The long list of semi-historical/mostly fantastical biopics about the lives of famous musicians continues to grow at an alarming rate, but Madonna’s newly-announced biopic stands out from the crowded field for a number of reasons: firstly, because it’s one of the few so far that centers around a female artist, and secondly, because it’s the first to be co-written and directed by the biopic’s very own subject. Madonna, one of the biggest names in 80’s pop music, isn’t about to let someone else get to her life story first – she’s taking the reins herself and exercising almost complete creative control over how this movie gets made. Which is…interesting, to say the least.
It’s unclear yet if the biopic will cover one specific period of Madonna’s life, but the announcement from the artist herself makes me think that this is going to be a sprawling film that doesn’t miss any of the highlights of her career: from her work as “a musician, actress, director, author and entrepreneur who informs every aspect of global culture” to her role as a trendsetter “transforming our understanding of art, sexuality, feminism and the role of women in entertainment”. Some will call it egotistical, but in some regards, having Madonna herself be the driving force behind getting her biopic made could be an exciting opportunity to see more of the “unvarnished” and “untold” story that she promised in her press release. Does it come across as a bit self-congratulatory? Yeah, but it’s the sort of power move that Madonna is famous for, and autobiographical films are nothing new. The only real difference is that this is a story that most of us know – or think we know, according to Madonna – already, so it will be much easier to fact-check and tell truth from fiction.
Madonna Louise Ciccone was born in Michigan to Catholic parents. A college dropout, she moved to New York City and began performing as a backup singer and dancer. Her big break as a solo artist came in 1981 with the release of her debut single, Everybody, which became an instant hit. Throughout the 1980’s, Madonna continued to achieve success after success, while simultaneously revamping herself and her image on a regular basis, becoming a controversial figure towards the end of the decade due to her edgy performances and career choices. Nowadays, she has established herself as an activist for a number of issues, and founded the Raising Malawi charitable organization to try and help the nation’s orphans, who struggle with poverty, hunger, and hardship. Importantly to me, she arrived onstage at Eurovision 2019 with a politically-charged performance that had viewers a little confused and more than a little divided over whether to praise her bravado or scratch their own ears out. There’s certainly an entertaining story there.
The big question on everybody’s lips – and the question that earned my tweet about the upcoming biopic a place in the news story’s official Twitter Moment – is who will play the young Madonna. Some have suggested jokingly that Madonna will use de-aging technology to make herself the star: I don’t think that’s likely, so my ideal choice is Emmy-award winner Julia Garner, whose big breakout role in Netflix’s crime-drama Ozark has earned her critical acclaim, and whose effortless ability to rock eccentric, sparkly Met Gala fashion makes her the perfect candidate to pull off Madonna’s many, many, many elaborate costumes. Physically, the actress bears a strong resemblance to a young Madonna as well.
We’ll have to wait and see which direction Madonna and her co-writer Diablo Cody decide to go on, but at the moment I think it’s safe to say that this has quickly become one of the most highly-anticipated musical biopics: at least until a Fleetwood Mac or Led Zeppelin biopic gets announced. Personally, I’m very glad that this means another female musician will get the recognition she deserves on the big screen, and I’m excited to see more biopics like this, especially ones devoted to Black women and women of color in music: an Aretha Franklin biopic is already finished and just waiting for a break in coronavirus to release, and the popularity of the Gladys Knight/Patti LaBelle livestream concert gives me hope that one or both of those outstanding women will be the subject of another film.
What are your feelings on Madonna’s music and legacy, and who would you like to see play her? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Like The Lord Of The Rings before it, Frank Herbert’s science-fiction epic Dune has long been considered “unfilmable”: too huge and complex to ever successfully translate to the big screen. But Peter Jackson achieved the impossible by bringing Tolkien’s masterpiece to life (and in turn, revolutionizing the fantasy genre in Hollywood), and it looks like director Denis Villeneuve will try to do the same for Dune, with a lot of help from his incredible cinematographer Greig Fraser and his all-star cast led by Timothée Chalamet.
Chalamet has made a name for himself in the indie and arthouse scene, and is one of the actors whose name routinely pops up during awards season: but Dune will mark his biggest role to date, as he steps into the shoes of futuristic messiah Paul Atreides, royal scion of House Atreides and heir to the throne of Arrakis, a remote desert planet rich with the resource known as Spice: a dangerous but powerful drug that pretty much everybody in the galaxy wants to get their hands on, either to use it (Spice plays a part in spiritualistic rituals and even interstellar travel) or to control it (due to its rarity, Spice is also extremely expensive and can be heavily taxed when it’s not being smuggled illegally out of Arrakis). Although it’s been a while since I’ve read Dune (it’s probably one of the most inaccessible books ever written), I remember most of the major story beats: Paul, whose entire life is built around a series of prophecies, sets off into Arrakis’ rugged, inhospitable deserts to try and unite the planet’s indigenous people, the Fremen, against the forces of his family’s sworn enemies, the tyrannical Harkonnens, when the latter clan arrives with the intention of conquering Arrakis and winning control of the Spice. At some point, I suppose I’ll have to reread the book, but that’s the general concept: from there, it gets bigger and bigger until it becomes a cautionary tale about ecological disaster (an issue it tackles head-on and spectacularly) and religion (an issue it tackles boldly but with less success, due to its reliance on tropes regarding indigenous cultures).
For most people, the image that comes to mind when they think Dune (assuming they know about the book at all, which might be rarer now than it would be in 1965, when the novel became an instant cult classic) is that of the terrifying Sandworms, gargantuan beasts that roam beneath the deserts of Arrakis and are worshiped as divine beings by the native Fremen. Appropriately, the first trailer for Villeneuve’s Dune holds off on the reveal of the Sandworms until the very end, when one suddenly erupts from the sand and rises over Paul. I love the new design: it looks awe-inspiring but also frightening in the best way possible. I would have maybe liked it to be a little bigger, but it’s possible that, like an iceberg, more of it is concealed beneath the sand than is visible above the surface.
The trailer intersperses scenes of desert warfare and high-tech weaponry with beautiful shots of Arrakis’ deserts and the already radiant cast: from Rebecca Ferguson to Zendaya to Jason Momoa to Oscar Isaac (and Oscar Issac’s impressive beard, which I count as an entire supporting character), there’s not an unattractive person on this planet. And Greig Fraser, Villeneuve’s cinematographer, has captured it all in the very best lighting with hazy, orange and blue overtones (orange and blue is a color combo proven to attract attention, and it never fails to do just that). Fraser’s job is made a lot easier by the fact that, canonically, Spice turns human eyes a vivid shade of blue. Visually, this trailer is nothing short of stunning.
With regards to the story, it will be interesting to see whether or not Villeneuve has streamlined the book’s plot dramatically or fixed some of its major problems, particularly….well, the entire plot, which isn’t a white savior narrative in the usual sense, but still “has many of the same discomfiting hallmarks that we see replicated again and again”, to quote from a recent, brilliantly-written breakdown of the book’s dealings with issues of race, gender and sexuality. Getting into that issue would require talking about spoilers for the book, so I’m not going to get into that conversation here, but suffice it to say that the Fremen (who, remember, are based off an amalgamation of various Native American, Middle Eastern and African cultures) and their interactions with Paul Atreides veer dangerously close to white saviorism for reasons that are not only difficult to explain, but downright disturbing. That’s why I’m hoping there’s just as much focus on the diverse supporting cast as there is on Paul: the Fremen, in particular, but also Paul’s mother (the sorceress/concubine Lady Jessica), and his love interest (the desert warrior Chani). Surprisingly, the trailer doesn’t give much screentime to Jessica (despite her being a major character in the books), but Chani’s role does seem to have been expanded – the trailer even starts with her meeting Paul in one of his prophetic dreams and the two exchanging a heartfelt kiss, before later reuniting in real life. There’s still no word on whether the villainous Baron Harkonnen will be depicted as he is in the books, as a grotesque, homophobic caricature who preys on younger men, but I have to hope that’s not the case.
But while it’s still too early to tell how similar Villeneuve’s Dune is to Frank Herbert’s original novel, it’s not too early to guess that this movie will generate a lot of conversation heading into next year’s awards season, thanks to the out-of-this-world special effects, cinematography, production design, direction and cast. Hopefully it generates just as much money at the box-office, but that will depend on how successfully it has updated its controversial and complicated story. In a year like 2020 (or, in fact, in any year), the last thing we need is a white savior.
Director Francis Lee managed to make the lives of English sheep-herders look downright sensual in God’s Own Country, so it’s somehow no surprise that his next feature film project, Ammonite, stars two 19th Century English paleontologists passionately courting each other in between long walks on the windswept beaches of Lyme Regis, searching for fossil fragments. Despite how seemingly bizarre the concept might be, it’s the chemistry between Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan (moving from one period piece, Little Women, to another) that is going to carry this film to what could easily be a slew of Oscar nominations.
Winslet plays an actual historical figure, English paleontologist Mary Anning, one of the most remarkable women working in science during her era: though she made numerous important discoveries during her lifetime, she was undermined at every turn by men who took her work and gave her little to no credit, and she suffered from financial difficulties until her death in 1847. To make ends meet, she opened a fossil and seashell shop for tourists – but the fossil-hunting business was surprisingly risky (she was nearly killed during a landslide on one occasion). Her hard work and perseverance eventually won her the respect she deserved after her passing. Ammonite follows her during her bleak later years. Ronan, meanwhile, plays Mary Anning’s younger apprentice, the real-life Charlotte Murchison, who suffers from “melancholia” and hates the sea, at least initially. The two women couldn’t be more different, but eventually find themselves falling deeply, hopelessly in love with the other. There is no concrete evidence that Anning and Murchison were lovers in actuality, or that either was a lesbian, as Ammonite suggests, but when the topic came up last year (after one of Anning’s distant relatives expressed her displeasure with the idea), Francis Lee wrote that: “After seeing queer history be routinely “straightened” throughout culture, and given a historical figure where there is no evidence whatsoever of a heterosexual relationship, is it not permissible to view that person within another context?”. Lee is correct that Anning never married, and is not known to have had any relationships with men, whereas her close and long-lasting bonds with the women in her life are well-documented.
Whether Anning and Murchison were or were not lesbians and/or in love, Ammonite still looks like an excellently made film with a clearer vision and a tighter, more well-written story than God’s Own Country: and it’s sure to be a big hit amongst fans of the “cottagecore” aesthetic. For those unaware, “cottagecore” refers to the escapist fantasy of living harmoniously with nature by enjoying a simple life that can include past-times such as baking, gardening, knitting, and, yes, living in tiny cottages, and it is particularly popular with LGBTQ+ folks, especially lesbians and queer women. If there’s a “maritime cottagecore” subgenre of the aesthetic, then Ammonite conveys it perfectly: brisk walks along the beach; houses perched on cliffsides; lots and lots of fossils and shells (interestingly, although it’s never been confirmed, Mary Anning is sometimes said to be the inspiration for the “She Sells Seashells” nursery rhyme; just something to keep in mind); and, just as importantly, a lesbian romance. Those interested in learning more about “cottagecore” and its prominence in LGBTQ+ culture should definitely check out Rowan Ellis’ deep-dive into the aesthetic’s origins and meanings.
Basically, it’s a good time to be alive if you’re a fan of “cottagecore”, LGBTQ+ friendly content, historical fiction, romance, women in science, paleontology, geology, Kate Winslet or Saoirse Ronan (who isn’t a fan of Saoirse Ronan at this point?). Somehow all of those elements work together very nicely, and I’m excited to see if Francis Lee has progressed enough as a director (I really didn’t like God’s Own Country) that he can make this understated romance pop onscreen and attract all the media attention it will need to start a strong Oscars campaign. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, a French film from last year which followed a very similar concept (two women meet on a beautiful coastline and fall in love while bonding over art) was a fan-favorite but failed to score even a single nomination from the Academy. Ammonite, luckily, has Winslet (an Oscar winner and six-time nominee) and Ronan (a four-time nominee) as its secret weapons. Fingers crossed that their fossil-hunting expedition proves fortuitous for everyone involved!
So no, not quite the total reboot that many of us had been hoping for: Tron 3, as it’s being referred to (though there’s a possibility the title is Tron: Ares, which is…something), will indeed follow the events of Tron: Legacy, the poorly-written sequel that tarnished the brand’s reputation and halted the franchise dead in its tracks for years. That means we will probably be forced to resume where we left off with our protagonist, the average straight white guy played by Garret Hedlund, whose character name I’ve completely forgotten despite having watched this film extremely recently (if I had to guess, it’s probably Jake; it’s always Jake), and Olivia Wilde’s Quorra, a Grid resident who escaped from the destruction of the cyber world at the end of the second film and now lives in the real world. Jeff Bridges will likely return as both Kevin Flynn and his villainous clone Clu, because there’s no way either one actually died in that blinding flash of white light, and Tron himself is probably due for a return, having finally overridden his malevolent programming before crashing into water and definitely not drowning. Bruce Boxleitner will probably be back, and Cindy Morgan, as before, will probably be left out of everything.
But despite accumulating so much star power, the people over at Disney apparently felt like a little more was needed – so they settled upon Jared Leto. Leto, an Academy Award winner, has been circling a lead role in the Tron franchise for years, long before this third film was greenlit, but it appears to be official as of today: he will star, in an as yet undisclosed role. Nobody appears to be very happy about this news, and Disney would probably be wise to take note of the general dissatisfaction with this peculiar casting before they go through with it, but they’ve never been very wise when it comes to managing the Tron brand, so this latest misstep is hardly a surprise. Leto is not a bad actor, by any means, but the horror stories about his particular form of method acting have done a lot to ruin his reputation, and have already sparked a deluge of fair complaints on social media. Thus, what could have been a joyous occasion for Tron fans has now been almost irreparably tainted.
Fortunately, there is a little bit of good news to come out of this. Though it’s a less flashy headline than Jared Leto’s attachment to Tron 3, a director has also been selected for the third film. Garth Davis, an indie director best known for his Oscar-nominated 2016 drama Lion, “aggressively pursued the job”, according to Deadline, and seems to have succeeded in his mission. Whether Davis will be able to combine visual spectacle with top-notch storytelling remains to be seen, but it’s at least a welcome change of pace for the franchise, which needs to find some way to achieve that balance again. Tron: Legacy tried to use dazzling blue CGI (seriously, everything in that movie is neon blue: it’s pretty at first, but it gets old real fast) and nostalgic music to disguise its heavy reliance on stale tropes, one-dimensional characters, and meager use of both Cillian Murphy and Michael Sheen’s talents, but fans saw right through it.
So what do you think? Are you excited for Tron 3? More so or less so because Jared Leto is attached to star? Share your thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Ageism (particularly aimed at women) is, has always been, and will continue to be a huge problem in Hollywood – but I have to admit, I’m shocked that a studio as universally beloved as Aardman Animations would ever entertain the notion of recasting one of their most iconic characters simply because the original voice actress is “too old” for the role. That’s right: Julia Sawalha, the voice of Chicken Run‘s lovable protagonist Ginger, will not be returning for the film’s sequel, but will be recast with a younger actress whom Aardman hopes will be more recognizable to modern moviegoers.
This is massively disappointing news for several reasons. For one thing, I was very excited to see what a Chicken Run sequel would be like – it’s been twenty years since the original animated film about chickens trying to escape from homicidal pie-makers opened in theaters, and the thought of seeing a continuation to that story had me over the moon, especially when it was announced that Aardman would be teaming up with Netflix to make sure the sequel got a mainstream release. There was never any doubt in my mind that one of the original film’s lead voice actors, Mel Gibson, would be recast for the sequel because he’s been wallowing in controversy for years (even as recent as last month, Winona Ryder accused him of making both blatantly anti-Semitic and homophobic comments in her presence), and indeed, Sawalha noted that he is not being asked to return either: but what did Julia Sawalha ever do that would cause her to be recast? Well, she aged, and – oh wait, that’s it?
Sawalha is 51, still younger than a number of male actors who are always getting asked to return for franchise reboots and remakes. And as she proved unequivocally in a side-by-side comparison video she provided to Chicken Run 2 producers (since she wasn’t even allowed to go through a proper voice test before Aardman made the decision to cut her from the film), her voice hasn’t changed substantially in the past twenty years: there are several points in the video where it’s impossible to distinguish between thirty-one year old Sawalha and fifty-one year old Sawalha. And need I remind Aardman that this is a sequel they’re making? As in, a movie which takes place after the events of the first film?
But logic isn’t going to win a fight against something as insidious as ageism. I discussed this just a few days ago in my review of 1982’s Tron, where I talked about how the film’s male leads were allowed to return for the 2010 sequel – but female lead Cindy Morgan never even got so much as a phone-call from Disney. Unfortunately, this is a problem that comes up time and time again. There’s always an excuse – in Sawalha’s case, it’s because Aardman wants the film to appeal to a younger crowd, and is looking for an actress with more name recognition: though I’m sure they’ll have a hard time finding anyone who wants to touch this role with a ten-foot pole, considering the circumstances under which it’s been vacated – but it’s time we stopped allowing these excuses to fly. Julia Sawalha is Ginger. She shouldn’t be recast when there’s absolutely no reason to do so.
I’m very disappointed with Aardman Animations. I’m suddenly very uninterested in the notion of a Chicken Run 2. I’m extremely sorry for Sawalha, who helped to create the character of Ginger and now will get no say in the next chapter of her story. And, above all, I’m upset that Hollywood continues to deny work opportunities to actors (but let’s not fool ourselves, this mostly happens to actresses) once they hit a certain age. At this point, the best we can do is petition Aardman to change their minds – and the internet has already rallied loudly and passionately around Sawalha, so it’s not impossible: though I doubt Sawalha herself would feel comfortable working on the film.
What do you think about this casting controversy, and do you still plan on watching Chicken Run 2 even without Julia Sawalha? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments.
Because of the recent news that the Tron franchise is apparently still a priority at Disney and plans for franchise-expanding sequels or reboots are still underway, I thought it might be interesting to take a circuitous stroll back down memory lane and revisit one of the strangest movies from what is often considered Disney’s Dark Age, in the early 1980’s. This era of the studio’s long and storied history isn’t known for producing a whole bunch of timeless classics (if there are any hardcore fans of The Black Cauldron out there, I’d love to know about them), nor box-office hits – but how do you even begin to describe Tron? The needlessly convoluted sci-fi adventure flick about glow-in-the-dark humanoid computer programs fighting to overthrow their tyrannical leadership doesn’t seem to fit neatly into any box, and so of course it has acquired a kind of well-earned cult classic status over the years – even leading to the creation of a poorly-received sequel in 2010 which, while not a box-office flop, failed to recapture much of what made the original film so…bizarrely endearing.
There are so many things wrong with Tron from a storytelling standpoint, and yet, despite quickly falling into the classic sci-fi/fantasy trap of trying to seduce the audience with incredibly complex world building instead of, you know, a particularly good story, or well developed characters (though, considering how badly the sequel’s attempts at character development went over, perhaps we weren’t missing anything anyway?), somehow it still works – or at the very least, it works about as well as a movie about warring sentient computer programs possibly could in 1982, at the very dawn of the age of special effects. Knowing some of the story about the cutting edge technology used to create the sprawling electronic landscape of The Grid (which, to the modern viewer’s eye, probably just resembles partly-completed digital artwork of Flatland) definitely helps to make the movie interesting from a cinephile’s point of view: its influence on CGI is far less well known than the influence of, say, The Little Mermaid on animation, but the two films are arguably comparable in terms of the lasting impact they made on the industry. The difference is that The Little Mermaid was a juggernaut that almost immediately birthed an unstoppable Disney renaissance – Tron was a financial disaster for the company that was snubbed at the Oscars for the Special Effects award it clearly deserved, apparently because Academy voters thought using computers was cheating.
That doesn’t make the work that went into designing Tron any less commendable, however. The film was born out of an idea to create a neon gladiator mascot for the fledgling Lisberger Studios, which felt that the character needed a starring vehicle to sell him to audiences and establish the studio’s brand – ironically, the cost of making the film became so high that Lisberger Studios had to turn to Disney for help with financing and marketing. In a classic case of studios being afraid to invest too heavily in something radically new, Disney allowed them to make the movie but decided not to give it the marketing push it also needed until too late in the game. Behind the scenes, the process of designing the world of Tron using rotoscoping and the even more grueling technique of backlit animation (which gives the movie its one-of-a-kind glow in the dark look) had to be fast-tracked to meet its release date, with director Steven Lisberger eventually having to hire a whole separate team of animators from Taiwan to ease the stress on his own employees. Miraculously, they managed to get the job done within nine months, a true credit to the power of teamwork.
But on its own, separated from its later impact and the behind-the-scenes work that went into it, just looking at the finished film as a whole: does it hold up? That’s a bit of a harder question to answer. As I said, Tron has a lot of story issues – the audience gets handed a whole bunch of information about the cyber world right up front, and is then expected to retain all that information for the next thirty minutes, while we watch the Real World storyline play out (which itself is pretty complicated). Then the Real World completely ceases to exist as far as the movie is concerned, and we’re plunged into The Grid, where computers wage brutal warfare against each other: highly ritualistic warfare involving motor-bike/smart car hybrids, but warfare nonetheless. There are solar sailers to be flown, beacons to be lit, and electric blue water to drink (I bring that up because there’s one scene of the main characters drinking said water that seems to go on for way longer than it probably needs to). It’s all very confusing.
Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner lead the cast of mostly identical white men trapped in glowing outfits with ridiculously oversized helmets, most of whom wield Frisbees to complete the look (a look which somehow warranted an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design). Bridges’ character, brilliant programmer and arcade video game champion Kevin Flynn, is supposedly the star of the movie, though there’s no good reason for why that is when Boxleitner’s character (dissatisfied ENCOM employee Allan Ward in the real world, legendary hero Tron on The Grid) has his name in the title, has just as much if not more plot agency than Bridges’, and actually is the clear male lead for the first thirty minutes of the movie. It’s like if Star Wars: A New Hope started out being about Luke Skywalker and then changed to become Han Solo’s story partway through (interestingly, there’s actually several similarities between Kevin Flynn and Han Solo, particularly in the sequel). David Warner gives the best performance in the film as the sinister E. Dillinger, President of the ENCOM company (in his Grid form as Sark, he comes off as a sad Darth Vader ripoff). As a side note: whenever Warner’s Dillinger was onscreen, I was constantly distracted by the nagging thought that, if Disney ever reboots this franchise, they absolutely need Ben Mendelsohn for this villainous role. Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan), the female lead, shows a lot of potential as a spunky scientist, but of course this is the 80’s, so it’s not long before she trades in her intelligent and pro-active role for the part of demure, soft-spoken damsel Yori. In keeping with the Hollywood tradition of rebooting classic franchises with the original male leads but conveniently forgetting to bring back the female leads, both versions of Morgan’s character were dropped for the sequel, despite her repeated efforts to try and contact Disney.
On the flip-side, two women played an integral role in giving Tron the eerie techno vibe we know and love: composer Wendy Carlos, an openly trans woman best known for her work on A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, collaborated with Annemarie Franklin on the score – parts of which, unfortunately, were removed by Disney and replaced with songs by Journey: the rock band’s contributions to the film were honored in the sequel via a slightly random use of the song “Separate Ways”. But Carlos’ iconic score is still a lasting testament, like all her work, to the often underappreciated achievements of trans people in the film industry.
I, for one, am glad that Tron will be getting another chance at proving its value to modern audiences: moviegoers (or, quite possibly, Disney+ subscribers) deserve a chance to see more stories from The Grid, told with the best new technology available to the studio, and longtime fans of the franchise deserve a continuation of a series that has been pretty much dead for a long time. We all deserve a little more Tron in our lives.
SPOILERS FOR HARLEY QUINN SEASON 2 AND SHE-RA SEASON 5!
Happy Pride Month! As we begin to celebrate the history and culture of the LGBTQ+ community, I thought it would be interesting to look at what the community has accomplished already in 2020, through the mediums of TV and film. Though coronavirus has prevented many inclusive films from making it to theaters this year, there are still plenty that did get there before the world went on lockdown, and many more that have released on streaming. For this breakdown, we’ll be looking at the setbacks the LGBTQ+ community suffered early in the year, and three outstanding breakthroughs in representation that both occurred just last month which could signal big changes in the industry.
Of course, I should note that this is not, by any means, a comprehensive list of every film or TV series released this year that touches on any of these issues – this is merely a discussion of some especially significant incidents spanning the course of the past several months, which I feel present a fairly accurate depiction of the year’s many ups and downs as a whole.
In February, Marvel’s rival DC had a golden opportunity to explicitly confirm that one of their most major characters was canonically LGBTQ+ – but instead, their hyped-up zany comedy Birds Of Prey danced around the issue of sexuality, giving only eagle-eyed viewers a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nod to lead character Harley Quinn’s bisexuality in an animated sequence, while simultaneously hinting through stereotypical mannerisms that flamboyant, misogynistic villain Roman Sionis and his partner-in-crime were a gay couple. A lesbian character in the film, Renee Montoya, did play a large role and had an ex-girlfriend who also showed up, which makes Birds Of Prey something of a “one step forward, two steps backward” sort of situation.
Around the same time, the Disney+ streaming platform came under fire for a slew of reasons, most of which involved the service’s attempts to whittle down their roster of upcoming original content in a manner which many saw as discriminatory towards series’ with a focus on LGBTQ+ issues. While Disney+ didn’t do this with all of their shows (High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and Diary Of A Future President both featured openly LGBTQ+ characters), they did make the decision to move their hotly-anticipated Love, Victor (a spinoff of 20th Century Fox’s successful gay romance Love, Simon, obtained during the Disney/Fox merger) to Hulu, deeming it too mature for their own platform. One of the service’s most high-profile original series’, a sequel to the Lizzie McGuire Disney Channel series, was shut down entirely – with some sources saying that it was due to the way in which the story tackled matters of sexuality. It didn’t take long before the whole situation had raised a very interesting discussion about what is “family-friendly”, but that hasn’t saved Love, Victor from heading to Hulu, nor has it resurrected Lizzie McGuire.
In March, as the world started falling apart thanks to coronavirus, the Pixar film Onward was lost in the catastrophe, and moviegoers barely had any time to acknowledge the fantastic animated feature or its moment of LGBTQ+ representation – a moment that would have been great, had it not been leaked to the press by eager journalists prior to the film’s release and subsequently massively overhyped. In the film, a cop played by openly lesbian actress Lena Waithe briefly mentions her girlfriend in a single line of dialogue. Despite how brief the moment was, the film was still boycotted by conservative groups like One Million Moms and banned by several Middle Eastern nations.
Within a few weeks, the coronavirus had already caused major shifts in the film industry: films were being reshuffled across the board, movie theaters around the globe were shutting down and studios were hurrying to push all their upcoming or recently released content onto streaming. Unfortunately, one notable victim of all the release date rearrangements was Marvel’s The Eternals, a film already remarkable for its diverse cast. The superhero epic directed by Asian-American indie icon Chloe Zhao is set to feature the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first gay couple, and was supposed to release in November of this year. Sadly, the film has now been pushed back to February of 2021, meaning we will have to wait even longer before we can find out what Lebanese actor Haaz Sleiman was talking about when he said that there’s a gay kiss in the film that’s so emotional it made people on-set begin crying. Another Disney film, Jungle Cruise, was delayed an entire year, and will now be opening in summer, 2021: though it’s been invisible in the film’s marketing so far, Jungle Cruise is supposed to introduce Disney Studios’ first openly gay character – which is already somewhat controversial, as Disney couldn’t even be bothered to find an openly gay actor to play the role, rumors say that the character’s depiction is “hugely effete”, and test screenings apparently revealed that the character has a coming out scene in which he never actually states that he is LGBTQ+. Perhaps a delay for that movie wouldn’t be a bad thing, as it could allow them to do some much-needed reshoots.
But not everything has been all gloom and doom. The past month has introduced a wave of new representation: some of it from DC Universe, some from Netflix, some, most shockingly, from Disney+ – all of it through the form of animation.
In the first instance, DC Universe’s Harley Quinn animated series rectified Birds Of Prey‘s glaring omission by adhering to comics canon and having Harley Quinn and fellow Gotham City supervillain Poison Ivy begin a tentative relationship, which has even resulted in the two sharing a kiss. The duo now have to sort out their messy, complicated feelings for each other, and that’s great. It’s the first time the relationship, which was wildly popular in the comics, has been represented onscreen – and fans are already enjoying the canonization of the pairing, which they have labeled “Harlivy”.
However, something that sets Harley Quinn apart is that the series is exclusively for adults, meaning that its audience is necessarily limited. That’s not a problem that faces Netflix and DreamWorks, whose collaboration on the animated reboot of She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power is something that can be enjoyed by all ages – the fifth and final season premiered on the streaming service just recently, and made the hopes and dreams of the series’ many LGBTQ+ fans finally come true when lead characters Adora (a.k.a. She-Ra, Princess of Power) and Catra rekindled their friendship: which turned into a slow-burn romance, which culminated in the two confessing their love for each other in the series finale, kissing, and saving the world with the power of love. That, my friends, is representation done right – because as much as I enjoy seeing “casual” representation (such as the cop from Onward, who simply mentions her girlfriend without making it a big deal), I infinitely prefer seeing characters whose sexuality or gender identity is something that actually helps to define who they are. And with Adora and Catra, whose relationship has been at the heart of She-Ra for all five seasons, it made complete sense that their love would play a huge part in the conclusion to the story – and it did, because showrunner Noelle Stevenson is a brave, brilliant genius, who fought to make sure that she wouldn’t have to pull a Legend Of Korra on her fans and just have Adora and Catra hold hands and/or gaze platonically at each other.
Finally, we have to talk about Out. Though Disney+ is still new and working out many of its flaws, they did just recently make a big step forward – or rather, Pixar did it for them and Disney+ gets to take the credit: Out, the newest of Pixar’s animated Sparkshorts which debuted exclusively on the streaming platform, follows a gay man in an interracial relationship as he struggles to come out to his parents. Even though the story involves an unpredictable magical mishap and a lot of dog humor, it never loses sight of its true focus, which is a heartwarming message of acceptance. The short, which clocks in at around nine minutes long, is an understated milestone, becoming the first Pixar story to star a gay lead – and much to its credit, enjoyed a spot on Disney+’s top trending section, which shows that audiences are curious and eager for more content like this.
And so, as we head into Pride Month coming off of small successes like Harley Quinn, She-Ra and Out, I must ask of all my readers that you keep fighting for change in any way you can: whether that means demanding more LGBTQ+ representation from Hollywood, or protesting police brutality because black lives matter – or, preferably, by doing both. One day, we will see that change, and it will come from people like you. 2020 is a wake-up call for all of us: to fight harder. To do better.
Christopher Nolan’s latest mind-boggling, reality-bending action epic, TENET, is bizarre in every manner, from the details of its time-twisting plot to its marketing strategy. But a new trailer has just been released for the upcoming (?) film, and it gives us a clearer idea of whether this will be a pop-culture phenomenon on the level of Nolan’s Inception, and how crucial a role TENET will play in the fight to get back on track after coronavirus.
TENET has always been slated for a release this summer, near the end of July – but now, with the coronavirus crisis still making potential moviegoers anxious about the idea of packing into crowded auditoriums, the film is stuck between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, if it keeps its July release date, it will enjoy an insanely high number of available screens to debut on across the United States (due to it likely being the first mainstream film to open after lockdowns on movie theaters are lifted); however, if audiences aren’t keen on risking their lives to go see the film, it will likely flop anyway. This new trailer conveniently tiptoes around the subject of its dangerous release date, simply informing us that TENET is indeed “Coming To Theaters” without giving us an idea of when that will be. Not exactly a show of confidence, though very clear proof that Nolan subscribes to the Martin Scorsese school of thought with regards to streaming vs theatrical releases.
Then there’s the peculiar way in which Nolan chose to debut this film, through a live watch-along party on the massive online RPG Fortnite, which is increasingly being used by Hollywood studios to tie-in to upcoming event films – though never quite like this. While the trailer was available to view on most other platforms soon afterwards, there was a bit of anxiety about that as well, considering how Nolan seemed to suggest that viewing the trailer on a proper theater screen (even if said screen is technically a screen within a screen, in an online video game) was the only right way to witness it. Why he decided this is a bit unclear and the choice is…random, to say the least, but now that I think about it, perhaps it was the “screen within a screen” aspect that appealed to Nolan’s sensibilities? – after all, Inception was all about dreams within dreams (within dreams, within dreams, within dreams), and TENET appears to be all about time-loops within time-loops.
Unfortunately, even after watching the trailer three times in a row, that’s still the most I can decipher about its plot. John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, both fashionably dressed, lead a cast which also includes Michael Caine, Elizabeth Debicki, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Kenneth Branagh. They all appear to be fighting to prevent something “worse” than Armageddon – an intriguing idea left only to the viewer’s imagination, since the worst things we see from the trailer are objects moving backwards at high speed. Washington and Pattinson have some witty banter where they joke about not being able to understand what’s going on – but unfortunately I’m right alongside them, unable to figure out what the time-loop does, why it causes (or will cause, or already did cause?) World War III, or whether audiences will feel like this is worth their time.
Now, I’m not saying Nolan shouldn’t aim to be intellectual with his film-making – it’s his specialty. But is a deep-thinking, intellectual drama about time inversion going to be the thing that gets general moviegoers to work up the confidence and courage to return to theaters? And can anyone tell me why it’s even remotely a good fit for an online gaming platform? I get the feeling I’m supposed to be confused by TENET itself, but am I supposed to be confused by its marketing strategy as well?
Perhaps it is for the best if TENET misses its original release date and opens at a later date, after audiences have comfortably re-adapted to the theater experience and are willing to take a chance on a film like this.
What about you? How did you feel about the trailer, and when would you release TENET, if it were up to you? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
The epic tale of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, one of the most legendary stories of chivalry, honor and valor to come out of King Arthur’s court, is absolutely not the sort of thing one would expect to be turned into a surreal horror/dark fantasy thriller, but you know what? It just might work.
Dev Patel stars in the first trailer for this spooky retelling of the Medieval legend, which tells the story of a young knight in Camelot who is challenged to a duel by the terrifying Green Knight, and has to prove his worthiness through a series of tests. The best version of the epic, naturally, is the translation by English author J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m not sure which version director David Lowery is drawing from, or whether he’s taking bits and pieces of all the best translations and then adding mostly new content, but he appears to be leaning into the story’s pagan origins (pagan horror is a genre that has just recently begun to flourish, with the success of Midsommar, and pagan Medieval horror is a genre I don’t know if anybody has touched upon yet), and using this story to highlight just how many Christian traditions and legends are rooted in paganism. At least, I’m guessing that’s why we see kings wearing burning halos in this trailer, and Christian Medieval life threatened by apparitions, spectral visitors and horrors in the dark.
The Green Knight himself, Sir Gawain’s sworn enemy, is a sight to behold: he wields a huge battle-axe, and has a face carved from wood, with a bristly, twiggy beard. Retellings of the tale have always struggled to define what he is: Tolkien called him the “most difficult character” in the entire poem, and other scholars have alternately described him as a version of the Green Man of Celtic mythology, the Devil, an amalgamation of the Greek god Hades and Jesus, or a character rife with homosexual symbolism. So, um…take your pick, I guess?
So will you be going to see this creepy take on a Camelot classic? And what do you think of Dev Patel as Sir Gawain? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
Director Wes Anderson is back in the game with his boldest, brightest, most bizarre project yet: The French Dispatch, a film anthology of stories from a fictional newspaper (loosely based on The New Yorker) operating out of a fictional French city (obviously based on Paris) in the middle of the 20th Century, playing witness to some of the most explosive moments in the nation’s history. The abstract and absurdist comedy stars a massive cast of A-list talent, and employs a number of curious camera-tricks, as well as being partly shot in black-and-white.
Bill Murray stars as the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, who went on a holiday and never came back to his home-state of Kansas: instead, he turned his travelogue column into The French Dispatch, which appears to be a semi-satirical weekly newspaper chronicling “world politics, the arts (high and low), and diverse stories of human interest”. He is surrounded by a star-studded cast playing his small army of editors, journalists, columnists, sources and the local characters they interact with on the streets of Paris, including Tilda Swinton (wearing a very bright orange wig), Benicio Del Toro as an artist imprisoned in a padded cell, Frances McDormand, Jeffrey Wright, Adrien Brody, Timothée Chalamet already working on his Bob Dylan impersonation, Léa Seydoux as a stone-cold police officer, Owen Wilson, Mathieu Amalric, Liev Schrieber, Elisabeth Moss, Kate Winslet, Edward Norton, Willem Dafoe, Christoph Waltz, Henry Winkler and Saoirse Ronan, among many others. Not all of this cast are comedians, but all of them look like they’re about to be.
This trailer certainly makes it look like The French Dispatch will be a memorable cinematic experience – not only because of its extraordinarily weird cinematography and quirky visuals, but because I can’t wait to see the interactions between this amazing cast: Tilda Swinton and Henry Winkler in the same movie? Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan reunited onscreen for the umpteenth time? Count me in.
So what do you think? Does The French Dispatch look too weird for your taste, or do you think this looks stupendously strange? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!
A century and a half has passed since Louisa May Alcott first set pen to paper and sat down to write the semi-autobiographical story of four sisters’ journeys towards adulthood, but the tale of the “little women” is still just as relevant and iconic nowadays as it was back in 1868. And visionary director Greta Gerwig has lovingly (and masterfully) crafted an adaptation of Alcott’s classic that is not only faithful to the original book, but more in line with both modern sensibilities and Alcott’s own feminist philosophy than any previous iteration.
Gerwig has, first and foremost, chosen to tell the story in a non-linear fashion: while this decision may confuse the unwary (which is why I’m warning you in advance), it is a conscious choice that enables Gerwig to have what are essentially two stories simultaneously playing out onscreen, linked through flashbacks, flash-forwards, and what some may view as a bit of fourth-wall breaking – one story being the first half of the novel Little Women, covering the March sisters’ adolescence and happy, hazy childhood, awash in golden lighting; the other being the novel’s latter half, the grimmer, bleaker post-Civil War era, in which the March sisters have all grown up and gone their separate ways, and heroine Jo March (Saoirse Ronan) is beginning to more closely resemble Alcott herself. But while this might at first appear to be a narrative trick to keep the story compelling, it becomes clear in the film’s final minutes that there’s a shockingly exciting reason for the non-linear structure, one that will make Gerwig’s Little Women a topic for debate for many years to come. Keep your eyes peeled, for Gerwig drops plenty of clues and hints as to what’s coming in the finale, but you still might be caught off-guard if you’re not looking – or you might even miss it altogether.
Little Women is beloved because of its cast of extremely relatable and interesting characters, many of whom are best known to movie-lovers through the 1994 adaptation of the novel that starred Winona Ryder as the rebellious, free-spirited heroine, and a young Christian Bale as her love interest, charming, carefree Laurie. But Gerwig’s Jo and Laurie are slightly more modernized than the prim and proper couple of that film: Laurie, here excellently portrayed by rising star Timothée Chalamet, is a gentle, easygoing, and somewhat gender-neutral character who feels like the perfect soulmate to Saoirse Ronan’s socially awkward but passionate Jo – neither is entirely comfortable within the constraints laid upon them by their gender, but neither can do anything but fight the system in small ways – whether that means marrying for love or trying to establish their own place in the world. To reinforce the essentially gender-fluid relationship between the stars, Gerwig even had Ronan and Chalamet swap articles of clothing onset in order to break down the boundaries between them.
Personally, I’ve always been a huge fan of Jo March: it’s sort of a mandatory thing, I think, for most writers. We love her not just because of how sympathetic her daily struggles are, but because of how she chooses to use the written word as a weapon in her fight – hers is a pen far mightier than any sword.
But Gerwig also allows the other March siblings to have their chance to shine: romantic, idealistic Meg (Emma Watson) is finally given a leg to stand on in her ongoing struggle with her character’s critics and detractors, who have always claimed she’s the least feminist of the sisters, and the most outdated in this modern age. Petty, vainglorious Amy (Florence Pugh) is actually respectable in Gerwig’s film – yes, she’s still a brat, but she’s also forced to grow up too quickly and bear a heavy burden upon her shoulders; she’s the only one of the March sisters who has a chance of marrying well, and for women in Alcott’s era, marriage was a woman’s only respectable method of achieving success. Amy’s speech to Laurie in which she details all the ways in which marriage is nothing but “an economic proposition” is one of the film’s most powerful scenes. Then there’s poor Beth (Eliza Scanlen), who is crucial to the story’s plot but still never quite rises above being the shy, pious outlier in the group without very much to say or do.
On the sidelines, Laura Dern and Meryl Streep have small but excellent performances as Marmee and Aunt March, respectively. Streep, especially, is a delightful addition to the cast with her biting wit, passive aggressive humor, and dainty mannerisms. Louis Garrel has the thankless job of portraying Professor Friedrich Bhaer, one of the most purposefully disappointing characters in Alcott’s novel, but he plays the role as well as he possibly can.
Little Women is also an exceptionally beautiful film, with a myriad of dreamy, pastel-colored scenes that look almost like they leaped straight from the painter’s canvas onto the big screen (a special shout-out goes to cinematographer Yorick Le Saux, who apparently had the camera follow the Marches like a “fifth sister”, dancing and twirling with them on their youthful frolics and adventures, giving the audience a chance to feel even more connected to the close-knit cast). The production and costume design are superb: every detail of the March family’s dark, cozy homestead and every accouterment of high-society Parisian fashion is lovingly crafted.
Greta Gerwig deserves the Oscar for Best Director, and the fact that just this morning it was revealed that she is one of a multitude of talented women not on the Academy Awards shortlist for that honor is a travesty. What she has designed, directed and delivered is a love-letter to both Alcott’s novel and to Alcott herself, who was forced to play a part all her life and sacrifice her artistic freedom. A century and a half later, Gerwig has finally done justice to this author’s work in a way that seemed almost unimaginable to me, going into the theater. Little Women is an instant classic, despite how hard Hollywood will try to ignore or downplay this incredible work of art.
A lot of people thought Ryan Reynolds’s signature brand of crazy, edgy, meta humor would be suffocated under the Disney label, but the first trailer for his comedy action movie Free Guy proves that Reynolds isn’t going to be easily dissuaded from doing whatever he wants – including poking fun at the Mouse House in the first few moments of the trailer: the opening title cards read “From the studio that brought you Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King“, followed after a beat by “Twice”). And from there on out, Free Guy looks like a wildly fun, unabashedly ridiculous movie that fans of Reynolds will love.
Reynolds plays an NPC (non-playable character) named Guy, trying to live his life in the background of a gigantic, action-packed video game filled with explosions, car/motorcycle/helicopter/fighter plane crashes, and daily heists and hostage crises at the bank where he works. But one day, he can’t take it anymore, and sets out to change his tiresome routine by becoming the hero of his virtual reality. So basically this movie is what would happen if Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and 20th Century Fox’s Deadpool had a baby – or rather, it is what happens when Disney and 20th Century Fox merge and start making movies together.
The trailer looks comedic and entertaining in a 90’s sort of way, with catchy music, bright colors, and a familiar cast of characters. It looks fun: nothing more, nothing less. I had been expecting something a little more unpredictable, but what we’ve got looks good enough for right now.