Moon Knight is the sixth limited series from streaming service Disney+ sharing continuity with the MCU. Oscar Isaac pulls double duty as Marc Spector/Moon Knight and Steven Grant/Mr. Knight, two identities or “alters” of a man with dissociative identity disorder (DID). Formerly known as multiple personality disorder, DID is a mental disorder distinguished by at least two enduring personality states. Steven Grant is the quintessentially mild-mannered British gift shop attendant, introverted and socially awkward. Steven suffers from blackouts and flashbacks of someone else’s life, despite chaining himself to his bed at night to avoid waking up in another unknown locale. Discovering his Marc Spector identity, however, is not exactly a relief. Marc is a mercenary with an American accent, a marriage on the brink of divorce, and a magical costume. Both identities become the avatar of Egyptian moon god Khonshu; while Marc is the brutal personality, capable of violence, Steven contributes wit and problem-solving, and the two battle for control of their shared body when things turn ugly. It’s a fascinating portrayal of mental illness enmeshed with mystical powers, but it’s not the first or only time Marvel’s heroes have grappled with mental illness.
David Haller, Legion
In FX’s 2017-2019 series Legion (an underrated, must-see show), Dan Stevens plays David Haller, a man committed to a psychiatric facility for a substance use disorder and a recent suicide attempt. Rescued by a team of mutants, David learns he is the biological son of Charles Xavier himself, and that the voices he hears may not be schizophrenia after all, but his father’s nemesis, literally living rent-free inside David’s head. David’s powers are potentially near limitless, but harnessing his mental illness proves challenging, and his psychopathy blurs the line between hero and villain.
Scarlet Witch, WandaVision
Just three weeks after the events of Endgame, Wanda Maximoff, played by Elizabeth Olsen, suffers from such trauma and overwhelming grief due to the loss of her love, Vision, that she manifests an alternate reality as a coping mechanism. Set in the comforting world of sitcom nostalgia, Wanda lives out the happily-ever-after that she and Vision never got. Episodes are structured around the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) and demonstrate the complexities of mental health. However, some coping mechanisms are unhealthy, and grief is never a strictly linear journey.
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver is HBO’s funny weekly satire of politics, news, and current events, featuring deep-dive explorations of hot topics such as net neutrality and government surveillance, interspersed with running gags and in-jokes, like Jeff The Diseased Lung In A Cowboy Hat, and Oliver’s frequent rants against “Business Daddy” AT&T, HBO’s parent company.
Beginning in February 2020, however, John Oliver started a bit that instantly had fans transfixed. Viewers were mesmerized and scandalized; Oliver, seemingly out of the blue, began referring to Adam Driver in an oddly sexual and violent manner. And he kept it up. His comments were random, unexpected, and a little like train wrecks – viewers just couldn’t look away. It was a fantastic bit of television that deserves to be shared and relived.
Adam Driver: A Rudely Large Man
In February 2020, Oliver was in the middle of talking about India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Modi had once walked out of an Oliver interview, which Oliver compared to Driver recently walking out of a Marriage Story interview. From there, Oliver looked lustily at a photo of Driver while uttering “Step on my throat, Adam Driver, you rudely large man. Break my fingers, you brooding mountain.”
Oliver’s comments seem to suggest a sexual appreciation for Driver’s size, and that his desire would be fueled by a little light masochism. However, coming from Oliver, these comments aren’t really about pleasure, they’re about eliciting a laugh. His Driver comments, buried in the middle of a segment about Modi’s efforts to marginalize Muslims, shocked his audience with their incongruence. Oliver immediately recognized that his audience was entertained and appalled, perhaps in equal measure, and it made him want even more.
Adam Driver Fever
In March 2020, John Oliver was already talking about the coronavirus and its worrisome spread. North American audiences were just starting to think about how it might affect them when Oliver made a hard right turn. “There’s only one infectious disease that two thirds of the world should be getting right now, and that’s Adam Driver fever. Shatter my knees, you fuckable redwood. Snap off my toes, you big, unwashed buffalo.”
Adam Driver is an unconventional heartthrob who first gained attention on Girls, playing Lena Dunham’s creepy, pervy boyfriend, but gained international notoriety when he was cast as Kylo Ren in the recent Star Wars trilogy. That movie paired Kylo’s emo-heavy anger with his bare, broad chest and a pair of strangely high pants. The width and breadth of his chest became an instant fixation.
Adam Driver: Pensive Bison
A month later, Oliver tackled the lack of paid sick leave for people needing to quarantine after COVID-19 exposure, symptoms, or diagnosis, a serious subject he had no problem making weird. “I wouldn’t want anyone with the coronavirus serving me my next meal, unless of course that person was Adam Driver. Sneeze in my McFlurry, you pensive bison. Ravage my lungs, you relentless hillock.”
Bodily fluids aside, Driver’s the kind of man women actually want, not the kind Hollywood honchos assume they do. He’s big and he’s strong, but his masculinity includes an incontrovertible sensitive side. He’s less chiseled and less pretty than any of the Chrises; instead of being gym-toned, Driver’s strength and vitality are come by honestly, having joined the Marines after 9/11. He has an authenticity to him that’s much more alluring than other cookie-cutter leading men.
Adam Driver: Meaty Oak Tree
By May, the audience was fully behind Oliver’s man crush, though viewers still felt it a bit jarring listening to a woman describe an uncomfortable COVID-19 test and then witnessing Oliver’s uncanny ability to turn it sexual. “Yeah, that sounds pretty unpleasant, unless of course your brain is being pulled out through your nostril by Adam Driver. Pull my heart out through my ear, you meaty oak tree. Impale my brain, you unacceptable monstrosity.”
This wasn’t the first time Driver had been compared to an oak tree. In 2019, he starred in Burn This on Broadway, opposite Keri Russell. In their review, New York Magazine described Driver variously as “immense,” “incomprehensibly large,” and “a wise old oak tree on Viagra.” Oliver is nearly 6 feet tall himself, but perhaps at 6’2, Driver would make him feel small and safe, which clearly appeals to many women as well.
John Oliver: Size Queen
In a later segment about the WWE, a clip was shown featuring chairman Vince McMahon talking about content being “a driver in terms of stimulating interest.” Oliver’s response? “You just said ‘stimulating,’ ‘strong men,’ ‘underwear,’ and crucially, ‘driver,’ all in the same sentence, at which point everyone’s mind turned immediately to getting absolutely bone crushed by Adam Driver.”
John Oliver continues to reveal himself as a size queen, though fantasizing about being dominated by a larger partner is hardly new. Driver’s movie roles seem to encourage this, with one particular scene in Marriage Story in which his character punches a wall in frustration being a particularly fecund source.
John Oliver: Hand Fetishist?
Expanding on his sexual wrestling fixation, Oliver demands that Driver “Chokeslam me to hell, you nasty shed. Jam your mandible claw down my throat, you irredeemable steer.”
Cheirophilia, also known as hand fetish, seems to be common among Adam Driver’s fans. His hands are, for lack of a more precise measurement, huge. Women’s preference for bigger, more dominant men is a biological construct, a product of evolution, and reinforced by cultural clichés like “tall dark and handsome.” Large men often trigger primal, even animalistic urges.
Oliver to Driver: “Beg Me To Stop”
Once the joke had caught on, Oliver knew he either had to bring Driver on board, or let it go. He couldn’t keep viewers invested for months and fail to provide a pay-off. Behind the scenes, the show contacted Driver, but on screen, Oliver took the bull by the horns. “What of Adam Driver himself? Is he bothered by this continued sexualization? He might actually have pretty good grounds to have me reprimanded legally, to which I say: ‘Do it.’ Slap a restraining order on me, you forlorn block. Beg me to stop, you menacing obstacle.”
John Oliver’s thirst has repeatedly drawn on the fact that Adam Driver is a big, hot man. His features may be slightly irregular, but together they work so well that even a reserved, middle-aged, straight male can’t help but stan. Yes, it’s a joke, but it’s funny because it’s true, and it seems both less dirty and somehow dirtier coming from Oliver’s repressed little mouth. Oliver’s appreciation may in fact be indicative that Driver is no ordinary hunk; he is a sexual orientation unto himself.
Humanity To Driver: “Collapse On My Chest”
In a segment about Trump’s wall, Oliver somehow finds himself comparing it to other, more conventionally attractive walls. After calling a stone wall “scorching hot” and a wooden one a “big tease,” he inevitably flashes a picture of Driver on screen, noting “This human wall? Collapse on my chest, you impenetrable barrier. Crush my ribcage, you load-bearing behemoth.”
Driver’s smoldering intensity, quiet magnetism, and conspicuous physicality very much confirm that he’s a dominant alpha, but the kind who’d ask for consent. Oliver, of course, has not only given consent freely, he seems to be writing a pretty persuasive invitation.
Adam Driver: Masculinity Minus The Toxicity
Oliver even turned his obsession to the Supreme Court, admonishing Amy Coney Barrett’s use of the term ‘sexual preference.’ “No one chooses to be attracted to the same sex or a different sex, or Adam Driver. We all simply are. Dislocate my ankles you rusty cello. Tie my fingers in a square knot you emotionally unavailable water tower.”
Oliver is hitting on a vibe that most people find attractive in a partner: the desire to please. Driver seems like a kink-positive, generous lover, the kind who takes direction well. Adam Driver is masculinity without the toxicity.
John Oliver Thirsting Adam Driver Is A Mood
In the last episode of the year, Oliver is once again overcome by his Adam Driver hunger, commanding him to “crush my larynx, you unwieldly boulder” when the segment is interrupted by a ringing telephone. Driver’s on the other line, seemingly exasperated. “What’s wrong with you? I don’t know you and now random people on the internet ‘stan’ us, claiming that you ‘thirsting’ over me is a ‘mood.’ I’m sick of people stopping me on the street and asking me if I’m going to punch a hole in you like a Marriage Story wall!”
Adam Driver’s hotness is a direct challenge to men everywhere, proving you don’t have to win the genetic lottery to be hot. Confidence is hot. Vulnerability is sexy. And a good sense of humor is worth its weight in gold.
Ted Lasso first premiered on Apple TV in the summer of 2020 and proved to be the dose of wholesome goodness you didn’t know you needed. Though his home, marriage, and career were all in transition, Ted’s unrelentingly positive attitude was just what the doctor ordered.
Starring Jason Sudeikis as the mustachioed eponymous protagonist, an American football coach turned British soccer coach, Ted Lasso makes up for lack of knowledge with can-do enthusiasm and zeal. His fish-out-of-water antics and his unconventional approach to sports are served with an aw-shucks grin and a penchant for deflecting compliments. Ted Lasso is positively irresistible, and these ten hopelessly wholesome episodes are guaranteed to make you feel all the feels.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season One, Episode Two “Biscuits”
Ted wakes up cheerfully on this first day of coaching, undeterred if not quite oblivious to skeptical/openly hostile fans. If Ted’s rose-colored lifestyle has a price, the only reason he’s never paid it is thanks to his faithful assistant coach, Beard (Brendan Hunt), a constant source of silent support and subtle intervention.
Beard has followed Ted from Kansas all the way to London, and it’s clear these two have a deep and abiding friendship. Though Beard is quietly observant in direct contrast to Ted’s exuberance, they share an intimacy rarely seen between men on television. They communicate with single words where raised eyebrows and slight nods fail them, but their shared history is evident in every beer they share. They don’t necessarily need to talk about it, but Ted and Beard are always there for each other.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season One, Episode Three “Trent Crimm: The Independent”
AFC Richmond club owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) hires humourless reporter Trent Crimm to write a piece she hopes will damage Ted’s reputation. However, a day spent at Ted’s side wins over the intrepid reporter, and Crimm (James Lance) admits to his readers that Ted may not be the strongest coach, but he will root for him nonetheless.
The British press is notoriously aggressive and intrusive, and as a natural skeptic, Crimm is predisposed to find Ted’s buoyant benevolence particularly distasteful, not to mention suspicious. However, sitting across from the Kansan literally sweating through his first taste of curry, too polite to admit defeat, Crimm realizes that he’s been underestimating Ted, who is something no one expected: genuine.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season One, Episode Four “For The Children”
It’s the annual charity fundraiser, and the AFC Richmond bachelors, including superstar and superego Jamie Tartt, are up on the auction block. Rebecca is flustered hosting this without her ex-husband, but her red-carpet jitters are dispelled by Tartt’s girlfriend Keeley (Juno Temple), who teaches her to strut her stuff.
Rebecca and Keeley are two highly successful women, and where normal TV tropes would establish them as catty rivals, these two bond, propping each other up and forming a supportive friendship. Reality TV loves to show women tearing each other down, but Rebecca and Keeley know there’s room for more than one at the top, and they take turns bolstering each other on the way up.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season One, Episode Seven “Make Rebecca Great Again”
The team hits the road for an away game in Liverpool. Ted runs a respectable ship, so he gives the guys two options: movie night or pillow fight (the guys are later seen weeping over The Iron Giant). Rebecca and Keeley, meanwhile, are enjoying more of a girls’ night, but they all meet up after the game for “the great Asian pastime of karaoke.”
Rebecca wows everyone singing the theme from Frozen, an apt soundtrack for this ice queen’s thawing heart, melting under Ted’s unrelenting warmth. There’s no better evidence of this than when she steps out of karaoke to help comfort Ted through a panic attack. Mental health is addressed thoughtfully throughout Ted Lasso, and though Ted is reluctant to show cracks in his constitution, they allow others to step up and extend to him the same empathy and understanding that he consistently projects himself.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season One, Episode Eight “The Diamond Dogs”
Gruff team captain Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) has real feelings for Keeley but can’t help picturing her ex-boyfriend who just happens to be his own arch-nemesis, Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster). Luckily, The Diamond Dogs (Ted, Beard, Nate and Higgins) have assembled once again to provide a safe space to share feelings and offer support.
This brand of male friendship is rarely shown on television: honest, sensitive, and encouraging. The Diamond Dogs’ main goal isn’t even to solve problems; simply being there for each other is enough. Ted has routinely encouraged team bonding through shared joy, but in this episode, viewers discover that shared burdens and shared grief are just as effective.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season Two, Episode Three “Do The Rightest Thing”
Jamie Tartt, traded last season to Manchester United, and more recently a failed reality television star, returns to AFC Richmond, tail between his legs. Jamie’s poor treatment of his teammates, however, has burned a lot of bridges. Ted surprises the team by welcoming him back despite their protests.
Although Ted hesitates when sensitive Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) approaches him with valid and logical reasons why Jamie should be sent away, Sam is ultimately the reason Ted decides to keep Jamie on. Sam has a close and caring relationship with his father, and Ted recognizes that Jamie’s self-conceit is really a defense mechanism to mask insecurities sowed by an abusive father. Without explicitly saying so, the viewer knows Ted hopes to be a positive role model, and perhaps even a father figure, to a young man concealing a great deal of pain.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season Two, Episode Four “Carol of The Bells”
Every year at Christmas, Higgins (Jeremy Swift) and his family open their home to players far from home, and sometimes a couple of them even show up. This year, however, all of them show up. The Higgins home overflows with hungry, homesick footballers.
This Christmas episode may have aired in the summer, but it still filled viewers with warmth and good cheer. Higgins’ full house shows just how united this year’s team has become, and demonstrates how the players have come to internalize Ted’s emphasis on shared joy and celebration.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season Two, Episode Eight “Man City”
This season discovers the team’s new psychologist, Doctor Sharon (Sarah Niles), is the one person immune to Ted’s charm. Undiscouraged, Ted has waged a campaign of kindness, but it isn’t until the good Doctor has an accident that the two really bond.
Doctor Sharon learns that revealing her own vulnerabilities encourages others to do the same. She is ultimately rewarded when Ted breaks through his chipper veneer and the source of his panic attacks is finally divulged.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season Two, Episode Eleven “Midnight Train to Royston”
Ted Lasso has persistently chipped away at Roy Kent’s rough exterior to expose a doting uncle and a devoted boyfriend. When Keeley confesses that Nate has kissed her, Roy focuses on Keeley’s feelings, sympathizing with what must have been an awkward encounter for her. When she’s feeling vulnerable before her first big interview as a businesswoman rather than a model, he hypes her up and reminds her of her fierceness.
Roy Kent, retired football legend turned coach, is teaching men how to be better. He reaches through the television and models what a modern boyfriend should look like: he owns his vulnerability; he has healthy, platonic female friendships; he wants women to know their worth. As the antidote to toxic masculinity, Roy isn’t just the sexy beast women wish they could date; he’s the guy other men aspire to be.
‘Ted Lasso’ Season Two, Episode Twelve “Inverting The Pyramid of Success”
In the season two finale, we see many of Ted’s lessons come to fruition. Roy chooses to forgive. Sam chooses to stay. Jamie chooses to pass the game winner to Dani. Team captain Isaac chooses to forgo the usual team huddle and instead tap the Believe sign.
All of these contribute to the show’s recurring theme of choices made from the heart. On the football pitch, we can easily see how choices affect not just one individual, but the whole team. Games are won or lost together; success is measured in teamwork. This is what Ted has given them: the sense that the outcome doesn’t matter so much as the fact that it is shared.
Entitled Gen Z Ava (Hannah Einbinder) works for legendary comedienne Deborah Vance (Jean Smart). The unlikely pair is openly hostile during much of the first season, but when they set aside their differences, they actually start to learn from each other. The trouble is Deborah’s diva attitude will always clash with Ava’s arrogance.
The series won Outstand Writing and Outstanding Directing at the Primetime Emmy Awards for its first season, as well as Outstanding Lead Actress for Smart. The show also took home the Golden Globe for Best TV Series, Musical or Comedy. Its second season premieres on HBO Max May 12, 2022, and there are just a few things you need to know about Hacks before jumping in.
Who’s The Hack in HBO’s Hacks?
Deborah Vance was one of the first and one of the best female comedians of her day. She helped break the glass ceiling and paved the way for a whole generation of comics who came after her.
While that generation still lauds her for her ground-breaking work, her Las Vegas show is selling fewer and fewer seats. Her act lacks relevance, and the casino owner is threatening to cut dates. To conserve her shows (and save face), her manager suggests hiring a writer, but Deborah refuses, having always written her own material.
2. How To Get Cancelled on Twitter In One Easy Step
Deborah’s manager sends her a writer anyway, unbeknownst to Deborah. Ava, a promising but struggling writer from Los Angeles, is of course young enough to be Deborah’s granddaughter.
Ava is also fresh from a scandal, having recently lost her TV deal after tweeting an offensive joke about a conservative congressman’s gay son. Twitter cancels her, and she is summarily exiled to Deborah’s Las Vegas residency. Neither Deborah nor Ava is happy she’s there.
3. Clash of the Comediennes
Deborah and Ava dislike each other immediately. Ava thinks Deborah’s jokes are stale and Deborah is annoyed that Ava hasn’t come prepared. Their age gap is significant, and their styles are different, but even their insults reveal both are deeply funny women.
Storming out of their first meeting, Ava shouts “So cool they let you move into a Cheesecake Factory!” This, strangely, is a pivotal moment for them. Sensing talent, Deborah demands to hear the joke that got Ava sent to comedy Siberia. Hedging that she may have crossed a line, Deborah insists that’s impossible: “Oh honey, there is no line. It’s just not funny.” And together, they workshop that joke until it is.
4. Hell Hath No Fury
Part of the Deborah Vance mythos is that she once burned down her ex-husband’s house after he left her for her sister. Deborah has spent the last three decades doing bits about it in her stand-up and starring in commercials for fire starter logs. At a recent gig, Ava cautions Deborah to avoid being degraded by these references, which unleashes Deborah’s fury.
After four decades in comedy, it’s clear that Deborah has put up with harsh critics, and since she can’t beat them, she joins them. Laughing at her own image gives her power over her reputation, even if the gossip proves to be false. Which, in the case of the fire, it is. Yet Deborah has found it easier to take ownership of a sexist lie than to tell the truth.
5. Fight For You (Equal) Rights
Deborah eventually resorts to blackmailing casino owner Marty (Christopher McDonald) into preserving her dates (he’s been hiding assets to minimize alimony payments to ex-wives). Deborah made millions for him over the years, but even their personal history and an intimate rekindling won’t stop him from treating her like a business decision. He ultimately decides to make her upcoming 2500th show her last.
Just when you think Hacks is about the generational difference between Deborah and Ava, something like this happens to remind us that even though there’s been increased equality and representation for women in the industry, at the end of the day, nothing has really changed for either of them. They still must fight just to be heard.
Hacks isn’t just a two-person effort; Deborah is surrounded by people working hard to make her life easy. Aside from her fraught relationship with daughter DJ (Kaitlin Olsen), Deborah doesn’t seem to have many friends or confidants. Instead, she has employees, and those relationships don’t exactly come easy to her either.
Housekeeper Josefina (Rose Abdoo), manager Jimmy (Paul W. Downs), COO Marcus (Carl Clemons-Hopkins) and personal blackjack dealer Kiki (Poppy Liu) help insulate Deborah from nasty gossip and the pervasive media, but her treatment of them varies anywhere from generous to abusive. This talented ensemble brings a lot of color to a series that trends heavily toward dark comedy.
7. Deborah Hits The Refresh Button
If Deborah’s punchlines are stale, it’s because she’s spent 30 years building a wall around her heart which she arms with snarky one-liners. Ava’s generation, however, has grown up baring their souls on social media. Her honest, unfiltered style is also wielded as a shield, but she encourages Deborah to incorporate her experiences as a female comic into a new show.
This barrier is mentally and emotionally difficult for Deborah to vault, but her contributions as a trailblazer have repeatedly been minimized and this is her chance to set the record straight. Deborah was once on the brink of becoming the first female late-night talk show host, and the audience finally finds out the price she paid for being a wife and mother first.
8. Forget The Ladder; She Built A Fucking Marble Staircase
Deborah returns to her old stomping grounds to test out new material and reunites with French, an old friend and fellow comic. She tells Deborah that the club’s owner has recently died, and the two reminisce about what a predatory misogynist he was. Ava grows angry, not understanding why they put up with this toxicity. Deborah and Frenchie are glad that she doesn’t, glad that their sacrifices have meant something. They aren’t complaining, they’re simply reliving what women had to do to survive.
Yet the scene, and Ava’s judgment, imply something more. Are these two veteran survivors, or are they enablers? Does their failure to speak up make them complicit? Should they have risked their careers to ensure future generations could have them? Or does surviving mean more than any accusation ever could? Either way, Deborah laments that the skeevy club owner claimed her as his own success story, hanging her portrait on the wall. Deborah steals the photo on her way out, a small act of reclamation.
9. One Less Comedy Douchebag Bro In The World
Rehearsing new material at the club, Deborah encounters Drew, a smug Joe-Rogan type who resents her success. As he cracks sexist jokes at her expense, Deborah’s carefully prepared set is discarded, and she goes rogue. She offers Drew $1.69M to quit comedy. Heckling her heckler with the audience on her side, Deborah is on fire.
Despite all her money and privilege, Deborah can’t rid the comedy world of every creep, but she can rid it of Drew, and that’s a solid start. Until now, money has been Deborah’s armor, and a shiny symbol of her success to anyone who doubted her along the way. On this stage, however, she weaponizes it. She has it, and she confronts him with the reality that he likely never will. This is a pivotal moment in Deborah’s career, and it’s not even about Drew. Though she never gets around to her new material, she’s still brave enough to be raw and exposed on stage, the honest product of a brutal boys’ club.
10. The Worst Thing About Betrayal Is It Isn’t Your Enemies Who Do it
Despite their age difference, Deborah does not become a mother figure to Ava, nor a mentor. Their shared love of comedy brings them together as collaborators and confederates. They’re both women who have been cast aside, and they prop each other up to make one last stand.
The finale, however, reminds viewers of an all-too-common predicament faced by the few women who make it to the top: they’re forced to compete. In a moment of weakness, Ava sells sordid stories about Deborah. The season one finale of Hacks ends on a cliff hanger, just before we find out how Deborah reacts. Season two is going to be a bumpy ride.
Season 2 of Hacks streams on HBO Max starting May 12.
Gail Bishop (Regina Hall) is the new Master of a fictional New England university, the first Black Master in the school’s history, it probably goes without saying.
I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something inherently creepy about this kind of campus, especially after dark, and writer-director Mariama Diallo is devilishly prepared to prey on that fear.
Master is a prickly piece that aims to scare you on two levels. First, there’s the obvious monster, he witch who haunts student Jasmine’s (Zoe Renee) dorm room has a centuries-long reputation. The room itself has quite a tragic history, and what should be a young woman’s home away from home quickly starts to feel like Jasmine’s own personal hell. But on another, perhaps more insidious level, is the constant presence of systemic racism, institutional racism, and the everyday casual racism that must get under the skin even quicker than a skin-eating witch.
If Get Out and Dear White People had a baby, they would name it Master; this would be it. And though this baby doesn’t quite have all of mommy and daddy’s good genes, it’s a mashup that stands all on its own. A few movies have used the language of genre to speak to racism, and Master can stand proudly among them. And just like this campus, horror is usually an overwhelmingly white space. It’s nice to see not one but two strong, smart, proudly Black female protagonists who are battling monsters both real and fantastical. As you know, Regina Hall is never less than stellar, but newcomer (to me at least) Renee leaves quite an impression as well.
Master will appear in select theatres and stream on Amazon Prime Video March 18th.
Writer-director Cooper Raiff casts himself in the starring role of Cha Cha Real Smooth as Andrew, a kind of directionless young dude who discovers a talent for getting the party started. Professionally, he’s a Bar Mitzvah host, which doesn’t seem like a legit career path for a grown man, but Andrew doesn’t seem embarrassed about it, so why should I object?
At one such Bar Mitzvah, he meets Domino (Dakota Johnson), a hot single mom to daughter Lola (Vanessa Burghardt), who’s on the autism spectrum. Andrew, a true romantic at heart, is instantly smitten. He’s a puppy dog chasing a slightly older and definitely more jaded feline. Andrew is such an affable and likable character that he even wins Lola’s approval, a fact which a single mother can’t exactly discount, even if she is, in fact, technically engaged to an oft-absent man. But through her loneliness and depression, Domino comes to let Andrew in, ever cautious, always slowly, forming a friendship that fills a void and ultimately leads to a coming of age moment for all three.
Cooper Raiff has all the makings of an indie darling. His direction isn’t particularly distinctive, but his writing is the film’s main engine anyway. Andrew is so faultlessly kind-hearted, and Raiff’s portrayal so earnest that you might compare the character to Ted Lasso, whose sunny disposition was the breakthrough our cold, dark hearts needed throughout these tumultuous past couple of years. But Raiff, for all his charm, isn’t exactly Jason Sudeikis. Raiff turns it on just a little too much, making the film feel, at times, just too damned twee.
Dakota Johnson, whether you like her or not, is suitably luminous as Domino, and just a little bit broken. The real breakout, however, is Vanessa Burghardt, who manages to link and to ground Domino and Andrew, even as she pursues her own story. Burghardt, who is on the autism spectrum herself, is the character who feels the most real.
Cha Cha Real Smooth, despite its terrible title, won the Audience Award for Drama at this year’s Sundance, and while it wasn’t my favourite, it definitely has its sweet moments, and an undeniable appeal.
In the summer of 1968, Joy (Elizabeth Banks) finds herself pregnant again, and it’s a surprise at her age, and considering her daughter is nearly grown. Her body isn’t prepared for it either, and the strain on her heart will likely kill her should she see the pregnancy through. That doesn’t stop a panel of doctors from rejecting her bid for a medical abortion so her only option is whatever’s on the end of an anonymous phone call to a number she got from a flyer.
Joy’s call goes through to the Janes, a group of women dedicated to helping other women in need. Headed by Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), this group of ordinary women believes very urgently in a woman’s right to choose what’s right for her body, no matter the reason for termination. But even their best efforts can’t make abortion available to everyone; abortions still cost money, and the doctor they have on call isn’t here out of the goodness of his heart. Joy meets the Janes seeking her own abortion, but she stays to help provide them for others.
The Janes were a real-life network of hard-working suburban women (in fact there’s a documentary about them at the festival this year) running an underground abortion clinic in Chicago.
Director Phyllis Nagy wrote the screenplay for Carol, so she’s well-versed in period pieces that tell a bit of feminist history. Call Jane doesn’t have the same dreamy gloss as Carol; it’s a cause and a story rooted underground, and it wears its grit with pride.
This isn’t a perfect film but the cast tries hard to tell the story with dignity. It’s the kind of film that inspires a swell in one’s heart – at least until you consider that though this film is set over 50 years ago, there are still plenty of women who don’t have access to abortions today, their bodies subject to the whims of men, their health and lives valued at less than that of a clump of cells. The film ends on a note of triumph – Roe v. Wade has made them obsolete, so they disband, satisfied to pass the baton. But that happily-ever-after didn’t last, not in real life. Let that sink in as the credits roll.
The eponymous Alice (Keke Palmer) is a slave in the Antebellum south, and a witness to and victim of intense brutality at the hands of vicious plantation owner Paul (Jonny Lee Miller), who rules quite literally with an iron rod. When Alice gets her chance, she makes a daring escape, running frantically for miles, away from the isolated plantation and its cruel realities.
It’s hard to say who’s more surprised when she eventually meets up with a Georgia highway – Alice, or Frank, the truck driver who narrowly avoids running her over in his semi. Deciding Alice must be suffering from some sort of head trauma, Frank (Common) drives her to a nearby hospital where her story quickly gets her assigned to a psych ward. Frank swoops in to save her one more time, taking her to his home and breaking the news to her that it’s 1973, and slavery’s been abolished for quite some time.
What started out as a slave drama quickly establishes itself as in fact a slick revenge thriller. Alice’s own transformation channels Pam Grier, with Keke Palmer sporting a big and beautiful afro and some stylish duds.
Though Alice is writer-director Krystin Ver Linden’s first feature, she competently steers her cast through a pretty harrowing topical tightrope walk. The film isn’t without its faults and foibles, the end result is still an entertaining watch, thanks in no small part to Palmer’s commitment to the role, and her effervescent energy. She makes the film’s intentions feel pure even whilst it straddles the line between fiction, reality, and meta-fiction (and meta reality?).
Alice may not be flawless, but Keke Palmer sure is, and a side of Common always makes the meal more delicious.
A young Marine war veteran walks into a bank. Brian (John Boyega) is jittery but quiet, and polite. When it’s his turn, he informs teller Rosa (Selenis Leyva) of the situation they’re about to embark upon together. He’s holding her, and whoever else is in the bank, hostage. But he doesn’t want the bank’s money. He only wants the money he is rightfully owed by the government, a paltry sum they just haven’t paid. It’s such a humble request that Rosa isn’t even sure whether she’s heard right. His words don’t match his gentle demeanor, his courteous approach. But while astute bank manager Lisa (Connie Britton) calmly and efficiently empties the bank of as many customers as possible, Rosa’s finger hovers over the hidden red button, and when she finally pushes it, the ball is set in motion for what will inevitably be a very bad day for all of them.
We all know the challenges that vets face as they reintegrate into civilian life. The money Brian feels he’s owed is really just a substitute for some dignity, a sign that his sacrifice meant something to the country he served. But no matter how justified his cause, at the end of the day Brian is a Black man in America who is holding up a bank. Police swarm the building and director Abi Damaris Corbin knows how to pull the strings of this thriller extra taut.
Sadly, though, this isn’t your run-of-the-mill bank heist movie; this movie is based on the tragic but true story of Brian Brown-Easley, a Marine vet so desperate after not receiving his disability cheque of $892 that he risked his like (again) just to make a point. Because though the bank was a convenient symbol, he refused to take their money. It was the government who owed him, and he was determined to bring attention to his plight, which we know is all too common for veterans returning from combat. It’s an awful truth, one that Corbin is adroit at telling. Even if you know Brown-Easley’s story, you’ll still be sitting on the edge of your chair, sweating it out until the very end. And if you’re anything like me, feeling it deep in your bones and straight through the heart.
John Boyega is quite a presence here, a stand-out among a stellar cast, as evidenced by their Sundance Special Jury award for ensemble cast (which also includes Michael Kenneth Williams, Nicole Beharie, and Olivia Washington). Set almost entirely inside the bank, 892 puts us inside the mind of a man in distress, and the world gives him few options for escape.
892 is Michael Kenneth William’s final role, and the film is dedicated to his memory.
Mr. Williams is a cog in the public works department of county hall in 1950s London. He’s a buttoned-up fellow, always at a quiet remove from the employees under him, who, in turn, refer to him as ‘Mr. Zombie’ for his listless shuffle and seeming apathy.
A terminal diagnosis shakes Mr. Williams (Bill Nighy) out of his stupor. With only six months to live, Mr. Williams realizes he hasn’t truly been living in quite some time, nor does he know how to now that the countdown’s on. Raised to be the very embodiment of a stiff upper lip, the epitome of repression, Mr. Williams finds it impossible to dissolve the barriers between his son and himself, so he confides instead in virtual strangers. He’s not looking for happiness or personal satisfaction or the meaning of life. He only wants to make some small mark that will remain after he’s gone, a reason worthy of remembrance.
Director Oliver Hermanus adapts Living from 1952’s Ikiru and makes it something so redolent of a certain time and place, a certain way of life, that we instinctively understand much about our Mr. Williams without being told. It helps that the legendary Bill Nighy takes up the lead role, contemplating life and death and the very humble space occupying the in-between.
The film feels poorly constructed, its unusual structure not quite working as it should, the chapters and scenes weighted haphazardly and knitted together without much thought to the whole. And yet I quite enjoyed Living, thanks largely to Nighy’s stellar performance. He reins in his trademark quirks and easy charm for something much more subtle. Mr. Williams may not be a zombie, but he’s almost a ghost even before he’s dead. Funny how an expiry date suddenly makes life feel so much more vital and urgent. His performances overcomes flaws in the filmmaking and I’m certain Living will find a special place in British hearts. Living doesn’t improve upon the original, but it holds its own and gives national treasure Nighy a role to be remembered by.