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Appreciation: Seeing people like me on TV led to my career. I have Norman Lear to thank

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Appreciation: Seeing people like me on TV led to my career. I have Norman Lear to thank

I wasn’t always a 29-year-old pop culture hound. In fact, I went from a 10-year-old movie nerd to later, a 20-something TV obsessive.

Watching films and television shows has always been a part of my life — some of my fondest memories are of going to the theater to see “Fast Five” with my cousin and making my mom record “Lost” on VHS because it aired after my bedtime. (We would watch it together after school the next day.) As I grew, so did my engagement with media.

When I started college, commuting from Downey to Cal State Long Beach, my days were bookended by not only freeway congestion but podcasts. I listened to anything and everything. Did someone I follow on Twitter recommend a show? Downloaded five episodes to listen to. Did I find a list of the top 10 podcasts about movies? Already queued up on my app. I was becoming an active viewer. I wasn’t just watching TV, I was talking to other fans online, familiarizing myself with publications and reading critics from every corner of the internet.

In the winter of 2017, a new show landed on my radar. In the age of peak TV, it was, of course, a reboot. But this one was different, at least according to the writers I followed. Norman Lear, a name I was familiar with because he was often referenced by critics I admired, was getting back into the TV business with a new spin on his classic sitcom “One Day at a Time.” It would now center on a multigenerational Cuban family living in Echo Park. “Finally,” I remember thinking, “a show about everyday Latinos in L.A.” I was hooked from the premise alone, but to see the critics I read sing the show’s praises was a special kind of pride.

I voraciously took in all the episodes from the first season within a couple days of their release. Then I told my parents and sister that we should all watch it together. Then I recommended it to my cousins, tías and tíos. Before a new semester of school had started, I had watched the first season at least three times. It’s powerful when a film or TV series can be shared with family, and even more powerful when you can tell your family that the show is about people just like them.

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The Alvarez family on “One Day at a Time” felt familiar, like I could have gone to school with their kids or spent time with them afterward. It seemed like the show was directly talking to me and my Mexican American family. And I knew I wasn’t alone. And maybe there was an opportunity to engage with it in a way I hadn’t before. I reached out to my friend LeeAnn Leon and made a plan: We would start a podcast.

James Martinez, who played the estranged patriarch of the Alvarez family on “One Day at a Time,” speaks with TV legend Norman Lear, who created the original show.

(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

“One Pod at a Time,” our watch-along podcast, launched on Feb. 26, 2019. Less than a month later, Netflix announced the show would be canceled via a fateful Twitter thread. It’s true that each season felt like a fight for renewal, that Netflix would need to see fans demonstrate their support for a show that for many felt like a lifeline while lost in a sea of white faces before making a decision. It was a frustration that represented some of the worst practices of the streaming era, where series with diverse casts would be dispatched after a single season.

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After I graduated from college, I was working odd jobs while living at home, which meant that I had time to pour my energy into the podcast. We recorded, edited and published 33 weekly episodes of our little show. We posted memes online and built a following because it seemed like no one else cared to have a podcast about the series. But we cared and we ultimately grew to a small but dedicated audience of 150 listeners at our peak.

When I finally landed an interview for a job I was excited about — an internship at an entertainment trade publication — I told the interviewers that I knew I would excel in the role. I was confident because I was already doing what everyone in their newsroom did: engage with media and build audiences online. It’s a refrain that’s helped guide me as I’ve progressed little by little in my career. After all, I started off doing this kind of work because I love movies and TV.

And the interview? I got the job and ended up working with the very writers I had followed for years.

“One Day at a Time” opened up a world of possibility to me. When we discuss representation on screen, we don’t talk enough about what it means outside of “seeing yourself” and feeling validated. But that doesn’t just mean happy viewers. Representation leads to well-informed, media-literate people. I know this because the work of Norman Lear led me to what I do today.

David Viramontes is an audience engagement editor for the entertainment section of Los Angeles Times.

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Movie Reviews

Cold Film Review: Chilly Thrills in Icelandic Horror

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Cold Film Review: Chilly Thrills in Icelandic Horror

Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Cold (Kuldi) is an effectively tense, spooky and stylish multi-generational horror-thriller about guilt, trauma and mental illness.


A ‘shadow’ is an incredibly effective way of describing a secret, something dark and scary and looming just out of reach. It’s a motif that Erlingur Thoroddsen’s Cold (Kuldi) uses to explore generational guilt, trauma and mental illness to varying degrees of effectiveness. It’s a horror film that doesn’t rely too heavily on scares, instead much more content to build and sustain a creeping sense of dread and tension, but things do inevitably feel a little rushed when the careful building needs to come tumbling down.

Óðinn (Jóhannes Haukur Jóhannesson) suddenly finds himself caring for his teenage daughter as they deal with the fallout of her mother Lára’s (Álfrún Örnólfsdóttir) suicide. Óðinn, a recovering alcoholic, struggles to connect with the withdrawn, quiet and angry Rún (Ólöf Halla Jóhannesdóttir), especially while his work has him investigating two historic deaths at a now-defunct juvenile detention centre. But as Óðinn delves deeper into the case and its connection to a young woman, Aldís (Elín Hall), he finds past and present are much more intertwined than he could have ever imagined.

Cold is almost two tales in one, switching to and from Óðinn life in the present to the detention centre in 1984, just before the incident occurs. It weaves the two timelines pretty seamlessly, with the past flowing into the present – at times literally, with some very clever camera work from cinematographer Brecht Goyvaerts – to allow the connections between the two form organically in the minds of the audience. Things feel balanced, not muddled, and it’s an effective way of keeping the tension.

And Thoroddsen does keep that creeping sense of dread running throughout the whole film. Each timeline has its own colour palette, and there’s a different mood to each that coalesces effectively by the film’s slightly mad finale, so that it doesn’t ever feel disjointed. 1984 is warm toned but claustrophobic, amplifying the feeling that there’s something lurking in every dark corner, whereas the present is much cooler, with more emphasis on the idea that Lára is haunting Óðinn and Rún, desperately trying to reveal the secrets of her death. It makes for an effective horror film for the most part, eschewing some of the more obvious jump scares in favour of that uneasiness.

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A still from the film Cold (Kuldi)
A still from the film Cold (Kuldi) ( / Glasgow Film Festival)

The film doesn’t ever shy away from exploring its central themes of guilt and trauma, particularly in regards to generational mental illness. They are constantly at the forefront, fuelling characters’ decisions and behaviours in a way that feels authentic. Issues are discussed and visualised, effectively avoiding the pitfalls of becoming a horror genre gimmick, even if the packed narrative doesn’t really allow for any deep development. Cold is slick, intricate and intriguingly plotted, but does hurtle towards the finish line in what feels like the blink of an eye.

And that, unfortunately, that’s when the issues appear. Although riddled with tension for the most part, it’s when it comes time to resolve the mysteries of the two timelines – and how they intersect – that the film stumbles a little. Both past and present get a resolution, but only one feels satisfying. The second feels a bit too sudden in the moment – hindsight might offer a less subtle view, but at the time it’s a little jarring – and so the ending is a little abrupt to be truly satisfying. The rug pull is swift, but after such drawn out and atmospheric storytelling, it isn’t as smooth as it could have been.

For the most part though, Cold is successful in what it’s trying to do. It’s spooky when it needs to be, clever, stylistically interesting and the performances across the board are really impressive too. Thoroddsen is obviously very confident in crafting a dark, chilly horror-thriller, and Cold is certainly that. It’s very enjoyable and really good at creating tension, it’s just the tumble of that final ‘shock’ that puts a damper on things.


The film Cold (Kuldi) will be screened at the Glasgow Film Festival on 5-6 March, 2024. Read our Glasgow Film Festival reviews and our list of films to watch at the 2024 Glasgow Film Festival!

Milk Teeth: Glasgow Film Review – Loud And Clear Reviews

Sophia Bösch’s Milk Teeth is an intriguing, atmospheric and eerie tale of ostracisation and superstition that looks and sounds fantastic.

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Kate Middleton spotted after rampant speculation about her post-op whereabouts

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Kate Middleton spotted after rampant speculation about her post-op whereabouts

Catherine has been spotted for the first time since December, months after her January hospitalization, which spawned rampant conspiracy theories, and viral suppositions about her alleged “disappearance.”

The Princess of Wales, formerly Kate Middleton, was photographed Monday by Backgrid, a photo-hosting agency, near Windsor Castle in the U.K. sitting in the passenger seat of an Audi driven by her mother, Carole Middleton, according to TMZ.

The Daily Mail reported that Monday’s princess sighting came via paparazzi pictures that were not authorized by the palace.

The casual outing — featuring the princess in sunglasses and without security — is the first time that the 42-year-old has been seen in public since she celebrated Christmas at Sandringham estate in eastern England with husband Prince William, their three children and rest of the royal family, People reported.

The senior royal was admitted to the London Clinic on Jan. 16, Kensington Palace said, for a planned abdominal surgery and successfully underwent the procedure. The palace added, however, that the princess was expected to be hospitalized for 10 to 14 days after the mystery surgery and “before returning home to continue her recovery.” She would return to her public duties after Easter — March 31 — based on current medical advice, the palace said.

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“The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate,” Kensington Palace said. “She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normality for her children as possible; and her wish that her personal medical information remains private.”

Despite her desires, the announcement — coupled with father-in-law King Charles III’s simultaneous health issues — ignited even more interest in her condition and plenty of wild speculation given her absence from the public eye, as well as that of her children and parents. Amid theories about an organ donation to Charles, a Brazilian butt lift, mommy makeover or the possibility that she was in a coma, the topic (hashtag #whereiskatemiddleton) has been a talking point ever since.

As many a Redditor and casual social media user wondered, “What is going on with Kate Middleton?” the BBC analyzed the “royal dilemma” over Kate’s health, the New York Times touched on the rumors swirling around her, Vogue tracked “The Curious Case of the ‘Disappearing’ Princess,” and this newspaper tried to figure out what the frenzy over her alleged “‘disappearance’ says about the royals — and us.”

Kate left the hospital on Jan. 29 and returned to Adelaide Cottage in Windsor, where she was reunited with her kids. Prince William, the second in line to the British throne, temporarily stepped back from his royal duties to manage childcare but continued with other royal engagements in Wrexham and London.

Last week, the 41-year-old prince — who is also expected to take on more royal duties after his father’s cancer diagnosis — provided further fodder for the rumor mill when he cited a “personal matter” for his absence from the funeral of his godfather, King Constantine of Greece.

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Nonetheless, a spokesman reiterated the palace’s stance that there would be no “running commentary” provided on Kate’s health despite Internet rumors.

That, according to the Telegraph, was testing the Firm’s policy of “never complain, never explain.”

“From our perspective, we were very clear from our statement at the start of this in January that the Princess of Wales planned to be out of public action until after Easter, and that hasn’t changed,” a spokesperson for the family told the Telegraph.

“We were always clear we wouldn’t be providing updates when there wasn’t anything new to share,” the spokesperson said. “The last thing anyone wants is a running commentary of the Princess of Wales’s recovery. Nothing has changed from that approach in January.”

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Film review: Ru brings Kim Thúy's beloved novel to achingly beautiful life — Stir

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Film review: Ru brings Kim Thúy's beloved novel to achingly beautiful life — Stir

AUTHOR KIM THÚY’S Governor General’s Award–winning novel Ru gives unique access to the refugee experience, following her family from Vietnam across the ocean to a new life in Canada. But what makes the book, and the extraordinary new movie based on it, so touching is the specific mix of that story with the French-Canadian culture that the family learns to call its own. 

In his new screen adaptation, Canadian director Charles-Olivier Michaud finds the warmth and humour in everything from a stepdance welcome in a community gym to the healing magic of maple taffy made on fresh snow. Or ham decorated with canned pineapple chunks and maraschino cherries. Or a fridge full of donated shepherd pies. 

The story is told nonchronologically, through the eyes of preteen Tinh (a remarkably unaffected Chloé Djandji) and following her family’s harrowing journey from upper-class comfort in Vietnam to the refugees once known as “boat people”, eventually starting over again in Canada. The culture shock is immediate: upon arrival in Quebec, the trip into Granby is by bus, through a blizzard, following a snowplow. In one of Michaud’s poetically surreal moments, a wide-eyed Tinh spots a new bride, crying and drinking champagne, still wearing her long white gown, on the hall floor of the motel the family calls home for many weeks. 

The script (by Thuy working with Michaud and Jacques Davidts)  uses restraint but never glosses over the trauma the parents and their children carry with them into their new lives. Via flashbacks, we see soldiers ransacking the family’s books and belongings, and witness the inhumanity of the dank boat hold. Through assured visual storytelling, Ru lets us in on the experience of forced migration—specifically, the trials, big and small, that “boat people” faced—whether it’s a parent sewing money into shirt hems or a camera slowly panning through a garment factory. In one scene, Tinh’s mother (a steely Chantal Thuy) stares from the ship hull, up a long ladder to the first daylight she’s seen in weeks. It’s a complex mix of despair about what’s behind her and fear of the unknown that awaits at the top of the hatch. Later, she refuses to speak to her daughter and two young sons in anything but French, and drives them to study harder. At the same time, the parents’ sacrifices are moving, the educated father (a quietly dignified Jean Bui) mopping cathedral floors and delivering Chinese food. What’s so poignant is that everyone’s too busy to pay too much attention to the growing pains and trauma that Tinh is quietly navigating herself—at a time when PTSD wasn’t a term yet, and everyone, even children, were expected to tough things out.

To his credit, director Michaud chooses not to tell this story through a lot of dialogue, but rather through imagery and often achingly beautiful visual details. A perfect symbol of all of the cultural upheaval comes with recurring shots of a second-hand toaster, which a kind Quebec sponsor assumes will be a necessity for the Vietnamese family’s breakfasts, but that becomes a chopstick holder abandoned in a corner. 

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