Category Archives: Jay

10 Of The Most Wholesome Ted Lasso Episodes

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”

Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt star in Apple TV's Ted Lasso as Ted and Coach Beard, friends and football coaches standing in front of some red telephone boxes

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”

Jason Sudeikis and James Lance from Apple TV 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”

Apple TV Ted Lasso Juno Temple and Hannah Waddingham on the red carpet fundraiser 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”

Ted Lasso Keeley and Rebecca girls trip female friendship Juno Temple and Hannah Waddingham in hotel bathrobes

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”

Roy Kent and Keeley are dating and Roy needs the Diamond Dogs including Ted Lasso, Coach Beard, Nate and Higgins, to give him some romantic advice. Juno Temple and Brett Goldstein walking.

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”

Ted Lasso welcomes Jamie Tart back to AFC Richmond. Jason Sudeikis and Phil Dunster grab a pint in the local pub.

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”

Ted Lasso Christmas episode carol of the bells Nate, Higgins and Jamie Tartt gift exchange. Phil Dunster, Nick Mohammed and Jeremy Swift in party hats.

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”

ted lasso season two man city doctor sharon sarah niles rides her bike before her bike accident

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”

brett goldstein and juno temple ted lasso season two roy kent and keeley vanity fair photo shoot interview best boyfriend ever

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”

ted lasso season two inverting the pyramid of success afc richmond team taps the believe sign in locker room during halftime

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.

NEXT: 10 Funny Ted Lasso Quotes To Live Your Life By

10 Things You Need to Know About Hacks Ahead of its Season Two Premiere

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.

  1. 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

HBO Max's Hannah Einbinder stars as cancelled comedian Ava on Hacks, opposite Jean Smart.

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

Hannah Einbinder and Jean Smart star as clashing comedians  Ava and Deborah on HBO Max's Hacks.

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

Hacks season one Deborah Vance and Ava stranded on the side of the road Rolls Royse

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 and Ava slaughter fish together after Deborah catches them from her fish pond. Season one, Hacks.

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.

6. Entourage

Deborah's daughter DJ Kaitline Olsen and COO Marcus Carl Clemons-Hopkins on Hacks, season one

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

Ava visits Deborah at a wax museum to unlock her phone. HBO Max Hacks season one

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

Ava and Deborah check out Deborah Vance's picture hanging on the comedy club wall before stealing it back, Hacks season one

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

Hacks' Jean Smart and Carl Clemons-Hopkins as Deborah Vance and Marcus on stage in Las Vegas before Deborah's final show.

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.

Sundance 2022: Master

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.

Sundance 2022: Call Jane

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.

Eli

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.

Sundance 2022: Alice

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.

Sundance 2022: 892

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.

Sundance 2022: Living

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.

Sundance 2022: Fresh

Noa is a single woman of the 21st century, which more or less means she’s well-versed in the horrors of searching for one’s soul mate on dating apps.

Steve (Sebastian Stan) is a nice surprise, and a breath of fresh air. Noa (Daisy Edgar-Jones) meets him the old-fashioned way, in the produce section of the grocery store. Lucky for him, his awkwardness is of the cute variety, the kind that women fall for after they’ve been through a series of jerks and losers. But Steve is more than just a fruit flirt. He is the proverbial ice berg, and Noa’s about to discover all that lies beneath during an impromptu weekend road trip, that famous first trip together upon which all fledgling couples test their compatibility. But Noa is in no way prepared for Steve’s big secret, or his eclectic tastes.

I won’t say much more since this movie deserves to be seen without preconception. It’s wild, but it’s most wild in its banality. Sebastian Stan plays devilishly against-type and it’s a guilty pleasure to watch him with so much glee and abandon. Daisy Edgar-Jones is awfully good too, but her character’s experience is so antithetical to Stan’s it’s almost like they’re in different movies. Joined by strong character work from Jonica T. Gibbs and Andrea Bang, it’s safe to say that sparks are going to fly – and that’s not all.

The real stand-out here is director Mimi Cave, who offers a layered composition packed with detail, showcasing her skill without taking away from the story.

Fresh has an unusual premise, but the real surprise is how much fun it is to watch. A caveat: its rather visceral turn toward horror is not for those with weak stomachs.

Sundance 2022: Emergency

Kunle and Sean are best friends and college roommates. Tonight they plan to celebrate and cement their friendship by being the first Black men on campus to complete the Lengendary Tour, making the rounds (and presumably surviving) all 7 frat parties in one epic night.

Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins), the son of doctors, referred to variously as “Black excellence” and “the Barack Obama of bacteria,” is off to Princeton shortly, to pursue post-grad studies on his way to a PhD. Sean (RJ Cyler) is his laid-back counter-point, and while his plans for the future may be less ambitious, his plan of attack for tonight’s festivities is nothing short of genius. A quick stop home for a change of clothes and some pre-gaming is all they need before the fun begins. The quick stop home, however, has other plans for them.

An unknown/unidentified drunk white girl is passed out in their living room after apparently breaking in and barfing up her stomach contents. A third roommate, Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), plays video games in his room, oblivious. Kunle is swift to assess this as a problem for 911, but Sean’s more typical experience as a Black man in America means he’s extremely reluctant to summon cops to his home. That’s how a night of partying turns into an unforgettable opportunity for director Carey Williams and writer KD Davila to explore racism, masculinity, friendship, and justice.

Last year Carey Williams was at Sundance with his film R#J, a new take on Romeo & Juliet which captivated me and motivated me to make sure Emergency was on my must-see list for 2022.

Williams toes the line between comedy and drama, and then he dances all over it, allowing his talented young cast to bring out both the urgency and the absurdity of the situation. Indeed, this satire is only possible because life really is this fucked up. With every sickening twist and turn, we never doubt their plausibility, which is perhaps the film’s most damning tactic. The subtle layering of challenges and expectations shoves reality in your face and forces you to live with their truth, and its consequences. A Black man’s impulse to do the right thing is necessarily tempered by his survival instinct. It’s a frustrating, maddening experience that deserves to be shared.

Snakehead

Perhaps, like me, you’re familiar with the term coyote, used to indicate someone who smuggles immigrants across the Mexican-American border. But I hadn’t heard about snakeheads, Chinese gangs who smuggle immigrants into America, and other wealthy nations, using methods ranging from fake passports to shipping containers. Human smugglers charge astronomical sums to deliver people to their destinations (no guarantees of course), often trapping their customers into indentured servitude while they pay their large and quickly rising debts.

Snakeheads mean illegal immigration is thriving in many places, but director Evan Jackson Leong has a particular story to tell, and it takes place in New York’s Chinatown.

Sister Tse (Shuya Chang) survives the impossibly difficult trip to America, but is immediately arrested upon arrival, her child ripped from her arms. It takes years for her to scrape herself together for a return trip, but before she can search for her daughter, she has to pay off that astonishing debt. Prostitution is the preferred method, but Sister Tse is strong and rebellious, eventually striking a deal to work alongside Dai Mah (Jade Wu), the top crime boss and snakehead in Chinatown. Don’t go underestimating Dai Mah just because she looks like a sweet Chinese Grandma; she’s the boss because she’s earned it, one brutal, bloody, and ruthless act at a time. And believe it or not, Dai Mah is based on the real crime stories of Sister Ping, who ran one of New York’s largest snakehead rings for 20 years.

Though Sister Tse proves herself loyal and hard-working, the competition to be Dai Mah’s right-hand-man is fierce, particularly from Dai Mah’s son Rambo (Sung Kang). Having grown up in America the son of a successful mobster, Dai Mah thinks Rambo is soft, and though he may not be as motivated or hard-working as Sister Tse, he’s just as savage as his mother, and isn’t about to let anyone else take his rightful place in the gang.

Shuya Chang plays Sister Tse with strength, resilience, and a shrewdness that’s as admirable as it is necessary. But we never forget the truly vicious environment she’s navigating, or the consequences should she no longer be of us. She is single-minded in her pursuit, and highly driven, yet we see her develop a vey different kind of power structure than Dai Mah’s, who relies on fear and threats, whereas Sister Tse offers reciprocity, which gains her respect. Once Dai Mah’s protégé, Sister Tse is seeming more and more like a rival, turning Dai Mah’s maternal overtures into something more sinister.

Director Evan Jackson Leong made this decade-long labour of love thanks to Kickstarter, and the warmth of the Chinatown community, which opened the doors to its homes and businesses to allow him some unbeatably authentic locations. He dedicates the film to the mothers, sisters, and matriarchs of Asian communities, and though his film is showing an ugly, gritty part of life, you can appreciate that at its core, it really is a film about women who will do anything to give their children better lives. We come to understand some of the real reasons people choose to immigrate.

Snakehead is thrilling because the stakes are personal and the action is ripped from the headlines. We love a sneak peek at the dirty criminal underworld, but we’re never allowed to forget that human smuggling is real, its human cost high. The cast is strong, and Chang in particular is its beating heart. Determined to win back what she’s lost, her power is found in what she gives up on her path toward redemption.

Snakehead is an official selection of TIFF 2021.