The Matrix ranks very high on my list of favourite films. But I have always wished the series stopped there. To put it politely, the Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were not very good, and as far as my lists go, they only rank very high on my list of unnecessary sequels. Given that trend, it seemed inevitable that The Matrix Resurrections would be nothing more than another unnecessary entry in the franchise. And yet, The Matrix Resurrections feels surprisingly worthwhile, feeding viewers’ nostalgia by making that yearning the core of the film.
Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves) is the creator of a massively successful videogame trilogy about the Matrix, a virtual world created by machines to hold humans captive. Thomas (a.k.a. Neo) has everything he could have wanted, but can’t escape the feeling that something is not quite right with his world. So when a stranger (Jessica Henwick) offers him the choice of escaping to the “real world”, you know he’s going to take it, if only to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Except for the up-front reference to the Matrix as a video game concept, the plot is literally copied and pasted from the first film. Those similarities work in the Matrix’s world since we were told in the first trilogy that Neo’s adventures were not the first time around even then. What is confusing to Neo is that he, like the audience, thought he had broken the cycle by making different choices than his predecessors and ultimately by sacrificing himself to save humans and machines alike from the malevolent Agent Smith.
One key difference between this film and Neo’s last adventure is his focus. This time, he’s not trying to save humanity. He’s only trying to rescue Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) from the Matrix. That narrow mission is a welcome change from the previous two entries in the series, which had so many moving parts that they left Neo and Trinity offscreen for extended periods of time. In the original trilogy we were repeatedly told their love for each other made Neo different from his predecessors so it feels right that this time, Neo’s mission is to save their relationship.
No other stakes than that are needed. For Neo, saving his love is enough, as it should be. It’s refreshing that writer-director Lana Wachowski was able to resist the “bigger is better” ethos that all-too-frequently derails sequels (Venom: Let There Be Carnage shows how easy it is for a sequel to lose sight of what made the first movie succeed). Happily, that choice is what makes The Matrix Resurrections worthwhile, not just because it avoids the sequel trap, but because in doing so it gives us the chance to move past the other sequels to a world that feels limitless (mirroring the end of the first film). We finally have a satisfying end to Neo and Trinity’s story.
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.
Despite playing host to an alien symbiote, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is doing surprisingly well. He and Venom are getting along famously, exchanging zingers, bonding over their shared love of crimefighting, and just generally becoming best friends. Eddie then stumbles onto an opportunity to revive his stalled career as a journalist after serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) asks for Eddie to interview him before he is executed for his crimes. And that’s where Eddie’s day goes from “good” to “worst ever”.
Cletus, you see, is destined to become Carnage, who in the comics may be even more of an enemy to Venom than Venom’s first nemesis Spider-Man. Spider-Man is nowhere to be found in Sony’s Spider-Man Universe despite Tom Holland being credited on this film (don’t get your hopes up on that point, by the way), so it’s up to Carnage to be the prime antagonist for Venom in this film. Cletus quickly bonds with a piece of the Venom symbiote after Eddie interviews him, and together he and Carnage escape from death row without any trouble. It’s then up to Eddie and Venom together, a.k.a. the Lethal Protector, to stop Carnage before he and his true love Shriek (Naomie Harris) kill Eddie’s ex-girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams) and her new fiancé Dan (Reid Scott).
Venom: Let There Be Carnage is a prime example of how hard it is for Hollywood to make a good sequel. The first Venom was surprisingly fun thanks entirely to Tom Hardy. Hardy fully embraced his symbiote pal and their banter was wonderful. All they had to do here was let Hardy repeat his performance from last time, which would have been great. In Let There Be Carnage, when Venom and Eddie are alone (together), the magic is still there. They are a joy to watch. Unfortunately, since this is a sequel, Sony crammed a whole bunch of new stuff into this film, like Cletus’ and Shriek’s back story, and none of it measures up to the scenes featuring Eddie and Venom. The worst thing is, since this movie did so well at the box office, the inevitable sequel will surely follow the same pattern as this one, adding even more villains and an even more convoluted plot, and no lessons will ever be learned.
Even though Eddie and Venom lose so much screen time to inferior material, there are still enough good scenes between them to make this a worthwhile watch for fans of the first film. However, this film should be a hard pass for anyone who disliked the first, and I’m sure everyone in this category knew that before reading this review. And if you haven’t seen either Venom film, watch the first and then wait to see if the third film ends up being better than the second.
The Batman is another fresh start for a DC superhero. This time around, Robert Pattinson dons the mask, taking the torch from Ben Affleck, who was originally set to star in and direct this movie until he stepped aside in 2017 as director. Eventually, after Matt Reeves took over as director, after Pattinson got COVID-19 while filming, and after getting pushed from its original release date like every other movie in the past two years, The Batman finally arrived in theatres in March 2022 and started streaming on HBO Max and Crave this week.
Pattinson’s (The) Batman is in year two of his crime-fighting experiment, a relatively young man who is still learning his trade alongside Jeffrey Wright’s Lieutenant Gordon. Batman is brought in by Gordon to help investigate the murder of Gotham’s mayor by the Riddler (Paul Dano), and quickly figures out that the mayor is just the first name of many on the killer’s list. The list’s last name is an unknown informant, and Batman, as he does, tries to solve the puzzle of the informant’s identity so he can save the city and stop the Riddler’s plan.
To help in his quest, Batman recruits Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), who gives him access to Gotham’s seedy underbelly, located in a nightclub run by the Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell) and regularly attended by mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Selina fights with and against Batman as the situation requires and proves herself to be both a worthy Catwoman and the best sidekick that any live-action Batman movie has had so far.
The Batman also features a great Batmobile which fits Gotham’s aesthetic about as well as anything that Batman’s ever driven, proving its worth in an excellent chase across Gotham’s freeways. Despite the movie’s almost three hour runtime, none of Batman’s other vehicles made the cut this time, which is almost certainly for the best. There is a clear inverse relationship between the quality of any given Batman movie and the number of vehicles Batman uses.
Given The Batman’s tortured history, I wondered whether it would have been better for Warner Bros. to have scrapped it along with so many other DCEU titles that never made it to theatres. But this film quickly won me over. Pattinson is great as Batman and also surprisingly good as emo Bruce Wayne, Kravitz is a compelling partner and love interest, and Reeves gives us a Gotham that is dark, rainy and gritty most of the time, but splashed with just enough colour and familiar elements to feel like it could be full of real people. It’s a place I would like to visit again, and there are enough villains left standing at the end of The Batman to support three or four more entries in this series before the next inevitable reboot.
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.