Review: ‘Mothering Sunday,’ starring Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù, Glenda Jackson, Olivia Colman and Colin Firth

April 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Odessa Young and Josh O’Connor in “Mothering Sunday” (Photo by Jamie D. Ramsay/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Mothering Sunday”

Directed by Eva Husson

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed parts of England from 1918 through the 1980s, the dramatic film “Mothering Sunday” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A woman’s journey as a maid and as a successful author are shown at various points in her life, which includes impactful love affairs that she had with two very different men.

Culture Audience: “Mothering Sunday” will appeal primarily to people interested in artsy British movies that have very good acting but with slow pacing that might frustrate some viewers.

Ṣọpẹ́ Dìrísù and Odessa Young in “Mothering Sunday” (Photo by Robert Viglasky/Sony Pictures Classics)

“Mothering Sunday” can be too pretentious for its own good, but the cast members’ thoughtful performances enrich the quality of this slow-paced film. Viewers must also be willing to tolerate the movie’s non-chronological storytelling of love, tragedy and hope. Because the movie’s story spans several decades (from 1918 to the 1980s) and has a timeline that jumps all over the place, “Mothering Sunday” requires a viewer’s full attention to keep track of which period of time is happening for the film’s protagonist in her youth.

Directed by Eva Husson, “Mothering Sunday” (which takes place in unnamed parts of England) touches on issues of upward mobility, inner turmoil, and how social class affects the decisions people make in love and marriage. Alice Birch adapted the “Mothering Sunday” screenplay from Graham Swift’s 2016 novel of the same name. “Mothering Sunday” made the rounds at several major festivals in 2021, including the Cannes Film Festival (where the movie had its world premiere), the Toronto International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival. Cinematically, the movie is sumptuous to look at, but following the story will test the patience of people with short attention spans or those who have no interest in British period dramas.

“Mothering Sunday” depicts parts of the adult life of Jane Fairchild, who goes from being a maid to becoming an award-winning, famous author whose specialty is fiction writing. That transformation isn’t shown right away, as Jane’s life is revealed in scenes that can best be compared to a patchwork quilt. Most of the movie shows Jane in her 20s (played by Odessa Young) in the 1920s, while there are a few, very brief scenes of Jane in her 80s (played by Glenda Jackson) in the 1980s. Jackson’s scenes as Jane get only about five minutes of screen time in the movie. “Mothering Sunday” only shows Jane in these two decades.

The story is told in a non-linear way in the movie, but there are visual clues (such as Jane’s hairstyles) to show what period of time in her life is being depicted in each scene of her youth. It’s eventually revealed that Jane is an orphan who has no known relatives. She was abandoned by her single mother at an orphanage when she was a baby or a toddler. Jane’s childhood is never really shown or explained in great detail, but she’s grown up to be an introverted loner.

Somehow, when Jane was in her late teens in 1918, she ended up working as a house maid for a wealthy married couple named Godfrey Niven (played by Colin Firth) and Clarrie Niven (played by Olivia Colman), who live on an estate called Beachwood House. Much of the movie takes place in 1924, when Jane has been employed by the Nivens for six years. At this point in her life, Jane doesn’t see herself as being anything but part of society’s working class, until she has a forbidden love affair that changes her life.

This romance is the catalyst for much of what happens in the story and why Jane decides to transform herself into becoming a writer. The man whom she falls in love with is Paul Sheringham (played by Tom O’Connor), the son of wealthy spouses Mr. and Mrs. Sheringham (played by Craig Crosbie and Emily Woof), who don’t have first names in the movie. In 1924, Paul is in law school but he’s not particularly passionate about becoming an attorney. He’s chosen this profession because it’s expected of him.

Paul’s two older brothers Dick and Freddy no longer live in the family mansion. “Mothering Sunday” opens with a voiceover narration that essentially tells that the Niven family and Sheringham family have both experienced the tragic deaths of their young adult sons. World War I is one reason, but there are other reasons for these untimely deaths. Jane can be heard saying, “Once upon a time, before the boys were killed,” as a horse is shown running in an open field.

Paul can then be heard telling Jane that his family used to own a thoroughbred racing horse named Fandango. Paul says there was a family joke about the horse where “Ma and Pa owned the head and the body. Dick, Freddy and I had a leg each.” Jane then asks, “What about the fourth leg?” Paul replies, “Ah, the fourth leg. That was always the question, Jane.” Toward the end of the movie, this fourth leg is mentioned again in a way that will either make viewers roll their eyes in ridicule or possibly bring viewers to tears.

The title of “Mothering Sunday” comes from a pivotal Mothering Sunday (the British version of Mother’s Day) in 1924. Godfrey (who is kind, respectful and optimistic) generously decides to give Jane the day off from work, even though she doesn’t have a mother in her life, and Jane isn’t a mother. Jane’s closest female friend is the Niven family cook: Milly (played by Patsy Ferran), who has a bubbly personality but is a little shy when it comes to dating and romance. Milly and Jane spend part of this day off together.

It just so happens that on this day, Paul will have the mansion all to himself. And so, he calls the Niven home, knowing that Jane will answer the phone, to tell her to come over so they can have a sexual tryst. Jane pretends it’s a wrong number when Clarrie asks who called. The movie never details how long Paul and Jane have been having these secret hookups, but there’s a flashback scene that shows the day that Paul and Jane met, which was in 1918, shortly after she began working for the Niven family.

Paul and Jane tell each other that they are each other’s best friend. They’re keeping their romance a secret not just because they come from different social classes but also because Paul is expected to marry someone in his social circle: a spoiled heiress named Emma Hobday (played by Emma D’Arcy), whose parents—Giles Hobday (played by Simon Shepherd) and Sylvia Hobday (played by Caroline Harker)—are good friends of the Sheringham spouses and the Niven spouses. Paul doesn’t love Emma, but he feels obligated to marry her to please both sets of parents and to produce heirs from this marriage.

The Niven spouses have a tension-filled marriage because Clarrie is in a deep depression over the death of her son James, who was nearly engaged to Emma before James was tragically killed in combat during World War I. James and Paul were close friends, so Paul opens up a little bit to Jane about how James’ death affected him. Emma’s thoughts about James’ death are never shown in the movie, which portrays Emma as one-dimensional and someone who pouts a lot.

Clarrie’s grief sometimes comes out in angry spurts. She often acts irritable with her husband Godfrey and insults him in public. When she’s not acting cranky and annoyed with the world, Clarrie is withdrawn and quiet. Clarrie also acts resentful if she sees other people being what she thinks is being too happy for her comfort level. However, there’s a pivotal moment between Clarrie and Jane later in the movie that shows Clarrie’s hostile exterior is really just a mask for being heartbroken. This moment between Clarrie and Jane is one of the best scenes in “Mothering Sunday.”

Fans of Oscar-winning stars Colman and Firth might be disappointed to know that Colman and Firth don’t have as much screen time in “Mothering Sunday” as their top billing would suggest. Firth and Colman are each in the movie for about 15 minutes. However, they make the most of their screen time in portraying these contrasting and conflicted spouses.

Jane and Paul’s secret love affair is about more than just sex. They connect on an intellectual level. Jane loves to read and often sneaks into the Niven family library to read their books. Paul and Jane also bond on an emotional level, because they both feel like misfits in their environment, where they are expected to live a certain way because of society’s stereotypes for people of certain social classes.

Although there are full-frontal nude scenes (male and female) in “Mothering Sunday,” they are more about natural intimacy than eroticism. The sex scenes are actually very tame, but the full-frontal nudity is the adult-oriented content that will make parents of underage children decide if they think if it’s appropriate for their children to watch this movie. It’s implied throughout “Mothering Sunday” that Paul is Jane’s first true love.

Viewers can speculate that the movie has more male nudity than female nudity because “Mother Sunday” has a “female gaze” from a woman director. However, it can just as easily be interpreted that because these trysts happen in the Sheringham home, Paul simply feels more comfortable walking around fully naked in family house. In comparison, Jane is a little more guarded because she would suffer worse consequences than Paul if she and Paul got caught.

On the Mothering Sunday that changes Jane’s life, Paul has decided to have a tryst with Jane while Emma, his parents and Emma’s parents are waiting for him to arrive at a luncheon that all six of them are supposed to have together. Paul is going to the luncheon, but he knows he’s going to be late. What happens that day is revealed slowly revealed in flashbacks.

“Mothering Sunday” doesn’t handle the transition very well in showing Jane’s life after she decides to become a professional writer. The introduction to this part of her life is non-chronological and it’s rushed into the movie in an abrupt manner. It’s in this part of Jane’s life that she is involved in another meaningful love affair.

His name is Donald (played by Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù), and he is also a published author. When Donald and Jane first met (which is shown in a flashback scene), she hadn’t yet become a professional writer. She was working in a bookstore, he was a customer, and they had an instant rapport. Jane and Donald are both loyal and supportive partners to each other. In contrast to Jane’s secretive relationship with Paul, the relationship between Donald and Jane is out in the open. However, the movie never addresses the fact that Jane and Donald are in an interracial relationship in the 1920s.

This lack of acknowledgement of this couple’s racial differences implies that they are living in a part of England where interracial relationships were more accepted than in other parts of England. Still, it does come across as very phony and willfully ignorant that the movie never shows Donald and Jane experiencing or talking about any prejudice from other people because of the couple’s interracial relationship. Even in the most open-minded and progressive areas of England, a black man and a white woman in a romantic relationship would still cause problems for this type of interracial couple in the 1920s.

There are other large gaps in Jane’s life that aren’t adequately explained. Viewers never get to see if Jane went through any struggles as a writer before she had her first book published. Donald and Jane’s courtship is also a big mystery. The movie jumps from Donald and Jane being close to getting married, to a flashback scene to how they met, to Donald proposing marriage and Jane’s response.

Throughout this movie’s very messy and haphazard timeline, Young gives a consistently transfixing performance as Jane, who is an interesting contrast of being verbally articulate yet hard-to-read with her inner emotions. O’Connor also handles his role with aplomb to show that Paul is not just another spoiled rich kid, although Paul sometimes acts that way. Dìrísù doesn’t have much to do in the movie, because Donald is a very underdeveloped character.

Viewers might be bored with a lot of characters in “Mothering Sunday,” but Jane remains an interesting enigma whose life journey can inspire a lot of curiosity. Jane has been taught for most of her life to repress her emotions, so when she discovers that she is an artist who wants to express her emotions through her writing, it’s a metamorphosis that is thrilling to behold. And most audiences will be rooting for an orphan who grew up not knowing any parental love and is trying to find true love and a family of her own.

Unfortunately, because the movie frequently interrupts itself with flashbacks, viewers of “Mothering Sunday” never get a full picture of Jane blossoming as an artist. She’s certainly someone who has a lot of things that happen to her, but there should have been more in the movie that showed Jane being more of an active doer in her life, instead of someone passively reacting to whatever life threw her way. Someone like Jane doesn’t become a famous and highly respected author just by “luck.”

“Mothering Sunday” has a lot of scenes of people smoking cigarettes as they look out windows or stare off into space, looking pensive or worried. It’s not a movie that presents the story in a particularly exciting or straightforward way. But for people who like emotional nuance and characters that are like puzzles to be solved, there’s plenty to appreciate about “Mothering Sunday.” Just make sure you watch the movie when there’s very little chance that you’ll fall asleep, because a lot of how this story is presented can be snoozeworthy.

Sony Pictures Classics released “Mothering Sunday” in select U.S. cinemas on March 25, 2022. The movie’s release expanded in the U.S. on April 8, 2022. “Mothering Sunday” was released in the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe in 2021.

Review: ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines,’ starring the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André and Olivia Colman

March 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride), Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), Aaron Mitchell (voiced by Mike Rianda) and Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Photo by courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix)

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

Directed by Michael “Mike” Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of United States in 2020, including Kansas and California’s Silicon Valley, the animated movie “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A teenage aspiring filmmaker, who’s about to start her first year of college, reluctantly goes on a road trip with her family when they all experience an apocalypse where machines try to take over the world.

Culture Audience: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching family-oriented animation films that have larger commentaries about modern society.

Aaron Mitchell (voiced by Mike Rianda), Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride), Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) and Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Photo by courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix)

The animated film “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” puts a high-energy spin on the over-used apocalypse concept, by balancing heartwarming earnest about family with biting satire about technology obsessions. The movie has an entirely predictable story arc, but there are enough engaging characters and comedy in this adventure story to make it a memorable experience that will inspire repeat viewings.

Written and directed by Michael “Mike” Rianda and Jeff Rowe, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has the type of protagonist that is often at the center of animated films: a teenager on the cusp of adulthood and restless to assert independence from the rest of the family. However, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has a teen protagonist who often isn’t seen in animated films: a female aspiring filmmaker.

Her name is Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), who is excited to start her first year of at an unnamed college in California, where she plans to study filmmaking. It will be the first time that she will be living apart from her family in her unnamed hometown in Michigan. Katie’s family includes her sometimes-bumbling but well-meaning father Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride); sensible and even-tempered mother Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph); and nerdy younger brother Aaron (voiced by Rianda), who is about 12 or 13 years old. The movie never mentions what Rick and Linda do for a living.

Aaron is so fascinated with dinosaurs, he randomly calls strangers in the phone book to find out if they like dinosaurs too, so he can find other people to talk to about his dinosaur obsessions. It’s an example of the personality quirks that “Mitchells and the Machines” has for some of the main characters that set this animated film apart from others that tend to have very generic and forgettable characters. Aaron is also at an age where he feels awkward around girls. He’s too young to date but he’s also not sure how to express himself when he’s attracted to a girl.

Katie has her own insecurity issues (she thinks of herself as an outsider at her high school), but one thing she is sure about is that she wants to be a storyteller in filmmaking. Flashbacks show that ever since she was a very young child, Katie wrote and directed stories, with Aaron often being someone she “cast” in roles to act out these stories. Katie and Rick used to have a very close father-daughter bond, but sometime around the time she reached adolescence, they began to drift apart emotionally.

Katie says early on in the story: “My parents haven’t figured me out yet. To be fair, it took me a while to figure myself out. My little brother Aaron gets me, but he has his own weird interests.”

Rick is an outdoorsy type who likes to fix things, but he isn’t as skilled as he would like to think he is. Rick doesn’t really understand Katie’s love of creative arts, which is one of the reasons Rick and Katie have become alienated from each other. Linda is more understanding of Katie’s filmmaker aspirations, but Linda isn’t as immersed in cinema as much as Katie is.

Katie’s irritation with Rick grows to new levels when they have an argument over the dining table because she’s working on her laptop computer during this meal. Rick wants Katie to stop working on the computer and pay attention to the family while at the table. Rick takes the computer, a tug of war ensues between Rick and Katie, and it ends with the computer being dropped and getting broken.

But that’s not all. Katie becomes even angrier at her father when he announces that he canceled the plane ticket for Katie’s trip to California for her college enrollment. Instead, Rick has decided that all four of the Mitchells will take a road trip together to the college. It will mean that Katie will miss the college’s orientation week, which she sees as a crucial way to get to start making friends and getting to know the campus before classes begin.

Meanwhile, in Cupertino, California (which, not coincidentally, is the headquarters of Apple Inc.), a 21-year-old billionaire technology mogul named Mark Bowman (played by Eric André), the found of PAL Labs, makes a major announcement at a PAL Labs event: The company, which is famous for inviting the PAL digital assistant (a hand-held device that looks a lot like an iPhone) is about to introduce Pal Max Robots, which are essentially walking versions of a PAL digital assistant.

The Mitchell family’s road trip starts on September 22, 2020. Even though Katie doesn’t really want to be stuck with her family, she takes solace in making videos to document this excursion. But something goes terribly wrong: The PAL operating system, which has extraordinary artificial intelligence, finds out that the digital assistant will be “downgraded” and eventually marketed as obsolete, compared to the PAL robots.

And so, the PAL operating system (voiced by Olivia Colman) incites and mass rebellion of all machines to take over the world and capture humans at PAL’s command. The Mitchells are on the road when this Machine Apocalypse turns their lives upside down, as they try to escape from being captured. People who’ve seen enough of these movies can predict what happens in the story and the lessons learned by the family members along the way.

One of the many ways that “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” pokes fun at how technology has taken over people’s lives (and not necessarily for the better) is when it shows how people get social media envy when they think other people on social media are living much more glamorous lives, based on what’s presented on social media. Linda has a lot of this envy about the Posey family, a seemingly picture-perfect clan of three whose lives are fashionably curated and documented on social media platforms such as Instagram.

In a case of inspirational casting where art imitates life, real-life spouses John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, who have put their lives on social media, are the voices of spouses Jim Posey and Hailee Posey, who have a bright and inquisitive daughter named Abbey Posey (voiced by Charlyne Yi), who is about the same age as Aaron Mitchell. Abbey predictably becomes Aaron’s crush but he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings about her.

In many scenes, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” makes clever spoofs and observations about how, if the machines we used came alive, they would have a love/hate relationship with people. Humans overly rely on technology, but think no matter what happens, people are smart enough to be superior to technology.

Meanwhile, technology has the power to being people from long distances together, but it can alienate people who are in close proximity. Just go to any party and see how many people would rather look at their phones than engage with other people at the party. It’s why Katie’s father Rick, who’s a self-confessed “technophobe,” is the most insulted int he family when Katie would rather look at a computer or phone screen than talk to him. You can bet that Rick’s technophobia is a big part of the battles that the Mitchells have to do against the warring machines.

All of the voice cast members take on their roles with gusto, especially Jacobson, McBride and Colman, whose hilarious villain antics and quips as PAL are among the movie’s many highlights. In addition, the animation conveys a thrilling array of zany misadventures, and problem solving in the midst of an apocalypse. This is not a movie where viewers will get bored, because there’s so much hyperactivity going on.

Of course, the heart of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is about family relationships and accepting flaws and quirks in loved ones when it’s unlikely those flaws and quirks are going to change. The Mitchells start off their road trip as an emotionally fractured family. And the movie’s message is that it shouldn’t have to take an apocalypse to appreciate family members whose love might not be perfect but it’s there when it matters.

Netflix premiered “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” on April 30, 2021.

Review: ‘The Lost Daughter,’ starring Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley

December 19, 2021

by Carla Hay

Dakota Johnson and Olivia Colman in “The Lost Daughter” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix) 

“The Lost Daughter” (2021)

Directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal

Culture Representation: Taking place in Greece, England and Italy, the dramatic film “The Lost Daughter” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A British woman, who works as a comparative Italian literature professor, goes on vacation in Greece, where she has flashbacks of her troubled background as a young mother, after she encounters a young mother from a boisterous Italian American family who are staying in the same vacation villa spot. 

Culture Audience: “The Lost Daughter” will appeal primarily to fans of star Olivia Colman and expertly acted psychological dramas.

Jessie Buckley (center) in “The Lost Daughter” (Photo by Yannis Drakoulidis/Netflix) 

“The Lost Daughter” upends the stereotype that mothers depicted in movies are supposed to think that parenthood is the greatest thing that ever happened to them. Much of the discontent in the movie has to do with doubts and insecurities that mothers have when they find out that motherhood doesn’t make them as happy as they were taught to believe it would. The movie might start off looking like a mystery thriller, but it’s really a psychological drama that takes viewers inside the restless and uneasy mind of woman during a tension-filled vacation and how she affects other people around her. Olivia Colman anchors the movie with a memorable and intriguing performance.

“The Lost Daughter” is the feature-film directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal, who wrote the adapted screenplay, which is based on Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel of the same name. It’s a fairly faithful adaptation of the book, but the movie changes the nationalities of the main characters and the coastal vacation setting from Italy to Greece. “The Lost Daughter” benefits from cinematic elements (such as production design and music) that very much enhance the mood and emotions conveyed in the story. Just like in the book, the movie centers on a vacation that is fraught with some psychological torment and guilt over motherhood issues.

In “The Lost Daughter,” Colman portrays Leda Caruso, a 48-year-old university professor of comparative Italian literature. Leda is originally from England: She grew up in Leeds and currently lives in Cambridge. Leda is on vacation in Greece, where she is renting a villa during this trip. (In “The Lost Daughter” book, Leda is an Italian native who is a university professor of English and vacationing in Italy.)

Leda is divorced with two adult daughters: 25-year-old Bianca and 23-year-old Martha, who are not seen in the movie but whose voices can be heard when they talk to Leda on the phone. Ellie James is the voice of the adult Bianca, while Isabelle Della-Porta is the voice of the adult Martha. At different points in the movie, Leda has flashbacks to when her daughters were underage children. In these flashbacks, Jessie Buckley plays young Leda, Robyn Elwell plays Bianca at approximately 7 or 8 years old, and Ellie Mae Blake plays Martha at about 5 or 6 years old.

Leda is looking forward to spending some quiet and relaxing time alone on this vacation. Two of the first people she meets are Lyle (played by Ed Harris), the middle-aged caretaker of the villa where’s staying, and Will (played by Paul Mescal), an Irish college business student who works at the resort during the summer as a lifeguard and general handyman. Lyle and Will are both friendly and accommodating. Lyle mentions that he’s been the villa’s caretaker for the past 30 years.

Leda’s plans for a tranquil holiday become disrupted when her vacation becomes anything but quiet and relaxing. Not long after Leda finds a space on a beach to settle down and get some sun, a large and very loud Italian American family shows up and interrupts Leda’s peace and quiet. There are about 12 to 15 people in this group of raucous newcomers.

Two of them are a married couple named Callie (played by Dagmara Dominczyk) and Vassili (played by Panos Koronis), who ask Leda to move out of her spot on the beach to make room for some people in the group. Leda firmly says no. In response, a young man in the group calls Leda a derogatory and sexist name that rhymes with “punt.” Callie and Vassili walk away, visibly annoyed with Leda.

Needless to say, Leda and this family do not make a good impression on each other. From where Leda sits on the beach, she observes this family. Leda notices a strikingly good-looking couple who’s part of the group: They are Callie’s younger sister Nina (played by Dakota Johnson) and Nina’s husband Toni (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen), who seem to have a passionate marriage, based on their public displays of affection. Nina and Toni have a daughter with them named Elena (played by Athena Martin Anderson), who’s about 5 years old.

Shortly after the awkward encounter with Leda, Callie approaches Leda again on the beach. This time, it’s to make an apology for the family being so rude. Callie brings a piece of cake as a peace offering, and she asks Leda about herself. Leda doesn’t really seem interested in making friends with anyone on this trip, but she reluctantly answers the questions, such as where she’s from and what she does for a living.

During this conversation, Callie is talkative and friendly. Callie says her family is from New York City, but they have other family members who’ve lived in this part of Greece for “300 years.” She mentions that she’s 42 years old and seven months pregnant with her first child, which the family already knows will be a girl. This talk abut motherhood makes Leda visibly uncomfortable. Leda comments to Callie: “Children are a crushing responsibility.”

During her observation of this family on the beach, Leda notices that Elena shows a strong attachment to a girl doll that Elena carries around. Elena also shows signs of possibly disturbed behavior because she bites the doll in an unusually aggressive manner. The doll and what happens next to Elena end up being the catalyst for most of what triggers Leda’s memories and actions during this trip.

While the family’s adults are partying on the beach, Elena suddenly goes missing. A frantic search ensues that takes a few hours, but Leda ends up finding Elena by herself in a wooded area near the beach. When Leda brings Elena back to her family, Leda is treated like a hero. But deep inside, Leda doesn’t feel like a hero.

That’s because Elena’s disappearance reignites a painful memory of when Leda’s elder daughter Bianca went missing on a beach when Bianca was about the same age as Elena. This memory and other things that happened in Leda’s past are presented as flashbacks in the movie. And that’s when it’s revealed that Leda didn’t really enjoy being a mother very much.

Slowly but surely, viewers find out how Leda was as a mother to two young children; what led to the demise of Leda’s marriage to her husband Joe (played by Jack Farthing); and what happened when a young Leda was accepted into grad school at a university in Italy. Gyllenhaal’s real-life husband Peter Sarsgaard has a supporting role as Professor Hardy, a charismatic professor of an Italian literature class that Leda took when she was in grad school.

Colman gives a compelling performance as Leda, who seems brittle on the outside but has emotional vulnerabilities on the inside. Elena’s doll and what happens to it are symbolic of clinging to youthful memories. As Leda’s memories from the past come flooding back, she also becomes increasingly caught up in what’s going in Nina’s life and the distress that’s caused when Elena’s doll goes missing.

At one point, Will warns Leda that Nina and her family are “bad people.” How dangerous are they? Leda finds out at least one big secret about Nina, who remains somewhat of a mystery throughout the entire movie. Buckley’s portrayal of a young Leda gives a necessary emotional depth to the older Leda, who wants to keep her inner turmoil hidden from the world.

“The Lost Daughter” is best enjoyed by audiences if people know from the beginning that this isn’t a movie filled with big action scenes or with any obvious villains. It’s a searing portrait of how one woman reflects on how she handled motherhood and how her personal encounters with another mother often feels like an eerie and upsetting reminder of the past. The title of the movie refers to a child who goes missing in two separate parts of the story, but the overall emotional arc is how a woman finds parts of herself that she wants to lose or forget.

Netflix released “The Lost Daughter” in select U.S. cinemas on December 17, 2021. The movie premieres on Netflix on December 31, 2021.

Review: ‘Ron’s Gone Wrong,’ starring the voices of Jack Dylan Grazer, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, Olivia Colman, Ron Delaney, Justice Smith and Kylie Cantrall

October 22, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ron (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) and Barney (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer) in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“Ron’s Gone Wrong”

Directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the ainmated film ‘”Ron’s Gone Wrong” features a predominantly white cast of characters cast (with some African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A lonely adolescent boy gets a companion robot as a gift, and he finds out that the robot has flaws that can get him into trouble.

Culture Audience: “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a family-friendly film that will appeal primarily to people who like stories about how contemporary and futuristic technology could affect humanity.

Ava (voiced by Ava Morse), Noah (voiced by Cullen McCarthy), Jayden (voiced by Thomas Burbusca), Rich (voiced by Ricardo Hurtado), Alex (voiced by Marcus Scribner) and Savannah (voiced by Kylie Cantrall) in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Can an imperfect computer-operated robot be the perfect best friend for a lonely boy? That’s the question behind the animated comedy adventure film “Ron’s Gone Wrong,” which has some quirks and flaws (just like the robot in question) but is ultimately charming in how it presents issues about how much technology can or should replace a human being. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” gets a little off-track in the last third of the film by trying to cram in too many twists and turns to the story, but it eventually gets back on track to have a satisfying conclusion.

Directed by Sarah Smith and Jean-Philippe Vine (with co-direction by Octavio E. Rodriguez), “Ron’s Gone Wrong” treads on familiar territory in children’s oriented films where the protagonaist is a lonesome child who finds and befriends a “special companion.” The “special companion” is unusual enough that, at some point, the child has to keep the companion a secret from adults who might want to take the companion away from the child. The “special companion” could be a talking animal (“Ratatouille”), a space alien (“Lilo & Stitch”) or a computer-operated robot (“Ron’s Gone Wrong”).

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” might gets some comparisons to the Oscar-winning 2014 animated film “Big Hero 6.” However, that there aren’t many things that these two movies have in common except that they’re both animated films about an adolescent boy who has a computer-operated robot as a best friend. In “Big Hero 6,” the boy and the robot are crime-fighting superheroes. In “Ron’s Gone Wrong” the protagonist and his companion robot are supposed to be awkward misfits who have more misadventures than adventures.

The central human character in “Ron’s Gone Wrong” is an adolescent boy named Barney Pudowski (voiced by Jack Dylan Grazer), who is a seventh grader at Nonsuch Middle School, which is an unnamed U.S. city. Barney doesn’t have any close friends or siblings. And he’s the only student who doesn’t have the world’s hottest technology device: a Bubble Bot, also known as a B-Bot.

A B-Bot is a talking robot that is shaped like a giant pill capsule and is about the size of a toddler child. Every single B-Bot has a computer algorithm that can detect from a person’s handprints what that person’s preferences and memories are, in order to make the B-Bot the perfect, custom-made friend to the person who owns the B-Bot. The B-Bots come in a box that has this label: “Best Friend Out of the Box.”

B-Bots have become such a common technology device, kids at school have a special location where the B-Bots are stored while the school’s classes are in session. The B-Bots are allowed to interact with the kids at school outside of the classroom, such as in hallways, in cafeterias, or during recess periods. Just like smartphones, B-Bots have become significant in the lifestyles of people who can afford to have this technology. Anyone who doesn’t have a B-Bot at Nonsuch Middle School is considered a social outsider and “behind the times.”

B-Bots were invented by a computer tech genius named Marc Widdell (voiced by Justice Smith), who is the CEO of the Bubble company that makes B-Bots. The beginning of “Ron’s Gone Wrong” shows Marc introducing B-Bots at a big event that’s similar to Apple Inc.’s product-reveal events. Marc’s goal to have the world populated with B-Bots is not motivated by greed but rather by an altruistic intention to rid the world of loneliness. B-Bots are programmed to not hurt people and other beings.

Marc has a second-in-command executive named Andrew (voiced by Rob Delaney), who’s in charge of the company’s sales and marketing. Andrew is selfish, dishonest and ruthlessly ambitious. He doesn’t really care if B-Bots are helping people or not. He just wants to sell as many B-Bots as possible, because he eventually wants to take over the company and replace Marc as CEO.

Meanwhile, at school. Barney is teased and bullied by other students because most of his toys are rocks. A compassionate teacher named Miss Thomas (voiced by Megan Maczko) hugs him in the schoolyard (much to Barney’s embarrassment) and tells some of the students to talk to Barney. It just makes things worse, because the students just taunt him some more about not having a B-Bot. They call Barney names like “rock boy.” Barney also feels different from most other students because he has asthma.

The chief bully is a brat named Rich (voiced by Ricardo Hurtado), who is merciless in trying to insult and humiliate Barney. Rich has two sidekicks named Alex (voiced by Marcus Scribner) and Jayden (voiced by Thomas Barbusca), who go along with whatever Rich does. Other students who end up interacting with Barney are Savannah (voiced by Kylie Cantrall), a self-centered gossip who’s obsessed with being a social media star; Noah (voiced by Cullen McCarthy), a nice guy who is kind to Barney; and Ava (voiced by Ava Morse), a brainy and empathetic acquaintance who is Barney’s secret crush.

Barney lives with his widower father Graham Pudowski (voiced by Ed Helms) and Graham’s Russian immigrant mother Donka Pudowski (voiced by Olivia Colman), who is a widow. Barney’s mother/Graham’s wife died when Barney was 2 years old. Graham owns a novelty toy and trinket company called Pudowski Novelty Exports, which is an online wholesaler. Graham works from home and does all the sales himself, which means that he works very long hours. He’s often seen on the phone trying to close deals with potential and existing clients.

Donka is old-fashioned and scatter-brained, but she adores her family. She likes to think that she’s still living on a farm in Russia instead of a city in the United States. How old-fashioned is Donda? She will bring live animals, like a chicken or a goat, with her wherever she goes.

It’s somewhat of a corny and outdated depiction of immigrants who come to America, by stereotyping immigrants as people stuck in the backwards ways of the “old country” that’s not as technologically advanced as the United States. And in other stereotype of immigrants who don’t have English as their first language, Donda speaks in broken English.

Barney likes to play with toy trains, but even that’s considered out-of-touch by his peers. He longs to have his own B-Bot. However, Barney’s loving but strict father doesn’t want Barney to have a B-Bot because he’s concerned that Barney will be like other kids who spend too much time being addicted to technology and devices, instead of having in-person human interactions and doing things like playing outdoors. Ironically, Graham has become such a workaholic who’s glued to his phone and his computer, he’s been neglecting Barney.

As for Barney’s grandmother Donda, she doesn’t trust new technology overall. Donda doesn’t mince words when she tells Barney what she thinks about B-Bots: “B-Bot is just a fad. And it costs a fortune!”

Early on in the movie, Barney turns 13 years old. His father and grandmother have a birthday party for Barney. The people who were invited to the party were some Barney’s fellow students, but none of the invited people goes to the party. Barney is also disappointed when he opens the birthday gift that he got from his father: It’s another rock toy.

Graham, who can see how miserable Barney is, feels guilty about not getting Barney the gift that Barney wanted. And so, Graham and Donda go to the nearest store that sells B-Bots to get a B-Bot as a belated birthday gift for Barney. But there’s a big problem: All B-Bots are sold-out and won’t be available for the next three months.

Just by coincidence, as Graham and Donda are leaving the store, they see some delivery truck workers in the back of the store. Graham overhears one of the workers talking about a defective B-Bot that Graham can see in the back of a truck. And the next thing you know, Barney gets a belated birthday girft. He opens up the box, and it’s the defective B-Bot, but Barney doesn’t know yet that the B-Bot is faulty. Graham has presented it as a new B-Bot.

It doesn’t take long for Barney to find out that the B-Bot has a lot of glitches. In one of many mistakes, the B-Bot (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) misidentifies Barney’s name and has programmed itself to think that Barney’s name is Absalom. One day, when Barney comes home, he finds out that the B-Bot has made his room a mess and even set a few things on fire. It’s the opposite of the helpful housecleaning duties that a B-Bot is supposed to be capable of doing.

Barney takes an instant dislike to this B-Bot and doesn’t want anything to do with it. However, the B-Bot is programmed to try to be the best friend possible to its owner. The B-Bot tags along with an annoyed Barney, who hasn’t bothered to give the B-Bot a name.

One day, school bully Rich corners Barney for some more insults and degradation at an outdoor skate park, where Rich has been showing off his skateboarding skills during a livestream for his social media. Alex and Jayden are there too. Rich thinks that harassing Barney during the livestream is hilarious.

Rich also makes fun of Barney for having a defective B-Bot. Rich hits the B-Bot, but he’s in for a shock when the B-Bot hits back. A brawl then ensues between Rich and the B-Bot. Rich’s cronies run away in fear, while Rich shouts, “Cut the livestream!”

But the damage has been done. People who saw the livestream now know that a B-Bot is capable of attacking humans. Barney later finds out that his B-Bot doesn’t have “safety settings” to prevent it from hurting people. And that’s why, to avoid a potential PR disaster and lawsuits, the Bubble company orders that the B-Bot be found, confiscated and destroyed. The police also get involved in the search.

However, Barney is impressed with how this B-Bot defended him like a friend. Barney now doesn’t want to give up his B-Bot. He tells the B-Bot, “I can fix you and teach you to be my friend.” It’s at this point that the B-Bot says his name is Ronbitscasco, but Barney calls the robot Ron, for short.

There’s a great deal of the movie that’s about Barney trying to hide Ron from people who want to take Ron away from Barney. Varous hijinks happen—some more predictable than others. Meanwhile, Ron causes a lot of mishaps along the way, which makes Barney get into even more trouble. Barney than does the most obvious thing that a kid would do who wants to hide.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” might get some criticism for how the problems in this story are resolved. However, it’s easy to perhaps misinterpet “Ron’s Gone Wrong” as a movie that advocates for replacing human interaction and human emotions with the idea that a computer-operated robot can take care of all of a person’s needs. Instead, the message of the movie, which can be a bit muddled, is that there are certain technologies that aren’t going away anytime soon. We can either be in misguided denial and think that people will stop using this technology, or we choose to figure out ways how that technology can beneift people in a positive way.

The movie makes a point that technology, just like anything else, can be abused and used for the wrong reasons. Andrew is the obvious villain who is the epitome of this misuse. Barney knows that Ron should not be his only friend, but Ron teaches Barney to have the self-confidence to make human friends. And the movie doesn’t put all the blame on technology-obsessed kids, because there’s a part of the story that deals with how adults can unintentionally be neglectful of their children for reasons that have nothing to do with technology.

“Ron’s Gone Wrong” is a children’s oriented movie that slips some borderline adult jokes into the story, so that adult viewers can get some laughs. In one scene, Donda says that she once “mended my own hernia with a bread knife and vodka.” In other scene, there’s a recurring poop joke that becomes a plot device for something that happens to one of the students at Barney’s school. The joke might be offensive to some viewers, so consider yourself warned.

At times, “Ron’s Gone Wrong” goes a little bit too over-the-top with what these B-Bots can do. Without giving away any spoiler information, it’s enough to say that parts of this movie look inspired by the “Transformers” cartoon series. Fortunately, the movie doesn’t go off too much on this tangent. “Ron’s Gone Wrong” has some eye-catching visuals, and the cast members perform their roles well. It’s not in the upper echelon of top-quality animated films, but “Ron’s Gone Wrong” serves its purpose of being escapist entertainment that people of many generations can enjoy.

20th Century Studios released “Ron’s Gone Wrong” in U.S. cinemas on October 22, 2021.

2018 New York Film Festival: ‘The Favourite’ announced as opening-night film

July 23, 2018

The following is a press release from the Film Society of Lincoln Center:

The Film Society of Lincoln Center announces Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite as Opening Night of the 56th New York Film Festival (September 28 – October 14), making its New York premiere at Alice Tully Hall on Friday, September 28, 2018. The Favourite is a Fox Searchlight Pictures release and opens November 23, 2018.

Secure your seat at Opening Night with a Festival Pass.

In Yorgos Lanthimos’s wildly intricate and very darkly funny new film, Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), and her servant Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) engage in a sexually charged fight to the death for the body and soul of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) at the height of the War of the Spanish Succession. This trio of truly brilliant performances is the dynamo that powers Lanthimos’s top-to-bottom reimagining of the costume epic, in which the visual pageantry of court life in 18th-century England becomes not just a lushly appointed backdrop but an ironically heightened counterpoint to the primal conflict unreeling behind closed doors.

New York Film Festival Director and Selection Committee Chair Kent Jones said, “The Favourite is a lot of things at once, each of them perfectly meshed: a historical epic; a visual feast; a wild, wild ride; a formidable display of the art of acting from Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, and Olivia Colman, abetted by a brilliant cast; a tour de force from Yorgos Lanthimos. And… it’s a blast. We’re very excited to have it as our opening night film.”

“It’s a great privilege to be showing The Favourite for the opening night of the New York Film Festival, which is a very special place for the film,” said Lanthimos. “I had a wonderful experience screening The Lobster at this distinct festival and I’m looking forward to sharing The Favourite with audiences in New York. I was envisioning this film for many years and eventually had a lot of fun making it.”

The 17-day New York Film Festival highlights the best in world cinema, featuring works from celebrated filmmakers as well as fresh new talent. The selection committee, chaired by Jones, also includes Dennis Lim, FSLC Director of Programming, and Florence Almozini, FSLC Associate Director of Programming.

Tickets for the 56th New York Film Festival will go on sale to the general public on September 9. Festival and VIP passes are on sale now and offer one of the earliest opportunities to purchase tickets and secure seats at some of the festival’s biggest events, including Opening Night.

Photo credit: Yorgos Lanthimos.

New York Film Festival Opening Night Films

2017    Last Flag Flying (Richard Linklater, US)
2016    13TH (Ava DuVernay, US)
2015    The Walk (Robert Zemeckis, US)
2014    Gone Girl (David Fincher, US)
2013    Captain Phillips (Paul Greengrass, US)
2012    Life of Pi (Ang Lee, US)
2011    Carnage (Roman Polanski, France/Poland)
2010    The Social Network (David Fincher, US)
2009    Wild Grass (Alain Resnais, France)
2008    The Class (Laurent Cantet, France)
2007    The Darjeeling Limited (Wes Anderson, US)
2006    The Queen (Stephen Frears, UK)
2005    Good Night, and Good Luck. (George Clooney, US)
2004    Look at Me (Agnès Jaoui, France)
2003    Mystic River (Clint Eastwood, US)
2002    About Schmidt (Alexander Payne, US)
2001    Va savoir (Jacques Rivette, France)
2000    Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, Denmark)
1999    All About My Mother (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
1998    Celebrity (Woody Allen, US)
1997    The Ice Storm (Ang Lee, US)
1996    Secrets & Lies (Mike Leigh, UK)
1995    Shanghai Triad (Zhang Yimou, China)
1994    Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, US)
1993    Short Cuts (Robert Altman, US)
1992    Olivier Olivier (Agnieszka Holland, France)
1991    The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland/France)
1990    Miller’s Crossing (Joel Coen, US)
1989    Too Beautiful for You (Bertrand Blier, France)
1988    Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
1987    Dark Eyes (Nikita Mikhalkov, Soviet Union)
1986    Down by Law (Jim Jarmusch, US)
1985    Ran (Akira Kurosawa, Japan)
1984    Country (Richard Pearce, US)
1983    The Big Chill (Lawrence Kasdan, US)
1982    Veronika Voss (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, West Germany)
1981    Chariots of Fire (Hugh Hudson, UK)
1980    Melvin and Howard (Jonathan Demme, US)
1979    Luna (Bernardo Bertolucci, Italy/US)
1978    A Wedding (Robert Altman, US)
1977    One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (Agnès Varda, France)
1976    Small Change (François Truffaut, France)
1975    Conversation Piece (Luchino Visconti, Italy)
1974    Don’t Cry with Your Mouth Full (Pascal Thomas, France)
1973    Day for Night (François Truffaut, France)
1972    Chloe in the Afternoon (Eric Rohmer, France)
1971    The Debut (Gleb Panfilov, Soviet Union)
1970    The Wild Child (François Truffaut, France)
1969    Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (Paul Mazursky, US)
1968    Capricious Summer (Jiri Menzel, Czechoslovakia)
1967    The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, Italy/Algeria)
1966    Loves of a Blonde (Milos Forman, Czechoslovakia)
1965    Alphaville (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
1964    Hamlet (Grigori Kozintsev, USSR)
1963    The Exterminating Angel (Luis Buñuel, Mexico)


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