Review: ‘Redeeming Love,’ starring Abigail Cowen, Tom Lewis, Nina Dobrev, Logan Marshall-Green, Eric Dane and Famke Janssen

February 12, 2022

by Carla Hay

Abigail Cowen and Tom Lewis in “Redeeming Love” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Redeeming Love”

Directed by D.J. Caruso

Culture Representation: Taking place in Boston in 1835, and in San Francisco in the 1850s, the dramatic film “Redeeming Love” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A woman who was sold into prostitution when she was 8 years old meets a religious man who wants to marry her and turn her into a “righteous woman.”

Culture Audience: “Redeeming Love” will appeal mainly to people who like watching tawdry and sexist movies that preach that “sinful” women need religious men to save them.

Abigail Cowen and Eric Dane in “Redeeming Love” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Redeeming Love” is a tacky soap opera masquerading as a faith-based movie. The movie’s sexist and awfully preachy message is that an abused woman can overcome child rape, forced prostitution and incest if a religious man falls in love with her. It’s ironic that a movie that’s supposed to be about redemption has no redeeming qualities in how relentlessly tone-deaf and irresponsible it is in filmmaking and in depicting traumatic issues.

“Redeeming Love” (heinously written and directed by D.J. Caruso) makes all of its female characters exist for the sole purpose of fulfilling men’s fantasies. Even the so-called “love story” at the center of the movie is about a saintly man who wants his fantasy fulfilled of having his prostitute “dream girl” becoming his religious and dutiful wife. It’s obvious that the “Redeeming Love” filmmakers don’t want viewers to expect any other outcome.

Caruso adapted the “Redeeming Love” screenplay from Francine Rivers’ 1991 novel of the same name. Filmmakers who turn a book into a movie have the freedom to set the tone of the movie and make cinematic changes that are different from the book. The filmmakers of “Redeeming Love” (with Caruso at the helm) chose to make the female protagonist a mostly pathetic lost soul whose life can only be turned around if she just lets a religious man love her.

The “woman who needs saving” is named Angel (played by Abigail Cowen), who is the most popular prostitute at a San Francisco brothel called Pair-A-Dice. (“Redeeming Love” was actually filmed in South Africa.) The movie, which takes place over several years, opens in 1850 with a scene at Pair-A-Dice, where about 50 dirty and disheveled Gold Rush miners have gathered outside near the front porch for a lottery. It’s not an ordinary lottery. The winner whose number is chosen will get guaranteed time the next day with 23-year-old Angel, who is so in-demand, she doesn’t have time to “service” all the men who want to hire her.

The Pair-A-Dice’s cruel and greedy manager/madam, who only goes by the name Duchess (played by Famke Janssen), proudly oversees this lottery because she knows that Angel is the sex worker who makes the most money for the brothel. At different times in the movie, Duchess is seen physically abusing her young female employees, or ordering her henchmen to inflict abuse if she thinks these sex workers are being insubordinate. Duchess won’t pass up the chance to make money any way that she can from the brothel’s demanding customers.

Duchess makes this announcement to the crowd of men who have eagerly gathered to see Angel: “She’s done shagging for the day. She’s all worn out. I have plenty of other girls—Chinese, African, Spanish—dealer’s choice. But if you want Angel, you’ll have to come back tomorrow. And by guess or by gully, it’ll be your lucky day!” Get used to this type of cringeworthy dialogue in “Redeeming Love,” which is a cesspool of idiotic filmmaking.

Angel is not a “hooker with a heart of gold,” because she’s supposed to be “redeemed,” remember? Instead, Angel is very bitter and angry about her life. She can’t picture herself as anything but a jaded prostitute.

An early scene in the movie shows Angel and some of her co-workers talking about their unhappy and abusive childhoods. An Irish woman named Lucky (played by Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) goes into details about being beaten as a child. Mai Ling (played by Ke-Xi Wu), who is originally from China, says that her father sold her into prostitution.

Flashbacks to Angel’s childhood reveal how she ended up as a sex worker for most of her life so far. Angel’s birth name is Sarah Stafford. The movie flashes back to 1835, when Sarah (played by Livi Birch) was an 8-year-old living in Boston with her single mother Mae (played by Nina Dobrev), who is an outcast in this society because she is an unmarried woman with an illegitimate child.

Sarah’s biological father is wealthy Alex Stafford (played by Josh Taylor), who is married to another woman. It’s implied that Sarah was born from an extramarital affair. Alex doesn’t want to publicly claim Sarah as his child, but he has been sending money and gifts to Mae. He wants Mae, not Sarah, to have the money and gifts.

One day, something happens that has never happened before: Sarah meets Alex for the first time, when he comes over to visit Mae. Mae introduces Sarah and Alex to each other, with a look of hope and apprehension. At first, the meeting is cordial but awkward.

But the meeting turns sour when Alex finds out that Mae took the money he had sent and spent it on Sarah, who also got the gifts that were originally intended for Mae. Alex becomes enraged and begins physically assaulting Mae and verbally degrading her. Sarah witnesses this abuse, including when Alex shouts at Mae that he never wanted Sarah to be born and that Mae should have terminated the pregnancy.

Another flashback reveals that Mae eventually died of an unnamed illness when Sarah was 8. Sarah, who is now considered to be an orphan, ends up in the custody of a sleazy man named John Altman (played by Willie Watson), who tries to get a woman named Sally (played by Tanya van Graan) to agree to take care of Sarah, but Sally refuses. John then tries to sell Sarah to a ruthless Irish criminal named Duke (played by Eric Dane, doing a terrible Irish accent), who runs a brothel where girls are held as sex slaves.

Duke doesn’t just kidnap Sarah. He also orders his henchman Colin to murder John as soon as John brings an innocent Sarah to Duke. One of the first things that Duke says to Sarah after she becomes his captive is that she’s now going to be his “wife.” Disgusting. This is the scene where viewers find out that Duke is a pedophile. Another scene reveals that Duke rapes the girls who are held in his captivity and who are prostituted out to other men.

The movie eventually reveals that Sarah ended up in San Francisco because she ran away from Duke. But is it the last time she sees Duke? Of course not, because he never stopped looking for her, and this movie is filled with sordid melodrama. Duke eventually ends up in San Francisco in the 1850s. He still keeps underage girls as sex slaves. And you can predict the rest, including what happens to Duke.

It might come as a surprise that for all of its disturbing subject matter, “Redeeming Love” is actually not a movie with a rating that recommends a minimum age of 17 for appropriate viewing. It’s actually been rated as appropriate for kids who are at least 13 years old. That’s because there’s no nudity in the movie. And the movie’s sex scenes are very tame.

Still, any parents who decide to let their underage kids watch “Redeeming Love” should know that this is not a wholesome movie at all. There’s a scene where an adult Sarah/Angel ends up having her father Alex as a sex customer. He doesn’t know that she’s his daughter, but she knows exactly who she is. He only knows her as Angel, and he tells her that she looks familiar.

However, Angel/Sarah still doesn’t reveal to him that she’s his abandoned daughter, and she deliberately has sex with him. (This incestuous sex is not shown in the movie, but it is openly discussed.) After Alex finds out the horrible truth, he commits suicide. Based on Sarah’s reaction (she seems happy that her father committed suicide), it’s implied that Angel/Sarah knowingly committed this act of incest for revenge and with the hope that it would lead to her father killing himself.

The incest in this movie might be considered spoiler information for people who don’t want to know about any surprises in the movie’s plot. However, it’s important for viewers to know in advance how this so-called “faith-based” movie has some morally twisted subject matter whose only purpose is to make Angel/Sarah look as trashy as possible. It’s one thing to be a victim of child abuse, which is not the victim’s fault. It’s another thing to be an adult and try to get a parent to commit suicide by knowingly having sex with the parent. It’s absolutely reprehensible.

But if Angel weren’t so “morally bankrupt,” then it wouldn’t make her “male rescuer” look as noble. Michael Hosea (played by Tom Lewis) is a 26-year-old farmer who is first seen in the movie when he’s praying alone in a church and asking God to find him a romantic partner/future wife. “Maybe she likes fishing,” Michael says out loud as he prays. “Maybe she has long legs. You know the kind I need. I trust you,” Michael adds, as if God is in the mail-order bride business.

When Michael first sees Angel in a horse-drawn carriage on the street, it’s “love at first sight” for him. He tells a friend who’s with him that he just saw the woman he’s going to marry. When the friend tells Michael that Angel works at the Pair-A-Dice brothel, Michael is undeterred. It’s at that moment that Michael decides he’s going to “save” Angel.

The movie makes a big deal out of reminding viewers that Michael is a humble and poor farmer. But somehow, Michael has enough money to visit Angel several times, in an effort to court her and get her to marry him. He refuses to have sex with her during these visits, even though Angel offers sex to him as part of the transaction. Michael tells Angel that he doesn’t want to have sex with her until she falls in love with him.

The rest of “Redeeming Love” is a horrendous slog of the ups and downs of Michael and Angel’s relationship. There’s a time-wasting subplot involving Michael’s widower brother-in-law Paul Atherton (played by Logan Marshall-Green), who was married to Michael’s sister Tess, who died in 1847, when she was 21. Paul doesn’t approve of Angel being in Michael’s life. Guess who used to be a customer of Angel’s before Michael met her?

There’s also some tedious drama about fertility that comes to the forefront when a family called the Altmans end up visiting Michael’s farm. This clan includes John Altman (played by Willie Watson), his pregnant wife Elizabeth (played by Lauren McGregor), and their two daughters: Miriam (played by Tayah Ronen Abels), who’s about 14 or 15, and Ruthie (played by Tayah Ronen Abels), who’s about 10 or 11.

The performances in “Redeeming Love” are tonally off-kilter. Some of the cast members ham it up too much with their acting, while others seem bored. Cowen and Lewis (who makes his feature-film debut in “Redeeming Love”) have zero chemistry together as Angel and Michael. Angel is depicted as a fickle and flaky heartbreaker, while Michael is “too good to be true.” The filmmakers clearly want Michael to get most of the sympathy from viewers, even though Angel is the one who’s had the much harder life of being abused and exploited.

Everything about this movie is extremely condescending to women, to the point where it comes across as misogynistic. The female characters with the biggest speaking roles and the most screen time in “Redeeming Love” are involved in prostitution, when there should be a wider variety of women in the movie. That’s an example of Caruso’s sexist writing and directing for this film. “Redeeming Love” is trying to pretend that it’s an epic love story, but it’s really just epic trash.

Universal Pictures released “Redeeming Love” in U.S. cinemas on January 21, 2022. The movie is set to premiere on Peacock on March 7, 2022.

Review: ‘Together Together,’ starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison

April 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in “Together Together” (Photo by Tiffany Roohani/Bleecker Street)

“Together Together”

Directed by Nikole Beckwith

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, the dramedy film “Together Together” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians, Latinos and African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A middle-aged bachelor hires a surrogate to carry his first child, and the two sometimes have conflicts over his controlling and neurotic ways during the pregnancy.

Culture Audience: “Together Together” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in seeing a unique and sometimes comedic spin on society’s stereotypes of single fathers and surrogates.

Ed Helms and Patti Harrison in “Together Together” (Photo by Tiffany Roohani/Bleecker Street)

“Together Together” pokes fun at and exposes a lot of preconceptions that people might have of gender roles, when it comes to people who choose to start a family without a partner and what it means to be a pregnancy surrogate in this situation. Written and directed by Nikole Beckwith, the movie adeptly combines comedy and drama without reducing the characters to becoming punchlines or melodramatic caricatures. Patti Harrison stands out for her winning performance as a conflicted 26-year-old named Anna, who decides to become a pregnancy surrogate and finds out that she’s not the only person in the surrogacy arrangement who has to deal with gender biases.

That’s because Anna is a surrogate for someone who typically doesn’t hire a surrogate to become a first-time parent: a heterosexual, never-married bachelor in his 40s who isn’t waiting to find his soul mate/life partner to start a family. This 45-year-old bachelor is named Matt (played by Ed Helms), and he and Anna both live in San Francisco, which makes it easier for them to see each other during the pregnancy. However, living in the same city also makes it easier for neurotic Matt to try to meddle in Anna’s life and control how she lives during the pregnancy.

Matt has a well-meaning tone to his control-freak ways, so he’s not as irritating in the movie as he could be. And certainly, Helms is skilled at playing an awkward nerd to comedic effect, since he’s been typecast in doing this type of character for most of his on-screen roles. What makes “Together Together” so entertaining to watch is the chemistry between Harrison and Helms as Anna and Matt. At first, Matt and Anna appear to be a mismatch, but they end up finding that they have a lot in common when it comes to feeling like misfits in their own families.

“Together Together” begins with Matt (who is an app developer) interviewing Anna (who’s a coffee shop barista) for the surrogacy arrangement. The conversation is clearly uncomfortable for both of them, but they try to make the best out of the situation without offending the other person. Because most people watching “Together Together” already know that Anna was chosen for this surrogacy arrangement, the movie doesn’t waste time with contrivances such as Matt interviewing other candidates.

During the interview, Matt asks Anna: “Have you ever stolen anything?” Anna replies, “Pens.” Matt then asks, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” Anna says, “That’s private.” His next question is, “Are you religious?” Her reply: “No. My family is, but we’re not close.”

When Matt asks Anna why she wants to be a pregnancy surrogate for him, Anna says, “This appeals to me because I know it’s not the best thing in the world to be alone.” As soon as she says it, Anna gets flustered because she knows that remark comes across as judgmental, so she apologizes profusely for making this potentially offensive remark and tries to clarify.

“I meant being alone isn’t a bad thing,” Anna comments. “I meant if family is important to someone, they should be able to make one. Plus, [I want] the money, not in a bad way. Putting a little karma in the bank never hurt anyone.” This back-and-forth mumblecore-like banter goes on for a few more minutes. And when it’s time for Anna to ask Matt any questions, she asks, “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” And then, the scene ends.

It sets the tone for the rest of the movie, which divides its screenplay’s three acts according to each trimester of Anna’s pregnancy. In case viewers don’t know, the movie literally spells it out in title cards: “First Trimester,” “Second Trimester” and “Third Trimester.” Various people come and go in the movie, but Anna and Matt remain the central focus.

As Matt and Anna get to know each other, so too does the audience. Matt finds out early on in their relationship that Anna gave birth to a child (she won’t say what gender) when she was was 17 or 18 years old. Anna dropped out of high school because of the pregnancy, and she gave the child up for adoption. It was a closed adoption, so she has no idea where the child is now or who adopted the child. And she doesn’t want to know.

Anna doesn’t want to know the gender of the child she’s carrying for Matt. And when her pregnancy starts to show, she also doesn’t want to tell people why she got pregnant and who the father is. Why all the secrecy?

It becomes obvious that Anna has unresolved issues about her first pregnancy because of how it affected her relationship with the rest of her family, which includes her parents and her sister, who are not seen in the movie. It’s inferred that her family members live in an unnamed U.S. state that’s far away from California. In her interview with Matt, Anna said that her parents are religious, so viewers can easily guess how Anna’s parents reacted to Anna being an unwed pregnant teenager.

Anna eventually reveals to Matt that her parents not only disapproved of her teen pregnancy but they also angrily disagreed with her decision to give the child up for adoption. Based on some other things that Anna says about her family, it seems as if her parents thought it would have been better for Anna or someone in their family to raise the child. Later in the movie, Anna gets a call from her mother that leads Anna to make a decision that Anna didn’t expect to make.

Matt incorrectly assumes that Anna is pro-life because she didn’t have an abortion for her teen pregnancy, but Anna tells him that she’s actually pro-choice. There are several instances where Matt goes out of his way to try to say “politically correct” things to make Anna feel more at ease (for example, he announces in a pregnancy meditation group that they’re both feminists), but many times he ends up saying something that makes things more awkward.

Anna says she eventually got her GED and a college associate’s degree, but one of the reasons why she wants the surrogacy fee money (the movie shows she got paid $15,000) is because she wants to get bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality. She found a university in Vermont that will allow her to get these degrees on an accelerated basis. As for her love life, Anna’s most recent relationship was with a guy named Jason, and he broke up with her for reasons that aren’t revealed.

Unlike Anna, Matt is close to his family. His parents Marty (played by Fred Melamed) and Adele (played by Nora Dunn) got divorced and are now remarried to other people. Matt’s younger brother Jacob (played by Timm Sharp) and Jacob’s wife Liz (played by Bianca Lopez) have two daughters together under the age of 3. They all live in the San Francisco area, so they get to see each other on a regular basis.

Marty, Jacob and Liz are happy for Matt and his impending fatherhood, while Adele is suspicious and judgmental about the surrogacy arrangement. Marty’s wife Dana (played by Terri Hoyos) and Adele’s husband Carson (played by Tucker Smallwood) are also supportive of Matt’s parenthood by surrogate pregnancy. Anna eventually meets all of these family members. As for Matt’s love life, Matt tells Anna that he was in a relationship for eight years with a woman he thought he might marry and start a family with, but the relationship didn’t work out.

Matt and Anna have their first major conflict in the first trimester, when Matt finds out that Anna had sex with a guy named Bryce (played by Evan Jonigkeit), whom Anna describes as probably a fling. Matt shows a very old-fashioned and ignorant side to him when he acts shocked and outraged that Anna could have sex while pregnant. When Matt meets Bryce for the first time, it’s after Bryce spent the night with Anna. Matt blurts out to Bryce and Anna: “Did you guys just fuck?”

It’s so rude and so socially clueless. Matt’s harsh reaction to Anna having a sex life while pregnant predictably leads to an argument. And that leads to a scene in an obstetrician’s office where Matt has to have it explained to him that it’s generally safe for a pregnant woman to have sex, unless she’s been told by a doctor that she can’t have sex for medical reasons. Matt is presumably well-educated as someone who works in the tech industry, but he’s woefully ignorant about a woman’s anatomy during pregnancy.

Matt tries to bring up a clause in the surrogacy contract that prohibits Anna from engaging in dangerous acts while pregnant, with Matt saying that sexual intercourse can fall under that clause. However, Anna and their obstetrician Jean (played with scene-stealing sarcasm by Sufe Bradshaw) shut Matt down with his extremely uptight reactions to the idea that Anna can’t have a sex life while pregnant. Although Matt’s reaction is over-the-top, it’s the movie’s way of pointing out how some people have sexist attitudes by believing pregnant women’s sexual needs are supposed to disappear during pregnancy.

“Together Together” mines some pregnancy rituals for some laughs and satire about people’s attitudes about gender roles in parenthood. Matt and Anna attend a pregnancy mediation class, where the so-called open-minded teacher (who tries to look like a New Age guru) is condescending and judgmental when she finds out that Anna is a single woman who is a surrogate. And when people find out that Matt and Anna aren’t a couple, Matt gets more credit and praise than Anna for being committed to going to these classes.

In their separate surrogacy support group sessions (Anna is in a group for for women, Matt is in a group for men), Matt is the only man in his group who is unmarried or without a partner/co-parent. He gets surprised reactions, but they’re not as insulting as some of the things that Anna experiences. There are straight and gay couples represented in the sessions for the support groups, meditation and childbirth preparation classes that Anna and Matt attend. As for how Anna and Matt are able to spend so much time attending all these classes and counseling sessions, it’s implied in the movie that Matt works from home, and Anna’s job at the coffee shop is part-time.

Anna experiences other casual forms of sexism, when she notices that people treat her in a more dismissive or judgmental manner when they find out that her pregnancy is a surrogate pregnancy. But she notices that when people find out that Matt is a single man who hired a surrogate, people react by saying it’s very progressive and “brave.” The message is clear with people who have this attitude: There’s still a stigma attached to being a pregnant woman who’s not married or without a partner, compared to being a pregnant woman who’s married or who has a partner.

Anna also has to experience the rudeness of over-enthusiastic people who touch her pregnant belly without permission. And then, by her third trimester, there are the people who impolitely comment on how “big” Anna is. It’s the movie’s way of showing that some people are insensitive to the fact that pregnant women already know they’ve gained weight and they don’t need it pointed out to them in a body-shaming way, even if the commenter didn’t intend to be offensive. And then there are people (such as Matt’s mother Adele) who say that Anna must be that big because the baby is probably a boy.

Meanwhile, the gender discrimination that Matt experiences isn’t as embarrassing. After people get over the shock that he hired a surrogate and he wants to be a single father, they generally think that what he’s doing is somehow groundbreaking. It helps that he lives in a liberal city such as San Francisco. “Together Together” would have been a very different (and possibly more interesting) movie if Anna and Matt lived in an area that wasn’t so open-minded and accepting of their surrogacy arrangement.

Compared to Anna, Matt doesn’t have as many challenges during this pregnancy. One of Matt’s biggest “problems” is that he can’t find any advice books on being a single father who hires a surrogate, because most books about being a single father have to do with being widowed, divorced or fighting for child custody. Matt goes all-out in preparing for his child, including buying a book that gives in-depth analysis of every conceivable color to paint a baby’s bedroom and how each color might psychologically affect the child. And, as expected, because he’s kind of an obsessive control freak, Matt wants to monitor and judge everything that Anna is eating and drinking while she’s pregnant.

It’s implied that because of the traumatic experience that Anna had with her teen pregnancy, she doesn’t want to know the gender of the child she’s carrying for Matt. Matt wants to know the gender before the baby is born. And so, he and Anna argue a little about it during an ultrasound appointment. Meanwhile, obstetrician Jean witnesses a lot of this bickering and tries not to say out loud what she’s thinking, but it’s written all over her face.

Eventually, Matt decides that if he found out the gender, it would be too hard for him to keep it a secret, so he goes along with Anna’s wish for him to not find out until the baby is born. Matt also promises that he won’t tell Anna the gender of the child after she gives birth. Matt will be the one to name the child after the baby is born.

But while Anna is pregnant, they both agree that they should give the child a gender-neutral name. There’s a comical segment where Anna and Matt go through a series of names. They disagree on and reject several names until they eventually decide to call the unborn child Lamp.

In addition to their respective surrogacy support groups, Anna and Matt get surrogacy counseling from a non-judgmental therapist named Madeline (played by Tig Notaro), who doesn’t do much but listen to Anna and Matt’s neurotic rambling. Anna also confides in a sassy barista co-worker named Jules (played by Julio Torres), who is in his early 20s, openly queer (he dates men and women), and is apparently Anna’s closest friend. Jules is one of the few people whom Anna told that her pregnancy is a surrogate pregnancy and that Matt is the biological father. Jules, who is very opinionated, warns Anna about the complications of getting emotionally involved with Matt, whom Jules eyes suspiciously when Matt visits the coffee shop.

Anna and Matt’s initial discomfort with each other evolves into a deeper understanding of each other. In their own separate ways, they experience prejudice and misunderstandings from other people about their unusual surrogacy situation. And how they navigate their relationship, while coming to terms with how this surrogate pregnancy will change them, makes this movie work so well.

But as Anna and Matt become friends, Anna feels conflicted and confused over how attached she should become to someone who will be raising a child whom she doesn’t want to know. And when she attends a baby shower that Matt has thrown for himself (the party was Anna’s idea), Anna gets an eye-opening experience on how she’s perceived by the people he’s closest to in his life. Instead of the party guests remembering Anna’s name, they call her “the surrogate.” While Matt has people congratulating him at the party, she’s often ignored.

“Together Together” could have been a very gimmicky movie, but it’s held together by witty dialogue and truthful satires. One of the movie’s main intended takeaways is how much women bear the biggest brunt of indignities when it comes to pregnancies. And even though Anna and Matt end up becoming friends, there’s still an unbalanced power dynamic between them because he’s paying her to have his child and paying all of her pregnancy expenses.

When they hang out together, Matt is the one who usually decides what they do (they end up watching every episode of the sitcom “Friends”) and he sometimes acts like a know-it-all. He’s shocked that Anna knew very little about “Friends” before she met him. It’s as if Matt can’t take into account that a lot of people don’t really watch TV and are unaware of all the characters in popular TV shows. And so, he insists that he and Anna will watch every episode of “Friends.”

Anna is also acutely aware of the age difference between herself and Matt, who doesn’t seem to think their nearly 20-year-age gap is that big of a deal. (It’s probably because Matt is emotionally immature in a lot of ways.) This leads to Anna going into a monologue about Woody Allen that has to be seen in the movie to be believed. People will either laugh and/or cringe at this monologue.

“Together Together” has some sharp observations of how well-intentioned men, even those who think that they’re “feminists,” can still have patriarchal and possessive attitudes over pregnant women’s bodies. For example, Matt (who thinks he’s a progressive liberal) was quick to try to use his surrogate contract with Anna as a legal way to stop Anna from having sex while she was pregnant. Although he ultimately failed to police Anna’s sex life, the fact that he wanted to doesn’t make it any less alarming.

Ultimately, “Together Together,” like the title suggests, is not about a battle of the sexes. It shows with a lot of amusing charm how people in unusual pregnancy situations can overcome fears and prejudices, or at least cope in the best way that they can. And if an unexpected friendship can come out if it, that’s an added bonus.

Bleecker Street released “Together Together” in U.S. cinemas on April 23, 2021. The movie’s digital and VOD release date is on May 11, 2021.

Review: ‘The Etruscan Smile,’ starring Brian Cox, Rosanna Arquette, JJ Feild and Thora Birch

March 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

Thora Birch, Brian Cox and JJ Feild in “The Etruscan Smile” (Photo courtesy of Lightyear Entertainment)

“The Estruscan Smile”

Directed by Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnu

Culture Representation: Set in San Francisco and Scotland’s Valasay, Isle of Lewis, the family drama “The Etruscan Smile” has a predominantly white cast of characters representing the wealthy and the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Scottish ferry operator goes to San Francisco to seek medical treatment and reunites with his estranged son, who has started his own family.

Culture Audience: “The Etruscan Smile” will appeal primarily to fans of the book on which the movie is based, as well as people who like sentimental dramas about emotional subjects, such as death and family.

Rosanna Arquette and Brian Cox in “The Etruscan Smile” (Photo courtesy of Lightyear Entertainment)

If you’re not in the mood for a tearjerking drama about a dying man who reunites with his estranged son, then “The Etruscan Smile” is not going to be for you. But if you want to see a well-acted story that is elevated by authentic performances by the cast, particularly star Brian Cox, then “The Etruscan Smile” is worth watching. Just make sure you have plenty of tissues nearby if you’re someone who cries during movies.

Based on the 1985 novel “The Etruscan Smile” by José Luis Sampedro, the movie version makes some location and cultural changes from the book. “The Etruscan Smile” book, which is set in Italy, is about a dying farmer who reluctantly seeks medical treatment in Milan, stays with his estranged son, and finds it difficult to adjust to city living, but his attitude toward life changes as he bonds with his grandson. The movie has a similar premise, but the central character is a 75-year-old Scottish ferry operator named Rory MacNeil, who travels from Scotland to San Francisco to get medical treatment.

“The Etruscan Smile” was released in the United Kingdom in 2019, under the title “Rory’s Way,” which isn’t a particularly good renaming of the film because it’s so vague. Even if people have never heard of “The Estruscan Smile” book, at least it’s explained in the movie why the story has this title, which carries more emotional resonance than a title like “Rory’s Way.”

The beginning of the film takes place in Rory’s hometown of Valasay, Isle of Lewis in Scotland, where he’s a widowed former carpenter who lives alone on Hebridean Island. Rory starts his mornings by skinny-dipping in Kyles of Valasay. He spends his work days as a ferry operator for tourists, and at night he’s usually drinking in local pubs. In addition to his drinking problem, Rory can be gruff, crude and stubborn. He has the lifestyle of someone who likes to live alone and is set in his ways.

While at hanging out at a pub one night, Rory gets in an argument with Alistair Campbell (played by Clive Russell), a local man he’s been feuding with for years. Campbell shouts to the pub patrons that he’ll pay for everyone’s drinks to celebrate that Rory is dying. Rory then insults Campbell, who eventually backs off. As viewers find out later in the movie, the feud involves a bizarre contest between the two men where they’ve decided that the “winner” is whoever outlives the other.

Viewers soon see that Rory does have a serious medical condition, to the point where he’s collapsed in his home. The only person who’s been treating him is a local veterinarian, who tells Rory that he can no longer give him medicine that’s meant for animals, and he urges Rory to see a doctor who treats humans.

And apparently, since there are no doctors in Scotland or the rest of the United Kingdom that Rory wants to see, he travels all the way to San Francisco to get medical treatment, even though as a visitor from the U.K., he wouldn’t have health insurance in United States. This is the only part of the story that doesn’t make much sense. However, there are a few explanations that clear up this apparent plot hole.

First, it’s pretty obvious that since the story revolves around Rory reuniting with his estranged son, Rory (who probably knows that he’s dying, but is afraid to get the official diagnosis) is going on the trip so that he can stay with his son and get to know his son and his family better. Secondly, the question that viewers might have about how Rory is going to pay for his medical treatment is answered when Rory arrives in San Francisco, is tensely greeted at the airport by his estranged son Ian (played by JJ Feild), and taken to Ian’s high-rise luxury condo in San Francisco: Ian has married into a wealthy family.

Ian, who is Rory’s only child, went to college for biochemistry, but his chosen profession is as a chef whose specialty is molecular gastronomy. He works as a sous chef at an upscale restaurant owned by a celebrity chef, who’s not named in the movie. Ian’s supportive wife Emily (played by Thora Birch) used to work at a hospital but has launched her own firm, which is in the start-up stage. She works from home and has a nanny named Frida (played by Sandra Santiago), but Emily also has to travel a lot for her business. Emily’s father has the kind of money to afford box seats at Candlestick Park for San Francisco Giants games, as Ian mentions to Rory.

It’s obvious from Rory and Ian’s first moments together, after not seeing each other for 15 years, that the reunion is going to be tense. Rory tells Ian that he’s glad to see him, while Ian only tersely nods and says nothing. While driving from the airport, Rory gives Ian a small wooden toy horse that Rory hand-carved himself, and says that it’s a gift for Ian’s infant child Jamie. Unfortunately, Rory calls Jamie a “she” when Jamie is actually a boy. Ian doesn’t even try to hide his disgust that Rory couldn’t be bothered to remember the gender of his only grandchild. (The adorable and expressive baby Jamie in the movie is played by twins Oliver Aero Kappo Epps and Elliot Echo Boom Epps.)

There are other reasons, explained in different parts during the movie, for why Ian and his father have been estranged. After Jamie was born, Rory never bothered to contact Ian and Emily—not even to send a card. It’s also hinted in the movie that because of Rory’s conservative viewpoints on how men and women should be, Rory never really thought of Ian as a “man’s man” and was probably disappointed in Ian’s career choice. It seems like Rory expected Ian to gave a more “manly” profession that requires physical strength.

Rory also has some resentment toward Ian, because he think Ian “abandoned” his Scottish roots by going away to America to attend the University of California at Berkeley. Ian’s late mother is briefly mentioned a few times in the movie. It’s implied that she was probably a long-suffering wife, considering Ian’s stubborn and sexist ways of thinking. And because Rory was most likely the more difficult partner in the marriage, Ian is angry with his father about that too.

Because Emily’s father has paid for the condo where Ian and Emily live, Rory makes it known that he doesn’t respect Ian for not being the family breadwinner and for taking financial handouts from Ian’s father-in-law. Rory also isn’t comfortable with Emily being the more dominant partner in the marriage, as he sarcastically remarks to Ian that Emily is the one who’s wearing the pants in the family.

While Rory is staying with Ian and Emily, he tells them the real reason for the visit: He needs to get an exam for some medical issues. Emily is understanding, but it’s another reason for Ian to get upset with Rory, because Ian doesn’t like that Rory wasn’t forthcoming about all of the reasons for the visit. Meanwhile, Rory tries to adjust to living in a big city and using modern technology. And he also has to adjust to being a grandfather.

When he’s alone with Jamie, who starts crying as babies do, he gruffly tells the child, “Man up!” It’s obvious that Rory doesn’t really know much about taking care of a baby, because he comes from the “old school” way of thinking that it’s a woman’s job to do that. But over time, Rory bonds with Jamie and looks forward to babysitting him.

One day, Rory takes Jamie out for a stroll for a couple of hours, but he doesn’t tell anyone that he’s leaving and when he’s coming back. Viewers can see that it’s entirely in Rory’s character to do something this irresponsible because he’s so used to living alone and not having to answer to anyone. When he returns with the baby to Ian and Emily’s home, Ian is furious, and Emily is worried but actually apologizes to Rory instead of scolding him. Emily says that she understands how Rory might be overwhelmed by his new surroundings.

After coming back from his first doctor’s appointment in San Francisco, Rory finds a tuxedo handing in his closet and a note attached to get dressed in the tuxedo and a car will pick him for for an event. The event is a black-tie gala at a museum, and Rory arrives only wearing the top of the tuxedo and a traditional Scottish kilt on the bottom. Ian is part of the culinary team that’s prepared the food at the event, which was organized by Emily.

It’s at this soiree that Rory meets Emily’s widowed father Frank (played by Treat Williams) for the first time. Frank makes a grand gesture in front of Ian, Emily and Rory, by telling Ian that he’s put a down payment on new restaurant for him, because he wants Ian to run his own restaurant. Ian is surprised and grateful, but Rory is repulsed that Ian has had this opportunity handed to him instead of working for it. Rory thinks it’s emasculating for Ian to be so reliant on Frank. Rory comments in Scottish Gaelic as he walks off, “The best way to tame your horse is to shoot his balls off.”

While wandering around the museum by himself, Rory sees an Etruscan sculpture of a smiling couple in a loving embrace. A museum employee explains to Rory that the couple is actually dead but still able to smile. The woman, whom Rory later finds out is named Claudia (played by Rosanna Arquette), chats with Rory some more, but she’s put off by his crude way of flirting with her. He tells her that she looks natural, unlike the women at the gala with the “big, fake tits.” Still, how Rory and Claudia meet is the kind of “meet cute” moment that you can immediately tell will lead to Rory and Claudia to begin dating each other.

Shortly after attending the party, Rory gets a call from Scotland that thrills him to bits: He’s found out that his enemy Campbell is dying from liver failure and doesn’t have much longer to live. It’s a moment of gloating that could be considered karma when Rory goes for another hospital visit, and this time, he gets bad news from physician Dr. Weiss (played by Tim Matheson): Rory has Stage 4 prostate cancer. Dr. Weiss refuses to tell him at first how many months Rory has to live, although the doctor relents much later in the story and tells Rory how much time he probably has left.

Rory reacts to the diagnosis with denial and anger. He calls Dr. Weiss a “good for nothing.” And when he tells Ian the news, he snaps, “I’m fine!” when Ian expresses concern. He also tells Ian that Dr. Weiss is an “idiot” and a “hack.”

It isn’t long before Rory is back at the museum—this time during the day as a visitor. He has Jamie in a baby stroller with him, but Rory gets distracted when a young woman in the museum pickpockets him, and he unsuccessfully chases after her, leaving Jamie and the baby stroller behind. When Rory frantically returns to where he left Jamie in the stroller, he sees Claudia holding the baby. It’s such an “only in a movie” moment—but then again, stranger coincidences have happened in real life.

While Rory is getting reacquainted with Claudia, a man standing nearby overhears Rory speaking in Gaelic and tells Rory that a local university is doing research on endangered languages and would love to hire Rory for his knowledge of Gaelic. Rory says he doesn’t need the money but he would participate in the research if Claudia accompanies him to the first session. Claudia is won over by Rory’s charming side, and they begin to date each other. It’s during the research sessions led by a professor (played by Peter Coyote, whose character in the movie doesn’t have a name) that Rory starts to feel valued as a person and completely accepted for who is he is, which affects his newfound appreciation of life.

Cox is one of those character actors who’s usually the best performer in whatever project he’s involved with (and he’s finally getting major acclaim with HBO’s “Succession”), so it’s not much of a surprise if you’ve seen his work that he gives another gem of a performance. Rory MacNeil can be unpleasant, but Cox infuses the performance with a lot of humanity that shows how tender Rory is underneath all of his blustery toughness.

The supporting actors also do a very good job with their roles. A particular standout is Feild, who goes through a wide range of emotions as Ian, a man who is struggling with his identity and confidence issues because he’s always been in a family where other people have dominated. During the course of the movie, viewers see that Ian realize that he needs to define his own happiness instead of letting others dictate it for him.

“The Etruscan Smile’s” screenplay (written by Michael McGowan, Michal Lali Kagan and Sarah Bellwood) can occasionally have hokey dialogue, but the actors improve these moments of triteness by their genuine portrayal of human emotions. All of the characters in the film are entirely believable, even though some of the words in the script are overly maudlin.

The pacing and tone of the movie (directed by Mihal Brezis and Oded Binnu) are at times a little too slow and quiet for some people’s tastes, but the direction is solid. The cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe is quite gorgeous at times, especially in the aerial shots of San Francisco and Scotland.

“The Etruscan Smile” (the first movie produced by Oscar winner Arthur Cohn since 2012’s “Russendisko”) isn’t a movie about a big, loud dysfunctional family. Most of the turmoil shown in “The Etruscan Smile” is internalized by the characters, but their true feelings come out in facial expressions and other body language, rather than non-stop melodrama. The last third of the movie is the best part, so the slower parts of the film are worth getting through in order to see how the movie ends. (The closing shot in the last scene is especially poignant.)

“The Etruscan Smile” isn’t a groundbreaking film, but it’s a compelling character study of how one man deals with a terminal illness and how he tries to right some of the wrongs in his life. At the very least, the movie can remind people what legacies they want to leave behind long after they’re gone and to not take loved ones for granted.

Lightyear Entertainment released “The Etruscan Smile” in select cinemas in New York state and New Jersey on March 13, 2020. MVD Entertainment will release “The Etruscan Smile” on VOD, EST, DVD and Blu-ray on June 16, 2020. The film was released in the United Kingdom in 2019, under the title “Rory’s Way.”

Marvel Studios launches We Love You 3000 tour at Comic-Con International with directors Joe and Anthony Russo

July 19, 2019

Joe Russo and Anthony Russo
Joe Russo and Anthony Russo (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

The following is a press release from Marvel Studios:

Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame became Earth’s Mightiest Super Hero franchise this year, and soon fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe will soon be able to own their own copy on Digital (July 30) and Blu-ray (August 13). But even though the curtains have closed on this phase of the MCU, the celebration is far from over. Directors Joe and Anthony Russo are hitting the road for the “We Love You 3000” Tour, a series of in-person events in nine cities throughout the United States where fans will get to express their love for the MCU while the storytellers themselves get to express their gratitude!

The “We Love You 3000” Tour will kick off July 20 at San Diego Comic-Con 2019 with the Russo brothers and some surprise guests from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fans will be treated to free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (while supplies last) and fans who come in costume will get the chance to participate in a special Marvel Studios Cosplay photo with the Russos and their special guests!

From there, the tour will go to Seattle, San Francisco, Torrance, Chicago, Miami, Minneapolis, and Cleveland before wrapping up at the D23 Expo in Anaheim on August 25. Every event will be hosted by the Russos and other favorites from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Each event will have something different to offer Marvel fans including photo ops, in-store events at Best Buy Stores, and giveaways of 3,000 MCU Funko Pop Vinyl Figures and the limited edition Avengers: Endgame SteelBook – all as a way for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to express their appreciation to Marvel fans.

Marvel fans made Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame the most successful franchise in film history – now it’s time for the Marvel Cinematic Universe to say thank you!

Here are the dates, times and locations of the We Love You 3000 tour:

(All times listed are in the local time zone. Details are to be announced for start and end times at several of the tour stops.)

San Diego, California
WHEN: July 20, 2019: 1:15 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.
WHERE: IMDboat – 5th Avenue Landing Marina, Slip 5B (Directly behind the convention center)

Everett, Washington
WHEN: July 30, 2019: 1 p.m. – 4 p.m.
WHERE: Funko Headquarters

San Francisco, California
WHEN: August 8, 2019
WHERE: Giants Game at Oracle Park

Chicago, Illinois
WHEN: August 12, 2019
WHERE: Best Buy (exact location to be announced)

Torrance, California
WHEN: August 13, 2019
WHERE: Best Buy, 3675 Pacific Coast Highway

Miami, Florida
WHEN: August 13, 2019
WHERE: Best Buy (exact location to be announced)

Minneapolis, Minnesota
WHEN: August 14, 2019
WHERE: Best Buy (exact location to be announced)

Cleveland, Ohio
WHEN: August 20, 2019
WHERE: Best Buy, 7400 Brookpark Road

Anaheim, California
WHEN: August 13, 2019
WHERE: D23 Expo, Anaheim Convention Center, 800 W. Katella Avenue

2017 Fantastic Fest: Satellite offshoots added in New York, San Francisco, Denver

September 1, 2017

Fantastic Fest 2017 LOGO

The following is a press release from Fantastic Fest:

Fantastic Fest is proud to announce the creation of a trio of ‘satellites’ hitting three flagship Alamo Drafthouse theater locations: New York, San Francisco and Denver. Spanning the weekend of September 29 to October 1, these satellites will share a highly-curated selection of Fantastic Fest’s signature programming with audiences who crave the best in adventurous genre cinema from across the world.

“For too long Austin has had all the Fantastic fun,” said Fantastic Fest Creative Director, Evrim Ersoy. “We’ve long wanted to share these brilliant films with the widest audience possible, by opening up these three satellites it’s our first step in expanding their exposure and having them embraced by new audiences.”

This year’s slate of satellite films share the the DNA and lineage of programming that has helped Fantastic Fest become the largest genre film festival in the U.S. and be dubbed “America’s wildest film festival” by The Guardian. Highlights include S. Craig Zahler’s Venice Festival debutante BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, Takashi Miike’s deliriously violent 100th film BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL, MY FRIEND DAHMER, Marc Myers’ powerful adaptation of the celebrated graphic novel and a super secret, mystery movie courtesy of American Genre FIlm Archive that has to be seen to be believed.

Tickets for these shows will go on sale Wednesday September 7th at 1pm EST. A limited number of badges for the San Francisco Fantastic Fest will go on sale today at 12pm PST.

New York Fantastic Fest – Alamo Drafthouse Brooklyn
AGFA Presents: Mystery Movie
Blade of the Immortal
Brawl In Cell Block 99
Jailbreak
My Friend Dahmer
Top Knot Detective

San Francisco Fantastic Fest – Alamo Drafthouse Mission
AGFA Presents: Mystery Movie
Brawl In Cell Block 99
Hagazussa
Jailbreak
My Friend Dahmer
The Square
Top Knot Detective

Denver Fantastic Fest – Alamo Drafthouse Denver- Sloan Lake
AGFA Presents: Mystery Movie
Blade of the Immortal
Brawl In Cell Block 99
Hagazussa
Jailbreak
My Friend Dahmer
The Square
Top Knot Detective

Hotel Nikko San Francisco re-opens after $60 million renovaton

March 22, 2017

The landmark Hotel Nikko San Francisco at 222 Mason Street has re-opened after a $60 million renovation. The hotel is also celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

The following is an excerpt from a Hotel Nikko press release:

Following a three-month renovation, spearheaded by Hirsch Bedner Associates, the contemporary and sophisticated interior design elevates the entire guest experience, complemented by the genuine and intuitive service Hotel Nikko San Francisco has long been known for. The new design, which takes inspiration from the Nikko’s Japanese heritage and the fluid lines of a traditional kimono, encompasses 405 of 533 guestrooms and suites, structural upgrades to the lobby, public areas, third floor ballroom and meeting spaces, as well as large-scale improvements to the hotel’s overall infrastructure and technology.

Since its launch in 1987 under the ownership and leadership of the Takenaka Corporation, one of Japan’s largest architecture and engineering firms, Hotel Nikko San Francisco has embodied a modern Asian-inspired aesthetic taking a nod from its Japanese heritage, while constantly evolving to provide its guests accommodations that service the requirements of today’s traveler. In February 2016, the hotel’s revamped indoor pool with glass atrium and adjoining outdoor terrace reopened to include an outdoor grass dog run on its fifth floor, making the hotel one of the most pet-friendly properties in not only San Francisco, but also the United States.

As a familiar part of the skyline, Hotel Nikko San Francisco re-emerges as the city’s newest destination in time for the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love – the city of San Francisco’s biggest cultural movement – making the hotel the ideal accommodation choice for travelers that want to be in close proximity to all of the festivities taking place throughout the year.

Guestrooms

The 405 new residential-styled guestrooms and suites are airy and bright with an understated color palate of earthy neutral tones, extending an urban refuge to visitors and creating an elevated contemporary hotel experience in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Living spaces will embody the core of the in-room experience allowing guests to feel at ease with deep seated sofas, plush carpets and quality fabrics throughout. Marble bathrooms with parquet flooring, deep soaking bathtubs and separate oversized showers will create another sanctuary for guests.

Grand Ballroom, Pre-Function Event Space and Meeting Rooms

The revamped 6,652 square feet ballroom on the hotel’s third floor offers a striking new space for large scale gatherings, conferences and events. Focal points include tall metal-cut wall screens with modern Japanese design features, emphasizing the height of the space, and crystal glass drop light chandeliers anchored from the ceiling. The spacious pre-function space offers ample natural light and contemporary art-inspired fixtures and furnishings such as copper finished tables, grey marble worktops and cozy armchairs.

Hotel Nikko San Francisco also offers 20 flexible meeting rooms on its 25th floor overlooking the city with expansive views of the San Francisco Bay. As part of the renovation, the meeting rooms feature the latest in audiovisual equipment for presentations. Additional hotel amenities include a 10,000 square feet health club and fitness center with indoor pools, steam rooms and dry saunas, as well as a 140-seat live music venue and bar.

Deluxe Dining
The hotel’s signature restaurant ANZU, led by award-winning Swiss chef and food and beverage director Philippe Striffeler, is also now open. Serving the best in California-inspired Japanese cuisine since 1999, the restaurant is a go-to address for East Asian cuisine enthusiasts. Signature dishes include thinly sliced Wagyu beef cooked tableside on a sizzling Japanese river stone and Misoyaki black cod served with purple yam dumplings, edamame, baby shitake mushrooms and ginger dashi broth.

San Francisco and the 50th Anniversary of The Summer Of Love
In celebration of one of the largest cultural movements, San Francisco will roll out a series of concerts, festivals and exhibitions centered on the music, art, fashion and literature of 1967, “The Summer of Love.” Travelers staying at Hotel Nikko San Francisco will enjoy the perfect home-base from which to explore the various happenings, most of which will take place in the downtown area where the hotel is located. For the full calendar of Summer of Love events, visit the San Francisco Travel website www.sftravel.com.

Hotel Nikko San Francisco is a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Lifestyle Collection. Hotel Nikko is also one of only five hotels in San Francisco on the prestigious list of 4 Star Hotels, rated and ranked by the Forbes Travel Guide.

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