Category Archives: Kick-ass!

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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.

The Batman

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.

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: 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.

Werewelves Within

Forest Ranger Finn (Sam Richardson) has literally just arrived in the small town of Beaverfield and meets fellow new-comer, postal worker Cecily (Milana Vayntrub). Together these outsiders navigate the quirky characters populating the town and bond over a shared love of the outdoors. They’ve arrived at a strange time for Beaverfield; the town is divided by a proposed gas pipeline. Tale as old as time (ish): pipeline will bring in cash, but also rape the land and whatnot. What to do, what to do? Lucky for them a representative of the gas company is staying at the town’s local inn so he can offer up totally impartial advice at a moment’s notice. Finn and Cecily are staying there too. In fact, pretty much the whole town will soon be staying there as a thick snowfall leaves them storm-fucked and snowed in.

As mentioned, the townsfolk are pretty uniformly weird, and the pipeline argument has caused a lifetime’s worth of pettiness and suspicion and resentment to resurface, leaving them at each other’s throats. But the morning after the storm gives them sometimes even more pressing to disagree about: something, some creature perhaps, is terrorizing their small community.

The town’s generators have been taken out and torn up one by one. A small dog goes missing, presumed eaten. A dead body turns up, frozen pretty much right under their noses, and then someone’s hand gets chomped off. Everyone’s a suspect, everyone’s sharing very tight quarters, everyone’s super high strung…and oh yeah, there’s no getting in or out of the town. Have at it!

This is a comedy-horror hybrid, and apparently a video game adaptation (though take it from me: you do NOT have to be familiar with the source material whatsoever to enjoy the film). This film is as advertised: scary and funny, and surprisingly enjoyable. Sam Richardson is my jam and I’m inclined to love anything he’s in. As Finn, he gets to deploy his aw-shucks brand of charm, practically an over grown boy scout who’s impossible to resist. He takes ownership here, leading the cast in their quest to suss out whatever creature’s stalking them. Happily, the rest of the cast (including Cheyenne Jackson, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Michaela Watkins, Catherine Curtin, and Michael Chernus) is in on the fun, everyone adding their own unique ingredients to make a pretty strange brew. It’s the kind of ridiculous that’s easy to laugh at and easy to forgive if (when) it doesn’t quite make sense.

Out of Sync

This humble little film from Spain may seem like an odd choice among TIFF’s more prominent titles, but after reading its synopsis, I knew I had to see it, knew I’d never seen anything like it.

C. (Marta Nieto) is a workaholic, hiding from life’s disappointments inside her dark studio where she works as a sound designer.

[A brief note about sound design because I’m a movie nerd and I can’t help myself. A sound designer is in charge of creating all the little (and big!) noises you hear in a movie. Clicking a pen, shuffling papers, ramming an armored truck into a brick wall at high speed – even out of this world stuff like a duplicitous jellied orb beaming down from the night sky – the sound designer has to place those sounds in a movie (or a show, a play, a video game, a slot machine, a children’s game, or an electric car). They comb through a database of previously recorded sounds looking for the perfect one(s), or they record it themselves. A particularly crisp stalk of celery may stand in for the snap of a human bone, and then that recording will be manipulated until it sounds both realistic and totally gross. That’s sound design!]

So C. is a sound designer, and a good one, sought after and respected, but lately her projects are getting returned, her clients unsatisfied. C. is suffering from auditory neuropathy, a totally real condition in which her hearing is simply out of sync. Her ear detects noise but doesn’t immediately report it to her brain. She’ll clap her hands, but won’t hear that clap right away. At first her hearing’s just a little off, just a fraction of a second, but as anyone who’s ever watched a movie where the dialogue and the lips don’t line up, that’s a very crucial fraction, and our brains itch and revolt when things don’t look right. But C.’s condition worsens, the delay increases to several seconds, then minutes. She’ll make herself a cup of tea and then be startled 7 minutes later when she finally hears the kettle whistling aggressively. Or she’ll answer the door to find no one there – whoever rang 18 minutes ago is long since gone. When what you see and what you hear don’t sync up, it’s not just a hearing problem, it feels like your whole brain is on fire. It must be exhausting to experience the world in this way, and it’s crippling to a person like C. who has built her whole career around the excellence of her ears.

Nieto is incredible here. C. is a loner by nature, and not prone to melodrama, so director Juanjo Giménez Peña virtually puts us into her shoes so we can experience her confusion, frustration, and loss along with her. C.’s path toward healing has her exploring her past, her childhood, her family roots. She unravels past mysteries and uncovers new skills, both of which prey on her sense of identity. It’s a fascinating movie with great character work and a premise that keeps unfolding in new and surprising ways. And did I mention the sound design (Marc Bech, Oriol Tarragó) is spectacular, as of course it must be in a movie like this, where all ears are perked up and playing extra close attention.

Out Of Sync is an official selection of TIFF 2021.

Bingo Hell

Affectionately known in the neighbourhood of Oak Springs as ‘Gargoyle’ or ‘Granny,’ Lupita (Adriana Barraza) rules the community with a mostly benevolent first, with a few episodes of micro-vengeance against encroaching gentrification. She and her elderly posse, including Dolores (L. Scott Caldwell), who’s barely tolerating a pasty daughter-in-law, Morris (Clayton Landey), a Mr.-Fix-It who breaks more than he fixes, Clarence (Grover Coulson), the grumpy old man who runs the garage, and Yolanda (Bertila Damas), who runs the town’s failing beauty shop. This week’s community Bingo game is in her honour, raising funds to keep her doors open just a little longer.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I was drawn to this film due to its title. A bingo hall that’s more like bingo hell? Yeah, I can see that. And a couple of things have recently happened in Oak Springs that have shaken up Lupita’s usual game.

First, Mario, a widower normally part of Lupita’s crew, goes missing. It’s only been a day but he’s already missed by his community of elders, who find his absence immediately suspicious. Second, the old bingo hall disappears virtually overnight, bought out by some city slicker with money, who turns it into…another bingo hall. This one’s flashier and sexier and tempts people with extravagant jackpots. The people of Oak Springs can’t resist, but Lupita knows it’s bad news, especially the owner, who goes by Mr. Big (Richard Brake). As you might have guessed, and since this is a horror, Lupita is more or less right. Mr. Big trades in greed, and the price is steep. His bingo hall just might be the root of all evil.

I liked the title but I loved the movie. It’s rare for any movie to feature a cast of senior citizens, but it’s especially nice to see them headlining a horror. And these aren’t doddering old fools, these are vibrant, tough citizens, still fighting for their beloved neighbourhood, still fighting off evil incarnate as necessary. Someone’s got to do it!

Director Gigi Saul Guerrero writes a film, alongside Perry Blackshear and Shane McKenzie, that has clear roots in the genre, but with its fresh perspective and unexpected vigor, Bingo Hell is silly, smart, sassy, and scary. The cast of golden agers is uniformly and impressively strong, and Guerrero directs them by virtue of their age, not despite it, finding power and skill in what others may consider limitations. Guerrero’s greatest asset is Barraza, and she knows it, using her liberally, wisely, and in enchantingly subversive ways. If you’re lucky enough to find an Adriana, you definitely, definitely write a role for her. Barraza is plucky and hardy. When she wields a shotgun, you believe it. But she doesn’t confuse vulnerability with weakness. Lupita is stubborn and single-minded in her defense of her beloved community, but even she will find it difficult to save the souls of her squad when her friends are selling them willingly and enthusiastically. Will Mr. Big$ Bingo be the end of them all? Amazon Prime is where you shall find your answers, but beware: bingo is a game with one winner, and an awful lot of losers. Watch if you dare.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

People will tell you that The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is a manic mess of quirks and cameos, and I won’t deny it. In fact, I embrace it. I liked it that way.

Every year, Hollywood greenlights a certain number of biopics, biopics being fairly reliable around Oscar time. But they’ve been making moving pictures for more than a century; at some point, we’re going to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for suitable subjects. I know some critics have argued that Louis Wain isn’t exactly first-rate material, and I’ll confess to not knowing his name or his art before watching this film. Now, however, I’d consider myself a fan. I can see why director Will Sharpe would choose him: Louis Wain was a complete weirdo. Today we’d have a much more sophisticated label for him, but the Victoria set just thought him strange and unusual, and he was happily oblivious to exist outside of society’s expectations.

When we meet Louis in 1881, he’s the head of the family to aging and ailing mother and 5 unmarried sisters. He’s not exactly up for the task, or even aware of it, more concerned with creative pursuits, which of course pay diddly squat, which doesn’t exactly address the family’s growing financial concerns. Wain’s peculiarities keep him so far outside of the natural order of things, everyone’s shocked to discover he’s actually a romantic. And in fact, he’s fallen in love with his sisters’ governess, Emily (Claire Foy). While it’s shocking that Louis is suddenly going to marry, it’s even more shocking that he’s chosen such an inappropriate bride. She’s not only the help, she’s also a spinster at her advanced age. The scandal! Louis’s mother is mortified. But he marries her anyway, and insists that the family treats her well.

Such a beautiful, whirlwind romance can only end one way: she dies. She dies young, leaving Louis a weird, bereft loner who only has the heart to do one thing. Draw cat pictures. He would draw his wife pictures of their beloved cat to cheer her up as the cancer took her, and now he keeps doing it, illustrating obsessively, becoming famous for his cat cartoons, but never rich. Louis never did have a head for business.

He did, however, have a head full of wild and fantastical thoughts, and the film treats him like an avant-garde genius. This is the stuff that creams Cumberbatch’s knickers. He’s the King of Quirk, and he lays it on thick, but I never felt it was over the top or distracting; it was wonderful. It was Cumber at his Batchiest, all ticks, and odd mannerisms, and social ineptitude. He’s not serving up mere ice cream, he’s the whole damn sundae bar, and who doesn’t live for ‘more is more’ at a sundae bar? Cumberbatch does, and I’m here for it.

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Yes, this makes for some wild shifts in film, tonalities that spasm all over the screen, but it feels like an extension of the character, never quite managing to follow the rules, never caring to either. Wain had plenty of darkness in him too, a true artist even in his soul, which a droll voiceover by Olivia Colman drives home, literally giving voice to his damaged inner life, his unbearable grief, his tattered mental state.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is flawed, but it’s also spectacular, especially as a fan of the inimitable Benedict Cumberbatch. Louis Wain didn’t live inside the box he was meant to. He felt life sizzle all around him. He wasn’t typical, or perhaps even neurotypical, but he dreamed big, loved big, lost big, grieved big, and left a legacy that includes a great many cat pictures, but more besides, something intangible that couldn’t possibly be captured on film but between Cumberbatch and Sharpe, is made somehow real.

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain is an official selection of TIFF 2021. Look for it on Amazon Prime November 5.

The Humans

There were bigger films at TIFF this year, buzzier films, films with hype and hope and high expectations. The Humans, though? That one was for me. An intense, talky film, character-driven, with an interesting cast: sign me up and sit me down! Stephen Karam adapts his one-act play (finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Tony winner for Best Play) for the big screen, a risky DIY move that pays off in surprising ways.

The Humans takes place in Brigid and Richard’s new apartment, “new” being a misleading word in this case as it’s a crumbling pre-war duplex in downtown Manhattan, but it’s new to Brigid (Beanie Feldstein) and Richard (Steven Yeun), who are moving in together for the first time, and playing host to her family for Thanksgiving. Just one problem: the furniture hasn’t even arrived yet. Haha, just kidding. In-laws for Thanksgiving? There’s gonna be drama, folks.

But not the loud, yelly kind. Sister Aimee (Amy Schumer) arrives first, from Philadelphia, mourning her recent breakup and dealing with an intestinal rebellion. Mom Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell) and dad Erik (Richard Jenkins) arrive next, in from Scranton, toting grandma ‘Momo’ (June Squibb), physically confined to a wheelchair and mentally confined by Alzheimer’s. With an apartment full of people instead of furniture, the holiday celebrations begin, but I’m afraid you won’t find them very jolly.

The passive-aggression starts almost immediately. There’s no one quite like family for such precision the button-pushing, and nary a scene goes by without adding to the tensions of the night. Everyone’s got a secret, and as if the house knows, it starts to bump and burble around them. As darkness falls, the apartment closes in, feeling all the more claustrophobic as director Karam finds nooks and crannies to hide his camera and catch his subject in awkward positions. Aimee hides a trembling lip, and makes unadvised calls from the bathroom. Dad Erik eyes the apartment’s many flaws, distress flashing across his features, tongue firmly bitten. He sees every loose doorknob, every bubble in the paint, every single water damage stain dotting the ceilings. Is he evaluating the apartment’s worthiness, or lamenting that he can’t provide better for his daughter? With a panic attack always encroaching, he’s a tough character to crack, but Richard Jenkins is second to none, and he’s rarely, if ever, been better than this.

Intimate and meticulously observed, Karam has an ear for dialogue and a knack for finding the authenticity in human interaction. Completely free of artifice, this feels like an absurdly typical American family fumbling their way through another holiday dinner. They love each other and they drive each crazy.

Houdyshell, having originated the role of Deirdre on Broadway, plays her like a second skin, so comfortable in the role she wins our empathy with the very smallest of hints, her anguish just barely visible yet undeniable, her every flinch present and accounted for. Feldstein and Yeun are each as good as we’d expect them to be, flawless parts of a flawless whole. Schumer’s the real surprise, holding her own alongside them, Aimee’s role within the family instantly identifiable and relatable.

The Humans gets to the truth in this family dynamic, eschewing melodrama for raw honesty, leaving the members of this family open and exposed. They are laid so bare it feels almost embarrassing to be eavesdropping, yet it’s so compelling it hurts to look away. Karam is confident enough in his material not to muck it up with cinematic tricks. He relies on strong writing and excellent acting, and both here are beyond reproach. He holds a mirror up to us, and like all humans before and after us, we are fascinated by our reflections. Our very natures, the best and worst of us, revealed in one turkey dinner around a rickety folding table with mismatched chairs, Momo snoring softly from the corner. A compelling story is more than enough.

I loved every bit of this movie, how it moved me, how I felt I knew and understood these characters instinctively, winced when they winced, held my breath when they held theirs. The Humans is among the best of the many excellently curated titles at TIFF this year, and how I wished I was watching it with others, able to debate the merits of its title, the meaning of those blackened lightbulbs, Karam’s creepy, haunted atmosphere, treating this family drama as if it were a horror – and whether, just maybe, it is.

The film will simultaneously be released in theaters and aired on Showtime on November 24, 2021.