‘The Woman In The Window’ Locks Amy Adams Inside

by Linda Holmes

The Woman In The Window has been a little … snakebit, let’s just get that out of the way first. Filmed in 2018 (!), it was scheduled to come out in 2019 (!!), but it was pushed to 2020 for reshoots (!!!) and then to 2021 because of the pandemic (!!!!). That’s a long road. Meanwhile, the writer of the novel on which the film is based was the subject of an explosive article in The New Yorker accusing him of a variety of deceptions, and producer Scott Rudin was confronted with allegations as well, particularly about his treatment of assistants.

Woman in the Window, Amy Adams as Anna Fox

What’s odd is that in a lot of ways, the film, coming to Netflix on May 14, has a solid pedigree. Directed by Joe Wright (AtonementHannaDarkest Hour) and starring Amy Adams, it works from a screenplay by playwright Tracy Letts. The cast includes Gary Oldman, Brian Tyree Henry, Julianne Moore, and Anthony Mackie. Furthermore, there’s something that seems perhaps timely in a film about agoraphobia coming out at the tail end of, for a lot of people, a period of rather intense isolation.

Adams plays a child psychologist named Anna Fox. She lives alone, but has phone conversations with her (ex-?)husband (Mackie) about how he and their daughter are doing. She does not go out. At all. She explains that she is agoraphobic, although it’s initially unclear how long this has been the case. She has everything delivered, and she has the help of a scruffy downstairs tenant (a charming but opaque Wyatt Russell, of Lodge 49 and more recently The Falcon and the Winter Soldier), who does his best to navigate her anxieties.

Anna becomes interested in the new neighbors across the street, and when she meets the teenage son (Fred Hechinger) and the mother (Moore), she begins to feel an attachment. But then she witnesses something from her window — she is, after all, the woman in the … well, you know — and she becomes concerned. Eventually, she also meets the family patriarch (Oldman). Before long, she’s in contact with a cop (Henry) who’s unsure what to make of her worries.

The Woman In The Window belongs to a class of domestic thrillers that blossomed with new energy after Gone Girl was published in 2012. It particularly seems to call back to The Girl On The Train, published in 2015 and made into a movie starring Emily Blunt the following year. They resemble each other not just because of their similar titles, but because they are both about women who believe they have seen something and are forced to consider whether, in fact, they have not. They are both about women whose deeply troubled lives call into question nearly everything they say. Narrators not only unreliable to the reader (or the watcher), but unreliable to themselves.

One challenge of this kind of story is that it has a limited number of places to go. Either Anna saw what she thinks she did, or she didn’t. Either she will be vindicated, or she will not. We’ve seen both of those endings before when it comes to the unreliable narrator: We’ve seen what it looks like when everyone says, “I’m so sorry I doubted you,” and we’ve seen what it looks like when reality closes in and the narrator’s unreliability turns out to have been flat-out misdirection.

Thus, as in so many genre pieces, it’s all about how you get from point A to point B. Nobody stays with a film just for a jack-in-the-box to either pop out or not. There are some strong moments — and there’s some visual inventiveness — as Anna tries to reconcile her present and her past. But without spoiling anything, I’ll say that the conclusion of this story just isn’t that inventive. It’s convoluted — reportedly, confusion is part of why reshoots happened. That’s pretty common in stories that endeavor to get to a place where they’ve tied enough knots in the thread that it’s almost impossible for anyone to say they truly anticipated where the story was going. But convoluted just requires throwing in a lot of plot detritus to conceal the truth. Inventiveness means using the formula to do something meaningfully new, and that’s where this film falls short.

They might get away with the familiar plot if there were a little more dimension to these characters. This is particularly true of Anna herself, whose fear and paranoia seem … well, like well-trod cinematic territory of fear and paranoia. The most intriguing character is the one played by Julianne Moore, whose laugh is unsettling and whose friendliness is ominous, but her appearance is regrettably brief. Oldman is playing a well-worn type, as is Hechinger. There’s a good scene late in the film between Adams and the wildly charismatic Brian Tyree Henry, and if there had been a way to make the film more of a two-hander between them as she tries to convince him to believe her, it might have felt like a stronger story.

As it is, you get a good cast working with a good director and screenwriter on a story that just doesn’t have enough to offer.

Selena’s Legacy Lives On, In ‘Selena: The Series’ And Beyond

by Stephen Thompson and Maria Garcia


Selena Quintanilla was known as the “Queen Of Tejano Music,” a major Latin star who was crossing over into the mainstream U.S. pop world when she was shot and killed in 1995. She was 23 years old. Her story spawned a 1997 movie starring Jennifer Lopez, as well as an 18-episode series streaming now on Netflix called Selena: The Series. Maria Garcia, the host and creator of the Anything For Selena podcast, joins us to talk about the legacy of Selena, who would have turned 50 years old this year.

The audio was produced by Candice Lim and edited by Mike Katzif.

‘Jupiter’s Legacy’ Decodes The Superhero Genre Without Subverting It

by Glen Weldon

You’d be forgiven for wondering how Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy compares to other recent entries in the glut of “Wait, what if superheroes … but, you know, realistic?” content currently swamping streaming services. (To be fair, this “realistic superheroes” business is something we comics readers have been slogging through for decades; the rest of the culture’s just catching up. Welcome, pull up a chair; here’s a rag to wipe those supervillain entrails off the seatback before you sit down.)

So here’s a cheat sheet. Netflix’s Jupiter’s Legacy is …

  • Less cynical and empty than Amazon’s The Boys
  • Less bright and blood-flecked than Amazon’s Invincible
  • Less weird and imaginative than Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy
  • Less funny and idiosyncratic than HBO Max’s Doom Patrol
  • Less dark and dour than HBO Max’s Titans
  • Less innovative and intriguing than Disney+’s WandaVision
  • Less dutiful and disappointing than Disney+’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier
  • Less thoughtful and substantive than HBO’s Watchmen
  • Less formulaic and procedural than the various CW super-shows (which I include here only out of a sense of completism, not because they’re aiming for the same kind of performative faux-realism that drive most of these other series).

It’s unfair to make these comparisons, sure. But it’s also inevitable, given the crowded landscape of superheroes on TV right now. And in every one of those comparisons, Jupiter’s Legacy doesn’t necessarily come up short (it’s far better than The Boys, especially), but it does come up derivative. 

Makes sense: “Derivative” is a word that got slapped on the comics series it’s based on, by writer Mark Millar and artist Frank Quitely, which kicked off in 2013. Millar and Quitely would likely prefer the term “homage,” of course, and after all, the superhero genre is by nature nostalgic and (too-)deeply self-referential. So the fact that so many story elements, and more than a few images, of Jupiter’s Legacy (comics and Netflix series both) echo those found in the 1996 DC Comics mini-series Kingdom Come is something more than coincidental and less than legally actionable.


Showrunner Steven S. DeKnight and his writers’ room have carved out only a thin, much more grounded slice of the comic’s sprawling multi-generational saga, but they’ve retained certain elements of family tragedy and Wagnerian recursiveness, wherein the sins of the father get passed to the son. They’ve also, smartly, retained the multiple-timeline structure of the comic as a whole, though they’ve pared it down and stretched it out over these eight episodes, clearly hoping for a multi-season pickup.

Readers of the comics will likely grow impatient at how little of the overall saga is dealt with here, but this review is aimed at those coming to the series fresh, who will find more than enough in this season to satisfy — it’s a whole story that hints at what’s to come without slighting what’s happening now.

The now in question switches between two eras. In 1929, immediately before and after the stock market crash, brothers Walter (Ben Daniels) and Sheldon (Josh Duhamel) are the sons of a successful steel magnate. Walter’s the diligent numbers guy, Sheldon’s the glad-handing optimist. Sheldon’s rich, smarmy friend George (Matt Lanter) is going full Gatsby, and muckraking reporter Grace (Leslie Bibb) runs afoul of Walter and Sheldon following a family tragedy.

Sheldon becomes beset by visions that will put him and several other characters on a path to their superhero origin story. Be warned: The series doles this bit out even more slowly than the comic — settle in for seven episodes’ worth of Duhamel clutching his head and shouting while trippy images flash by, hinting at his ultimate destiny.

In the present day, Sheldon is the all-powerful hero The Utopian, who is married to Grace, now known as Lady Liberty. Walter is now the telepathic hero Brainwave, and George is … nowhere to be seen.

The series has fun playing with the disconnect between the two timelines — characters from the 1930s story are either missing, or drastically transformed, in the present day, and while later episodes connect some of the dots, many of the most substantial changes are left to be depicted in future seasons.

The present-day timeline instead focuses on the generational rift between heroes of Sheldon and Grace’s generation and those of their children. There’s the brooding Brandon (Andrew Horton) who strives to live up to his father’s impossible example, and the rebellious Chloe (Elena Kampouris), who rejects a life of noble self-sacrifice and neoprene bodysuits for a hedonistic modeling career.

At issue: Sheldon’s refusal to acknowledge that the world has changed, and that the strict superhero code (no killing, no politics, etc.) that he lives by — and forces others to live by — may be obsolete, now that supervillains have escalated from bank robbery to mass slaughter. Younger heroes, including many of Brandon’s friends, feel compelled to protect themselves and the world around them through the use of deadly force.

Clearly it’s a fraught cultural moment to have fantasy characters who can fly and zap folk with eye-lasers deal with that particular all-too-real real-world issue; several scenes land far differently than they were originally intended.

But unlike other entries in the superhero genre, Jupiter’s Legacy is prepared to deal overtly, even explicitly, with something that films like Man of Steel and shows like The Boys too simply and reflexively subvert: The superhero ideal itself. 

The notion that an all-powerful being would act with restraint and choose only to lead by example is what separates superheroes from action heroes. Superheroes have codes; that’s the contract, the inescapable genre convention, the self-applied restriction that tellers of superhero tales impose upon their characters; navigating those strictures forces storytellers to get creative. Or at least, it should. The minute you do what so many many “gritty, realistic” superhero shows and movies do — dispense with that moral code, or pervert it, or attempt to argue it out of existence by portraying a villain so heinous and a world so fallen that murder is the only option, you’re not telling a superhero story anymore. You haven’t interrogated or inverted or interpolated the genre, and you certainly haven’t deconstructed it. You’ve abandoned it.

Say this much for Jupiter’s Legacy — it’s not content to wave the concept of a moral code away, or nihilistically reject it. It instead makes its central theme the need to inspect it, unpack it, and truly and honestly grapple with it. 

Which is not to say it doesn’t stack the deck by portraying a fallen modern world not worth saving — it does do that, usually through the lens of Sheldon’s daughter Chloe, who throws herself into a world of drugs, alcohol, sex and general narcissistic monstrousness. The show attempts to explain her sullen self-destructiveness as a reaction to her father’s unrealistic ideals, but in execution, her scenes prove cliche-ridden and bluntly repetitious. It’s one of several examples where the show’s choice to focus on and pad out one small part of the comic’s overall tale results in leaden pacing.

But even though it takes seven full episodes for the characters in the 1930s timeline to get to the (almost literal) fireworks factory of their superhero origin, it’s hard to argue that it isn’t worth all that extra time, as Duhamel, Bibb, Lanter and especially Daniels have a great time with the period setting. (There are two other actors who get brought into the superhero fold in this timeline, but they 1. aren’t allotted nearly enough screentime to really register and 2. represent spoilers.)

The period details of the 1930s timeline (Lanter was made to wear a waistcoat; Daniels’ pencil-thin mustache should win its own Hairstyle and Makeup Emmy), and the brewing conflict between the younger selves of Sheldon and Walter can’t help but make those scenes much more intriguing to watch than those set in the modern day. 

The ultimate effect is a lot like watching the 2009 film Julie and Julia, in that sense. If you imagine that Julia Child could fly and shoot lasers out of her eye-holes. 

And, really, who’s to say she couldn’t, after all?

CorrectionMay 7, 2021

An earlier version of this story identified Chloe as Walter’s daughter. She is Sheldon’s daughter.

A Black Samurai Fighting Giant Mechas? ‘Yasuke’ Asks, Why Not?

by Andrew Limbong

At first, it’s not clear who’s fighting whom. All you know is that it’s Kyoto, 1582 and dudes are getting absolutely sliced up. Then come in the big mechas, and they have huge guns and swords for arms that contribute to the bloodshed. And then there are the sorcerers summoning beams of arrows that would cut their opponents down if not for those other sorcerers conjuring protective shields.

This is the world of Yasukethe new anime series on Netflix about the real-life Black warrior who served under Oda Nobunaga, one of the great unifiers of feudal Japan. The show’s creator, LeSean Thomas, first read about Yasuke in 1960s children’s bookKuro-suke, by Kurusu Yoshio. It is, of course — with the aforementioned mechas and sorcerers — not a straight take on history. “Knowing that we were going to be Trojan horse-ing the story through the beautiful medium of Japanese anime,” said Thomas in an interview, “why not?”

Thomas, originally from the Bronx, is a Tokyo-based animator who worked with MAPPA, the prestigious animation studio, to bring Yasuke to life. His previous Netflix show, Cannon Busters, was a similarly fantastical and adventurous romp based on his own original comic book series. With Yasuke he didn’t really see the need to do a straight-ahead version of a guy with such a scant historical record. “I don’t think true historical biopics in Japanese anime are popular,” he said. “Historians will like it, but it’s kind of boring for the average viewer.”

Instead, this Yasuke, voiced by LaKeith Stanfield, is a washed up ex-samurai loner, who finds himself in the care of a young girl with special abilities. He’s quiet and standoff-ish at first, like all the great archetypal lone-wolf heroes. He’s tall, scarred, kind of jacked. And, instead of being bald like he is in that ’60s children’s book Thomas read, he’s got dreadlocks. Which was kind of a big deal for musician Flying Lotus, who did the music and served as an executive producer on the show. He’s worked on animation before but this was his first time actually having a hand in crafting the story — which put his lifelong anime fandom to good use. In an interview, he talked about honoring Yasuke’s story while pushing new ideas, new sounds, and “a lot of things we just haven’t seen before, unfortunately.”

Which is as good a place as any to bring up the lack of Black characters in anime. While there have been some (including in Thomas’s Cannon Busters), it’s still few and far between enough that a release like Yasuke, with the Black character being front and center of the narrative, is notable. Flying Lotus told me about seeing Dragon Ball Super: Broly in theaters a while back, with, “nothing but Black kids in the audience. Nothing but,” he said. But when it comes to on-screen representation, “All we got is Piccolo, man. Piccolo don’t count.”

I think platforms like Netflix are trying to make anime spaghetti. Everyone loves spaghetti.

LeSean Thomas

(Real quick: if you’re not a Dragon Ball fan, Piccolo counts as a “person of color,” inasmuch as he’s green — and there’s not enough space here to unpack Mr. Popo — but “Piccolo is Black” is a take that’s gone from meme to almost canon in the Dragon Ball fanbase. As Flying Lotus says, with a hedging tilt to his voice, “he’s kind of a brother? Kind of. Kiiiiind of?”)

But the dearth of Black characters in anime and the rest of Japanese pop culture is changing, says Yoshiko Okuyama. She’s a professor of Japanese studies at the University of Hawaii, who specializes in film and manga. She says current population trends in Japan have made the country more “welcoming” to foreigners — if out of sheer necessity. She says there has been recent interest in portraying the historical figure Yasuke in Japanese pop culture, and “that kind of spotlight is an indication in Japanese interest in multiculturalism.”

Anime is growing as a global, multicultural artform, with the help of platforms like Netflix. As this happens, Yasuke creator LeSean Thomas has seen his fair share of gatekeepers and snobs trying to define what makes real, authentic anime. But he’s seen hip-hop grow from a small scene in the Bronx to becoming the “lingua-franca of youth music culture” around the world right now. No reason why anime can’t be the same. Or to compare it to another medium, “I think platforms like Netflix are trying to make anime spaghetti,” says Thomas. “Everyone loves spaghetti.”

This story was edited for radio by Nina Gregory and adapted for the Web by Andrew Limbong and Petra Mayer.

‘Bridgerton’ Is A Delicious, Raunchy Tale Of One Very Hot Family

by Linda Holmes


It’s tempting to review Bridgerton thusly: “I highly recommend this Shondaland series, which will remind you a little of Jane Austen and a little of Scandal, and which prompted me to specifically decline to seek out the precise definition of an orgy.”

But let’s say a little more.

The eight-episode drama, which premiered on Netflix on Christmas Day, was created by Chris Van Dusen, who previously wrote for the Shonda Rhimes shows Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. It’s also the first scripted product of Rhimes’ deal with Netflix from her production company, Shondaland. Bridgerton is an adaptation of mostly the first book in a successful series of eight Regency romance novels by Julia Quinn. Taking place in the early part of the 19th century, the books follow the eight siblings in the Bridgerton family, four boys and four girls, as they seek the loves of their lives.

This first season’s primary story is of Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor), the eldest Bridgerton daughter, as she enters the competitive marriage market. This involves a series of parties and dances where young women are introduced to young men, who later call on their favorites at home to be examined by their families for suitability. Daphne’s debut season gets off to a roaring start after she gains the favor of Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel), which makes her the object of much chatter. But after a couple of bumps that make her fear she’s losing her “value” on the market, Daphne comes up with a plan that involves the help of a hot duke named Simon (Regé-Jean Page) who doesn’t want to get married and needs a way to fend off the families who seek to foist their women on him. (Regency romance has a lot of hot dukes. They are to these books what elves are to … books that have elves.)

To try to explain what’s happening with all the Bridgertons would take pages, because although Daphne and Simon are the focus, several other siblings have B plots going on, including Anthony (Jonathan Bailey), who is dating an opera singer from the wrong side of the carriage tracks; Eloise (Claudia Jessie), who could not be less interested in following Daphne to marriage next year; and Benedict (Luke Thompson), who likes to paint.

But wait! There is an entire other family, too. They are called the Featheringtons (of course they are), and their daughter Penelope (Nicola Coughlan, as delightful here as in Derry Girls) is best pal to Colin Bridgerton (Luke Newton). She loves him from afar; he is a barely sentient lamppost about it, to the point where he has no idea how she feels, even when it’s very, very obvious. The Featheringtons have also taken in a young relative named Marina (Ruby Barker) who has a past of her own that is following her.

Is that all? OF COURSE NOT. All this is breathlessly reported to the entire town in an anonymous scandal sheet published by a writer who calls herself “Lady Whistledown.” Lady Whistledown! The Featheringtons! Let’s just lie down on the couch with some hot chocolate! (Sorry, got carried away there for a moment.)

Whistledown’s publications (think of them as Substack newsletters for the empire-waisted set) are an ingenious invention because they allow the plot to accelerate. What might take a long time to uncover in this world of “May I visit you for the next six months to earn the right to see your bare ankle in silhouette?” can be served up tout de suite when Whistledown, who somehow knows everything, drops all the hot gossip to everybody at the same time. She provides voice-overs too — and in whose melodious, majestic tones do we get to hear her dispatches?

JULIE ANDREWS. Julie Andrews, that is all.

Are parts of this show silly? Of course. Are some of these brothers dull? So far, yes. But let us not linger on details. Let us not fuss over where, exactly, the orgy question arises. Let us simply celebrate good television, made by a shop run by a woman who loves good television and written by people who are experienced in television.

Here, we need to step briefly into some mechanics-of-television talk. There’s a very common problem among streaming series, and perhaps especially Netflix series, where a season of 10 episodes feels like it should be eight, eight feels like it should be six, et cetera. Sometimes this is just general bloat that comes from a lack of motivation to cut anything. But there are a couple of other possible culprits. One is that a number of streaming series start out as feature film pitches, and then somebody has the brilliant idea to sell them to a streaming service as a series. This sometimes results in a somewhat ungainly process of just lengthening the piece and then cutting it into sections and making those sections the episodes. Another is that all across streaming and cable television, there’s a weird fondness for hiring established film writers to write television, and some of them … don’t know how.

Writing television requires writing to the rhythm of the episode, not just the season. An episode must have its own shape, its own rise and fall. (It’s one of many reasons “I think of this as an eight-hour movie” is often, though not always, a bad sign.) Obviously, in a serialized story, one episode will not be complete on its own when it comes to plot, but it should work on its own structurally. It should have a beginning, middle and end. That doesn’t always happen. Whole episodes are sometimes flat, because they’re in the flatter part of a season’s arc. Ideally, in a show like this, each episode should be both satisfying and tantalizing — you should exhale and say, “That was fun,” and you should also want the next one. I have wondered whether some of the tricksy kinds of episodes that are in vogue — the bottle episode, the episode focusing on the side character, the episode that’s out of the timeline — come about, whether they are good or bad, partly because they are ways to divide sections of the story other than learning to write to the rhythms of television.

Remember, binge-watching really came of age with DVDs, which didn’t have the Netflixian boosts of the auto-play and the credits-skipping and the part where they almost bodily shove you from one episode to the next episode. If you watched 10 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy on DVD, it was because you affirmatively said yes, over and over. Yes, I’m going to press the buttons and watch another one. Or, in fact, yes, I’m going to go to the trouble of tuning in next week. They had to earn your button-push; they had to convince you to do more than let it roll along.

Shondaland makes television and makes it well. There are eight episodes of Bridgerton, and they all have endings that are like chapters in a good book: They leave you in a spot where you just want to read one more chapter before you turn off the light for the night. The end of the season concludes several stories, teases several more and has a couple of delicious mic-drop moments.

It’s made with wit (several classical arrangements of pop songs are used in the score), with flair (the duke’s mother figure, Lady Danbury, marvelously played by Adjoa Andoh, has the most fabulous hats) and with an earthy kind of abandon. (There is … a lot of sex. If you are the kind of person who is uncomfortable watching enthusiastic sex scenes with members of your family, be forewarned about a holiday sit-down with this one. Let it be known I warned you about all the butts, if this causes problems with your household.)

In closing, Lady Whistledown has cleared me to share the following scandalous tale in case it is of use: This reviewer began watching Bridgerton at 4:30 on a Saturday afternoon and did not stop until she, normally an early-to-bed, early-to-rise type, finished it at 1 in the morning.

Can’t Find A Chess Set? You Can Thank ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ For That

by Neda Ulaby


Who could’ve predicted chess sets might become as difficult to find as toilet paper during the early weeks of the pandemic? Not Gerrick Johnson. The toy analyst with BMO Capital Markets found himself stymied while searching for a particular Cardinal chess set a few weeks ago.

“It was sold out everywhere I went,” he says.

Sales of chess sets have skyrocketed, says Mary Higbe, director of marketing at Goliath Games. The company sells six different kinds of chess sets, including those familiar red-boxed Pressman sets you’ve probably seen in the toy aisle at Walmart.

“Our October sales for chess were up 178% over the same period last year,” Higbe says. That’s a big increase. But something else unexpected happened at the end of the month. Now, she says, “our chess sales are up 1,048%.

Every so often a game comes along that captures the popular imagination. In November 2020, that game is chess. The reason? A Netflix period drama that debuted in late October.

“Ever since The Queen’s Gambit launched, our chess sales have increased triple digits,” marvels Elizabeth LoVecchio, vice-president of marketing at Spin Master. The huge toy company has a division of classic games — such as chess, checkers and backgammon — that owns about 70% of the market share in the United States.

LoVecchio says sales of these games started spiking back when people first hunkered down last spring and played games with people in their bubbles to keep themselves entertained. But what’s happening with chess sales since The Queen’s Gambit is “unprecedented — and we anticipate our sales rising further,” she adds.

Chess sets sales are rising in the secondary market as well. eBay registered a 215% increase in chess set and accessory sales since The Queen’s Gambit hit Netflix, with shoppers seeking out wooden chess sets nine times more than plastic, electronic or glass ones, according to an eBay spokesperson. Toy analyst Gerrick Johnson now warns that demand will outstrip supply.

“Six months ago, a year ago, these retailers weren’t saying, let’s load up on chess sets,” he notes. “Good luck finding a chess set this holiday!”

Both LoVecchio and Higbe agree a chess shortage may be added to 2020’s woes.

“Oh, for sure. I believe it,” Higbe says.

Chess has long been alluring, even dramatic. But The Queen’s Gambit makes it seem accessible, Higbe adds. And that just adds to the appeal of a game that’s both eminently affordable and pleasingly different every time you play it.

“You have to have patience. You have to really think about strategy. You have to plan ahead,” she says.

Valuable skills for playing chess — and getting through the dark few months before us.


In ‘I’m Thinking Of Ending Things,’ A Couple Gets Stuck In A Dreamlike Limbo

by Glen Weldon

Im Thinking Of Ending Things. Jessie Buckley as Young Woman, Jesse Plemons as Jake in Im Thinking Of Ending Things. Cr. Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX © 2020

After finishing writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s latest film, which hurls so many things at you as you watch it you find yourself bobbing and weaving just to keep up, I longed to talk it over with other people. It’s that kind of movie, wrapped in a thick shroud of fully intentional ambiguity that always threatens to thin to mere vagueness, and it benefits from the kind of unpacking that grows out of discussion. But as the film wasn’t out yet, I tentatively clicked on a few advance reviews.

There, to my surprise and no small amount of dismay, I found … just a whole metric ton of spoilers.

To be fair: This is the kind of movie it is almost impossible to write or talk about without revealing What’s Really Going On, unless one sticks to the barest bones of the plot.

So let’s do that. A young couple who’ve only recently gotten together (Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemmons) take a long car trip during a snowstorm to have dinner with the guy’s parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) at their farmhouse. They have dinner. Things get awkward; weird stuff happens. The couple drives back to the city. The snow gets worse. Things grow more awkward. Weirder stuff happens.

That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it doesn’t begin to convey what sets I’m Thinking of Ending Things apart, or what makes it so recognizably and indelibly a film only Kaufman can or would make. I will endeavor to do so here, without spoiling What’s Really Going On, by striving to keep things ambiguous, though we might have to settle for vague.

This is not, to be clear, a movie that harbors a Big Twist that must be protected at all costs. It’s not a puzzle that, once solved, surrenders everything that made it interesting in the first place. For one thing, you know that things are hinky from the jump — Buckley’s interior monologue seems strangely stilted, and keeps getting interrupted by Plemmons’ halting, unwieldy conversational gambits. These two people aren’t on the same wavelength, though one of them clearly wants them, aches for them, to be. So things between them, and around them, subtly shift, and keep shifting.

On the surface, the critique Kaufman seems to want the film to make — the one he keeps shoving into the mouths of this couple over and over again, particularly in the two long car drives that make up the film’s first and third acts — goes something like this: We humans subsist on false, manufactured, derivative narratives and inauthentic emotions to distract us from what is True and Original and Real.

But let’s be real, or, you know, Real: That whole notion, especially as it’s presented here, is a facile, boring one — the kind of pseudo-intellectual, solipsistic nugget of received, pre-digested “wisdom” you might remember getting spouted by the most tendentious, arrogant mansplainer in your college dorm, that one time at a party when he put down his acoustic guitar long enough to corner you over by the Funyons and demand you read Bukowski.

And that, it seems to me at least, is What’s Really Going On, here.

Kaufman’s true target isn’t anything so abstract and anodyne as “modern life,” or the way it encourages us to fall into intellectual laziness and disingenuously parrot thoughts, take up positions and form identities we’ve cribbed from things we’ve read or watched or heard. No, he’s directing his mocking derision at the people (let’s face it: the men, overwhelmingly) who lie to themselves about their own gifts, who too-eagerly embrace the need to be seen as the smartest, the cleverest, the most special, and who resolutely fail to connect with others because of it.

This being a Charlie Kaufman joint, we are reasonably safe in assuming that he’s calling out himself, and others like him.

Over the course of the film, we see memories of past slights — and a lifetime of outright humiliations — mix with a desperate longing to be, and to have always been, accepted, embraced, validated. To have one’s every pat, received notion about life, and visual art, and film, and the essays of David Foster Wallace (come on, that’s a tell) vigorously agreed with, and eagerly shared, by someone, anyone, else: Eternal Sunshine of the Incel Mind.

That’s a lot of conceptual work to lay upon the shoulders of your actors, especially when you keep buffeting them with continuous, mysterious shifts in mood, motivation, characterization, backstory and, not for nothing, wardrobe that would seem to deny them the bedrock emotional grounding that the craft of acting requires.

But Buckley is terrific, modulating her performance to accommodate whatever way Kaufman’s wind is blowing, from scene to scene. Plemmons is low-key terrifying in the way he eases from surly and resentful to pleading and pitiable to stoic and unreadable. Thewlis is by turns creepy and heartbreaking, and Collette’s is a performance you find yourself watching with open-mouthed incredulity and awe. Say this much: She adds yet another wildly uncomfortable family dinner scene to an IMDB profile already studded with them.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things may be downbeat — and hoo boy, is it — yet it avoids the dour misanthropy of much of Kaufman’s work. Only just, though. Your mileage may vary of course, but I found a moment, late in the film, when a character seems to forgive themselves for living an empty, emotionally stunted life quietly breathtaking, because knowing his stuff, I never expected Kaufman to permit himself or his characters (who are we kidding: himself) even the possibility of grace.

It’s not a sentiment I was prepared to extend to the character in question, nor do I think Kaufman expects the audience to. But it was nice to see Kaufman letting up on himself — or at least, the self he sees in the mirror — for even a second, given that he’s spent so much of his career flagellating himself for our amusement.

Saucy, Slimy, Super-Secret: Behind The Scenes With ‘Floor Is Lava’ Star … Lava

by Matt Kwong


If you’ve already watched the hit Netflix gameshow Floor Is Lava, you know the rules: “Don’t fall in,” host Rutledge Wood warns contestants, as they enter an obstacle course filled with 80,000 gallons of gurgling goop, “because the floor … is … lava!”

It’s a goofy grown-up take on a kids’ playtime staple, rebranded for adults as “the hottest game show in history.” Successfully traverse a chamber without falling into the sloshing “lava” below, and teams of three earn points. Fastest team wins a $10,000 prize — and a lava lamp. That’s it.

That’s the set-up for Netflix’s Floor Is Lava, which debuted in June and soon topped the streaming service’s list of most-watched shows in the U.S. But if that premise sounds simple, the real star of the show — that aforementioned soupy lava — is anything but.

“Look, we put a lot of research and money into trying to figure out what our lava was,” showrunner Anthony Carbone told NPR from Los Angeles. “That’s why we want to keep it our secret.”

It’s not just dyed water or trick lighting. The lava undulates. It glows. It even belches, splashing contestants and slickening surfaces players need to land on. 

“It’s hot!” a player yelps at one point, after getting sprayed. (Co-creator Megan McGrath wouldn’t say whether the synthetic lava feels hot, but she did insist “it’s not hot enough to burn you.”)

The “proprietary blend” of slime, as the executive producers call it, is so secretive that only a handful of crew members knows the formulation. Art directors and set designers signed non-disclosure agreements.

“Everyone wants to know what’s in Coca-Cola. Everyone wants to know what’s in the KFC spices,” Carbone said. “We have our own secret sauce.”

And it does look and feel saucy, with a distinct luminosity. The closest approximation Carbone could think of? “Panda Express’ orange chicken sauce,” he said.

Although he assured the lava is food-grade for safety, he can’t describe the flavor. “Touched it, smelled it, never tasted it!”

To achieve just the right slipperiness, executive producer Irad Eyal said the team enlisted Hollywood’s top slime manufacturers. For months, labs sent barrels of slime to dump into plexiglass boxes, he said. Producers would light it and throw items into it to watch how the slop would behave. To mimic the glow of liquid magma, chemists proposed adding glow-in-the-dark chemicals. Eyal said the team scrapped that idea for a sensible reason: “It turns out that in large doses, that stuff is very toxic.”


Cleanup is a whole system, too. Floor is Lava is shot in an old IKEA warehouse in Burbank. The set can be drained and refilled with 80,000-100,000 fresh gallons of slime. Between obstacle rounds, technicians wearing waders will use squeegees to de-glaze obstacles and “thousands” of towels to wipe down props, Carbone said.

Although executive producers wouldn’t disclose how deep the lava goes, co-creator McGrath did say viewers can at least imagine what a chamber filled with slime might smell like. The crew voted on a scent, she said, and picked something sweet.

“Fun fact: Lava smells like bubble gum,” she said. “Who knew?”

‘Hollywood’ Serves Up A Progressive Alt-History Parable, Thinly Sliced

By Glen Weldon

“My time in Washington,” Eleanor Roosevelt (Harriet Sansom Harris) says at one point in the Netflix miniseries Hollywood, “taught me a lot of things. I used to believe that good government could change the world. I don’t know if I believe that anymore. However, what you do — the three of you — can change the world.”

The year is 1947. The “three of you” she’s addressing in this scene are a trio of movie studio executives. The studio in question is a fictional one — Ace Studios — and the three execs are played by Joe Mantello, Holland Taylor and Patti LuPone. (Yep, two female studio executives in 1947; put a pin in that.)

The question to ask yourself before diving into the latest Ryan Murphy/Ian Brennan co-creation (after Glee, Scream Queens and Netflix’s The Politician) is: Do you agree?

Do you agree that government can’t change centuries of systemic racism, misogyny and homophobia, but movies (or in the situation dramatized in this miniseries — one movie) can?

Because know this: Murphy and Brennan believe it. In their bones. Their show Hollywood, which premieres Friday, believes it — its entire narrative infrastructure is built upon that notion, in fact — and it will spend its seven-episode running time striving to convince you. It will do so by positing an alternate history in which a plucky, diverse handful of brave Hollywood writers, actors, directors and producers shatter entrenched social, racial and gender barriers — accomplishing this task at a time when, in the real world, those same barriers still proved forbiddingly inviolate, and would remain so for long decades.

The result is confounding. What begins as a critique of media’s tendency to cling to the same scrubbed, self-serving, cynical narratives that deny full humanity to women, people of color and queer folk becomes … a tone-deaf paean to the Magic! Of! Hollywood!

On a purely plot level, however, it’s tough to quibble with how deftly the series weaves its disparate threads together. Jack Castello (David Corenswet) is a good-looking wannabe actor in postwar Hollywood with a pregnant wife and no prospects. He falls in with slick lothario Ernie (Dylan McDermott), who runs a prostitution ring out of a Hollywood gas station. (Ernie is based on the true story of Scotty Bowers, chronicled in the documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood.)

Jack’s fate will intertwine with that of the wealthy Avis (LuPone), black screenwriter Archie (Jeremy Pope) and his lunk of a boyfriend, Roy (Jake Picking). Roy, in turn, will fall into the clutches of scheming Henry Willson (Jim Parsons), who’s part talent agent, part carrion bird.

There’s also the idealistic wannabe director Raymond (Darren Criss) and his ingenue girlfriend, Camille (Laura Harrier), who’ll compete for a potential breakout role with the beautiful Claire (Samara Weaving).

Corenswet gets a lot more to do here than he did in last year’s The Politician, where he was mostly expected to smolder — there’s something agreeably doofy about his Jack. Parsons’ character is cartoonishly loathsome, but then Murphy and his writers do love painting with broad strokes, and anyway Parsons is having a ball. Mantello, as a wise, world-weary studio exec, is great at expressing both his character’s reluctant idealism and his tortured soul. LuPone gets to stretch her muscles, too, embodying her default regal hauteur in line readings full of consonants that slam shut like so many car doors, but she also finds moments of warm vulnerability.

Holland Taylor remains Holland Freaking Taylor, and that is all ye know on Earth, and all ye need to know.

Is it fun to see this ragtag gang of good-looking outsiders triumphing over cigar-chomping Old Hollywood via togetherness, moxie, gumption and a few well-acted, performatively woke monologues? Sure. But it’s tough to shake the feeling that in trafficking in tidy uplift, this progressive parable is erasing the lived experience of those who — through no fault or lack of their own — couldn’t and didn’t manage to accomplish what these idealized, thinly drawn characters do. And though the series goes out of its way to supply moments of vindication to real-world figures mistreated by Hollywood like Anna May Wong (Michelle Krusiec) and Hattie McDaniel (Queen Latifah) — moments that are clearly intended as catharsis — in execution, they feel at best opportunistic and at worst appropriative.

Rewriting history for a better outcome isn’t inherently a moral and narrative dead end. When deployed with intelligence, restraint and nuanced, fully realized emotion, it can force us to grapple with the choices we collectively made in the past. Or, when it’s less layered and more pulpy, it can instead supply a sense of visceral, fist-pumping, Tarantinoesque exultation, even triumph.

Hollywood may think itself the former, but the series’ approach is too lightly imagined; what it achieves is closer to the latter: Inglourious Acters.

From the days of Popular and Nip/Tuck, a sense of glibness has always marked Murphy’s output; his various co-creators seem either to channel it into something a bit more grounded (PoseAmerican Crime Story) or to shape it into full-on, guano-crazy genre archness (American Horror Story). The genre here is “Hollywood Tale,” so you’d be forgiven for expecting a touch of camp, but the tone keeps vacillating, scene to scene, between sober and swoony, as if the show can’t make up its mind.

What it remains consistently throughout, however, is self-consciously well-intentioned to a fault, and absolutely certain of Hollywood’s power to set a world full of benighted yokels on the right path, through the sheer power of showing us all how selfless and brave and — heck, let’s face it — noble creative people are.

If there’s a second season of Hollywood — and given Netflix’s deal with Murphy, this seems likely — there’s evidence it will only double down on season one’s What If Courageous Filmmakers And Studio Suits Challenged The Status Quo dynamic. Along the way it will likely make a lot of the same very good points this season makes about the importance of representation and the idiocy of intolerance. And it will likely include some very good actors delivering on-the-nose speeches while wearing very good clothes.

And, as in season one, if you listen very closely, you will likely be able to discern a soft sound, a noise like a whisper, like a contented sigh that makes up this series’ insistent, omnipresent subtext: Yes, AmericaYou’re welcome.

Mindy Kaling Brings A New Nerd To TV, And Finds She ‘Was Not Alone’ As A Teen

When nerds are depicted on screen, they are often bookworms and wallflowers who struggle to stand up for themselves. That’s not the type of nerd Mindy Kaling wanted to focus on in Never Have I Ever, the Netflix series she co-created with Lang Fisher.

“There’s also the belligerent, confident nerd, and they want big things for themselves,” Kaling says. “We wanted to show an ambitious nerd … [who] wanted to lose her virginity, wanted to be cool, go to concerts.”

Kaling first became known for her role as Kelly Kapoor on The Office. She was also a writer and producer of the series, and she was the showrunner and star of the series The Mindy Project.

Never Have I Ever draws on Kaling’s experiences when she was in high school. The main character, Devi, is the 15-year-old daughter of immigrants from India and one the school’s top students. She’s nerdy and unpopular — but she’s also outgoing, opinionated and on the hunt for a boyfriend.

Kaling was initially hesitant to revisit her teen years for the project: “Like a lot of comedy writers, I think of my adolescence and childhood as incredibly embarrassing,” she says. “I thought it would honestly be too painful and embarrassing to relive those experiences.”

But Kaling filled the writers room with a staff of young Indian women, and once they began sharing stories, her outlook changed. “It ended up being very cathartic, actually,” she says. “It made me feel that all the stuff I was going through as a teenager, I was not alone.”

Interview Highlights

On where the idea came from to give Devi a temporary paralysis brought on by her father’s sudden death

It happened to the brother of my co-creator, Lang Fisher. … When we were talking about the series — there are so many teenage series … about love and sex and all of that — and we were both really interested, because we had parents that died unexpectedly, in talking about grief and how grief manifests itself. And [Lang’s] brother, after her parents got divorced, had about four months when his legs were paralyzed. And then, all of a sudden, they started working again. And they went to every doctor. They went to every psychologist. And it was this mysterious thing. …

Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) becomes temporarily paralyzed after the sudden death of her father in Never Have I Ever.Netflix

In researching it, this is something that happens to people, particularly young people, sometimes after trauma. So that was hard to resist as something to talk about. And after she spoke to her brother and got permission, we felt we wanted to use it in the series, because we thought it was a really fascinating physical manifestation of a teenager’s grief.

On how her experience of being a diversity hire for the writers room of The Office informed her movie, Late Night

[I’m a] proud diversity hire. … I think the [NBC diversity hiring] program was invaluable, and I think that NBC was, at that time, the only one of the major networks that was doing something like that.

At the time, I didn’t think so. At the time, I thought it was really humiliating, actually, because the way that that works is a diversity hire is no cost to the show. So when you get hired and you’re a minority and through that NBC diversity hiring program, you know that NBC is paying the cost of your salary, not the show. So that’s why the show is incentivized to hire minorities. …

There’s this phenomenon that … a writer gets hired for a year and then they only pay your salary the first year. So if you are going to continue on for a second year, they won’t pay your salary anymore. So you’d have this phenomenon on these shows — because other networks started doing the same thing — where you’d have a minority writer who is a staff writer, which is the entry-level writing job, and then the next year there’d be a different staff writer, because to promote them, the show would have to take on the cost of the staff. …