Review: ‘Late Night With the Devil,’ starring David Dastmalchian, Laura Gordon, Ian Bliss, Fayssal Bazzi, Ingrid Torelli, Rhys Auteri, Georgina Haig and Josh Quong Tart

April 17, 2024

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Late Night With the Devil.” Pictured in front, from left to right: Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian and Laura Gordon. Pictured in back, from left to right: Rhys Auteri and Ian Bliss. (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Late Night With the Devil”

Directed by Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily during a “found footage” tape made in New York City, on October 31, 1977, the horror film “Late Night With the Devil” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A late-night talk show host, who is desperate to boost his ratings, does a live seance on his show to summon the devil that reportedly possesses a 13-year-old girl. 

Culture Audience: “Late Night With the Devil” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star David Dastmalchian and well-made supernatural horror movies taking place in the 1970s.

Laura Gordon, Ingrid Torelli, David Dastmalchian and Ian Bliss in “Late Night With the Devil” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Late Night With the Devil” hooks the senses with sinister suspense that might give nightmares to some viewers. This “found footage” horror flick taking place in 1977 shows parallels between devil possession and ruthless ambition. It’s an impressively made original horror movie that is an instant classic.

Written and directed by Australian brothers Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes, “Late Night With the Devil” takes place in New York City, but was actually filmed in Melbourne, Australia. The movie had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film and TV Festival. “Late Night With the Devil” does a superb job of recreating the late 1970s in every way, such as the production design, cinematography, costume design, makeup and hairstyling.

“Late Night With the Devil” begins with a voiceover narrator (Michael Ironside) with a fairly extensive backstory (shown in a montage) about the late-night talk/variety show host at the center of the movie. Jack Delroy (played by David Dastmalchian) was a popular radio host in Chicago when he was chosen to host and produce a national TV talk show called “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” (based in New York City) on the fictional UBC network. The first episode of “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” was on April 4, 1971.

Over the years, “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” had mediocre success, with the show always coming in second place to “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Johnny Carson had A-list celebrity guests. The guests on “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” were considered less than A-list, often with tabloid-like fame. Still, Jack earned enough respect in the industry to get an Emmy nomination for the show.

Jack is a member of all-male private club called The Grove, whose members are influential and powerful. The Grove’s secretive activities have been the subject of a lot of speculation. In November 1972, UBC owner Walter Bedford (played by John O’May) signed Jack to a five-year deal for Jack to continue to host and produce “Night Owls With Jack Delroy,” a show that is filmed before a live studio audience.

Jack’s personal life was also going fairly well: He married an actress named Madeleine Piper (played by Georgina Haig), who is described as Jack’s “muse and confidante.” Jack and Madeleine became known as a well-liked “power couple.” However, tragedy struck when Madeleine (a non-smoker) was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. In October 1976, she did an emotional interview on “Night Owls With Jack Delroy.” It was the highest-rated episode in the show’s history. Madeleine died soon after filming this episode.

After Madeleine died, Jack took a hiatus and “disappeared” for about a month. He returned to doing the show in December 1976. However, the show’s ratings went on a downward spiral. By the time “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” did its Halloween episode on October 31, 1977, Jack’s contract was up for renewal (or cancellation), and he was feeling enormous pressure. Jack and his fast-talking and ambitious producer Leo Fiske (played by Josh Quong Tart) were desperate to boost the show’s ratings, so they planned a Halloween episode that they wanted to get a lot of publicity.

Things went horribly wrong, of course. The rest of “Late Night With the Devil” shows the master tape from this episode, as well as previously unreleased footage. The show’s guests on this fateful episode were a famous self-proclaimed psychic named Christou (played by Fayssal Bazzi); Carmichael Haig (played by Ian Bliss), a former magician who became world-renowned skeptic of all things supernatural; “Conversations With the Devil” non-fiction book author Dr. June Ross-Mitchell (played by Laura Gordon); the book’s subject, a 13-year-old girl named Lilly (played by Ingrid Torelli), who was said to be possessed by the devil; and jazz singer Cleo James (played by Nicole Chapman), who actually never performed in the episode, due to all the chaos that ensued.

in the production notes for “Late Night With the Devil,” Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes both say that Australia’s “The Don Lane Show” (which was on the air from 1975 to 1983) was a big inspiration for the concept of this movie. The character of Carmichael was inspired by the real-life James Randi, whose magician name was the Amazing Randi. And the character Lilly could be seen as inspired by Linda Blair’s Regan MacNeil character in the 1973 Oscar-winning horror classic “The Exorcist.” In “Late Night With the Devil,” Lilly is the only survivor of a cult that was ordered by cult leader Szandor D’Abo (played by Steve Mouzakis) to set themselves on fire.

Cameron Cairnes and Colin Cairnes also had experience working in TV studios and saw firsthand the intense stress that workers can experience when filming episodes. That’s why the “Late Night With the Devil” scenes (especially those take place during commercial breaks) are convincing and why the movie is so effective in showing an increasingly tension-filled environment.

After Madeleine died, Jack took a hiatus and “disappeared” for about a month. He returned to doing the show in December 1976. However, the show’s ratings went on a downward spiral. By the time “Night Owls With Jack Delroy” did its Halloween episode on October 31, 1977, Jack’s contract was up for renewal (or cancellation), and he was feeling enormous pressure. Jack and his fast-talking and ambitious producer Leo Fiske (played by Josh Quong Tart) were desperate to boost the show’s ratings, so they planned a Halloween episode that they wanted to get a lot of publicity.

“Night Owls With Jack Delroy” has an amiable band leader named Gus McConnell (played by Rhys Auteri), who is like many band leaders on late-night talk shows: He’s there to be a sidekick who laughs at the host’s jokes. As things spiral out of control, Gus’ conscience starts to bother him about decisions that are made to increase the show’s TV audience. When Gus expresses his concerns, the response he gets is entirely realistic in the cutthroat world of television. Subordinates are often told that if they don’t do what they’re told, they’ll be fired, and there are plenty of people who are ready to replace them.

The screenplay and direction for “Late Night With the Devil” expertly build the ominous tension throughout the story. The movie stumbles during one particular gruesome scene where the in-studio audience members stay, despite the horror they just witnessed. In real life, most people in this type of audience would leave the studio in fear or disgust. It’s a minor but noticeable flaw in the otherwise realistic-looking way that the audience is portrayed in the movie. And to be clear: “Late Night With the Devil” gets very graphic and does not leave a lot of the horror up to the imagination.

Dastmalchian and Torelli give the movie’s standout performances. As Jack, Dastmalchian has an uneasy desperation that becomes increasingly dangerous as he pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable to put on television. Torelli does an excellent job of balancing the “innocent-looking” and “demonic” sides to Lilly, the mysterious girl who never seems entirely “normal.” Thanks to horrific scenarios and a knockout ending, “Late Night With the Devil” is a memorably disturbing scary movie. Some viewers might never look at TV talk shows in the same way again.

IFC Films released “Late Night With the Devil” in U.S. cinemas on March 22, 2024. Shudder will premiere the movie on April 19, 2024.

Review: ‘The Idea of You,’ starring Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine

April 14, 2024

by Carla Hay

Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine in “The Idea of You (Photo by Alisha Wetherill/Amazon Content Services)

“The Idea of You”

Directed by Michael Showalter

Culture Representation: Taking place in California and various parts of Europe, the comedy/drama film “The Idea of You” (based on the novel of the same name) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A divorced American mother, who is an art-gallery owner and who turns 40 years old in the story, has a controversial romance with a British pop star, who is 16 years younger than she is. 

Culture Audience: “The Idea of You” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and well-acted movies about romances where there’s a big age gap between the love partners.

Ella Rubin and Anne Hathaway in “The Idea of You (Photo by Alisha Wetherill/Amazon Content Services)

“The Idea of You” is utterly formulaic, but the movie benefits from Anne Hathaway’s radiant and realistic performance as a divorced mother in love with a pop star who is 16 years younger than she is. Nicholas Galitzine also shines as a charismatic charmer. One of the refreshing things about the movie is that it doesn’t try to pretend that the two lovers at the center of the story are meant to be married soul mates who will live happily ever after. This movie is a celebration of living in the moment and embracing happiness where you can find it.

Directed by Michael Showalter, “The Idea of You” is written by Showalter and Jennifer Westfeldt. The screenplay is adapted from Robinne Lee’s 2017 novel of the same name. Fans of the book might want to know that although the movie’s overall plot is the same as the book, the ending of the movie is different from the book’s ending. The tone of the movie is also more comedic than the much more serious tone of book. “The Idea of You” had its world premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival.

In “The Idea of You,” Solène Marchand (played by Hathaway), who turns 40 years old during this story, is the owner of a successful and progressive art gallery called Marchand Collective, in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake district. Solène is a divorced mother of a vivacious 17-year-old daughter named Izzy (played by Ella Rubin), who is in her last year of high school called Campbell High School. Solène has primary custody of Izzy, while Solène’s ex-husband Daniel (played Reid Scott) has visitation rights. Daniel is a lawyer who is married to his second wife Eva (played by Perry Mattfeld), a lawyer who’s about 15 years younger than Daniel.

The movie begins in the spring season. Izzy and her two close teenage schoolmates—flamboyant Zeke (played by Jordan Aaron Hall) and mild-mannered Georgia (played by Mathilda Gianopoulos)—are planning to go to the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, which is about 129 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Daniel has promised to drive Izzy and her pals to the festival and be their chaperone. During this weekend excursion while Izzy is away, Solène plans to take a camping trip by herself. Solène has friends, but her life mostly revolves around her job and Izzy.

On the day that Daniel is supposed to take Izzy, Zeke and Georgia to Coachella, Daniel finds out that he has to go to Houston on a sudden business trip. Daniel persuades a reluctant Solène to be the Coachella chaperone. Daniel already bought the festival VIP tickets, as well as a VIP meet-and-greet experience for August Moon, a superstar pop singing group performing at Coachella.

August Moon used to be Izzy’s favorite group when she was in seventh grade. Izzy feels that she now outgrown August Moon, which has a “teen idol” boy band image. Izzy is now into more “serious” music, not teenybopper pop. The fact that Daniel doesn’t know Izzy’s current taste in music (and didn’t care to find out) is an indication of how he’s out-of-touch with who Izzy currently is. By contrast, Solène knows Izzy very well because they are very close. Solène and Izzy are sometimes mistaken as sisters. Izzy is at a stage in her life when she wants to assert her independence from her parents.

At Coachella, Izzy and her pals go somewhere to see a performance, while Solène is by herself in a VIP lounge area. She asks someone where the nearest restroom is, and she’s pointed in the direction of some unmarked trailers. And here comes the “meet cute” moment. Solène accidentally goes in the trailer of Hayes Campbell (played by Galitzine), the British lead singer of August Moon.

Solène doesn’t see Hayes (who is somewhere else in the large trailer) when she uses the restroom. But she sees him when she comes out of the restroom. They both look startled to see each other there. Solène makes a snarky comment to Hayes that if he’s one of these ASMR people who likes to listen to people urinate, it’s a privacy violation. Hayes informs Solène that this is his private trailer.

And when he introduces himself as Hayes Campbell from August Moon, it’s Solène’s turn to be embarrassed. She tells him that she’s at the festival with her daughter Izzy, who used to be a fan of August Moon. Hayes seems a little embarrassed to hear this information but doesn’t take it as an insult. Solène explains that Solène’s ex-husband bought August Moon meet-and-greet passes for Solène, Izzy and Izzy’s two friends, so she will probably see Hayes later. By now, it’s obvious that Hayes is attracted to Solène, and she’s feeling the same way but trying to hide it.

The conversation between Solène and Hayes is cut short because he has to go on stage soon for August Moon’s performance. August Moon is portrayed in the movie as being very much like One Direction, but with much more generic songs than One Direction. Just like One Direction, the five members of August Moon didn’t know each other before auditioning to be in the group.

But unlike One Direction, the members of August Moon don’t all come from European countries. Hayes lives in London. Hayes’ closest friend in August Moon is Oliver (played by Raymond Cham Jr.), an outgoing American. Hayes describes the other August Moon members to Solène this way: Rory (played by Dakota Adan), who is also American, is the sensitive heartthrob; Aidan (played by Jaiden Anthony) is the group’s “Aussie rebel”; and Simon (played by Viktor White), originally from Ukraine, is a “brooding poet.”

Hayes might describe Rory as the group’s heartthrob, but the reality is that Hayes is the member of August Moon who gets the most “heartthrob” attention. (Hayes is August Moon’s version of Harry Styles from One Direction.) In other words, anyone who dates Hayes will get a massive amount of scrutiny from fans and the media. You know where all of this is going, of course. Luckily for Solène, Rory was always Izzy’s favorite member of August Moon.

Solène, Izzy, Zeke and Georgia are in the audience during August Moon’s Coachella performance. Izzy and her pals are mainly there for nostalgia reasons, not because they are huge fans of the group. Hayes changes the rehearsed set by singing “Closer to You” and adding a dedication before the song by saying, “I met someone today.” Solène is close enough to the stage for Hayes to make eye contact with her and to let her know that he’s dedicating the song to her. (Galitzine does his own singing in the movie and on the soundtrack album.)

Solène is aware that most of the fans in the audience would love to have this type of attention, but she feels a mixture of embarrassment and flattery. Later at the meet-and-greet event with August Moon, Hayes flirts with Solène some more. Solène doesn’t think of it as more than harmless flirting that will go nowhere.

Shortly after her 40th birthday party (where Solène met some incompatible bachelors), she gets a surprise when Hayes shows up at her art gallery and buys everything in it. Hayes flatters Solène and continues to flirt with her. His vocabulary is pretty limited—he tells Solène, “I think you’re smart and hot”—but she finds his attention pretty irresistible. She agrees to spend time with him but says she’s not looking to “date” him.

Hayes has some time in Los Angeles before August Moon begins a European tour. Hayes and Solène go on some platonic dates, but their attraction to each other grows after they open up to each other about their personal lives. Solène tells Hayes that she and Daniel were college sweethearts who became parents shortly after they graduated from college and got married after parenthood. Solène is candid about how she has a hard time believing in love because she thought she had a solid marriage before Daniel left her for Eva, who was a junior attorney at his law firm at the time. Solène (who is no longer in love with Daniel) was the last person in their social circle to find out about Daniel’s infidelity.

As for Hayes (who is an only child), he talks about being raised by a single mother and having a father who was mostly absent from Hayes’ life. Hayes’ father didn’t reconnect with Hayes until after Hayes became rich and famous. Hayes has mixed feelings about it but is open to having his father back in his life, even if it’s a troubled relationship. One of the flaws in “The Idea of You” is that there is absolutely nothing that shows how Hayes is with his family, nor does Solène seem interested in meeting any of his family members.

Hayes essentially begs Solène to go on tour with him in Europe. The tour conveniently happens during the same time that Izzy will be away at summer camp. Solène is hesitant and comes up with all types of excuses not to go on tour with Hayes. One of them is that she’s too old for him. Another is that she can’t take time off from her job. Another is that she doesn’t know if she can handle his lifestyle of intrusion by media and fans, because she is accustomed to being a private person.

But you already know the decision that Solène makes. It’s the start of a hot and heavy affair between Hayes and Solène that’s kept a secret from everyone in Solène’s life except her best friend Tracy (played by Annie Mumolo), who approves of Solène having fun with a younger man. At first, Solène and Hayes tell his entourage that she’s on the tour as Hayes’ “art consultant,” but it isn’t long before Solène and Hayes show public displays of affection with each other on the tour’s private jet and in other places.

Hayes and Solène certainly have a physical attraction to each other. Their mutual emotional attraction is also obvious. But other things in the relationship indicate trouble ahead that have nothing to do with their age differences. For starters, Solène and Hayes both have very different lifestyles and incompatible social circles. In his free time, Hayes only seems to hang out with the other members of August Moon and their groupies. Solène’s friends are mature people in her age group.

Solène and Hayes also live in two different countries. In order for the relationship to last, compromises have to be made. And when someone who isn’t rich and famous is in a relationship with someone who is rich and famous, the wealthy celebrity is usually the one whose partner ends up making the most sacrifices and compromises.

Hathaway does a very good job in expressing the nuances and inner conflicts of someone who considers herself to be an independent feminist but who is caught up in a romance where she is perceived as someone who is very much not an equal to her love partner. As for Hayes, there are hints that he’s been a promiscuous “bad boy” in his recent past, but he’s ready to settle down in a monogamous relationship. However, is Solène “the one”?

“The Idea of You” has the expected sexy scenes (there’s no nudity) of Hayes and Solène in passionate trysts, as well as glamour shots of Hayes and Solène on romantic dates. And then there are the predictable scenes of Solène getting humiliated by people who want her to feel like she’s a predatory “cougar” who’s out of her league. Solène realistically vacillates between feeling shame and feeling defiance over the 16-year age difference between her and Hayes.

However, some things in “The Idea of You” are missing and prevent this movie from looking completely authentic. Hayes and Solène are supposed to be “in love,” and Hayes makes it clear he wants a long-term relationship with Solène. However, Solène and Hayes are never seen talking about they want or don’t want for their futures, in terms of marriage and parenthood. The parenthood issue is especially time-sensitive, since Solène is getting close to the age range when women begin menopause.

It’s also glaringly obvious that Hayes and Solène don’t have much to talk about outside of a few common interests in art or entertainment. The movie shows that because their relationship started off as a secret, it was built on lies of omission that required Solène to betray the trust of her loved ones. The consequences of these lies are shown in the movie. As the character of Solène, Hathaway skillfully expresses a balancing act between Solène’s vulnerabilities and Solène’s strengths. The character of Hayes is much less layered, but that’s probably because Hayes still has some growing up to do.

“The Idea of You” allows viewers to weigh the pros and cons of this couple who have the odds stacked against them in many ways. Solène likes the idea of being “swept off her feet” by a handsome and caring heartthrob, but she also wants the freedom to make her own life decisions without being overshadowed by celebrity trappings. Hayes might not be Mr. Right for Solène, but he’s Mr. Right Now—and sometimes that’s all that’s needed for people at certain times in their lives. “The Idea of You,” for all of its Hollywood movie moments, shows the reality that some love is unpredictable and might not last, but if it makes you a better person, it’s probably worth experiencing.

Prime Video will premiere “The Idea of You” on May 2, 2024.

Review: ‘Sasquatch Sunset,’ starring Riley Keough, Jesse Eisenberg, Christophe Zajac-Denek and Nathan Zellner

April 10, 2024

by Carla Hay

Jesse Eisenberg and Christophe Zajac-Denek in “Sasquatch Sunset” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

“Sasquatch Sunset”

Directed by Davd Zellner and Nathan Zellner

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed part of the United States, the comedy/drama film “Sasquatch Sunset” features a group of Sasquatch characters that have human and primate characteristics.

Culture Clash: A family of four Sasquatches wander around a wooded area and get into various conflicts and predicaments.

Culture Audience: “Sasquatch Sunset” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and are interested in watching a movie that has nothing but actors pretending to be ape-like animals in a wooded area, with no real story in the movie.

Nathan Zellner in “Sasquatch Sunset” (Photo courtesy of Bleecker Street)

Overrated and vapid, “Sasquatch Sunset” looks like a self-indulgent student film for actors pretending to be Sasquatches. There’s no plot or imagination, just repetitive grunting and intentional gross-out scenes until the movie’s underwhelming ending. Perhaps the best thing about “Sasquatch Sunset” is the competent prosthetic makeup and hairstyling for the Sasquatch characters. (There are no human characters in this movie.) But those are just visual aesthetics that can’t make up for a weak story.

Directed by brothers David Zellner and Nathan Zellner, “Sasquatch Sunset” was written by David Zellner. Nathan Zellner plays one of the movie’s four main Sasquatch characters, which do not have names. There are also no captions that translate what these Sasquatches are saying or thinking. It wouldn’t matter anyway because “Sasquatch Sunset” is so boring, these Sasquatches wouldn’t have anything memorable to say, even if they did speak a human language. (Sasquatches are fictional creatures that have human and primate characteristics. The legend of Bigfoot, which most people think is a hoax, is about a Sasquatch.)

“Sasquatch Sunset” takes place in an unnamed part of the United States but was actually filmed in Humboldt County, California. In 2024, “Sasquatch Sunset” screened at three of the most prominent film festivals in the world: the Sundance Film Festival (where “Sasquatch Sunset” had its world premiere), the Berlin International Film Festival and the SXSW Film and TV Festival. “Sasquatch Sunset” being at these festivals says more about the “Sasquatch Sunset” filmmakers’ film festival connections than it does about the quality of “Sasquatch Sunset.” Ari Aster (writer/director of “Hereditary,” “Midsommar” and “Beau Is Afraid”) is one of the executive producers of “Sasquatch Sunset,” and he has an almost cult-like fan base who thinks he can do no wrong.

Because “Sasquatch Sunset” has no plot or context, viewers are just left to watch a series of disjointed scenes showing the aimless lives of Sasquatches who live in this wooded area. There are several Sasquatches in the movie, but only four are at the center of this flimsy story. A young adult male Sasquatch (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and a young adult female Sasquatch (played by Riley Keough) are a “couple” with a male child Sasquatch (played by Christophe Zajac-Denek) and an older male relative (played by Nathan Zellner), whose biological relationship with the others is never clearly defined. This “senior” relative could be a grandfather or an uncle or a cousin. It doesn’t really matter because all of these characters are empty and become tiresome to watch after a while.

“Sasquatch Sunset” takes place in a year of the life of these Sasquatches, with the change of seasons indicated by captions on screen. If you think it’s fun to watch people pretending to be Sasquatches as they bang a tree with sticks, then this movie is for you. If you think it’s hilarious to watch the kid Sasquatch get his tongue stuck in a turtle, then this movie is for you. If you think it’s appealing to watch Sasquatches urinate, vomit, defecate, have sex, scratch and smell their crotches, throw feces, and commit attempted rape, then this movie is for you.

Viewers will learn nothing about the movie’s characters except that they exist in this wooded area. The female Sasquatch becomes pregnant and gives birth in a storyline that is very predictable and shallow. There are indications that humans lived in this area (an abandoned campsite and an abandoned building), but there’s no explanation for why there are no humans in the story. This movie did not need to have humans in it to make it a worthwhile watch. “Sasquatch Sunset” just needed to have something worth watching.

“Sasquatch Sunset” is an insult to aspiring and talented filmmakers who are looking for a big break because “Sasquatch Sunset” is proof that certain filmmakers who get preference in the industry can get funding to make crappy movies that get into prestigious film festivals, just because these filmmakers have the right connections and want to cultivate an image of having “indie cred” by making incoherent garbage. Meanwhile, these filmmakers are over-praised by certain people who think this praise makes them look like cool, or they’re just too afraid of being independent thinkers in a fawning group of ingratiators. Maybe “Sasquatch Sunset” will appeal to people who like to be “under the influence” of whatever substance when they watch movies, because this clouded judgment might overlook all the things that are wrong about this stupid and dull movie. “Sasquatch Sunset” is also an insult to viewers who can see through this sham and who know that this dreadful and sloppy movie is a waste of time for anyone looking for a good story.

Bleecker Street will release “Sasquatch Sunset” in select U.S. cinemas on April 12, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on April 19, 2024.

Review: ‘Civil War’ (2024), starring Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura, Cailee Spaeny, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Sonoya Mizuno and Nick Offerman

April 9, 2024

by Carla Hay

Kirsten Dunst, Wagner Moura and Cailee Spaeny in “Civil War” (Photo by Murray Close/A24)

“Civil War” (2024)

Directed by Alex Garland

Culture Representation: Taking place on the East Coast of the United States, the action film “Civil War” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Latin people and African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: During a civil war in the United States, a team of four war journalists take a tension-filled and dangerous road trip to the White House to try to get an interview with the U.S. president, who is under siege. 

Culture Audience: “Civil War” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, filmmaker Alex Garland, and war movies that have observations about political turmoil.

Stephen McKinley Henderson in “Civil War” (Photo by Murray Close/A24)

“Civil War” has some gripping action sequences, but it’s not a non-stop action flick about gun-toting heroes. It’s an effective commentary about war journalism, political unrest, and the psychological toll on people caught in the crossfire. The movie is set in the 21st century, but the themes in “Civil War” are timeless.

Written and directed by Alex Garland, “Civil War” had its world premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival. It’s not a typical war movie because much of the story takes place during a road trip from New York state to Washington, D.C., with journalists as the central characters. The movie gives an accurate depiction of how being a war journalist requires a certain mentality, skills and attitude, including the ability to document what’s happening without getting involved.

The movie begins with an unnamed U.S. president (played by Nick Offerman) privately rehearsing a speech by himself at the White House before he gives the speech live on camera. “Civil War” does not offer a detailed explanation for why there is a U.S. civil war in this story, but it’s mentioned in the movie that Texas and California have seceded from the Unted States and formed a faction called Western Forces, which want to bring down the U.S. government. As eventually revealed in the movie, this U.S president (who is in his third term) is currently under siege by Western Forces, which want to assassinate him.

However, during this speech, the U.S. president is trying to put on a brave face during this crisis. He says of the U.S. military defense against this Western Forces attack: “Some are calling it the greatest victory in the history of mankind.” During his speech rehearsal, he changes this statement to: “Some are calling it the greatest victory in the history of military campaigns.”

The movie then shows the four central characters who go on a “race against time” road trip to try to interview the U.S. president at the White House before he is possibly assassinated. Joel (played by Wagner Moura) is addicted to the adrenaline rush of being a war journalist. He is the one who plans to interview the U.S. president. Joel’s jaded photojournalist colleague is Lee Smith (played by Kirsten Dunst), who is considered one of the top war photographers in the media.

The original plan was for Joel and Lee to go on this trip by themselves. However, they are accompanied by a New York Times journalist named Sammy (played by Stephen McKinley Henderson), who has an “elder sage” personality and uses a cane. Also along for the ride is an eager-to-learn aspiring photojournalist named Jessie Cullen (played by Cailee Spaeny), who thinks of Lee as one of her idols.

Lee isn’t very happy about adding these two people to the trip. However, Lee reluctantly agrees to have these extra two journalists join them in the press van. Sammy wants to prove that he’s useful in a media job that often discriminates against elderly and disabled workers. Joel thinks sensitive newbie Jessie can learn a lot from Lee.

Jessie and Lee met early on in the film when Lee came to Jessie’s aid in New York, during a violent street conflict between protesters and military police officers. During this conflict, Jessie accidentally got hit in the face with a police club while she was taking photos. Lee later found out that Jessie was staying at the same hotel when Jessie approached her in a lounge area to thank Lee for Lee’s help.

The rest of “Civil War” shows the harrowing events that happen during their dangerous and often-chaotic journey. However, there is also some dark comedy and a burgeoning camaraderie between these four journalists. It should come as no surprise that Jessie is the one in this group who goes through the biggest personality transformation because of what she experiences during the mayhem.

Jesse Plemons (who is Dunst’s real-life husband) has an uncredited role as a militant enforcer who holds certain people captive. Plemons’ role in the movie is not as big as his appearance in the “Civil War” trailer suggests: His screen time is less than 10 minutes. Two of Joel’s journalist friends named Tony (played by Nelson Lee) and Bohai (played by Evan Lai) have small but pivotal roles in the second half of the movie.

“Civil War” has several cast members who were also in Garland’s 2020 sci-fi/drama limited series “Devs.” Spaeny and Henderson are “Devs” alumni. “Devs” star Sonoya Mizuno has a brief role in “Civil War” as a rival journalist named Anya. Another “Devs” cast member is Jin Ha, who has a small supporting role in “Civil War” as an unnamed sniper who’s in a standoff with an unseen person or persons shooting from a large residential house. Karl Glusman (also from “Devs”) is in the same scene as an unnamed spotter who’s working with the sniper.

“Civil War” invites viewers to think about how you or people you know would react if this civil war really happened in the United States. There are scenes in the movie that show how some people want to block out the realities of this war and pretend that it’s not happening. Others want to jump in and do what they can to fight for causes they believe in, even if it means they will die. Other people are somewhere in between and acknlowedge the war but are just trying to survive without taking sides. “Civil War” doesn’t try to pass judgment on what unfolds in the movie, but it is an impactful story that shows there are no easy answers when it comes to war.

A24 will release “Civil War” in U.S. cinemas on April 12, 2024.

Review: ‘Immaculate’ (2024), starring Sydney Sweeney

March 19, 2024

by Carla Hay

Sydney Sweeney in “Immaculate” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Immaculate” (2024)

Directed by Michael Mohan

Some language in Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, the horror film “Immaculate” features an all-white cast of characters representing the middle-class and working-class, with most of the characters as clergy from the Catholic Church.

Culture Clash: A young nun joins a convent, where she has nightmarish visions and finds out that she has mysteriously become pregnant.

Culture Audience: “Immaculate” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Sydney Sweeney and horror movies about nuns.

A scene from “Immaculate” (Photo courtesy of Neon)

“Immaculate” has no real surprises, but this horror movie about a pregnant nun delivers plenty of creepy suspense with some campiness. Sydney Sweeney’s committed performance and an intense ending are worth watching. The movie’s bloody gore goes where the lackluster “The Nun” movies are too tame to go. Sweeney is one of the producers of “Immaculate.”

Directed by Michael Mohan and written by Andrew Lobel, “Immaculate” had its world premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival. It’s an uncomplicated story about a young American nun named Sister Cecilia (played by Sweeney), who experiences horror at a Catholic convent called Our Lady of Sorrows in an unnamed rural area in Italy. The beginning of the movie shows Sister Cecilia arriving to take her final nun vows and live permanently at the convent. Viewers know that there’s something very wrong with this convent, because the opening scene shows a young nun trying to escape from the convent, but she is murdered by other nuns, who are wearing sinister veils over their faces.

The convent has a stereotypical stern Mother Superior (played by Dora Romano) and a patriarchal leader of the adjoining church: Cardinal Franco Merola (played by Giorgio Colangeli), who officiates the ceremony where Sister Cecilia takes her vows. He is also the clergyman who listens to the nuns’ confessions. Another associate of Our Lady of Sorrows is Father Sal Tedeschi (played by Álvaro Morte), who recruited Cecilia to the convent after her previous convent in the United States shut down due to low attendance for the church affiliated with the convent.

As soon as Father Sal tells Sister Cecilia that he had a scientific background in biology before he became priest, you can easily predict what the convent’s big secret is when virgin Sister Cecilia finds out she’s pregnant after undergoing an admittance medical exam at the convent. This admittance exam is not shown in the movie, but the movie shows the follow-up exam where Sister Cecilia is told that she is pregnant. Our Lady of Sorrows has an in-house medical professional named Doctor Gallo (played by Giampiero Judica), who works in a secretive room that looks more like a science lab than a regular doctor’s office.

Sister Cecilia, who is originally from the Detroit area, has a troubled past that is vaguely hinted at in the movie. She is plagued by nightmares and hellish visions as soon as she stays at the convent. One of her nightmares is a memory of when she was a child and had a near-death experience when she accidentally fell through an icy body of water and nearly drowned.

Sister Cecilia befriends another nun named Sister Guendalina, also known as Sister Gwen (played by Benedetta Porcaroli), who is the convent’s resident rebel. Sister Gwen tells Sister Cecilia that the several young nuns who are at the convent were recruited because they are “head cases or runaways.” Sister Cecilia asks Sister Gwen which category describes Sister Gwen. “Both,” Sister Gwen replies with a slight smirk. Another young nun at the convent is Sister Isabelle (played by Giulia Heathfield Di Renzi), who is standoffish and rude to Sister Cecilia.

“Immaculate” goes through some predictable motions of Sister Cecilia experiencing abuse and more terror at the convent. The movie has above-average cinematography and production design, which greatly enhance the sinister atmosphere. Of course, the main reason people will keep watching “Immaculate” is to find out what will happen if or when Sister Cecilia gives birth. It all leads to a memorable and terrifying series of events that make up for some of the occasional tediousness in the rest of the film.

Neon will release “Immaculate” in U.S. cinemas on March 22, 2024. The movie will be released on digital and VOD on April 16, 2024. “Immaculate” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on June 11, 2024.

Review: ‘The Prank’ (2024), starring Connor Kalopsis, Ramona Young, Meredith Salenger, Kate Flannery, Keith David and Rita Moreno

March 16, 2024

by Carla Hay

Connor Kalopsis and Ramona Young in “The Prank” (Photo courtesy of Iconic Events)

“The Prank” (2024)

Directed by Maureen Bharoocha

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “The Prank” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latin people, Asians and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two teenagers, who are in their last year of high school, spread stories about their physics teacher being a murderer, after she threatens to flunk them and the rest of the physics class. 

Culture Audience: “The Prank” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Rita Moreno or teen-oriented dark comedies that have ridiculous plots.

Rita Moreno in “The Prank” (Photo courtesy of Iconic Events)

“The Prank” is a bad joke on anyone expecting it to be a good comedy. This awful dud has very few redeeming qualities, such as Rita Moreno, who deserves better than this garbage. The plot twists get worse as the movie fumbles along to a horrible ending.

Directed by Maureen Bharoocha, “The Prank” was written by Rebecca Flinn-White and Zak White. The movie had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film and TV Festival. Considering that this sloppy and unfunny movie often looks like a student film, the filmmakers should consider themselves lucky that it was allowed at a high-profile and influential festival such as SXSW.

In “The Prank,” which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city, best friends Ben Palmer (played by Connor Kalopsis) and Mei Tanner (played by Ramona Young)—who just goes by the name Tanner—are just a few months away from graduating from West Greenview High School. (“The Prank” was actually filmed in California.) In the school’s social hierarchy of students, Ben and Tanner are somewhat outsiders. Ben is nerdy and uptight, while Tanner is a freewheeling mischief maker. In her free time, she likes to engage in computer hacking. Tanner has also recently concocted a scheme to sell fake IDs that she made for underage teens.

An opening scene in the movie shows Ben’s home, where several academic awards that Ben has won are displayed on walls. Ben is an only child who lives with his supportive mother Julie Palmer (played by Meredith Salenger), who is a recent widow, because Ben’s father died six months prior to this story taking place. His father’s death is just a plot device to give Ben a motive to achieve his immediate goal of attending his father’s alma mater university, as a way to emulate and pay tribute to his father.

Ben is very stressed-out because he will consider himself to be a failure if he can’t enroll in his father’s alma mater university. The problem is that Ben won’t be able to enroll in this university unless he gets a full academic scholarship, which directly hinges on him maintaining the excellent grades that he’s had for the academic year. Ben and Tanner are students in the same advance-placement (AP) physics class, which is taught by Mrs. Helen Wheeler (played by Moreno), who has a longtime reputation for being very tough and insulting—not just with her students but also with just about everyone.

One day, Mrs. Wheeler announces to the class (which has 28 students) that she knows that someone has cheated on the most recent exam that she gave. Mrs. Wheeler says that if the cheater does not confess before the end of the school year, then she will give everyone in the class a failing grade. The students are very upset, but no one comes forward to confess. By the way, Mrs. Wheeler always wears black leather gloves—a quirk that is poorly explained during one of the movie’s stupid plot twists.

Word quickly spreads around the school about Mrs. Wheeler’s controversial ultimatum. In the faculty lounge, a teacher named Mrs. Gutierrez (played by Betsy Sodaro, who starred in director Bharoocha’s 2021 comedy film “Golden Arm”) asks Mrs. Wheeler if Mrs. Wheeler is really allowed to flunk an entire class just because one person cheated on an exam. Mrs. Wheeler haughtily replies, “If I allow a cheater to succeed, then I’ve failed!”

What does the school principal have to say about this extreme tactic by Mrs. Wheeler? Principal Henderson (played by Keith David, in a thankless role that doesn’t get much screen time) unrealistically doesn’t have much to say about it, even though he should. He has a tension-filled relationship with Mrs. Wheeler because they don’t like each other very much. Even though Principal Henderson is Mrs. Wheeler’s boss, he seems to be a little bit afraid of her.

Meanwhile, Ben’s anxiety increases because he knows failing Mrs. Wheeler’s class will ruin his chances of getting the scholarship to his first-choice university. Tanner jokingly suggests that they get Mrs. Wheeler fired by spreading stories about Mrs. Wheeler being responsible for the disappearance of a missing student named Wayne Lambert (played by Alexander Morales), who had a reputation for being a heavy drug user. Tanner describes an elaborate plan where Tanner would create phony email messages and fake photos to make it look like Mrs. Wheeler was having a secret affair with Wayne.

Ben is very reluctant to go along with this idea. “Isn’t it illegal?” he nervously asks Tanner. But it’s too late: Tanner has already posted her fake “evidence” on various social media platforms, so that everything can go viral. It doesn’t take long for the local news media to pick up the story. Mrs. Wheeler’s defiant reaction is to proclaim her innocence and double-down on the threat to flunk her entire physics class, because she’s certain that someone in the class planted this story as revenge.

Mrs. Wheeler’s reaction enrages Tanner, who then encourages people to think that Mrs. Wheeler not only murdered Wayne but also other students from the school who have gone missing over the years. The planted stories spiral out of control, thanks to irresponsible media people who don’t do any real investigations. A few of the TV reporters state on the air that they believe that Mrs. Wheeler is probably a murderer because she was mean to them when she was their teacher. The school’s biggest student gossip Phillip Marlow (played by Nathan Janak), who is obsessed with social media, also enthusiastically spreads the stories.

Ben, Tanner and Phillip are the only students who are given memorable personalities in the movie. Most of the other people at the school who have lines of dialogue are hollow, one-dimensional characters. Loretta (played by Kate Flannery) is a server at the school’s cafeteria. Tanner has an ongoing gripe that Loretta will only serve an allotted two strips of fried chicken per person for each lunch meal. When Tanner complains to Loretta about this serving limit, Loretta says she’s just following the cafeteria rules. A school janitor name Joe (played by Jonathan Kimmel) shows up at awkward times.

Tanner’s despicable actions and Ben eventually going along and participating make these two misguided students very difficult characters to like, even though “The Prank” obviously wants viewers to root for Ben and Tanner. But then, “The Prank” goes off in moronic directions in trying too hard to redeem Ben and Tanner for what they did to ruin Mrs. Wheeler’s reputation. The last third of this wretched story almost becomes a parody of a horror movie.

“The Prank” tries to be clever in ways that don’t really matter. Helen Wheeler is a play on words for the phrase “hell on wheels.” And gossipy student Phillip Marlow acts like he’s some kind of detective in trying to investigate the murder accusations against Mrs. Wheeler. Will a lot of viewers of “The Prank” really care that his name is spelled almost like famous fictional detective Philip Marlowe? No.

Moreno seems to be having some campy fun in portraying the obnoxious and sour-tempered Mrs. Wheeler. However, the performances from the younger cast members are often amateurish and very irritating. It might seem like an advantage to have a talented, Oscar-winning cast member such as Moreno in the movie, but when most of her co-stars aren’t even close to having Moreno’s level of acting skills, this discrepancy actually makes the movie look worse. What really makes “The Prank” an utter failure is the disjointed and idiotic screenplay, which stinks up the screen more than Mrs. Wheeler’s nasty attitude ever could.

Iconic Events released “The Prank” in select U.S. cinemas on March 15, 2024.

Review: ‘This Is a Film About the Black Keys,’ starring Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney

March 12, 2024

by Carla Hay

Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney in “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” (Photo by Jim Herrington)

“This Is a Film About the Black Keys”

Directed by Jeff Dupre

Culture Representation: The documentary film “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” features a predominantly white group of people (with a few African Americans) who are all connected in some way to the American rock duo the Black Keys and who discuss the band.

Culture Clash: The Black Keys members Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, who have very different personalities from each other, go through their ups and downs in their careers and their personal lives.

Culture Audience: In addition to appealing to the obvious target audience of Black Keys fans “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” will appeal primarily to people who like watching documentaries that are similar to “Behind the Music.”

“This Is a Film About the Black Keys” is a competent but not outstanding documentary that comes across as a “Behind the Music” type of promotional showcase. It has candid interviews and great archival footage, but the film has some obvious omissions in the Black Keys’ story. The documentary raises some questions that never get answered. However, the behind-the-scenes footage makes the documentary worth watching, even if you know that the filmmakers could have made more courageous choices in how this story was told.

Directed by Jeff Dupre, “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” had its world premiere at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival, about a month before the release of the Black Keys’ 12th studio album “Ohio Players.” The calculated timing of both the movie’s premiere and the album’s release has “Behind the Music” influences written all over it, since most artists who’ve agreed to do a “Behind the Music” episode do it to promote a new album. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it usually means that the artists won’t allow the most unflattering aspects of their lives to be explored in depth in whatever documentary they’re doing to coincide with the release of a new album.

“This is a Film About the Black Keys” follows the “Behind the Music” rock band biography narrative formula, almost beat by beat: A band comes from humble beginnings, slowly builds up a fan base from releasing albums and touring, has breakthrough mainstream success, and then gets caught up in the pitfalls of fame—usually having to do with huge egos, money and substance abuse. “This is a Film About the Black Keys” checks all of those boxes.

The Black Keys have a few characteristics that set them apart from most rock artists: They are a duo when most rock artists are either solo artists or are part of band with at least three members. The Black Keys members—lead singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Pat Carney—also don’t have a typical rock band origin story of a bunch of people forming a band because they were already friends or because they went through a lengthy search to find the right people to be in the band.

Instead, Auerbach (born in 1979) and Carney (born in 1980) say that they were more like friendly acquaintances than close friends when they started making music together. Carney and Auerbach both grew up on the same street and went to the same high school in their hometown of Akron, Ohio. The documentary dutifully covers biographical information that can be found on the Internet about the Black Keys. Carney and Auerbach are interviewed, as well as some of their family members, business associates and music industry fans.

When Auerbach and Carney were students at Firestone High School in Akron, Auerbach was a popular athlete but his real passion was music, having learned to play guitar from the age of 7. Carney says of his self-described nerdy teenage years: “I couldn’t get a girl to talk to me, so I got into rock and roll.” The “opposites attract” theme is repeated throughout the movie: Carney says he’s the extrovert who prefers to handle the duo’s business affairs and do interviews, while Auerbach is the introvert who prefers to do most of the duo’s songwriting and musical arranging.

Something that Auerbach and Carney have in common is that they both have several musicians in their families. Auerbach’s mother Mary Little says that most of her siblings are musicians. Auerbach’s cousin Robert Quine is a well-known avant-garde rock musician. Early on in their relationship, Auerbach and Carney also bonded over their admiration of musician R.L. Burnside.

As teenagers, Auerbach and Carney would occasionally play music together, but they were in different social circles in high school. Carney and Auerbach both attended the University of Akron but would eventually drop out to become full-time musicians. Auerbach says that he would skip classes in college so he could spend time in his room to play guitar. Carney describes his college years as still being at a freshman after three years of college.

Auerbach and Carney ended up forming a musical partnership in 2001. It happened after Carney had been hired to be a recording engineer for Auerbach’s band. The other musicians in the band didn’t show up, so Auerbach and Carney began jamming together and decided they could make music together as a duo. Auerbach says, “Right away, Pat and I bonded over our love of recording.” He says that they both still prefer recording over touring.

After some debate over what to call their musical act, they chose the Black Keys. The name was inspired by a friend named Alfred McMoore, who would sometimes call people the “black keys” of a piano if he was upset with them. Auerbach says in the documentary about the duo’s decision to become full-time musicians without having a record deal or a steady income: “There was no back-up plan. We had to make it work.”

By their own admission, the Black Keys have communication problems with each other. Auerbach and Carney say that they have always had difficulty talking about their problems. They say that they usually deal with their personal issues with each other by trying to ignore them. However, it causes resentment over time, which has led to periods of Auerbach and Carney being estranged from each other.

Nowhere is this communication problem more evident in the documentary than in a sequence showing Carney at a soundcheck for a Black Keys arena show while Auerbach is busy shopping for clothes. Carney is furious that his bandmate isn’t there for the soundcheck and rants about how unprofessional Auerbach is for not telling Carney and other people where Auerbach is during this soundcheck.

Meanwhile, Auerbach (accompanied by a few members of his entourage) is shown trying on high-priced clothing at a store and being treated like rock star. When the time comes for the Black Keys to do the concert, Auerbach and Carney are standing next to each backstage but don’t talk about Auerbach’s soundcheck absence that was upsetting to Carney. For this concert, Auerbach is wearing the jacket that he bought at the store.

The Black Keys’ slow and steady rise to Grammy-winning, arena-rock success is a familiar tale of “alternative rock” artists who want a lot of praise, recognition and money for what they do, but they don’t want to be perceived as “sell-outs” or fake. They also want to be able to experiment musically without alienating their core fan base. John Peets, a former manager of the Black Keys, says of the Black Keys’ musical outlook: “They are a fiercely independent band.”

The Black Keys were independent in the beginning of their career, having signed with a series of independent labels and producing their own albums. The band began getting positive reviews from their first album—2002’s “The Big Come Up”—and toured relentlessly for their albums. Carney did a lot of the duo’s bus driving and tour managing in the early days of the Black Keys. He’s the raconteur who is more likely than Auerbach to tell stories in the documentary about their experiences with dingy motels, low-paying gigs, and travel mishaps on the road.

In the early years of the Black Keys, their personal lives of the Black Keys also had parallels to their professional lives. Auerbach and Carney both got married to their first wives around the same time: Carney married his high-school sweetheart Denise Grollmus in 2007. Auerbach married Stephanie Gonis in 2008. Both marriages ended in very messy and public divorces—Carney and Grollmus split in 2009, while Auerbach and Gonis broke up in 2013, with their divorce becoming final in 2014. In the documentary, the divorces are described in vague terms that essentially amount to saying “irreconcilable differences” or “growing apart.”

The details of these divorces are left out of the documentary, but there is a little bit of acknowledgement in the movie about how these divorces affected the Black Keys’ work: By Carney’s own admission, he began drinking alcohol a lot more during his divorce from Grollmus, thereby making the recording of the Black Keys’ 2010 album “Brothers” much more difficult. It’s also mentioned that Auerbach’s divorce from Gonis had a big influence on the emotionally raw and wounded lyrics of the Black Keys’ 2014 album “Turn Blue,” the album that nearly broke up the Black Keys because it was made during a low point in the relationship between Carney and Auerbach. In retrospect, Carney says that during this tumultuous time, the Black Keys probably should have gone on vacation instead of doing an album and tour.

Gonis is the only wife or ex-wife interviewed in the documentary. Her comments that are in the movie mostly describe when her relationship with Auerbach was going well. However, she says their divorce happened because she and Auerbach drifted apart because of all the time he spent away from home. Gonis jokes about their “shotgun wedding” and says that although Auerbach is a loving father, she felt like a single mother raising their daughter Sadie Little Auerbach, who was born in 2008 and is seen briefly in archival footage.

The documentary does not mention any of the sordid information that was widely reported about the divorce filings, such as Gonis’ allegations that Auerbach abused her, or Auerbach’s allegations that Gonis attempted suicide twice in one day. Auerbach was married to Jen Goodall from 2015 to 2019. He is not forthcoming about what really happened in the failures of his two marriages. It isn’t too surprising that Auerbach is unwilling to talk about his personal problems in a biographical documentary that is largely about his life, since he is frequently described in the documentary as being secretive and mysterious, even by people who’ve known him for a very long time.

A turning point for the Black Keys came in 2007, when they collaborated with a pop music producer for the first time: Danger Mouse, whose real name is Brian Joseph Burton. At the time, it seemed to be an unlikely collaboration: Danger Mouse was a Grammy-winning hitmaker best known for the Gnarls Barkley’s 2006 R&B/pop smash “Crazy.” However, Carney says he fell in love with the song, which he describes as “cinematic.” The result of the first collaboration between the Black Keys and Danger Mouse was the Black Keys’ 2008 album “Attack & Release.”

The Black Keys went on to get an even larger audience with their 2010 mainstream breakthrough album “Brothers,” which featured the hit “Tighten Up.” It was the first album the Black Keys released after the duo relocated to Nashville and after collaborating again with Danger Mouse. The Black Keys won three Grammys because of “Brothers” and won another three Grammys for their 2011 album “El Camino,” which featured the hit “Lonely Boy.”

Although Carney comes across as the more socially confident than Auerbach, Carney admits that behind the scenes, he’s had longtime insecurities about his place in the Black Keys, because Auerbach has often treated him as a backup musician instead of as an equal. One of the biggest rifts that they had was in the mid-2010s, when Auerbach recorded his first solo album without telling Carney, who thinks that this secrecy was a betrayal to Carney. Auerbach says in the documentary that the reason for the secrecy was that Carney was “impossible to be around” at that time. Perhaps one of the more honest moments in the documentary is Carney expressing his fear that he is replaceable in the Black Keys.

The Black Keys’ personal problems within themselves, with each other and in their marriages get uneven exploration in the documentary. Carney’s drinking problem that severely affected the recording of “Brothers” is mentioned but somewhat glossed over. No one comes right out and says that Carney is an alcoholic, but that’s something the documentary filmmakers should have asked Carney. The documentary also doesn’t mention if Carney every got professional help for his drinking problem.

Carney’s marital problems are also described in generic terms or not mentioned at all. He admits that his divorce from first ex-wife Grollmus was bitter, but he barely mentions his second ex-wife Emily Ward, whom he was married to from 2012 to 2016. Carney’s third wife is Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Michelle Branch, whom he married in 2019. Their scandalous separation in 2022 and subsequent reunion—Branch publicly accused him of infidelity, filed for divorce, and then decided to call off the divorce—are not mentioned at all. In the documentary, Carney is briefly shown spending time with his and Branch’s son Rhys James (born in 2018), who appears in some Black Keys rehearsal footage.

A documentary does not need to go the tabloid route and air a lot of dirty laundry. But when a celebrity documentary is made about a celebrity’s life, and several people in the documentary say the celebrity’s personal problems directly affected the celebrity’s work, it behooves the documentary filmmakers to get more details and introspection from the people who caused the problems or were directly affected by the problems. It’s especially noticeable that the documentary doesn’t seem to care to mention if Carney got professional help for what many people describe in the documentary as his alcohol addiction.

In a director’s statement in the movie’s production note, Dupre says about the making of this documentary: “I was going to need Pat and Dan to tell me everything. What they told me first was that they weren’t always very good at communicating with each other. Would they open up to me? I soon realized I wouldn’t need to lean on them quite as much as I thought I would because their music would speak volumes if we let it.”

Dupre further commented in the statement: “Want to know who they were and what they were feeling at every step of the way? Listen to their songs. That became the operating principle in the editing room: as much as possible, let their music tell the story and drive the narrative. … Pat and Dan did open up and come through in their interviews … in spades. But their incredible music expresses who they are and what they’ve been through beyond talk and beyond words.”

That’s all well and good, but “This Is a Film About the Black Keys” is not a concert documentary or a documentary about the making of an album. It’s supposed to be a biographical documentary that looks at all aspects of their lives, but the movie comes across as playing it a little too safe, as if the filmmakers wanted the approval of the Black Keys’ publicity team too. The documentary has very good concert scenes, but gives very little insight into the inspirations or recordings of specific Black Keys songs.

The people interviewed in the documentary do not include any critics of the Black Keys. Oher interviewees include Dan Auerbach’s father Chuck Auerbach; Patrick Carney’s brother Michael Carney; Fat Possum Records executives Matthew Johnson and Bruce Watson; Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Beck; and journalist Peter Relic, who gave the Black Keys’ their first review in Rolling Stone magazine.

The Black Keys’ notorious feud (which has since been settled) with Jack White (formerly of the rock duo the White Stripes) is not mentioned at all in the documentary. The closest thing that the documentary will mention to any music feuds that the Black Keys had was when Carney got some social media hate from Justin Bieber fans in 2013, when a reporter asked Carney to comment on Bieber not getting any Grammy nominations that year, and Carney made a flippant comment that Bieber should be happy with being rich. This short-lived and petty trolling from angry Bieber fans is quickly laughed off in the documentary for what is. But if you believe everything in this documentary, the Black Keys never had any uncomfortable rivalries with other musicians, when the reality is that they did.

People can enjoy the Black Keys’ music in any number of ways, including this documentary. As entertaining it might be to look at the impressive array of archival Black Keys footage that the documentary has compiled, the movie’s overall story of the Black Keys looks very much like a sympathetically slanted portrait of how the Black Keys want to see themselves and not a complete story of who they really are. Based on the final results, the documentary filmmakers seemed all too willing to go along and leave perhaps the hardest parts of the Black Keys’ story left untold.

Review: ‘Monolith’ (2023), starring Lily Sullivan

March 2, 2023

by Carla Hay

Lily Sullivan in “Monolith” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“Monolith” (2023)

Directed by Matt Vesely

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city Australia, the sci-fi horror film “Monolith” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asian people and one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A disgraced journalist, who now works as a podcaster, gets caught up in the mystery of black bricks that have a bizarre power over people who own the bricks. 

Culture Audience: “Monolith” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching suspenseful horror movies where a lot is left up to interpretation and imagination.

Lily Sullivan in “Monolith” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

The ending of “Monolith” might be frustratingly vague to some viewers, but this sci-fi horror movie is a suspenseful labyrinth featuring a captivating performance from Lily Sullivan as a podcaster trying to uncover the mystery behind ominous black bricks. Sullivan is the only person seen talking on screen for the entire movie, since she portrays a podcaster who has isolated herself inside her parents’ home while attempting to solve the mystery. “Monolith” is not the movie for you if you don’t want to watch a film where the majority of it shows someone talking on the phone with other people who do not appear in the movie.

Directed by Matt Vesely (his feature-film directorial debut) and written by Lucy Campbell, “Monolith” had its world premiere at the 2022 Adelaide Film Festival in Australia and its North American premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. “Monolith” was filmed on location in South Australia, but the city where the story takes place is not mentioned in the movie. The name of the central character portrayed by Sullivan is also not mentioned and is listed in the end credits only as The Interviewer. She is a journalist working as a podcaster because she has been recently fired from a high-profile newspaper (a publication called the Evening Journal) for mishandling a news story about someone famous named David Langley, who ended up suing for defamation.

Before the movie focuses on The Interviewer, “Monolith” begins by showing a blank, black screen and eerie voiceover narration of someone identifying himself as Jarad (voiced by Damon Herriman), who says: “I want to tell you something. Ever since I was young, there was something different about my family. A secret. Mom reckoned she had been followed her whole life.”

Jarad goes on to describe a childhood memory of being at a beach with his mother and seeing his mother yelling at a man who was taking her picture. The man told his mother, “I’m sorry. This is the way it has to be.” He ran into a nearby street and got hit by a car.

The camera he left behind had thousands of photos of Jarad’s mother and their family that made it obvious that whoever took the photos was stalking the family. Jarad says the camera was given to the police, who claimed they had no evidence of who this mystery stalker was. And then, the camera went missing. Jarad also mentions in this voiceover that the stalker was from the future.

The movie then shows The Interviewer making an apology video for her mistakes in her news story on David Langley. She admits to failing to corroborate the evidence and investigate the credibility of her sources. She concludes the apology by saying, “My actions do not reflect the Evening Journal’s operations or integrity.”

The scandal has resulted in David Langley’s fans harassing The Interviewer, so she is staying at her parents’ house to lie low until the turmoil dies down. The only work she’s been able to find is for a low-budget podcast called Beyond Believable, which covers unsolved mysteries, conspiracy theories and hoaxes. It’s a big step down from the prestigious journalist job that she had at the Evening Journal.

Her podcast boss Tyler (voiced by Chase Coleman) has been waiting patiently for The Interviewer to deliver her first story for Beyond Believable, but The Interviewer hasn’t come up with any ideas, and she knows she’s running out of time before she’ll get in trouble with Tyler for not doing the job she was hired to do. Feeling desperate, The Interviewers checks her email for story ideas and comes across a cryptic email with the subject heading “The Truth Will Out.”

The email has instructions to call someone named Floramae King at Floramae’s phone number and says that Floramae needs to be asked about a brick that Floramae knows very well. With nothing to lose, The Interviewer calls Floramae out of curiosity. Floramae (voiced by Ling Cooper Tang, with a photo of actress Janet Tan shown in the movie to depict Floramae) seems very surprised to get this phone call and is very reluctant to talk about the brick.

However, The Interviewer is very persuasive in explaining why she is calling and why Floramae needs to do this interview. The Interviewer says if The Interviewer received this email, then other journalists got the same email, but The Interviewer will be better than other journalists in getting Floramae’s side of the story told. Floramae agrees to be interviewed and is told that this phone interview is being recorded and will used on the podcast.

Floramae tells her story about the brick, which was in her possession about 20 years ago. She describes it as a black brick that size of a gold bar and “darker than anything I’ve ever seen.” Floramae also says about the brick, “It was very heavy. As soon as I held it, I felt like something was changing.”

Floramae says that 20 years ago, she was working as a live-in housekeeper for a wealthy family consisting of two parents who had a son and a daughter. Floramae was a single mother living with her daughter Paula, who was a child at the time. The employer family treated Floramae and Paula very well and offered to pay for Paula’s private education at an elite school. The brick appeared on the family’s property, but Floramae can’t remember exactly where on the property the brick was found.

One day, Floramae found deep scratches on the furniture in the house, with the biggest damage done to the dining room table. The family blamed Paula for this vandalism, but Paula and Floramae both denied that Paula caused any of the damage to the furniture. Even if it could be proven that Paula caused the damage, Floramae did not have the money to pay for the repairs.

Shortly after this incident, the family’s patriarch took the brick without Floramae’s permission and sold it to an art dealer in Germany. The patriarch said the money from the sale would be approximately the same amount to repair the furniture damage. Floramae complained to the patriarch that he stole the brick, and she was fired. Floramae bitterly says that the family cut all ties with Floramae and Paula.

It just so happens that when Floramae is doing this phone interview, adult Paula is at Floramae’s house for a visit. When Paula (voiced by Ansuya Nathan) overhears her mother Floramae talking on the phone about the brick to a journalist, Paula gets very upset and orders Floramae to get off the phone. The conversation is cut short.

The rest of “Monolith” follows The Interviewer investigating the mystery of the black brick by making numerous phone calls. She tracks down the art dealer who bought the brick that used to be owned by Floramae. He’s a Berlin-based art dealer named Klaus Lang (voiced by Terence Crawford), who has a collection of these black bricks.

The Interviewer also talks to a man with an African accent named John (voiced by Rashidi Edward), who tells how this mysterious brick affected members of his family. Another clues come from a woman in Ohio named Laura (voiced by Kate Box), who used to own one of the bricks. The Interviewer finds out that people who come in contact with the bricks start to lose their appetite and have suicidal thoughts or hallucinations. At one point in the movie, The Interviewer notices that a turtle in the house’s aquarium hasn’t been eating.

The Interviewer has a brother named Scott Evans (voiced by Matt Crook), who works in the linguistics department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Scott helps with the investigation. And so does a London-based journalist named Shiloh Lowden (voiced by Brigid Zengeni), who has also been trying to solve the mystery of these bricks.

The stories that The Interviewer hears in “Monolith” are strange, but they feel even more unsettling in large part because of the way the movie was filmed. Although The Interviewer is in a spacious house with a lot of glass windows for walls, the Interviewer stays in one room (which has the podcast equipment) for a great deal of the movie, thereby making the location look claustrophobic. In addition, the musical score by Benjamin Speed enhances the increasing tension in the story.

Viewers watching “Monolith” will be very curious to find out what’s the mystery behind these bricks, but don’t expect the movie to give all the answers. The last 20 minutes of the film turn into a lot of weirdness that mostly makes sense if viewers are paying attention to all the clues leading up to the climactic part of the movie. Still, some parts of the story remained muddled, as if the filmmakers didn’t bother trying to explain everything. The horror that viewers are supposed to be left with is the feeling of not knowing if an entity that is hard to understand is really good or evil.

Well Go USA released “Monolith” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on February 16, 2024. The movie was released in Australia on October 26, 2023. “Monolith” will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 23, 2024.

Review: ‘Bleeding Love’ (2024), starring Clara McGregor, Ewan McGregor, Kim Zimmer, Devyn McDowell, Sasha Alexander, Jake Weary and Vera Bulder

March 2, 2024

by Carla Hay

Clara McGregor and Ewan McGregor in “Bleeding Love” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Bleeding Love” (2024)

Directed by Emma Westenberg

Culture Representation: Taking place during a road trip from San Diego, California, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the dramatic film “Bleeding Love” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Native Americans and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A landscaper, who is a recovering alcoholic, takes a road trip with his estranged 20-year-old daughter within a day after she nearly died of a drug overdose. 

Culture Audience: “Bleeding Love” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star Ewan McGregor and movies about families trying to heal from the trauma of drug addiction.

Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor in “Bleeding Love” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“Bleeding Love” is a movie that can be heart-wrenching and hokey in different parts of the film. Credible performances from real-life father and daughter Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor carry this uneven road-trip drama during its weaker moments. If you want a more realistic look at how addiction affects families, watch any episode of “Intervention.”

Directed by Emma Westenberg and written by Ruby Caster, “Bleeding Love” had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. “Bleeding Love” offers some moments of real-life parallels in this story about an alcoholic father trying to mend his fractured relationship with his 20-year-old daughter, who has addiction issues of her own. She is deeply resentful of him because she feels he abandoned her and her mother years ago. The daughter also has bitter feelings because she thinks he cares more about his more recent family, which includes his current wife, with whom he has a son.

Ewan McGregor has gone public about being a recovering alcoholic; he’s said in many interviews that he’s been sober since 2001. He also had a very public split from his first wife Eve Mavrakis, whom he left for his “Fargo” co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 2017. During this messy and prolonged divorce (the divorce became final in 2020), Clara McGregor (his eldest child) went on social media to make insulting and angry comments about her father Ewan. Winstead and Ewan McGregor became parents to son Laurie in 2021 and got married in 2022.

If this movie sounds like it could be like real-life family therapy, it looks that way, up until a point. In “Bleeding Love,” Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor portray a father and a daughter who do not have names in the movie, although the daughter’s nickname is Turbo. It’s a nickname that the father gave to her in her childhood. She doesn’t want to called Turbo anymore, because it reminds her of happier times when she and her father used to be close. The movie has several flashbacks to the daughter’s childhood (Devyn McDowell portrays the daughter at about 8 or 9 years old), showing mostly loving moments between her and her father.

It’s revealed near the beginning of the film that this father owns a small landscaping business called Highland Lawn & Landscape, which has a truck that he’s driving for this road trip from San Diego, California, to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Much of their trip is through remote desert locations. The daughter is reluctantly going on this trip with him. Her mother is never seen or heard in the movie, although there’s a scene where the daughter calls her on the phone.

Less than 24 hours before this road trip, the daughter had nearly died from a drug overdose. She’s a talented painter who has given up on painting, much to the dismay of her father, who thinks she shouldn’t be wasting this talent. He says he’s taking her to Santa Fe to “hang out for a few days” with an acquaintance who is an artist because the father says he hopes it will inspire the daughter to start painting again. It soon becomes pretty obvious that there’s more to this trip than just a casual visit to an artist.

The daughter seems to know it too, because within the first 10 minutes of the movie, she tries to run away on a deserted road after getting out of the truck to squat on the side of the road to urinate. The father runs after her and catches up to her, and they continue on the trip, where they often bicker and have personality clashes. “You’re pretty out of shape,” she sneers at him after their short chase in the desert. He replies, “I can never keep up with you.”

After stopping at a convenience store to get something to eat, the father offers her a bite of his meat sandwich. She dismissively says, “I’m vegan.” The father asks, “Since when?” She replies, “Since I was 15.” Throughout the road trip, the daughter repeatedly tries to sneak drinks of alcohol without her father knowing. She also denies that she has any addiction problems.

After their truck breaks down (a road-trip cliché), a talkative and eccentric tow-truck driver named Elsie (played by Kim Zimmer) takes them to a trailer-park area so that her friend Amos (played by Willie Runsabove, also known as Willard Runsabove) can fix the truck. While waiting for the truck to get fixed, the daughter strikes up a flirtation with a graffiti artist named Kip (played by Jake Weary), who’s dressed as a clown for an outdoor kids’ party taking place in the trailer park. When the daughter goes back to Kip’s place, they start drinking alcohol, until the father bursts in and pulls her away after scolding Kip for giving alcohol to his under-21 daughter.

The daughter also steals mini-bottles of liquor at a convenience store. Later, at a diner, when her father is outside making a phone call, the daughter drinks a half-full glass of wine that was left behind by another customer. Considering her recent drug overdose, it should come as no surprise that it isn’t long before the daughter begins craving something stronger than alcohol. It leads to her meeting two strangers named Eli (played by Travis Hammer) and Michelle (played by Sasha Alexander), who are a couple.

The father shows a range of emotions when interacting with his daughter. He is stern, compassionate, remorseful and frustrated. She is usually angry, petulant, rebellious, playful and stubborn when interacting with her father. They both have areas of vulnerability and weaknesses that are exposed to each other during this trip. The movie shows rather than tells that this father and daughter are more alike than the daughter wants to admit.

Some of the emotions in “Bleeding Love” are raw and very authentic-looking. One of the movie’s best scenes is an argument between the father and the daughter in a motel room. However, there are other moments that are downright corny. Viewers find out why the movie is called “Bleeding Love”: There’s a scene where the father and daughter have a bonding moment when they start to sing Leona Lewis’ 2007 hit “Bleeding Love” together while driving in the truck. (Ewan and Clara McGregor also sing a duet in the movie’s closing-credits song: a cover version of the Alessi Brothers’ 1976 hit “Seabird.”)

Other times, this movie seems to exist just to show all the unusual characters the father and daughter meet on this road trip. After one of her many frequent stops to urinate on the side of a road, the daughter gets a burning sensation in her vagina while they’re driving at night. The father thinks it might be an animal bite, so he frantically drives around to find a drugstore that’s open.

It’s during this search that the father and daughter meet a sex worker named Tommy (played by Vera Bulder), who’s hanging outside a closed drugstore. It leads to a scene that looks very contrived for a movie, but the acting in the scene is good enough to overcome some of the screenplay flaws for this scene. Bulder’s screen time in the movie is less than 15 minutes, but she makes her wayward character a memorable and vibrant presence in an occasionally dull movie.

It would be easy to assume that Ewan McGregor and Clara McGregor didn’t have to do much acting to channel the turbulent father/daughter relationship that’s depicted in “Bleeding Love.” However, re-enacting whatever problems they had in real life (they have since reconciled after the divorce turmoil in their family) is a lot harder than most people might think it is. “Bleeding Love” is at its best when it captures authentic nuances in parent/child relationships rather than creating hackneyed scenarios for the sake of filling up time in a movie drama.

Vertical released “Bleeding Love” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on February 16, 2024.

Review: ‘Problemista,’ starring Tilda Swinton, Julio Torres, RZA, Greta Lee, Catalina Saavedra, James Scully and the voice of Isabella Rossellini

March 1, 2024

by Carla Hay

Julio Torres and Tilda Swinton in “Problemista” (Photo by Jon Pack/A24)


Directed by Julia Torres

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and in Maine, the comedy/drama film “Problemista” features a racially diverse cast of characters (Latin, white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Cartisano, who died of a heart attack in 2019, at the age of 63, was sued several times and had many allegations that his camps illegally abused the children who were forced to be there. 

Culture Audience: “Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in documentaries that show how abuse and exploitation are excused or covered up, but some questions remain unanswered by the end of the movie.

RZA and Greta Lee in “Problemista” (Photo by Jon Pack/A24)

“Problemista” has enough quirky charm to keep most viewers interested in what will happen next. It’s a unique comedy/drama about an aspiring toy designer from El Salvador, his immigration issues in New York City, and his eccentric artist boss. It’s not a spectacularly great movie, but it has entertaining and memorable moments for viewers who are interested in watching slightly weird independent films about artistic people. “Problemista” has some sci-fi elements that come to the forefront near the end of the movie.

Written and directed by Julio Torres, “Problemista” had its world premiere at the 2023 SXSW Film & TV Festival. Torres also stars in the movie as protagonist Alejandro Martinez, who was born and raised in El Salvador, by his single mother Dolores (played by Catalina Saavedra). Now in his 20s, Alejandro has been living in New York City, and working at low-paying jobs while trying to fulfill his goal of becoming a toy designer. His dream job would be to work at Hasbro, the company known for numerous popular toy brands, including G.I. Joe, Transformers, My Little Pony and Mr. Potato Head.

Isabella Rossellini is the movie’s unnamed voiceover narrator, who explains in the beginning of the film: “This is the story of Alejandro. His mother was an artist. And he was a project. She gave him everything, so he wished for everything. “Problemista” has occasional flashbacks to Alejandro’s childhood in El Salvador, with the flashbacks looking like Alejandro lived in a whimsical, playground-like fantasy land. In these flashbacks, Logan J. Alarcon-Poucel has the role of Alejandro as a boy.

Alejandro’s fantastical childhood memories are in stark contrast to his current realities: He lives in a small, drab apartment and is struggling to pay his bills with a job he doesn’t like. In the beginning of the movie, Alejandro gets a low-level job at a company called Freeze Corp., which is in the business of freezing the bodies of people who want to be unfrozen and resurrected in the future. Alejandro soon gets fired from Freeze Corp. for accidentally unplugging a backup generator.

Alejando is in the United States on a work visa, which means he can legally stay in the U.S. if he has an employer as a sponsor. He seeks guidance from an immigration attorney named Khalil (played by Laith Nakli), who has his own law practice. Khalil has some grim news for Alejandro: If Alejandro doesn’t find a work sponsor in one month, then Alejandro will be in danger of being deported. In the meantime, Alejandro has to find a way to make some fast cash because his rent and other bills are due.

It just so happens that a demanding, fast-talking and quick-tempered artist named Elizabeth Ascencio (played by Tilda Swinton) is looking for a freelance assistant. Elizabeth crossed paths with Alejandro because her husband Bobby (who is a painter artist) is a customer of Freeze Corp., a company that Elizabeth does not like. And so, when she hears that Alejandro was fired from Freeze Corp., Elizabeth hires Alejandro to be her assistant.

Elizabeth is unpleasantly neurotic, argumentative and difficult. A great deal of the movie is about the uneasy work relationship that Alejandro and Elizabeth have with each other. Alejandro has a “fake it ’til you make it” attitude about the job, such as when he pretends to Elizabeth that he knows how to use FileMaker Pro software on a computer, and he has to go to certain lengths to cover up this lie.

Bobby (who makes paintings of eggs) wants to do a gallery exhibit called “13 Eggs.” Elizabeth tells Alejando that she will be Alejandro’s work sponsor if Alejandro successfully helps her pitch this exhibit to a gallery. And so, there’s a long stretch of the movie where Alejandro has to track down all of Bobby’s paintings (some of which were given away or sold) for this exhibit.

Elizabeth and Bobby (who have homes in New York City and Maine) have an unconventional marriage, not just because of their age difference (she’s about 10 years older than he is) but also because they also have an open marriage and they don’t spend a lot of time together. She tells Alejandro that she and Bobby fell in love with each other because they are both people “who feel misunderstood.” Even though Bobby and Elizabeth have an open marriage, there are still jealousy issues. Elizabeth doesn’t like that Bobby has gotten very close to a woman named Dalia Park (played by Greta Lee), who is one of Bobby’s most promising students.

“Problemista” also shows some of Alejandro’s life when he’s not working. He gets a roommate named Bingham (played by James Scully), who likes to party. Alejandro doesn’t have a love interest in the movie, but it’s shown that he is gay or queer. Alejandro can’t get paid for his assistant job until Elizabeth officially becomes his work sponsor. When he runs low on money, he resorts to a desperate way to make some cash.

One of the movie’s quirks is showing fantasy sequences involving a character named Craigslist (played by Larry Owens), who appears to Alejandro in hallucinations that make Craigslist look like he’s in a disco nightclub or drag-queen ballroom. Craigslist gives advice and pep talks to Alejandro when Alejandro is feeling doubt and fear. Even though Alejandro is in his 20s, Alejandro often looks and acts like an insecure teenager. He has tendency to dress like a high school student, including wearing a backpack. He shuffles when he walks, and he often stammers in conversations with people.

“Problemista” has some pacing and tonal issues when the movie has an awkward balance of comedy and drama. The story also gets a little repetitive in showing Elizabeth’s negative outbursts and ranting. However, the performances in the movie (especially from Torres and Swinton) are compelling. And “Problemista” shows with compassion and some grittiness what it looks like to be a lonely immigrant with visa problems in America. It’s a life that is often lived in quiet desperation but gets to live out loud in a movie like “Problemista.”

A24 released “Problemista” in select U.S. cinemas on March 1, 2024, with an expansion to more U.S. cinemas on March 8, 2024.

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