Review: ‘Thor: Love and Thunder,’ starring Chris Hemsworth, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe and Natalie Portman

July 5, 2022

by Carla Hay

Natalie Portman and Chris Hemsworth in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo by Jasin Boland/Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder”

Directed by Taika Waititi

Culture Representation: Taking place on Earth and other parts of the universe (including the fictional location of New Asgard), the superhero action film “Thor: Love and Thunder” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Nordic superhero Thor Odinson, also known as the God of Thunder, teams up with allies in a battle against the revengeful villain Gorr the God Butcher, while Thor’s ex-girlfriend Jane Porter has her own personal battle with Stage 4 cancer. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Thor: Love and Thunder” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and action movies that skillfully blend drama and comedy.

Christian Bale in “Thor: Love and Thunder” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Thor: Love and Thunder” could also be called “Thor: Grief and Comedy,” because how of this superhero movie sequel balances these two themes with some results that are better than others. The movie goes big on showing bittersweet romance and the power of true friendships. Some of the movie’s subplots clutter up the movie, and any sense of terrifying danger is constantly undercut by all the wisecracking, but “Thor: Love and Thunder” gleefully leans into the idea that a superhero leader can be a formidable warrior, as well as a big goofball and a sentimental romantic.

Directed by Taika Waititi, “Thor: Love and Thunder” is also a commercial showcase for Guns N’Roses music. It’s the first Marvel Studios movie to blatantly shill for a rock band to the point where not only are four of the band’s hits prominently used in major scenes in the movie, but there’s also a character in the movie who wants to change his first name to be the same as the first name of the band’s lead singer. The music is well-placed, in terms of conveying the intended emotions, but viewers’ reactions to this movie’s fan worship of Guns N’Roses will vary, depending on how people feel about the band and its music. The Guns N’Roses songs “Welcome the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “November Rain” are all in pivotal scenes in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

“Thor: Love and Thunder” picks up where 2019’s blockbuster “Avengers: Endgame” concluded. What’s great about “Thor: Love and Thunder” (which Waititi co-wrote with Jennifer Kaytin Robinson) is that the filmmakers didn’t assume that everyone watching the movie is an aficionado of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), nor did they assume that everyone watching “Thor: Love and Thunder” will know a lot about the Nordic superhero Thor Odinson (played by Chris Hemsworth) before seeing the movie. Near the beginning of the movie, there’s a montage summary (narrated cheerfully by Waititi’s Korg character, a rock-like humanoid who is one of Thor’s loyal allies) that shows the entire MCU history of Thor up until what’s about to happen in “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The movie’s opening scene isn’t quite so upbeat, because it gets right into showing that grief will be one of the film’s biggest themes. In a very barren desert, a man and his daughter (who’s about 8 or 9 years old, played by India Rose Hemsworth) are deyhdrated, starving, and close to dying. The girl doesn’t survive, and the man is shown grieving at the place where he has buried her. Viewers soon find out that this man is Gorr the God Butcher (played by Christian Bale), who is the story’s chief villain. But he didn’t start out as a villain.

After the death of his daughter, a ravenously hungry Gorr ends up a tropical-looking, plant-filled area, where he devours some fruit. Suddenly, a male god appears before Gorr, who is pious and grateful for being in this god’s presence. Gorr tells the god: “I am Gorr, the last of your disciples. We never lost our faith in you.”

The god scoffs at Gorr’s devotion and says, “There’s no eternal reward for you. There’ll be more followers to replace you.” Feeling betrayed, Gorr replies, “You are no god! I renounce you!” The god points to a slain warrior on the ground and tells Gorr that the warrior was killed for the Necrosword, a magical sword that can kill gods and celestials. The Necrosword levitates off of the ground and gravitates toward Gorr.

The god tells Gorr: “The sword chose you. You are now cursed.” Gorr replies, “It doesn’t feel like a curse. It feels like a promise. So this is my vow: All gods will die!” And you know what that means: Gorr kills the god in front of him, and Thor will be one of Gorr’s targets.

Meanwhile, Thor is seen coming to the rescue of the Guardians of the Galaxy, who need his help in battling some villains on a generic-looking planet in outer space. All of the Guardians are there (except for Gamora, who died at the end of “Avengers: Endgame”), and they see Thor as a powerful ally. However, the Guardians are worried that Thor has lost a lot of his emotional vitality. Thor (who hails from Asgar) is grieving over the loss his entire family to death and destruction.

Thor is also still heartbroken over the end of his romantic relationship with brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), who was in 2011’s “Thor” and 2013’s “Thor: The Dark World.” Viewers will find out in a “Thor: Love and Thunder” flashback montage what really happened that caused the end of this relationship. Jane and Thor are considered soul mates, but their devotion to their respective work resulted in Thor and Jane drifting apart.

Guardians of the Galaxy leader Peter Quill, also known as Star-Lord (played by Chris Pratt), tries to give Thor a pep talk, because Star-Lord can relate to losing the love of his life (Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana), but the main difference is that Thor has a chance to see Jane again because she’s still alive. As shown in the trailer for “Thor: Love and Thunder,” Jane will soon come back into Thor’s life in an unexpected way, when she gains possession of Thor’s magical hammer, Mjolnir, and she reinvents herself as the Mighty Thor. As an example of some of the movie’s offbeat comedy, Korg keeps getting Jane Foster’s name wrong, by sometimes calling her Jane Fonda or Jodie Foster.

The Guardians of the Galaxy section of “Thor: Love and Thunder” almost feels like a completely separate short film that was dropped into the movie. After an intriguing opening scene with Gorr, viewers are left wondering when Gorr is going to show up again. Instead, there’s a fairly long stretch of the movie with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy

After spending a lot of meditative time lounging around in a robe, Thor literally throws off the robe for the battle scene with Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy, as the Guns N’Roses song “Welcome to the Jungle” blares on the soundtrack. After the battle is over (it’s easy to predict who the victors are), Thor’s confident ego seems to have come roaring back. He exclaims with a huge grin: “What a classic Thor adventure! Hurrah!”

As a gift for this victory, Thor gets two superpowered goats, which have the strength to pull space vessels and whose goat screaming becomes a running gag in the movie. The visual effects in “Thor: Love and Thunder” get the job done well enough for a superhero movie. But are these visual effects groundbreaking or outstanding? No.

The Guardians’ personalities are all the same: Star-Lord is still cocky on the outside but deeply insecure on the inside. Drax (played by Dave Bautista) is still simple-minded. Rocket (voice by Bradley Cooper) is still sarcastic. Mantis (played by Pom Klementieff) is still sweetly earnest. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) still only has three words in his vocabulary: “I am Groot.”

Nebula (voiced by Karen Gillan), who is Garmora’s hot-tempered adopted sister and a longtime Guardians frenemy, is now an ally of the Guardians. Guardians associate Kraglin Obfonteri (played by Sean Gunn) makes a brief appearance to announce that he’s gotten married to an Indigarrian woman named Glenda (played by Brenda Satchwell), who is one of his growing number of his wives. It’s mentioned in a joking manner that Kraglin has a tendency to marry someone at every planet he visits.

With his confidence renewed as the God of Thunder, Thor decides he’s ready to end his “retirement” and go back into being a superhero. He says goodbye to the Guardians, who fly off in their spaceship and wish him well. Little does Thor know what he’s going to see someone from his past (Jane), whom he hasn’t seen in a long time.

Sif (played by Jaimie Alexander), an Asgardian warrior who was in the first “Thor” movie and in “Thor: The Dark World,” re-appears in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” but she now has a missing left arm and has to learn to re-adjust her fighting skills. Sif’s presence in this movie isn’t entirely unexpected. It’s a welcome return, but some viewers might think that Sif doesn’t get enough screen time.

Meanwhile, as shown in “Avengers: Endgame,” Thor gave up his King of New Asgard title to his longtime associate Valkyrie (played by Tessa Thompson), who’s finding out that being the leader of New Asgard isn’t quite as enjoyable as she thought it would be. She’d rather do battle alongside her buddy Thor instead of having to do things like attend dull council meetings or cut ribbons at opening ceremonies. New Asgard is a fishing village that has become a tourist destination that plays up its connection to Thor and his history.

The stage play recreation of Thor’s story was used as a comedic gag in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” (also directed and written by Waititi), and that gag is used again in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” as this play is staged in New Asgard, but with an update to include what happened in “Thor: Ragnarok.” Making uncredited cameos as these stage play actors in “Thor: Love and Thunder” are Matt Damon as stage play Loki (Thor’s mischievous adopted brother), Luke Hemsworth as stage play Thor, Melissa McCarthy as stage play Hela (Thor’s villainous older sister) and Sam Neill as stage play Odin (Thor’s father). This comedic bit about a “Thor” stage play isn’t as fresh as it was in “Thor: Ragnarok,” but it’s still amusing.

One of the New Asgard citizens is a lively child of about 13 or 14 years old. His name is Astrid, and he announces that he wants to change his first name to Axl, in tribute to Axl Rose, the lead singer of Guns N’Roses. Axl (played by Kieron L. Dyer) is the son of Heimdall (played by Idris Elba), the Asgardian gatekeeper who was killed by supervillain Thanos in 2018’s “Avengers: Infinity War.” As fans of superhero movies know, just because a character is killed on screen doesn’t mean that that character will never be seen again. And let’s just say that “Thor: Love and Thunder” makes it clear that people have not seen the last of Heimdall.

Jane has a poignant storyline because she has Stage 4 cancer, which is something that she’s in deep denial about since she wants to act as if she still has the same physical strength as she did before her cancer reached this stage. Jane’s concerned and loyal assistant Darcy Lewis (played by Kat Dennings) makes a brief appearance to essentially advise Jane to slow down Jane’s workload. Jane refuses to take this advice.

The way that Jane gets Thor’s hammer isn’t very innovative, but she finds out that the hammer gives her godlike strength and makes her look healthy. It’s no wonder she wants to explore life as the Mighty Thor. (Her transformation also includes going from being a brunette as Jane to being a blonde as the Mighty Thor.)

And where exactly is Gorr? He now looks like a powder-white Nosferatu-like villain, as he ends up wreaking havoc by going on a killing spree of the universe’s gods. And it’s only a matter of time before Gorr reaches New Asgard. With the help of shadow monsters, Gorr ends up kidnapping the children of New Asgard (including Axl) and imprisoning them in an underground area. Guess who’s teaming up to come to the rescue?

After the mass kidnapping happens, there’s a comedic segment where Thor ends up in the kingdom of Greek god Zeus (played by Russell Crowe), a toga-wearing hedonist who says things like, “Where are we going to have this year’s orgy?” Zeus is Thor’s idol, but Thor gets a rude awakening about Zeus. Thor experiences some humiliation that involves Thor getting completely naked in Zeus’ public court. Crowe’s questionable Greek accent (which often sounds more Italian than Greek) is part of his deliberately campy performance as Zeus.

“Thor: Love and Thunder” packs in a lot of issues and switches tones so many times, it might be a turnoff to some viewers who just want to see a straightforward, uncomplicated and conventional superhero story. However, people who saw and enjoyed “Thor: Ragnarok” will be better-prepared for his mashup of styles that Waititi continues in “Thor: Love and Thunder,” which has that same spirit. “Thor: Love and Thunder” tackles much heavier issues though, such as terminal illness and crushing heartbreak.

The movie’s cancer storyline with Jane could have been mishandled, but it’s written in a way that has an emotional authenticity among the fantastical superhero shenanigans. “Thor: Love and Thunder” also goes does fairly deep in exposing the toll that superhero duties can take on these superheroes’ love lives. Thor and Jane have to come to terms with certain decisions they made that affected their relationship.

The movie also provides a glimpse into the personal lives of supporting characters Korg and Valkyrie. In a memorable scene, Valkyrie and Korg are alone together in an area of Thor’s Viking ship, and they have a heart-to-heart talk about not finding their true loves yet. They are lovelorn cynics but still show some glimmers of optimism that maybe they will be lucky in love. It’s in this scene where Korg mentions that he was raised by two fathers, and Valkyrie briefly mentions having an ex-girlfriend. A scene later in the movie shows that Korg is open having a same-sex romance.

All of the cast members do well in their roles, but Hemsworth and Portman have the performances and storyline that people will be talking about the most for “Thor: Love and Thunder.” The ups and downs of Thor and Jane’s on-again/off-again romance are not only about what true love can mean in this relationship but also touch on issues of power, control, trust and gender dynamics. It’s a movie that acknowledges that two people might be right for each other, but the timing also has to be right for the relationship to thrive.

Bale does a very solid job as Gorr, but some viewers might be disappointed that Gorr isn’t in the movie as much as expected. That’s because the first third of “Thor: Love and Thunder” is taken up by a lot of Guardians of the Galaxy interactions with Thor. In other words, Gorr’s villain presence in “Thor: Love and Thunder” is not particularly encompassing, as Hela’s villain presence was in “Thor: Ragnarok.”

The movie’s final battle scene might also be somewhat divisive with viewers because one member of Thor’s team is not part of this battle, due to this character being injured in a previous fight and being stuck at a hospital. Fans of this character will no doubt feel a huge letdown that this character is sidelined in a crucial final battle. Leaving this character out of this battle is one of the flaws of “Thor: Love and Thunder.”

The mid-credits scene and end-credits scene in Thor: Love and Thunder” show characters who are supposed to be dead. The mid-credits scene also introduces the family member of one of the movie’s characters, while the end-credits scene teases the return of other characters who exist in another realm. Neither of these scenes is mind-blowing. However, they’re worth watching for MCU completists and anyone who likes watching all of a movie’s credits at the end.

What “Thor: Love and Thunder” gets right is that it shows more concern than many other MCU movies about how insecurities and isolation outside the glory of superhero battles can have a profound effect on these heroes. Saving the universe can come at a heavy emotional price, especially when loved ones die. Whether the love is for family members, romantic partners or friends, “Thor: Love and Thunder” acknowledges that love can result in grief that isn’t easy to overcome, but the healing process is helped with loyal support and some welcome laughter.

Disney’s Marvel Studios will release “Thor: Love and Thunder” in U.S. cinemas on July 8, 2022.

Armani Beauty signs Tessa Thompson as spokesmodel

January 21, 2022

Tessa Thompson (Photo by Mikael Jansson)

The following is a press release from Armani:

Armani beauty is pleased to announce American actress Tessa Thompson as the newest face. Thompson will feature in both the campaigns for the iconic LUMINOUS SILK FOUNDATION and the new LIP POWER, shot by Swedish photographer Mikael Jansson.

LUMINOUS SILK FOUNDATION is known to be the first expression of Armani’s philosophy of perfecting the complexion with the lightest touch, and comes with a range that spans 40 colors, to suit every skin tone. LIP POWER is a longwear satin lipstick formulated with protective, comfortable oils and high-intensity pigments to deliver vivid color with all-day wear, comfort and a lightweight feel. Its innovative drop-shaped bullet allows for ease of application and precise, defined lines. My idea of beauty applies to every woman as it enhances her personality and uniqueness. Tessa Thompson struck me with the radiant energy she exudes, the vibrant calmness of her way of being. I am delighted to be able to work with her and express a new facet of the feminine kaleidoscope of Armani beauty”, said Giorgio Armani. Tessa Thompson added: “Our ideas around what is beautiful, culturally, are shifting, and becoming more inclusive. What I love about Armani is the way in which it empowers any kind of woman to feel her best self. 

Thompson, who was born in Los Angeles, started in theater then had small roles in television before establishing her name in film. Her first notable, breakout film role was “Dear White People” in 2014, then followed by Ava DuVernay’s 2014 film “Selma”. Thompson is also known for her role in the Emmy-nominated drama series “Westworld”. In 2015, Thompson starred in “Creed” and reprised her role in “Creed II” in November 2018. Thompson is currently in production of Creed III. Thompson played Valkyrie in the Marvel film “Thor: Ragnarok” in 2017, followed by “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019, and will reprise the role in the forthcoming “Thor: Love and Thunder”, set for release in 2022. In 2019, Thompson appeared on the cover of TIME magazine as the Leader of the Next Generation. In 2020, Thompson co-starred in “Sylvie’s Love”, which she executive produced as well. Thompson has most recently won acclaim for her role as Irene Redfield in Rebecca Hall’s 1920s-set film “Passing,” released in November 2021 on Netflix. The film is an adaptation of Nella Larsen’s 1920s Harlem Renaissance novel that explores the practice of racial passing. Alongside her acting career, in 2021, Thompson launched her own production company, Viva Maude, for which she signed a first look deal with HBO/HBO Max, beginning with the book to screen adaptations of “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” and “Who Fears Death.” In addition, Thompson created and will exec produce the docu-series for Hulu entitled “Puzzle Talk,” which is currently in development.

Tessa Thompson joins Armani beauty alongside actresses Cate Blanchett, Zhong Chuxi, Adria Arjona, Alice Pagani, and Greta Ferro; actors Ryan Reynolds, Jackson Yee, and Nicholas Hoult; and models Barbara Palvin, Madisin Rian and Valentina Sampaio. Each Armani beauty face, in their own unique way, incarnates Giorgio Armani’s vision of beauty.

Armani beauty – simplicity, natural elegance, and authenticity

For over 20 years, Armani beauty has been delivering beautifully textured make-up, skincare formulated from the most pioneering science, as well as fragrances created with the rarest ingredients. Inspired by real people and their needs, the make-up line is created to enhance natural beauty, revealing rather than hiding, and is renowned for several iconic products: Luminous Silk and Power Fabric foundations as well as the Neo Nude makeup range, Eyes to Kill mascara and Eye Tint eyeshadow, and liquid lipstick Lip Maestro as well as the latest Lip Power lipstick. The skincare line includes the signature anti-aging range Crema Nera. The brand encompasses men’s and women’s fragrance collections, among which are the iconic Acqua Di Giò, Code, Sì, and My Way, as well as the haute couture fragrances range Armani / Privé.

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

December 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

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

“Passing” (2021)

Directed by Rebecca Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: ‘Sylvie’s Love,’ starring Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha

December 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tessa Thompson and Nnamdi Asomugha in “Sylvie’s Love” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“Sylvie’s Love”

Directed by Eugene Ashe

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and Detroit from 1957 to the mid-1960s, the dramatic film “Sylvie’s Love” features a predominantly black cast of characters (with some white people and a few Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.

Culture Clash: A young woman who’s engaged to be married meets and falls in love with a jazz musician who doesn’t meet her mother’s approval because he comes from a lower social class.

Culture Audience: “Sylvie’s Love″ will appeal primarily to people who like sweeping romantic dramas reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Nnamdi Asomugha, Regé-Jean Page and Courtney Leonard in “Sylvie’s Love” (Photo by Nicola Goode/Amazon Studios)

“Sylvie’s Love” is a perfect movie to watch if you’re in the mood for a rollercoaster ride of a love story that’s told in the epic and lush way that romantic movies used to be made in the 1950s and early 1960s. That’s the period of time when most of “Sylvie’s Love” takes place, and it’s from the perspective of African Americans. There are expected moments of passionate romance and crushing heartbreak, but there are also social issues in the story that have to do with race, class and gender roles in society.

Written and directed by Eugene Ashe, “Sylvie’s Love” shows the romantic saga between Sylvie Johnson (played by Tessa Thompson) and Robert Holloway (played by Nnamdi Asomugha) that begins when they meet in New York City in the summer of 1957, when they’re both in the early 20s. Robert is the saxophonist in the Dickie Brewster Quartet, a semi-successful jazz group that has been gigging around the city but doesn’t have a record contract yet. Sylvie works part-time in her father’s record store, but she is expected to eventually become a wife and homemaker.

Robert first sees Sylvie through the window of Mr. Jay’s Records, a record store owned by her father (played by Lance Reddick), who’s only identified as Mr. Jay in the movie. She’s watching TV while sitting behind the counter at the store. Robert looks at Sylvie in the way that viewers can tell that if it’s not love at first sight, then it’s at least major attraction at first sight. Robert sees a Help Wanted sign in the store window, takes the sign, and uses it as an excuse to strike up a conversation with the woman behind the store counter.

Sylvie is a TV fanatic and spends as much time watching TV as she can. And so, when Robert walks into the store, she doesn’t pay much attention to him. He browses through some records and asks her a question that she barely answers because she’s focused on watching TV. When he goes to the counter with an album, he asks how much the record would cost if he got an employee discount. He holds up the Help Wanted sign to indicate that he wants to work there.

She tells him that the store actually doesn’t need to hire any new employees. Sylvie explains that her image-conscious mother wanted the sign in the store so that if people who knew the Johnson family saw Sylvie working in the store, they wouldn’t think that the family was using Sylvie as free labor and that the family could afford to hire new employees. It’s the first indication that Sylvie’s mother Eunice Johnson (played by Erica Gimpel) is very class-conscious and obsessed with appearances. Not surprisingly, Eunice runs a finishing school for girls to teach them decorum and etiquette so they will be “proper” ladies for society.

Even though Sylvie told Robert that the store didn’t need to hire any new employees, when Sylvie’s father meets Robert, he takes a liking to the young man and hires him on the spot. Sylvie’s father tells Robert that he too was a jazz saxophonist, but he gave up his dreams of being a professional musician because of the financial obligations of taking care of a family. Robert has an easygoing, respectful manner, and it isn’t long before Sylvie is charmed by him too.

On one of Robert’s first days on the job, Sylvie accidentally locks the two of them in the store’s basement. While they wait for her father to arrive to unlock the door, they start talking about music, and she recommends that Robert get Sonny Rollins’ “Way Out West” album. Robert is impressed by how much Sylvie knows about music, but she tells him that her biggest passion is television. She says that her dream job would be to work as a TV producer.

Sylvie and Robert are showing signs that they’re very attracted to each other, but there’s one big problem: She’s engaged to another man. Sylvie proudly tells Robert that her fiancé Lacy Parker (played by Alano Miller) is the son of doctor and that she met Lacy at a cotillion. Robert doesn’t seem that impressed and he doesn’t know what a cotillion is until Sylvie explains it to him.

As time goes on, it becomes clear that this engagement to a doctor’s son is making Sylvie’s mother Eunice happier than it’s making Sylvie. Not once does Sylvie say that she’s in love with Lacy. She seems to be pressured into the marriage because Lacy is considered to be a “good catch” and Sylvie likes Lacy enough to commit to marrying him. Lacy is away traveling for a certain period of time, which is why Lacy doesn’t meet Robert, and Lacy isn’t around when Sylvie and Robert start to fall in love.

Robert tries to hide his disappointment that Sylvie is engaged, but he still invites her to see him perform with his band at a local club. Sylvie goes to the show with her cousin Mona (played by Aja Naomi King), who is also Sylvie’s best friend. Sylvie and Mona are enthralled by what they see during this performance, since the Dickie Brewster Quartet is very talented, with Robert being a standout player.

The other members of the Dickie Brewster Quartet are drummer Chico Sweetney (played by Regé-Jean Page), who is Robert’s extroverted best friend; bass player Buzz Walcott (played by Courtney Leonard), who has a somewhat goofy personality; and egotistical band leader Dickie Brewster, who is the group’s pianist and chief songwriter. Chico and Mona have an immediate flirtation, and they begin dating soon after they meet.

Sylvie has led a sheltered life and has never really experienced going to nightclubs. She’s intrigued and excited, but she also becomes acutely aware that she might not fit in with the fast party crowd that frequents the nightclub. One of the club regulars is a woman named Connie (played by Raquel Horsford), who’s about 10 years older than Sylvie.

When Connie sees Robert and Sylvie sitting at a table together and talking after the show, Connie makes it clear that she’s interested in Robert. Connie cattily tells Robert that he can hang out with her when he’s done babysitting. Connie says it loud enough for Sylvie to hear. Sylvie looks slightly embarrassed. When Robert walks Sylvie home, they kiss for the first time.

During that fateful summer, Sylvie and Robert spend more time together, and they become more attracted to each other. They have double dates with Mona and Chico. Sylvie tells Robert how much she admires his talent and encourages him in his musical endeavors. Sylvie tells Robert, “I’ve never met anyone who plays music like you do.”

Robert, who is originally from Detroit, opens up about his life and tells Sylvie that he used to work on the assembly line of an auto plant. But he decided to take a big risk and quit his job to move to New York City and try to make it as a professional musician. His mother died two years ago, and he tells Sylvie: “When my mother passed, I realized that life’s too short to waste time with things you don’t absolutely love.”

Robert and Sylvie’s budding romance hits a jealousy snag when he invites her to a party attended by a lot of his nightclub friends, which include a sassy woman named Carmen (played by Eva Longoria), who runs the boarding house where the the band members live. At the party, Sylvie sees Robert dancing with Connie and gets jealous. Sylvie leaves the party in a huff, and then Sylvie and Robert have an argument out in the street,

Robert tells Sylvie that she doesn’t have a right to judge about “cheating” since she’s engaged to another man. Sylvie says that since Robert invited her to the party, she wanted to at least feel like she was special. Then they both admit that they want to feel special to each other. And not long after that, Sylvie and Robert become lovers.

During the time that Robert and Sylvie begin dating, things start to progress in Robert’s career. A wealthy French socialite named Countess Genevieve (played by Jemima Kirke), who also goes by the name Gertie, has taken an interest in the Dickie Brewster Quartet. She recommends them for gigs in Paris, invests money in buying them new clothes, and eventually becomes the group’s official manager.

Just as Robert and Sylvie’s romance is heating up, it comes to an abrupt halt when the Dickie Brewster Quartet gets offered a series of performances in Paris. Robert invites Sylvie to go with him to Paris, but Sylvie decides that it’s best if she and Robert go their separate ways permanently. (This isn’t spoiler information since it’s in the movie’s trailer.)

And there’s another reason for why Sylvie breaks up with Robert, but she keeps it a secret from many people, including Robert. She doesn’t see him or communicate with him again until 1962, five years after they broke up, when she unexpectedly finds out that Robert is back in New York City to record an album. Sylvie is now married to Lacy, they have a 5-year-old daughter named Michelle (played by Lotus Plummer), and Sylvie has been working as an assistant producer for a TV series called “The Lucy Wolper Cooking Show.”

Sylvie loves her job, and her producer boss Kate Spencer (played by Ryan Michelle Bathe) is a supportive mentor to Sylvie. The movie’s comic relief is provided by the cooking show’s host Lucy Wolper (played by Wendi McLendon-Covey), who’s prim and polished on TV, but in real life she has a bawdy sense of humor. Even though Sylvie is very happy in her career, her marriage is having problems because the job requires her to work long hours, which irritates Sylvie’s husband Lacy, who is a sales executive for an unnamed company.

Lacy doesn’t have a problem with Sylvie working outside the home, as long as it doesn’t affect her ability to have meals ready for him at his expected time, or interfere with plans he makes when he wants Sylvie to entertain clients in their home or go to his work-related events. And so, when Sylvie sees Robert again, it triggers thoughts and feelings about their romance. Meanwhile, Robert has been growing tired of being creatively stifled by Dickie, so he contemplates an offer from record company executive Sid Shuur (played by John Magaro) to launch a solo career as a musician/songwriter.

What happens in the story at times veers into melodrama, but it’s entirely realistic. The beauty of this movie is in the credible and almost poetic way that Thompson and Asomugha portray the love between Sylvie and Robert. It’s an emotionally difficult journey fraught with uncertainty over the future and circumstances that can keep them apart. But it’s also a story of emotional fulfillment and chasing happiness where you can find it.

And even though the romance in “Sylvie’s Love” began out of infidelity, writer/director Ashe doesn’t make this a cheap and tawdry story. Rather, the movie demonstrates the hard choices that people sometimes have to make when they fall in love with the right person at the wrong time. Viewers will feel invested in finding out that happens to Sylvie and Robert because these characters are relatable on many levels.

Everything about “Sylvie’s Love” is a glorious ode to the era in which the movie take place. The direction, music, cinematography, costume design and production design are among the technical elements that fit this movie like a snug, elbow-length satin glove. However, you don’t have to be a retro movie fan to enjoy “Sylvie’s Love,” which has timeless themes about love and self-identity. It’s not a perfect film, but it perfectly captures the emotions of a complicated romance.

Amazon Prime Video premiered “Sylvie’s Love” on December 23, 2020.

2019 Academy Awards: performers and presenters announced

February 11, 2019

by Carla Hay

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 6, 2019. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced several entertainers who will be performers and presenters at the 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will not have a host. As previously reported, comedian/actor Kevin Hart was going to host the show, but he backed out after the show’s producers demanded that he make a public apology for homophobic remarks that he made several years ago. After getting a  firestorm of backlash for the homophobic remarks, Hart later made several public apologies but remained adamant that he would still not host the Oscars this year.

The celebrities who will be on stage at the Oscars this year are several of those whose songs are nominated for Best Original Song. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will perform their duet “Shallow” from their movie remake of “A Star Is Born.” Jennifer Hudson will perform “I’ll Fight” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG.” David Rawlings and Gillian Welch will team up for the duet “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Western film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” It has not yet been announced who will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the Disney musical sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”** It also hasn’t been announced yet if Kendrick Lamar and SZA will take the stage for “All the Stars” from the superhero flick “Black Panther.”

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic do the music for the “In Memoriam” segment, which spotlights notable people in the film industry who have died in the year since the previous Oscar ceremony.

Meanwhile, the following celebrities have been announced as presenters at the ceremony: Whoopi Goldberg (who has hosted the Oscars twice in the past), Awkwafina, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amandla Stenberg, Tessa Thompson Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Emilia Clarke, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Stephan James, Keegan-Michael Key, KiKi Layne, James McAvoy, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Momoa and Sarah Paulson. Goldberg and Bardem are previous Oscar winners.

Other previous Oscar winners taking the stage will be Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney, who won the actor and actress prizes at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Donna Gigliotti (who won an Oscar for Best Picture for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love) and Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss are the producers of the 2019 Academy Awards. This will be the first time that Gigliotti is producing the Oscar ceremony. Weiss has directed several major award shows, including the Oscars and the Tonys. He will direct the Oscar ceremony again in 2019.

**February 18, 2019 UPDATE: Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Los Things Go,” the Oscar-nominated song from “Mary Poppins Returns.” British rock band Queen, whose official biopic is the Oscar-nominated film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” will also perform on the show with lead singer Adam Lambert. It has not been revealed which song(s) Queen will perform at the Oscars.

February 19, 2019 UPDATE: These presenters have been added to the Oscar telecast: Elsie Fisher, Danai Gurira, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, John Mulaney, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Krysten Ritter, Paul Rudd and Michelle Yeoh.

February 21, 2019 UPDATE: These celebrities will present the Best Picture nominees: José Andrés, Dana Carvey, Queen Latifah, Congressman John Lewis, Diego Luna, Tom Morello, Mike Myers, Trevor Noah, Amandla Stenberg, Barbra Streisand and Serena Williams.

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