an actor with the same name. They’re in a fast-food place that sells hot dogs. Simon asks Alina if she can buy some of the hot dogs that he recently purchased there. He explains that he used a credit card to buy the hot dogs, and the place has a minimum monetary amount required to use a credit card. Therefore, Simon bought more hot dogs than he can eat, so he wants to resell them.

Alina declines the offer because she’s already eating her own hot dog. (It can be assumed she had a little bit of cash with her, because later in the movie she’s run out of money and steals candy for food.) Alina then tells Simon that she’s actually a vegetarian. Simon asks her why she’s eating a hot dog if she’s a vegetarian. She replies, “I’m taking a break.”

During this conversation, Simon asks if Alina wants to hang out with him. She says yes with no hesitation, as if it’s the most normal thing in the world for a person in her 30s with amnesia to not care about finding out who she is, and hang out and party with a teenager instead. The scenes with Simon and Alina are boring and very self-indulgent.

Viewers learn more about Simon than Alina in this movie. He’s a motormouth 18-year-old who’s not very smart and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He lives with his parents, he has no job, and he has no plans to go to college. Simon likes to smoke a lot of marijuana, which he shares with Alina. Simon keeps his marijuana stash hidden inside a book at a local library, because he says that his mother searches his room.

According to Simon, his parents think that Simon is a loser, and he despises his father, whom Simon calls “an asshole.” Simon also has a younger sister. (His family is not seen in the movie.) Later, there’s a cringeworthy part of “Italian Studies” where Alina makes out with Simon. It just shows that not only as she lost her memory and any common sense, she’s also lost good judgment.

The only reason why Alina eventually finds out her name and occupation is because a woman approaches her on the street and gushes to her about how much of a fan she is of her collection of short stories called “Italian Studies.” The adoring fan also tells Alina that she saw Alina doing a reading of “Italian Studies” two years ago. Because of this conversation, Alina finds out that she’s a successful author, and “Italian Studies” is her first book.

And so, off Alina goes to a library to find her “Italian Studies” book and to see if it could lead to more clues about her identity. It’s at the library that she finds out her name, but the movie is so stupid that it leaves out something that anyone with amnesia would do: Look at the part of the book that lists the author’s biography information.

The movie shows that the book is dedicated to two people named Ade and Richard, but Alina just ignores that information too. She also doesn’t think about contacting the book publisher, which is information that’s also listed. Instead, Alina wants to autograph the book.

Another library patron (played by Joshua Astrachan), who’s sitting at the same table, sees Alina writing in the book, and he tells her that she shouldn’t be doing that. She replies with indignation that she wrote “Italian Studies,” and then tries to shame him for daring to question who she is and why she’s writing in the book. It’s one of many indications of how Alina—amnesiac or not—is an unpleasant and somewhat arrogant person. Alina haughtily tells the man before she leaves the library in a huff: “You’re a cold world. A signed book is a warm world.”

More tiresome and incoherent scenes ensue as Alina hangs out with Simon and his group of acquaintances and friends. She finds out from some of the teens that her next book that she was working on before she got amnesia was going to be a novel about teenagers, so she was interviewing real teenagers as research. She decides to continue this research by interviewing Simon and his friends, who know that she has amnesia, but they don’t seem to care much at all. When one of the teens tells Alina that it isn’t very original to write a young-adult novel about teenage issues, Alina has this obnoxious reply: “Go fuck yourself!”

One of these teens in Simon’s social circle is a talented singer named Lucinda (played by Annabel Hoffman), and Alina becomes fascinated with her. After Alina sees Lucinda singing at a party, she starts showing up at places where Lucinda sings, such as a nightclub and a recording studio. Alina tries to befriend Lucinda, who is a little confused over why this older woman, who’s a stranger, is paying so much attention to her.

Alina tells Lucinda that she thinks Lucinda is very talented. Lucinda’s reaction to Alina is polite caution. Alina also keeps asking Lucinda’s friends for more information about Lucinda, and where Lucinda is if Lucinda isn’t there. It’s all very stalkerish, but none of this creepy behavior is questioned by anyone in the movie.

In fact, it seems like none of the filmmakers questioned the half-baked, irritating and pointless scenes that pollute this entire movie. As the amnesiac Alina, Kirby is hindered by playing such a vague, prickly and unrelatable character. It’s difficult to root for this protagonist. The acting in this movie is not very impressive.

To make matters worse, the dialogue in “Italian Studios” is atrocious and often very unbelievable. The end of “Italian Studies” abruptly throws in a scene that shows if Alina found any of her loved ones or not. But by the time this final scene stumbles into the movie, most viewers will have emotionally checked out and not care at all.

Magnolia Pictures released “Italian Studies” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on January 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Passing’ (2021), starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga

December 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson in “Passing” (Photo by Edu Grau/Netflix)

“Passing” (2021)

Directed by Rebecca Hall

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City in the late 1920s, the dramatic film “Passing” features a cast of African American and white characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Two African American women, who were friends in high school, see each other for the first time in years and find out that they are living two very different lives: One of the women lives as her true identity as a black woman, while the other woman passes herself off as white. 

Culture Audience: “Passing” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in well-acted movies about how racial identity affects people’s perceptions about themselves and about other people.

André Holland and Tessa Thompson in “Passing” (Photo by Emily V. Aragones/Netflix)

If you could live your life identifying as another race, would you do it? It’s a question that viewers will inevitably have when watching the dramatic film “Passing,” where racial identity is used as both a weapon and as a shield, depending on the individual and the racial identity that the person presents to the world. Social class and sexuality are other identities that “Passing” shows can be used to confine or liberate people. A talented cast and steady direction from Rebecca Hall bring a cinematic vibrancy to this fictional story from the 1920s, but it’s a story that applies to many people’s lives in the past, present and future.

“Passing,” written and directed by Rebecca Hall, is Hall’s feature-film directorial debut. She adapted the movie from Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same name. Larsen based the novel on her own experiences as a biracial person (her father was African American and her mother was Dutch), who was raised by her mother and white stepfather. Hall (who is British) also has “passing as white” in her family history: Hall’s maternal grandfather was an African American who passed himself off as white, according to the “Passing” production notes and according to what Hall has said in interviews.

“Passing” had its world premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Although the “Passing” novel and the movie are set the late 1920s, many of the same social constructs exist today. Most societies still expect biracial or multiracial people to choose just one race to identify with the most. And white supremacy still makes people think that the “whiter” someone is, the more “superior” that person is, and therefore more entitled to the best things that life has to offer.

It’s why in the story of “Passing,” when two African American women who were friends from high school, see each other for the first time in about 12 years, one of them has decided to live her life as a white woman. It’s a sweltering day in New York City when Irene Redfield (played by Tessa Thompson) stops by the restaurant of the upscale Drayton Hotel to cool off and have some lunch. Irene is a light-skinned black woman who considers herself to be a cultured and classy, but she knows that as long as people know that she is black, she won’t be allowed into certain places, such as this hotel whose guests are white people.

Therefore, when Irene is out in public, she tends to wear outfits (such as a hat that’s worn low enough to obscure much of her eyes) and talk a certain way so that people assume that she might be white. She doesn’t deny that she’s black, but she lets people think that she’s white if it helps her get through her day a lot easier. Irene lives in New York Cit’s Harlem neighborhood with her doctor husband Brian (played by André Holland) and their two sons Junior (played by Ethan Barrett) and Ted (played by Justus David Graham). Junior is about 10 or 11, whle Ted is about 8 or 9.

At the Drayton Hotel’s restaurant, Irene sees another woman sitting by herself at a table nearby. They look at each other, almost like they’ve just seen a ghost from their past. The other woman is Clare Kendry Bellew (played by Ruth Negga), who was a close friend of Irene’s when they were both in high school. Irene and Clare haven’t communicated with each other in the approximately 12 years since they’ve seen each other. They’re about to find out how their lives have gone down different paths.

After Clare and Irene greet each other and make small talk, Clare says that she’s visiting from Chicago. Clare is married to businessman named John Bellew (played by Alexander Skarsgård), and they have a daughter together named Marjorie, who is not on the trip with them and who is never seen in the movie. Clare proudly announces to Irene that John is white, and that they are raising their daughter as white. Clare also mentions that she was worried before Marjorie was born what shade the child’s skin color would be.

And there’s something else: John doesn’t know that Clare is not white. Clare was raised by her white aunts, which is one of the reasons why it was easy for her to conceal her true racial identity from John. Clare smugly comments on the burden of lying to her husband and many other people about her true racial identity: “All things considered, it was worth the price.”

When Irene says that she’s married to a black man who’s a doctor, Clare laughs in a surprised and condescending way. It’s as if Clare can’t believe that Irene chose to marry a black man with the knowledge that by doing so, Irene’s life would be harder. Irene asks Clare with some curiosity and envy if Clare is happy. Clare gloats, “Of course! I have everything I wanted!”

Shortly after this somewhat awkward reunion, John joins Clare at the restaurant table. Because this restaurant’s customers are white people and because Clare is talking to Irene, John incorrectly assumes that Irene must be white. He tells Irene that Clare dislikes black people so much that Clare won’t even have black maids. And in case it wasn’t clear that John is a racist, he says the “n” word during this conversation.

Clare smiles and agrees with John, without seeming to care how this conversation might be hurting Irene, who is too polite to object to all the racist talk in the conversation. However, it’s clear from the expression on Irene’s face that she’s feels hurt and betrayed. And so, when the conversation ends with Clare saying that they should keep in touch, Irene can barely hide the look of disbelief at Clare’s blatant phoniness.

At home, Irene tells her husband Brian about this uncomfortable encounter. He’s appalled, and he advises Irene to completely distance herself from Clare if Clare tries to get in touch with Irene again. At first, Irene takes that advice by ignoring the apology letter that Clare sends to her.

But one day, Clare shows up at Irene’s home unannounced and uninvited. This time, Clare says that she’s traveled to New York City for an extended visit without her husband and child. Clare is able to charm her way back into Irene’s life, with results that neither woman expects.

“Passing” is a “slow burn” movie where the pacing might be too sluggish for some viewers. But as a psychological drama, the movie is fascinating. It might be worth it to watch the movie more than once to pick up on subtle clues that might not have been noticed during the first viewing.

During Clare’s extended visit, she spends most of her time in Harlem, where she is introduced to Irene and David’s social circle. Viewers find out that when in Clare and Irene were in high school, Clare was considered to be prettier, more glamorous and more charismatic than reserved and introverted Irene, who often felt overshadowed by Clare. Those same dynamics start to repeat themselves as Clare starts to become the center of attention at social gatherings that she attends with David and Irene.

Things get complicated because of an unspoken romantic attraction that Irene seems to have for Clare that apparently existed since they knew each other in high school. Clare drops big hints in conversations that her own sexuality is fluid, while Irene seems to also be somewhere on the queer spectrum but is definitely in the closet about it. Any sexual attraction between the two women seems to be mostly on Irene’s part, based on the furtive, longing glances that she gives to Clare when Irene thinks no one else is looking.

Clare, who is extremely vain and manipulative, seems to sense this attraction and uses it to her advantage. It should come as no surprise when Clare starts flirting with Irene’s husband Brian, who seems attracted to Clare too. It puts Irene in a difficult situation because she doesn’t want to react too strongly by sending Clare away. After all, Irene still wants Clare to be around because Irene is attracted to Clare.

Meanwhile, Irene and Brian have disagreements over how to teach their sons about the dangers of white supremacist racism. Brian thinks that the boys should know about this harsh reality as soon as possible to prepare them for the real world. Irene thinks that the boys are too young to know, and that this type of knowledge will ruin what she thinks should be the boys’ happy childhoods.

For example, when there’s a newspaper report about a black man being lynched, Brian wants to talk about it with the kids, while Irene vehemently objects. They argue about it. Brian gets so frustrated with Irene that he blurts out to her: “I don’t understand how as intelligent you are, you can be so stupid!”

Over time, it becomes obvious that although Clare is lying about her racial identity to certain people, Irene is in a type of denial of her own—not just about her sexuality, but also about how her children will be treated as black people in a society that enables, teaches, and encourages white supremacy. Clare’s presence is a reminder to Irene about the extreme lengths that people will go to kowtow to a white racist mentality.

However, what Irene doesn’t expect is that Brian, who seemed to be all about black pride and who previously disapproved of Clare, is starting to grow closer to Clare. As for Clare, it’s eventually revealed that her so-called “perfect” life with her husband John isn’t so perfect after all. Clare’s lies about her racial identity have affected her a lot more than what she originally told Irene.

“Passing” has a few other characters in the movie who are mostly there as people who are part of Irene and David’s social life. Hugh (played by Bill Camp) is a white bachelor who is among the well-to-do white people who think it makes them look “cool” to hang out with black people in Harlem, but the same black people would never be invited into these white people’s homes. Hugh is a big gossip who likes making sarcastic observations about people.

Another person in the movie’s party scenes is black man named Ralph Hazleton (played by Amos Machanic), whose dance partners are often white women. Ralph often gets mentioned as an example when Hugh and other people at these parties talk about dark-skinned black men who attract white women. When Hugh asks Irene if she thinks Ralph is handsome, she says no but that Ralph is “exotic.” It’s left up to viewer intepretation to think if Irene really believes that or she just said something that she thought Hugh wanted to hear.

These are all just side characters to the main focus of the story, which is about Clare and Irene’s rekindled friendship and how it starts to affect Irene’s marriage to David. “Passing” could have taken a predictable melodrama route by turning this story into a love triangle involving screaming arguments or women catfighting over a man. But the movie has a low-key approach that is more about repressed feelings, with fear bubbling under the surface that secrets might be revealed.

Negga rises to the challenge of depicting Clare, who could be completely unlikable, as a complex character who is neither a hero nor a villain but someone who masks her insecurity with a “bon vivant” personality that can shapeshift to whatever can get Clare what she wants. When Clare sees that Irene is happily married and that Irene doesn’t have the burden of pretending to be another race, Clare wants some of that happiness too.

Thompson gives Irene an aura of someone who is used to being hurt but is trying to hold on to whatever dignity that she has when she’s in situations that cause her emotional pain. It’s why she’s reluctant to confront people or cause a scene. And it’s why she wants to delay as much as possible how and when her sons find out about the evils of racism.

“Passing” was filmed in black and white, using 4:3 aspect ratio, which was the standard aspect ratio for movies of the 1920s and 1930s. The movie admirably recreates a lot of other characteristics of the era, such the costume design, production design and music. Thompson’s body language and speech patterns as Irene seem particularly calibrated to embody someone from that era who wants to be a highly respected society woman, no matter who is with her. Irene is not someone who talks one way with white people and another way with black people. Clare, who comes from a higher-income household than Irene does, is the one who seems coarser and less refined than Irene when Clare is around other African Americans.

What the cast members and Hall are able to achieve with this film is more than commentary about people’s attitudes when it comes to race, social class or sexuality. By the end of the movie, audiences will understand that “Passing” is ultimately about truth telling about ourselves and other people. And telling the truth can sometimes have dangerous consequences when people are invested in perpetuating lies or keeping secrets.

Netflix released “Passing” in select U.S. cinemas on October 27, 2021. The movie premiered on Netflix on November 10, 2021.

Review: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home,’ starring Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jamie Foxx, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Marisa Tomei

December 14, 2021

by Carla Hay

Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Directed by Jon Watts

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City, the superhero action film “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: After 17-year-old Peter Parker has been exposed as the alter ego of Spider-Man, he enlists the help of mystical superhero Doctor Strange to make people forget this secret identity, but Doctor Strange’s spell brings several allies and enemies back from various dimensions of the Spider-Verse. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will appeal primarily to people who like nostalgia-filled superhero movies and who are fans of this movie’s star-studded cast.

Tom Holland and Alfred Molina) in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Just like an artist’s greatest-hits box set offered to fans who already own every album by the artist, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is best appreciated by people who’ve already seen all the previous “Spider-Man” movies. It’s filled with insider jokes that will either delight or annoy viewers, depending on how familiar they are with the cinematic Spider-Verse. Simply put: “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is an epic superhero feast for fans, but it should not be the first “Spider-Man” movie that people should see. There are too many references to other Spider-Man movies that came before “Spider-Man: No Way Home” that just won’t connect very well with people who have not seen enough of the previous “Spider-Man” movies.

Fortunately for the blockbuster “Spider-Man” movie franchise (which launched with 2002’s “Spider-Man,” starring Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker/Spider-Man), most people who watch “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will have already seen at least one previous “Spider-Man” movie. Maguire also starred in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2” and 2007’s “Spider-Man 3.” Andrew Garfield starred as Peter Parker/Spider-Man in two of the reboot movies: 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” and 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.” Another “Spider-Man” movie reboot series began with Tom Holland as Peter Parker/Spider-Man, starting with 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” and continuing with 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home” and 2021’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is the third “Spider-Man” movie directed by Jon Watts and co-written by Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, the same writer/director team behind 2019’s “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” There were six screenwriters (including Watts, McKenna and Sommers) for 2017’s “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which was also directed by Watts. The trio of Watts, McKenna and Sommers for three consecutive “Spider-Man” movies has been beneficial to the quality of the filmmaking.

Each “Spider-Man” film that this trio has worked on truly does feel connected to each other, compared to other franchise films where different directors and writers often change the tone of the sequels, and therefore the sequels feel disconnected. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” also makes several references to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), which Spider-Man/Peter Parker (as portrayed by Holland) was a big part of, in his alliance with the Avengers. It’s another reason why it’s better to see previous Marvel-related movies with Spider-Man in it before seeing “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Because Spider-Man is Marvel Comics’ most popular character, you’d have to be completely shut off from pop culture to not at least know a few things about Spider-Man, such as he got his agility superpowers by accidentally being bit by a radioactive spider. Just like many superheroes, Peter is an orphan: His parents died in a plane crash, so he was raised by an aunt and an uncle. Even with knowledge of these basic facts about Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it really is best to see all or most of the previous “Spider-Man” films, because the jokes will be funnier, and the surprises will be sweeter.

Speaking of surprises, the vast majority of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has spoiler information. However, it’s enough to give a summary of what to expect in the first 30 minutes of this 148-minute film without revealing any surprises. The beginning of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” picks up right where “Spider-Man: Far From Home” left off: Peter Parker—an intelligent and compassionate 17-year-old student who lives in New York City’s Queens borough—has been exposed as the secret alter ego of superhero Spider-Man. The culprit who exposed him was the villain Mysterio (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), who’s seen briefly in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in the opening scene that shows the aftermath of this exposé.

All hell breaks loose, because Mysterio has twisted things to make it look like Spider-Man is a villain, not a hero. Peter and his girlfriend MJ (played by Zendaya) are caught in the middle of a crowded New York City street when Peter’s Spider-Man identity is exposed. And the backlash is immediate. Before getting into any harmful physical danger, Spider-Man puts his superhero skills to good use by whisking himself and MJ to safety.

However, the Department of Damage Control quickly detains Peter, MJ, Peter’s best friend Ned Leeds (played by Jacob Batalon) and Peter’s aunt May Parker (played by Marisa Tomei) for questioning. And who shows up to give some legal advice? Attorney/blind superhero Matt Murdock, also known as Daredevil (played by Charlie Cox), who makes a very brief cameo. Matt says, “I don’t think any of the charges will stick. Things will get even worse. There’s still the court of public opinion.”

There’s not enough evidence to hold Peter and his loved ones in the interrogation rooms, so they go back home and ponder their next move. But how long can they stay safe, when people know where Peter lives and where he goes to school? Spider-Man has been branded as a troublemaker by certain people, such as fear-mongering journalist-turned-conspiracy theorist J. Jonah Jameson (played by J.K. Simmons), who no longer works as the editor of the Daily Planet newspaper. Jameson is now anchoring TheDailyPlanet.net, a 24-hour news streaming service.

However, Spider-Man is still a hero or an anti-hero to many more people. When Peter goes back to school the next day, he’s treated like a celebrity. Students surround him to take photos and videos with their phones. Faculty members fawn over him. Conceited and bullying student Flash Thompson (played by Tony Revolori), one of Peter’s nuisances at school, tries to latch on to Peter’s newfound fame by now claiming to be Peter’s best friend. Flash has already written a tell-all memoir to cash in on Peter’s celebrity status.

Peter, MJ (whose real name is Michelle Jones) and Ned are in their last year at Midtown School of Science and Technology. They have plans to go to the prestigious Massachusetts Institution of Technology (MIT) together after they graduate from high school. But due to their high-profile brush with the law, the three pals are worried about their chances of getting into MIT.

This hoped-for MIT enrollment becomes the motivation for Peter to go to fellow New York City-based superhero Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) to ask for his help. Peter wants Doctor Strange to cast a spell so that people will forget that Peter is really Spider-Man. Doctor Strange is reluctant, but he gives in to Peter’s pleading. As Doctor Strange is casting his Spell of Forgetting, Peter interrupts several times to tell Doctor Strange to exempt some of Peter’s loved ones (such as MJ, Ned and May) from the spell.

Doctor Strange is extremely annoyed, so he cuts the spell short and is able to contain the spell’s powers in a cube-sized box. But some damage has already been done: The spell has opened the multi-verse where anyone who knows who Peter Parker can be summoned and go to the dimension where Peter is. And some of these individuals are villains from past “Spider-Man” movies. Doctor Strange gives Peter/Spider-Man the task of capturing these villains to imprison them in Doctor Strange’s dungeon that looks like a combination of a high-tech jail and a mystical crypt.

The return of some of these villains has already been announced through official publicity and marketing materials released for “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” so it’s not spoiler information. These villains are:

  • Norman Osborn/Green Goblin (played by Willem Dafoe), from 2002’s “Spider-Man”
  • Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus, also known as Doc Ock (played by Alfred Molina), from 2004’s “Spider-Man 2”
  • Flint Marko/Sandman (played by Thomas Haden Church), from 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”
  • Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard (played by Rhys Ifans), from 2012’s “The Amazing Spider-Man”
  • Max Dillon/Electro (played by Jamie Foxx), from 2014’s “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some other surprises, some of which have already been leaked to the public, but won’t be revealed in this review. A few other non-surprise characters in “Spider-Man: No Way Home” include Doctor Strange’s portal-traveling sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong), as well as Harold “Happy” Hogan (played by Jon Favreau), Tony Stark/Iron Man’s loyal driver who is now taken on minder duties for Peter. In “Spider-Man: Far From Home,” Happy and May had a fling that ended. Happy fell in love with May and wanted a more serious romance with her, so he is still nursing a broken heart about it in “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

The movie’s action sequences are among the most memorable in “Spider-Man” movie history, in large part because of the return of so many characters from the past. A lengthy part of the movie that takes place on the Statue of Liberty will be talked about by fans for years. Because so much of “Spider-Man” relies heavily on people knowing the history of this movie franchise to fully understand the plot developments and a lot of the dialogue, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will probably be a “love it or hate it” film.

The movie’s mid-credits scene directly correlates to the mid-credits scene for 2021’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage.” And the end-credits scene for “Spider-Man: No Way Home” features a glimpse into the world of Doctor Strange. People should know by now that movies with Marvel characters have mid-credits scenes and/or end-credits scenes that are essentially teasers for an upcoming Marvel superhero movie or TV series.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” has some wisecracking that seems a little too self-congratulatory, but those smug moments are balanced out with some heartfelt emotional scenes. And all the jumping around from one universe dimension to the next might be a little too confusing to viewers who are new to the Spider-Verse. Some people might accuse “Spider-Man: No Way Home” of overstuffing the movie with too much nostalgic stunt casting as gimmicks. However, die-hard fans of the franchise will be utterly thrilled by seeing these familiar characters and will be fully engaged in finding out what happens to them in this very entertaining superhero adventure.

Columbia Pictures will release “Spider-Man: No Way Home” in U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021.

Review: ‘A Journal for Jordan,’ starring Michael B. Jordan and Chanté Adams

December 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Chanté Adams and Michael B. Jordan in “A Journal for Jordan” (Photo by David Lee/Columbia Pictures)

“A Journal for Jordan”

Directed by Denzel Washington

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1998 to 2018, in New York City; Akron, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; and Iraq, the dramatic film “A Journal for Jordan” has a racially diverse cast of characters (African American and white people, with a few Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Based on true events, a single mother to a 12-year-old son tells the story of her relationship with her son’s deceased father, who was a U.S. Army sergeant killed in the line of duty in Iraq.

Culture Audience: “A Journal for Jordan” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Michael B. Jordan, director Denzel Washington (who does not appear in the movie) and emotion-driven stories about love and loss.

Chanté Adams and Michael B. Jordan in “A Journal for Jordan” (Photo by David Lee/Columbia Pictures)

“A Journal for Jordan” pulls at audience heartstrings in all the right ways by telling this romantic and bittersweet story that ultimately celebrates life and what we make of it. Directed by Denzel Washington and written by Virgil Williams, the dramatic film “A Journal for Jordan” is based on journalist/book publisher Dana Canedy’s 2008 memoir of the same name. The book not only told Canedy’s story but also the story of her fiancé Charles Monroe King, a U.S. Army sergeant who was killed in the line of duty in Iraq in 2006, less than two months before he had been scheduled to return to the United States. The book included King’s journal entries that he wrote to his and Canedy’s son Jordan, who was a baby when King died.

“A Journal for Jordan,” which is Washington’s fourth feature film as a director, is his most sentimental and heartwearming movie that he’s helmed so far. It’s also the first movie that Oscar-winning actor Washington has directed where he is not in the movie as an actor. Although the movie’s title might give the impression that Jordan (played by Jalon Christian) is the focus of the story, he is not.

The story (which jumps around in the timeline) is centered on Jordan’s parents Dana (played by Chanté Adams) and Charles (played by Michael B. Jordan) and what happened during their eight-year romance. The other parts of the movie show Dana’s life as a single mother raising Jordan. Washington and Jordan are two of the producers of “A Journal for Jordan.”

A movie like this could be overly sappy, but director Washington shows admirable restraint in letting the story unfold tenderly—mostly in flashbacks that have the tone of fond memories through the lens of longing for someone who has passed away. Even the film’s musical score (by Marcelo Zarvos) is understated. There are no bombastic, violin-heavy orchestrations to manipulate people’s emotions, as is often the case with movies about tragic love stories.

“A Journal for Jordan” opens with a fever-dream type of montage that’s a collage of memories of Charles and Dana as lovers, as well as scenes of the Iraq combat zone where Charles tragically lost his life. If people see this movie without knowing what the story is about beforehand, it’s clear in the first five minutes that someone has died. The movie doesn’t take long to tell audiences who it is.

The movie’s first scene of dialogue takes place in New York City in 2007. Dana is a senior editor at The New York Times, where she’s an intelligent, hard-working and ambitious employee who does investigative news work. She’s just landed an interview with an important source for a story she’s been working on of her own initiative.

When she tells her boss (played by Stephen Sherman) that she got this crucial interview, she’s dismayed to find out that he’s assigned a co-worker named Rosenblum (played by Spencer Squire) to work with her on the story, based on Rosenblum saying (but not proving) that he could have valuable information to add. Dana isn’t happy about someone being added to a story that she worked hard on from the beginning. And she says so to her boss, who basically cuts her off and ignores her concerns, as he walks side-by-side with Rosenblum in front of her.

When the boss turns around to talk to Dana, he has a look of slight disgust on his face as he indicates to Dana that she should look at her blouse. Dana looks down at her blouse and is embarrassed to see there’s a stain from leakage of breast milk. It’s a moment that nursing mothers can dread because they know that there are sexist bosses and co-workers who think that pregnancy and childbirth make women less competent employees.

Viewers who’ve worked in newsrooms will also notice how realistic this scene is in showing the subtle but still noticeable ways in which people who aren’t white men are often treated with less respect in work environments that give white men the biggest leadership positions and the highest salaries. The scene also shows that Dana is the type of person who’s not afraid to speak up for herself, even if she doesn’t get the results that she deserves. In other words, Dana is no pushover.

As a frustrated Dana goes back to her office, she gripes to a middle-aged co-worker named Miriam (played by Susan Pourfar), who is Jordan’s godmother, about Rosenblum being dropped in on her assignment, probably because she knows that Rosenblum will get credit for a lot of the work that Dana did. Miriam is sympathetic, but she seems worried about how Dana is living. “Don’t isolate yourself,” Miriam tells Dana.

Miriam thinks Dana’s life should be about more than just going to work and going home. Dana reminds Miriam that she’s a single mother of a baby and doesn’t have time for much of a personal life. At home, Dana seems lonely and somewhat overwhelmed—not about taking care of the baby but by grief over the loss of Jordan’s father.

And sure enough, Charles appears to her in a dream, as a somewhat shadowy figure where he says, “Tell him everything, Ma.” (Ma was his nickname for Dana after she became a mother.) And the next thing you know, Dana is on her computer, typing out her memories of Charles for Jordan to read when he gets old enough to understand.

During her writing, Dana also includes quotes that Charles wrote in his “A Father’s Legacy” journal. Some of the quotes include: “Dear Jordan, I want you to know that it’s okay for boys to cry” because “crying can release a lot of pain and stress. It has nothing to do with your manhood.” This trip down memory lane triggers the flashbacks that are shown in the movie.

The majority of the movie then shows the ups and downs of the relationship between Charles and Dana, beginning when they met in 1998. Charles was a first sergeant in the U.S. Army stationed in Ohio. At this point in his life, Charles has been in the Army for 11 years. He grew close to Dana’s retired parents (played by Robert Wisdom and Tamara Tunie), who live in Akron, Ohio. Charles’ parents aren’t seen in the movie, but soon after he meets Dana, he tells Dana that he loves his parents, but he couldn’t get through certain things in life without the family-like support of Dana’s parents.

Dana’s parents treat Charles almost like a son. How this surrogate family relationship developed is not shown in the movie, which is told from Dana’s perspective. Dana’s strict father used to be a drill sergeant in the U.S. Army. Charles met Dana’s father through some kind of Army connection. After Dana meets Charles, she finds out that he’s so close to her father, that Charles calls him Pop. Charles tells Dana it’s because her parents have helped him with a lot of emotional support. She replies sarcastically, “You didn’t grow up with them.”

Dana tries to avoid visiting her parents as much as possible. It’s not that she doesn’t love them, but seeing her parents brings back painful memories of her childhood and reminds her of the type of life that she doesn’t want to have. It’s revealed in bits in pieces of conversations in the movie that Dana thinks that her parents have an unhappy marriage and that it’s her father’s fault because he has a long history of infidelity. Dana saw firsthand how this infidelity made her mother miserable but afraid to end the marriage. It’s why Dana has major issues with trust and commitment when it comes to romantic relationships.

In the spring of 1998, Dana goes back home to visit her family, which also includes her younger bachelorette sister Gwen and her younger married brother Mike. As an indication of how much distance she wants to keep from her parents, Dana stays in a hotel instead of her parents’ house during this visit. During a sibling conversation in their parents’ backyard (where Gwen calls Dana a “Type A” personality), Dana makes no apologies for her big-city, single life. “Men are luxuries, not necessities,” Dana comments.

Dana meets Charles when she stops by his place at the recommendation of her father, who clearly wants to play matchmaker. Charles is an illustrator artist in his spare time. (He likes to do portraits of people.) Dana admires his work and asks him who his favorite artists are. He says Claude Monet and Georges Seurat.

Dana, who considers herself to be a sophisticated intellectual, is immediately impressed. Charles also says that his life goal is to retire from the Army when he reaches the title of sergeant major, and then he wants to devote his time to painting art. After finding out about his love of art, Dana gives Charles an obvious chance to visit her in New York. She tells Charles that maybe he’d like to see a real Monet painting up close at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There’s an immediate attraction between Dana and Charles, but she plays it cool overall, at first. Because Charles knows that Dana is staying at a hotel, Charles asks Dana if he can drive her to the Canedy family barbecue happening the next day. She agrees and is a little taken aback when he suggests that he pick her up at 9 a.m., which is hours before the barbecue starts.

Dana says yes, but she oversleeps and isn’t ready when Charles arrives to pick her up at scheduled 9 a.m. time. She’s very apologetic, he’s very understanding, and they head to a local diner to have breakfast. It all sounds like the beginnings of an ideal romance. But there are a few obstacles, as there are always seems to be in real-life love stories that are made into movies.

For starters, Charles tells Dana that he’s in the middle of a divorce. His estranged wife, who lives in Texas, has custody of their daughter Christina. (Christina is never seen in the movie.) Charles tells Dana that his marriage fell apart because he and his soon-to-be-ex-wife were too young when they got married, but he says that he loves being a father. Dana is accepting of this information, but she’s thinking at this point that Charles isn’t likely to become her boyfriend because they would have to do long-distance dating.

Things go well at the barbecue. Charles is polite, respectful and attentive to Dana. And, of course, family members happily notice that Dana seems to like Charles as much as he seems to like her. However, the realities of Charles’ divorce and single parenthood come crashing in on Charles and Dana’s first date when he leaves the barbecue early because he says he has a phone date to talk with Christina.

Another slight bump in the road comes when it takes nearly two months for Charles to call Dana again after their first date together. She’s slightly annoyed that it took him this long, but he explains that he waited until his divorce was made final. Dana likes Charles enough to give him a chance to get to know her better.

Dana and Charles end up dating, of course, and their romance kicks into high gear when he visits her many times in New York. On the first visit, she invites him to stay with her at her apartment. First, she says he can sleep on the couch. Then, she changes her mind and says he can sleep in the same bed with her.

Their courtship is sweet and passionate. Charles is not as sophisticated as Dana initially thought he was, but she doesn’t mind. For example, when he first visits her in New York, they go to an Italian restaurant for a dinner date. It’s there that Dana finds out that Charles doesn’t know what olive oil is because he asks her what it is when it’s put on the table. Dana also has to educate Charles on the differences between shows that are Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway.

In addition, Dana thinks Charles could have a better sense of fashion. She notices that he likes to wear jeans and scruffy-looking athletic shoes. No problem. She buys him a designer suit as her first Christmas gift to him. He’s a little uncomfortable with wearing suits, but he knows that if he’s going to be in Dana’s life and the types of social events that she goes to, there’ll come a time when he’ll have to wear a fancy suit. And so, Charles accepts the gift when Dana goes with him in the store to see if the suit fits.

Charles also likes to tell corny jokes. Dana doesn’t mind that either. She thinks it’s actually a little endearing. For example, one of his running jokes is saying, “Guess what?” And then following it up by saying, “Chicken butt.” These are some of the little jokes that couples have that make Charles and Dana’s romance realistic and relatable to people who’ve had similar relationships. Meanwhile, Dana’s career at The New York Times is thriving, and she eventually gets promoted to senior editor.

It’s not all smoth sailing though for Charles and Dana’s relationship. Charles’ Army career means that he has to move around a lot. There are also instances where Dana gets upset because she thinks that Charles seems to care more about his Army colleagues than he cares about her, while he thinks she’s not understanding enough about his military responsibilities. These disagreements about his Army commitments cause the biggest conflicts in their relationship. After 9/11 happens and Charles is deployed to Iraq, the relationship gets put even more to the test.

“A Journal for Jordan” can be a little too slow-paced for some viewers, but the movie remains thoroughly grounded in reality. The fact of the matter is that in real life, a lot of romances go in stops and starts. People who want to see a movie with a lot of melodramatic contrivances found in too many romantic dramas will be disappointed. There’s no love triangle, no meddling best friend, no race to the airport to tell someone they want to make the relationship work. People who are tired of seeing these over-used clichés in romantic movies will be delighted that “A Journal for Jordan” can’t be bothered with these clichés.

What audiences will get is an authentic look at a romance between emotionally mature and responsible adults. Adams gives a charming and engaging performance that exudes all the real qualities that strong, independent women have when they allow themselves to be open and vulnerable to love. Jordan is equally charismatic in his own way in portraying this Army sergeant with a strong moral compass, a deep sense of loyalty and a romantic side that many people look for in a partner.

Charles is not a flashy Romeo but someone who says and does what exactly what he means. And that’s so much more important than “big talkers” who make grandiose promises that they have no intention of keeping. Charles and Dana aren’t perfect, but when they make mistakes or hurt each other emotionally, they try to make things right. And they accept each other for who they are. That’s true love.

“A Journal for Jordan” is a refreshing example of a movie that shows what a lot of middle-class African Americans are really like. It’s become tiresome to see African American romances depicted in movies and TV shows as relationships plagued by crime, poverty or drugs. The reality is that many African Americans are a lot like Charles and Dana, so kudos to everyone involved who helped make this true story into a movie.

“A Journal for Jordan” is also about another type of love story that’s just as important, even though it doesn’t get as much screen time in the movie: the love between a parent and a child. The scenes of Jordan as a 12-year-old have a deep emotional impact because it’s when he starts to become very curious about his father. Jordan’s questions bring up heartbreaking memories for Dana, who has been reluctant to tell Jordan the details of how Charles died.

Even though most of the movie is about the mostly happy romance between Dana and Charles, make no mistake: There are several scenes in the movie that are intended to be tearjerkers. Two of these scenes involve a bunch of red balloons that Charles had with him on a day that he and Dana were spending some time outdoors with Jordan. Another emotionally charged sequence happens during a trip that Dana and 12-year-old Jordan take to Washington, D.C.

The pace might drag a little in some areas of “A Journal for Jordan,” but if you care about these characters and what happens to them, then the movie is watchable from beginning to end. You don’t have to come from a military family to relate to what happens in the movie. Anyone who has treasured memories of a loved one can relate to this true story, which has been eloquently expressed in this inspirational film.

Columbia Pictures will release “A Journal for Jordan” in U.S. cinemas on December 25, 2021.

Review: ‘West Side Story’ (2021), starring Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, Mike Faist, Brian d’Arcy James and Rita Moreno

December 2, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in “West Side Story” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“West Side Story” (2021)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Some language in Spanish with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in 1957 in New York City, the musical drama remake “West Side Story” features a cast of white and Latino people representing the working-class.

Culture Clash: A young Puerto Rican woman and a young Polish American man fall in love with each other, despite having people close to them who are in rival, warring gangs that are opposed to this romance.

Culture Audience: Besides the obvious target audience of fans of the original “West Side Story” movie musical, this 2021 version of “West Side Story” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of director Steven Spielberg and movie adaptations of Broadway musicals.

Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez in “West Side Story” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

The 2021 remake of “West Side Story” is exactly the glossy spectacle that you might expect from director Steven Spielberg. The movie is a bonafide crowd-pleasing epic that makes some interesting changes from the 1961’s “West Side Story” movie, a classic that was directed by Jerome Robbins and Robert Wise. In the 2021 version of “West Side Story,” some of these changes work better than other revisions to the original movie. The original “West Side Story” movie was based on a Tony-winning musical that debuted on Broadway in 1957. The Broadway musical was written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay to the 1961 “West Side Story,” while Tony Kushner wrote the screenplay to the 2021 “West Side Story.”

The original “West Side Story” movie starred Natalie Wood, Richard Beymer, Rita Moreno and George Chakiris as four young people in New York City who are caught in the middle of gang warfare, ethnic bigotry and risky romance. Moreno and Chakiris won Oscars for their supporting roles in the movie, which won a total of 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. (Moreno’s Oscar victory was groundbreaking, as she became the first Latina to win an Academy Award.) Is the 2021 version of “West Side Story” worthy of 10 Academy Awards? No, but there are some standout performances that should bring more attention to some very talented cast members. They do all their own singing, unlike some of the stars of the original “West Side Story” movie.

Most fans of musicals already know the basic premise of “West Side Story,” which is set in New York City (specifically, in a working-class area of Manhattan’s West Side) in 1957. It’s a story inspired by William Shakeapeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” In “West Side Story,” a sweet and innocent Puerto Rican woman named Maria, who’s in her late teens, falls in love with a slightly older, streetwise Polish American man named Tony, who is an ex-con trying to start a new and reformed life away from an all-white gang that he used to lead called the Jets. Maria’s domineering older brother Bernardo is the leader of an all-Puerto Rican rival gang called the Sharks. Bernardo is dating Maria’s sassy best friend Anita. Needless to say, the romance of Maria and Tony sparks a war between the Jets and the Sharks.

In the original “West Side Story” movie, Wood was Maria, Beymer was Tony, Moreno was Anita and Chakiris was Bernardo. In the 2021 “West Side Story” remake (which also takes place in 1957), Rachel Zegler is María, Ansel Elgort is Tony, Ariana DeBose is Anita and David Alvarez is Bernardo. Unlike the original “West Side Story” movie, Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake avoids any criticism of “whitewashing” racial casting, by casting the people of color characters with actors who are also people of color. Zegler is a Latina of Colombian heritage. DeBose is multiracial; in interviews, she sometimes identifies herself as African American. (DeBose’s father is Afro-Latino, and her mother is white.)

Perhaps the biggest and best change to the “West Side Story” remake is the clever idea to cast original “West Side Story” movie co-star Moreno in the role of a new character: Valentina, the no-nonsense but kind-hearted owner of a drugstore called Doc’s Chemists, where Tony works. In this version of “West Side Story,” Valentina is the widow of Doc, the store’s owner in the original “West Side Story” movie. (Doc was played by Ned Glass.) Considering all the racial discord in the story, the Valentina character gives the movie added poignancy because a Latina woman has given Tony a chance to redeem himself and start a new life.

Valentina represents the bridge between the divides caused by racism and xenophobia in the community that’s depicted in the movie. And there’s an extra layer of female empowerment/solidarity in a pivotal scene in the movie, when Anita defends herself from being attacked in the store by members of the Jets, and Valentina intervenes to put a stop to the assault. This scene has a greater impact than in the original “West Side Story,” when the upstanding but somewhat wishy-washy Doc was the one who stopped the attack.

Rather than putting the scene in a stereotypical context of a man coming to the rescue of a woman, this “West Side Story” movie has a woman in charge (Valentina), who is the unflinching moral compass in a maelstrom of hate and chaos. The scene is also symbolic of all the racism and sexism that women of color have had to experience and what happens when women help each other in moments of distress and pain. Moreno has talked extensively in interviews about how this scene was the most emotionally difficult one for her to film in the original “West Side Story,” and she has said it was a surreal experience to film it again in the “West Side Story” remake—this time, as the rescuer instead of the one being attacked.

Spielberg’s “West Side Story” remake stays true to the main elements of the story. The movie opens with the Jets in a rubble-filled area that’s undergoing reconstruction to make way for higher-priced homes. The Jets, led by Tony’s best friend Riff (played by Mike Faist), are hoodlums who come from dysfunctional families and are hostile toward non-white immigrants whom they feel are taking over the city. Since 1917, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory, and people born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens. But that doesn’t stop people like the Jets (and many other xenophobic and racist people) from thinking that Puerto Ricans aren’t “real Americans.” If Tony had any past racism when he was in the Jets, it’s not directly mentioned in the movie. What’s clear is that Tony is now a reformed person and very much against racism.

Meanwhile, many of the Sharks, including Bernardo, dislike white people, whom they see as racist oppressors. Puerto Ricans such as Bernardo, María and Anita are U.S. citizens but feel like immigrants in the United States, where English is the dominant language and there’s open hatred and discrimination against people who aren’t white. Bernardo feels that the Sharks are superior to the Jets because, as he tells Riff in one of their many confrontations, at least most of the Sharks have jobs. The Jets—who are U.S.-born, mostly unemployed descendants of white European immigrants—are fueled by anger in their perception that the American Dream has been ripped away from them.

María, Bernardo, and Anita (who all pay rent and share the same apartment in this “West Side Story” remake) represent the American Dream of people whose first language is not English, which they’ve had to learn in order to get certain opportunities. María, Bernardo and Anita also represent Puerto Ricans who come to the United States in search of a better life while the majority of their families still live in Puerto Rico. Coming to a place like New York City—where the cost of living and is higher and the living spaces are smaller than most other U.S. cities—can be a rude awakening that can be handled with optimism or pessimism. This dichotomy is represented in one of the musical’s most famous song-and-dance numbers: “America,” with Anita taking the lead for the optimistic side, and Bernardo taking the lead for the pessimistic side.

A noticeable difference in this “West Side Story” remake is that the Puerto Ricans speak a lot more Spanish—and there are no subtitles. It’s a clear indication that Spielberg (who is one of the movie’s producers) wanted this version of “West Side Story” to be more inclusive to Spanish-speaking audiences and present a more realistic depiction of people who speak more than one language. Although the 2021 version of “West Side Story” has no subtitles for the Spanish-language dialogue, it’s easy for people who don’t know Spanish to figure out what what’s being said, based on the cast members’ tones of voice, body language and facial expressions.

In this movie remake, the Puerto Rican characters are less concerned about assimilating in English-speaking America than their counterparts were in the 1961 version of “West Side Story.” Valentina even says so, when she makes this comment about her interracial marriage: “I married a gringo. He thinks that makes me a gringo. I ain’t.”

“West Side Story” was ahead of its time for having the androgynous Anybodys character, who is presented in both movies as a young transgender man, during an era when the word “transgender” did not exist. In the “West Side Story” remake, Anybodys (played by Iris Menas) is a lookout for the Jets. Anybodys is sometimes referred to as a “girl,” but Anybodys would rather be just one of the guys.

There’s a point in the movie where people start using male pronouns to describe Anybodys—and that makes Anybodys very happy. In the 2021 “West Side Story” remake, Anybodys has less screen time than the Anybodys in the first “West Side Story” movie. The character is depicted with more subtlety and less-exaggerated mannerisms in the remake.

Just like in the original “West Side Story,” the movie begins with the introduction of the Jets, followed by the Sharks, and the tensions between the two gangs. The Jets are first seen emerging from the rubble with paint cans, which they use to commit vandalism on an outdoor wall mural of the Puerto Rican flag. (This vandalism of a Puerto Rican flag mural is new to the remake.) The Sharks see this vandalism, are offended, and a brawl ensues between the two gangs until police arrive to break up the fight.

On the scene is Officer Krupke (played by Brian d’Arcy James), a “regular Joe” cop who would like nothing more than for the Jets and the Sharks to stop fighting each other, even though he knows that’s not very realistic. Krupke’s swaggering boss is Lieutenant Schrank (played by Corey Stoll), who’s even more impatient with these rival gangs than Krupke is. Schrank gruffly insults the Jets by calling them “the last of the can’t-make-it Caucasians,” and he barks this order: “Evict yourself from my crime scene, Bernardo!”

The Jets and the Sharks don’t trust each other, but both gangs have even less trust of the police. It’s why no one in either gang will snitch when the police try to find out who started the violent fight. No one is arrested this time, but the fight’s not over. As soon as the cops leave, Riff and Bernardo agree that there should be a rumble to decide which gang will come out on top. Anita and María openly express their disapproval of Bernardo’s gang activities, but he doesn’t pay attention to them, and there’s not much María and Anita can do to stop him.

Riff is somewhat of a reluctant chief of the Jets because he became the default leader when Tony was sent to prison for attempted murder of a young man during a gang fight. Now on parole, Tony is keeping his distance from the Jets because he truly wants to turn his life around and no longer be a criminal. Tony will not rejoin the Jets, despite Riff’s constant pleas.

Faist’s version of Riff has an insecure scrappiness to how he handles his gang leadership, indicating that Riff craves and fears power. He looks like he’s got a more fascinating and harrowing story to tell than Russ Tamblyn’s version of Riff in the first “West Side Story” movie. Tamblyn’s Riff looks like a frat boy gone bad. Faist’s version of Riff looks like a real street survivor who’s had a rough life and has the facial scars to prove it.

Riff has a platinum-blonde girlfriend named Velma (played by Maddie Ziegler), who is loyal and loving to him, but she disapproves of him getting involved in violent crimes. It’s a change from the Velma in the first “West Side Story” movie, where Velma was much more of a gang moll who looked the other way or encouraged Riff to be a violent thug. Ziegler became an actress after years as a professional dancer. Her dance expertise shows in Velma’s feisty and eye-catching dance moves.

In this “West Side Story” remake, Tony goes into more details about his life in prison in ways that weren’t in the original “West Side Story” movie. He still talks more about how prison changed him and made him determined to lead a law-abiding and productive life, but he expresses more guilt about the crime and more remorse about how he hurt the victim. After he was released from prison, Valentina gave Tony a job and a place to stay. (He lives in the store’s basement.) Valentina has known the members of the Jets since they were children. She has become a mother figure to Tony, who is estranged from his parents.

Just like in the original “West Side Story,” Tony and María meet and have a “love at first sight” encounter at a dance attended by local young people, including the members of the Jets and the Sharks. The dance’s chaperone announces at the dance that it’s a “social experiment” to better integrate white people and Latinos who live in the area. “And then you can all go back to your feral lives,” the chaperone cynically adds. However, racial segregation is still a fact of life that the attendees find difficult to change at this dance. They still congregate in groups according to race, including the inevitable dance-off where Anita and Bernardo outshine everyone else.

As an example of how much slicker this version of “West Side Story” is, the dance is held at a shiny-looking, well-lit school gymnasium, compared to the somewhat dark and grimy-looking dancehall in the original “West Side Story” movie. It’s a setting that looks a little too polished and well-kept for an area that’s supposed to be populated by people who are struggling financially and has public schools that are more run-down than they should be.

Tony has come to this dance reluctantly, after much persuasion from Riff, who wants to use the dance as away for Tony to see all of his former gang pals again. But once Tony and María lock eyes, meet cute behind the gym bleachers, and exchange some smitten dialogue, Tony can’t think of anything else but being with María. Tony and María couple up immediately by dancing together and having their first kiss just a few minutes after meeting that night. They agree to meet the next day at a museum.

Tony and María’s attraction to each other doesn’t go unnoticed. Bernardo orders Tony to stay away from María . Bernardo would rather that María date someone who’s Puerto Rican, such as his mild-mannered best friend Chino (played by Josh Andrés Rivera), who is not a member of the Sharks, although Chino would like to be. Chino was sort of Maria’s date at this dance, but Chino and María’s relationship has always been about platonic friendship only.

At the dance, Bernardo gets a little rough by pushing Tony away when he sees that Tony is interested in María. Riff and the rest of the Jets come to Tony’s defense, which leads the Sharks to get in on the dispute. María and Anita are disgusted with all of this seemingly never-ending fighting between the Sharks and the Jets, so they leave the dance. However, Tony doesn’t join his former gang cronies in this fight and instead runs out of the dance to look for María , but she is long gone.

The next day at Doc’s store, Tony has told Valentina about this new romance. He asks Valentina how to say, “I want to be with you forever” in Spanish, so that he can make this declaration of love to María on their first date. These kids move fast. Even Valentina notices how quickly Tony wants to commit to María, by cracking this joke: “You sure you don’t want to ask her out for coffee first?” Because this movie is set in the 1950s, when it was more common for people in the U.S. to get married in their late teens and early 20s, this swift courtship is easier to believe than if the movie had been set in the present day.

María and Tony are blissfully happy together in the short time that they’ve known each other, but their romance is threatened by the growing hatred between the Jets and the Sharks. The “West Side Story” remake keeps the sentiment that María and Tony have a pure love for each other. It’s a love that borders on obsession, especially in a scene where María gets some very bad news about something Tony did to hurt one of María’s loved ones, and her priority is to comfort Tony. However, there’s a slight but noticeable difference in how the remake presents this scene, which is in a better way than the first “West Side Story” movie.

The “West Side Story” remake has no drastic revisions to the songs’ tempos or arrangements. The movie also doesn’t add any original songs that were written specifically for this remake, in an attempt to get awards for new and original movie music. The song placements mostly stay true to the original, with some notable exceptions.

“I Feel Pretty,” Maria’s joyous ode to romance and self-confidence, has a different setting. In the original “West Side Story” movie, Maria sang “I Feel Pretty” in a private room with three seamstresses. In the “West Side Story” remake makes this musical number a much more public spectacle.

María works as a cleaning woman at a boutique. She sings “I Feel Pretty” while dancing through the rooms of the boutique with several other cleaning women during after-hours. This setting gives the scene a more aspirational tone to what the characters do, as they let loose in a boutique where they work but probably can’t afford the clothes that are sold in the boutique.

Fans of Moreno will have to wait until the last third of the movie for Valentina’s big musical moment: the show-stopping tune “Somewhere,” which she performs solo. It’s an absolute exquisite rendition that might make some viewers more than a little misty-eyed. All of the cast members rise to the occasion to make this “West Side Story” very entertaining and emotion-filled. There isn’t a mediocre performer in the movie’s principal cast.

Zegler carries her scenes as María with an eager-to-please demeanor. She doesn’t have the star power of Wood, but Zegler and Elgort have nice chemistry together as María and Tony. Elgort doesn’t always sound like the working-class New Yorker that he’s supposed to be as Tony when he speaks, but Elgort gives Tony the type of heartthrob charm that makes it easy to see why María falls so hard and fast for him. Elgort and Zegler have singing voices that are very good, but not particularly distinctive.

DeBose lights up every scene that she’s in and is the breakout star of the movie. Her version of Anita has a commanding presence and the flashiest dance movies. Debose’s larger-than-life portrayal of Anita is ideal for this type of splashy movie musical. Anita has a big personality, but she also has a more realistic view of life and love than starry-eyed María. And that’s why, for adults with enough life experience, Anita is a more relatable character than María.

Alvarez’s Bernardo has more machismo, as well as a little more emotional depth, than the Bernardo of the original “West Side Story” movie. Bernardo uses his arrogance to cover up his insecurities over feeling like he’s someone who’s “not good enough,” so he over-compensates. What he sees as being over-protective of María is really being over-controlling. What he sees as pride in being a Shark is really an endorsement of violent racism.

In the original “West Side Story,” Anita and Bernardo were an attractive couple, but you never got the impression that they had much romantic passion for each other. There’s more believable sexual heat with Anita and Bernardo in this “West Side Story” remake. DeBose and Alvarez seem to have natural chemistry with each other as Anita and Bernardo, who sees himself as the ultimate alpha male. Sex in the movie is hinted at but not explicitly shown. For example, Anita and Bernardo kiss passionately before slamming a bedroom door behind them; María and Tony wake up together half-dressed in bed.

As for the dazzling dance numbers, “West Side Story” movie remake choreographer Justin Peck brings his ballet background to the movie, with dance moves that are more complicated but a little more graceful, enhancing the stellar work by choreographer/director Robbins for the first “West Side Story” movie. DeBose is a standout in the dance scenes, which have a more sensuous and unbridled energy than the original “West Side Story” movie. (And that’s probably because depictions of sexuality in movies had more restrictions in movies released in 1961, compared to 2021.)

For the “West Side Story” remake, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and production design make things look bigger and more over-the-top in scale. An overcast night can’t just be an overcast night. It looks like a fog-filled, full-moon scene out of a horror movie. A crumbling slum area can’t look like a crumbling slum area. It looks like a bombed-out war zone. It’s all very impressive, in terms of visuals.

And yet somehow, this more ambitious, bigger-budget version of “West Side Story” loses some of the neighborhood intimacy that the original “West Side Story” movie had. Everything looks professionally done in the remake, but just a little too staged and calculated. And maybe that’s because the movie was filmed and built on soundstages. (The “West Side Story” remake was filmed at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn.) Sometimes bigger isn’t always better.

The ending of the “West Side Story” remake doesn’t end as abruptly as the first “West Side Story” does. Without giving away too many details, it’s enough to say that the remake has a more melodramatic ending with some preachiness. It’s a revision that some “West Side Story” fans might like, while others won’t. This slightly new ending doesn’t take away from the overall spirit of “West Side Story,” which is a celebration of life and love, with the knowledge that both can be precious, fleeting and experienced with a lot of heartache.

20th Century Studios will release “West Side Story” in U.S. cinemas on December 10, 2021.

2021 Gotham Awards: ‘The Lost Daughter’ is the top winner

Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter” (Photo by Yannis DrakouliIdis/Netflix)

by Carla Hay

With four prizes, including Best Feature, the Netflix drama film “The Lost Daughter” was the top winner for the 31st annual Gotham Awards (formerly known as the IFP Gotham Awards), which were presented November 29, 2021, at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City. The Gotham Awards are produced by the Gotham Film & Media Institute, formerly known as the Independent Filmmaker Project. As of 2020, the Gotham Awards added categories for television programs.

“The Lost Daughter” won the Gotham Awards for Best Feature, Bingham Ray Breathrough DIrector Award (for Maggie Gyllenhaal); Best Screenplay (for Gyllenhaal); and Best Leading Performance (for Oliva Colman), an award that was also given in a tie to Frankie Faison of “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain.”

Other multiple winners included the Apple TV+ comedy/drama film “CODA,” which won two Gotham Awards: Outstanding Supporting Performance (for Troy Kotsur) and Breakthrough Performance (for Emilia Jones).

In the TV categories, the winners were Netflix’s “Squid Game” (Outstanding Series – Long Form); FX’s “Reservations Dogs,” (Outstanding Series – Short Form); and Topic/PBS’s “Philly D.A.” (Breakthrough Nonfiction Series). There was a two-way tie in the category of Outstanding Performance in a New Series: Ethan Hawke of Showtime’s “The Good Lord Bird” and Thuso Mbedu for Amazon Prime Video’s “The Underground Railroad.”

For the first time, the Gotham Awards eliminated gender-based prizes for performances. These gender-neutral categories for performances have been expanded to have up to 10 nominations per category, instead of five nominations for actor categories and five nominations for actress categories.

These are the new Gotham Awards categories for movies: Outstanding Lead Performance, Outstanding Supporting Performance and Breakthrough Performer. In addition, there are two new Gotham Awards categories for TV: Outstanding Performance in a New Series and Breakthrough Nonfiction Series.

In non-competitive award categories, the honorees are announced in advance. They are Kristen Stewart (Performer Tribute); Eamonn Bowles (Industry Tribute); the cast of “The Harder They Fall” (Ensemble Tribute); and Jane Campion (Director’s Tribute).

Here is the complete list of winners and nominees for the 2021 Gotham Awards:

*=winner

Best Feature

“The Green Knight”
David Lowery, director; Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston, David Lowery, Tim Headington, Theresa Steele Page, producers (A24)

“The Lost Daughter”*
Maggie Gyllenhaal, director; Osnat Handelsman Keren, Talia Kleinhendler, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Charles Dorfman, producers (Netflix)

“Passing”
Rebecca Hall, director; Nina Yang Bongiovi, Forest Whitaker, Margot Hand, Rebecca Hall, producers (Netflix)

“Pig”
Michael Sarnoski, director; Nicolas Cage, Steve Tisch, David Carrico, Adam Paulsen, Dori Roth, Joseph Restiano, Dimitra Tsingou, Thomas Benski, Ben Giladi, Vanessa Block, producers (NEON)

“Test Pattern”
Shatara Michelle Ford, director; Shatara Michelle Ford, Pin-Chun Liu, Yu-Hao Su, producers (Kino Lorber)

Best Documentary Feature

“Ascension”
Jessica Kingdon, director; Kira Simon-Kennedy, Nathan Truesdell, Jessica Kingdon, producers (MTV Documentary Films)

“Faya Dayi”
Jessica Beshir, director and producer (Janus Films)

“Flee”*
Jonas Poher Rasmussen, director; Monica Hellström, Signe Byrge Sørensen, Charlotte De La Gournerie, producers (NEON)

“President”
Camilla Nielsson, director; Signe Byrge Sørensen, Joslyn Barnes, producers (Greenwich Entertainment)

“Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”
Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, director; Joseph Patel, Robert Fyvolent, David Dinerstein, producers (Searchlight Pictures, Onyx Collective, Hulu)

Best International Feature

“Azor”
Andreas Fontana, director; Eugenia Mumenthaler, David Epiney, producers (MUBI)

“Drive My Car”*
Ryusuke Hamaguchi, director; Teruhisa Yamamoto, producer (Sideshow and Janus Films)

“The Souvenir Part II”
Joanna Hogg, director; Ed Guiney, Emma Norton, Andrew Low, Joanna Hogg, Luke Schiller, producers (A24)

“Titane”
Julia Ducournau, director; Jean-Christophe Reymond, producer (NEON)

“What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?”
Alexandre Koberidze, director; Mariam Shatberashvili, producers (MUBI)

“The Worst Person in the World”
Joachim Trier, director; Thomas Robsham, Andrea Berentsen Ottmar, Dyveke Bjørkly Graver, producers (NEON)

Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award

Maggie Gyllenhaal for “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)*
Edson Oda for “Nine Days” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Rebecca Hall for “Passing” (Netflix)
Emma Seligman for “Shiva Baby” (Utopia Distribution)
Shatara Michelle Ford for “Test Pattern” (Kino Lorber)

Best Screenplay
“The Card Counter,” Paul Schrader (Focus Features)
“El Planeta,” Amalia Ulman (Utopia Distribution)
“The Green Knight,” David Lowery (A24)
“The Lost Daughter,” Maggie Gyllenhaal (Netflix)*
“Passing,” Rebecca Hall (Netflix)
“Red Rocket,” Sean Baker & Chris Bergoch (A24)

Outstanding Lead Performance

Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)* (tie)
Frankie Faison in “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” (Gravitas Ventures)* (tie)

Michael Greyeyes in “Wild Indian” (Vertical Entertainment)
Brittany S. Hall in “Test Pattern” (Kino Lorber)
Oscar Isaac in “The Card Counter” (Focus Features)
Taylour Paige in “Zola” (A24)
Joaquin Phoenix in “C’mon C’mon” (A24)
Simon Rex in “Red Rocket” (A24)
Lili Taylor in “Paper Spiders” (Entertainment Squad)
Tessa Thompson in “Passing” (Netflix)

Outstanding Supporting Performance

Reed Birney in “Mass” (Bleecker Street)
Jessie Buckley in “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)
Colman Domingo in “Zola” (A24)
Gaby Hoffmann in “C’mon C’mon” (A24)
Troy Kotsur in “CODA” (Apple TV+)*
Marlee Matlin in “CODA” (Apple TV+)
Ruth Negga in “Passing” (Netflix)

Breakthrough Performer

Emilia Jones in “CODA” (Apple TV+)*
Natalie Morales in “Language Lessons” (Shout! Studios)
Rachel Sennott in “Shiva Baby” (Utopia Distribution)
Suzanna Son in “Red Rocket” (A24)
Amalia Ulman in “El Planeta” (Utopia Distribution)

Breakthrough Series – Long Format (over 40 minutes)

“The Good Lord Bird,” Ethan Hawke, Mark Richard, creators; James McBride, Brian Taylor, Ryan Hawke, Ethan Hawke, Jason Blum, Albert Hughes, Mark Richard, Marshall Persinger, David Schiff, executive producers (Showtime)

“It’s a Sin,” Russell T Davies, creator; Russell T Davies, Peter Hoar, Nicola Shindler, executive producers (HBO Max)

“Small Axe,” Steve McQueen, creator; Tracey Scoffield, David Tanner, Steve McQueen, executive producers (Amazon Studios)

“Squid Game,” Kim Ji-yeon, Hwang Dong-hyu, executive producers (Netflix)*

“The Underground Railroad,” Barry Jenkins, Colson Whitehead, creators; Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski, Mark Ceryak, Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Colson Whitehead, Jacqueline Hoyt, executive producers (Amazon Studios)

“The White Lotus,” Mike White, creator; Mike White, David Bernad, Nick Hall, executive producers (HBO Max/HBO)

Breakthrough Series – Short Format (under 40 minutes)

“Blindspotting,” Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, creators; Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs, Jess Wu Calder, Keith Calder, Ken Lee, Tim Palen, Emily Gerson Saines, Seith Mann, executive producers (STARZ)

“Hacks,” Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs, Jen Statsky, creators; Jen Statsky, Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, Michael Schur, David Miner, Morgan Sackett, executive producers (HBO Max/HBO)

“Reservation Dogs,” Sterlin Harjo, Taika Waititi, creators; Taika Waititi, Sterlin Harjo, Garrett Basch, executive producers (FX)*

“Run the World,” Leigh Davenport, creator; Yvette Lee Bowser, Leigh Davenport, Nastaran Dibai, executive producers (STARZ)

“We Are Lady Parts,” Nida Manzoor, creator, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Surian Fletcher-Jones, Mark Freeland, executive producers (Peacock)

Breakthrough Nonfiction Series

“City So Real,” Jeff Skoll, Diane Weyermann, Alex Kotlowitz, Gordon Quinn, Betsy Steinberg, Jolene Pinder, executive producers (National Geographic)

“Exterminate All the Brutes,” Raoul Peck, Rémi Grellety, executive producers (HBO/HBO Max)

“How to With John Wilson,” John Wilson, creator; Nathan Fielder, John Wilson, Michael Koman, Clark Reinking, executive producers (HBO/HBO Max)

“Philly D.A.,” Ted Passon, Yoni Brook, Nicole Salazar, creators; Dawn Porter, Sally Jo Fifer, Lois Vossen, Ryan Chanatry, Gena Konstantinakos, Jeff Seelbach, Patty Quillin, executive producers (Topic, Independent Lens, PBS)*

“Pride,” Christine Vachon, Sydney Foos, Danny Gabai, Kama Kaina, Stacy Scripter, Alex Stapleton (FX)

Outstanding Performance in a New Series

Jennifer Coolidge in “The White Lotus” (HBO Max/HBO)
Michael Greyeyes in “Rutherford Falls” (Peacock)
Ethan Hawke in “The Good Lord Bird” (Showtime)*
Devery Jacobs in “Reservation Dogs” (FX)
Lee Jung-jae in “Squid Game” (Netflix)
Thuso Mbedu in “The Underground Railroad” (Amazon Studios)*
Jean Smart in “Hacks” (HBO Max/HBO)
Omar Sy in “Lupin” (Netflix)
Anya Taylor-Joy in “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)
Anjana Vasan in “We Are Lady Parts” (Peacock)

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