Even if the feature film debut from writer/director Robert D. Krzykowski was the single worst film of the year, it would still win the award for the greatest and most honest title of any movie ever: The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot. While this may seem like the title of a winking, silly send up of adventure movies, it is in fact a quite ambitious and straight-ahead action work that also finds ways to weave in more contemplative ideas on aging, missed opportunities, and painfully broken dreams. Read More »
If you’re familiar with the stand-up comedy of Bo Burnham, you might not peg him to be the first candidate to write an emotion-driven comedy about a socially awkward eighth-grade girl who is trying to find her place in a world that she feels has no interest in getting to know her. But ever since its premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, Burnham’s Eighth Grade has been one of the most eagerly anticipated and critically acclaimed independent movies of the year, making its way through the festival circuit and now finally opening to wider audience beginning this weekend (the film is currently in very limited release in New York and Los Angeles).
Eighth Grade doesn’t adhere to a conventional, plot-driven structure, instead allowing Burnham and acting newcomer Elsie Fisher to piece together a compelling and inspirational character study of young Kayla, who lives with her well-meaning, single father (Josh Hamilton) and makes what she probably believes are inspirational YouTube videos about being yourself and having confidence—neither of which Kayla feels comfortable doing. But it becomes clear that these videos are more about boosting her own sense of worth in the world. Burnham places Kayla in a series of scarily authentic and believable situations, some of which make her wildly uncomfortable, while others give her (and the audience) hope that she’s on the verge of breaking out of her shell and becoming the young woman she imagines she is once she hits high school. It’s a film that walks the line between tragedy and comedy with such grace that you might think a more seasoned filmmaker had pulled it off.
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Utah native and rising young actor Millicent Simmonds first garnered a tremendous amount of attention last year, starring as the young deaf girl Rose in Todd Haynes’ delicate and melancholy Wonderstruck. The film was a big-screen debut for Simmonds, who is deaf in real life and had been acting on stage for many years prior in Utah.
But it’s her follow-up role as Regan Abbott in director/co-writer/star John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place earlier this year that got her noticed and praised by the world at large for her portrayal of a character who blames her own affliction for the death of a family member in a world where sound-triggered alien monsters attack with lightning speed. The film is especially interesting because the rest of Regan’s family — played by Krasinski, Emily Blunt and Noah Jupe — must adapt in many way to the world of a deaf person in order to be quiet. American Sign Language is the preferred method of communication and colored warning lights are used to warn other family members of impending danger back at the homestead.
The relationship between Krasinski’s father character, Lee, and Regan is strained, and the anxiety, guilt, and shame is expertly expressed by Simmonds, herself a dedicated advocate and activist for the deaf community, especially in the arts. /Film sat down with the 15-year-old actress in Chicago last week to discuss (through a Sign Language interpreter) the nuances of the role of Regan and her hopes for the types of roles she’s offered moving forward in her career. A Quiet Place will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, 4K Ultra HD, and on various streaming services on Tuesday, July 10.
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Comedian/actor Lil Rel Howery is two things to the core: a Chicagoan and a basketball fan. So when he was asked if he wanted to star in a feature film adaptation of the popular Uncle Drew commercial shorts (all made by Pepsi), with NBA legend Kyrie Irving returning as the titular character, he was quick to say yes without even looking at a script. The film also stars such basketball luminaries as Chris Webber, Reggie Miller, Nate Robinson, Shaquille O’Neal, and the WNBA’s Lisa Leslie, all playing elderly former players, recruited by Howery’s Dax to play in the Rucker Classic street ball tournament in Harlem against much younger players. Uncle Drew also stars Tiffany Haddish as Dax’s ex-girlfriend, who breaks things off with him and immediately begins dating his lifelong arch nemesis on the court, Mookie (Nick Kroll).
Already a prominent comedian throughout Chicago and a rising star nationally since the beginning of the 2000s, Howery beginning getting smaller film roles and starring roles on such series as “The Carmichael Show” and “Insecure.” But it was his role as life-saving TSA agent/best friend Rod Williams in writer/director Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) that served as his calling card performance to the world. In addition to Uncle Drew, Howery has a very funny cameo in the current release Tag, and audiences will see him at the end of the year in director Susanne Bier’s ensemble sci-fi thriller Bird Box, co-starring Sandra Bullock, Sarah Paulson, Jacki Weaver, Trevante Rhodes, David Dastmalchian, and fellow Chicagoan John Malkovich.
/Film spoke with the 38-year-old Howery in Chicago recently about his love and connection to the game of basketball (including the film Space Jam, starring his all-time hero, Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan); how his long-time friendship with Kroll translated into playing bitter enemies in Uncle Drew; and his experience on the Bird Box set. Read More »
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The story behind the new film Tag is so simple and ridiculous, there’s no way it could be real, which of course it is. Based on a Wall Street Journal article about 10 men who have been friends since they were kids, the film concerns a game of tag that has been going on for decades among these folks (streamlined to five players for the movie, played by Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Hannibal Buress and Jake Johnson), who dedicate a single month per year to actively playing. Naturally, the game has also kept these lifelong pals close for a lot longer than most friendships survive, and it’s that emotional core that makes Tag something more than just a silly action comedy.
With a cast this strong (also including Isla Fisher, Rashida Jones, Leslie Bibb and Annabelle Wallis), it’s surprising that the film comes from a first-time feature director, Jeff Tomsic, who comes to the project with many years’ experience producing and directing an array of stand-up specials and comedy series, such as Broad City, This Is Not Happening, and Idiotsitter.
/Film spoke recently with Tomsic about Tag (which is in theaters now) in Chicago, covering how he pulled together such an impressive cast, Renner’s well-reported accident that left him with two broken arms, which insane tagging scenarios in the film were based on real incidents, and how he kept the very silly story rooted in the friendship.
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Paul Schrader began his career in the movies as a film critic, but it wasn’t long before his Calvinist upbringing and his love of contemplative films from the likes of Yasujirô Ozu, Robert Bresson, and Carl Theodor Dreyer brought him to begin working as a screenwriter, mostly telling stories, mostly about lonely men in spiritual or emotional crisis. He became one of the most important writers of the 1970s and 1980s, with such works as Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ; Brian DePalma’s Obsession, and Peter Weir’s The Mosquito Coast, as well as a string of films he directed himself, including Blue Collar, Hardcore, American Gigolo, Cat People, Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters, and Light of Day.
His string of compelling work as writer and/or director continues until today, with such works as Affliction, Auto Focus, Light Sleeper, and Bringing Out the Dead (again, directed by Scorsese). His latest film, First Reformed, is something of a return to form and subject matter for the writer/director, as he centers his story on Toller, a former military chaplain turned priest (Ethan Hawke, in one of the finest performances of his career), who is wracked by grief and guilt over many events in his past, to the point where it has taken on a physical ailment. At his most desperate moment, he meets a parishioner (Amanda Seyfried) whose husband, a radical environmentalist, commits suicide, setting in motion a series of events in Toller’s life that lead him to radicalism as well. In a fair and just world (and maybe if the film were being released later in the year), First Reformed would undoubtedly be part of awards discussions.
/Film spoke with Schrader recently when he accompanied the film to the Chicago Critics Film Festival. The onstage Q&A he did after the screening (co-moderated by this writer) can be viewed here; this interview took place the following day. First Reformed is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, and expands today.
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To dig too deeply into a discussion of Tully, the third film from screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman (after Juno and Young Adult) is to risk taking the shine off the movie’s unique brand of intimate magic. Knowing this makes talking about some of the film’s most impressive and heart-breaking reveals all the more difficult, but it makes repeat viewings of Tully something quite special. The film stars Charlize Theron (following up her work with Reitman in Young Adult) as Marlo, a wife (to Ron Livingston) and mother of three, including a newborn. Being the primary parent in the household has not only drained Marlo of energy and deprived her of sleep, but also she has lost sight of the parts of herself that were special and interesting, as her days are taken over with routine.
Enter Tully (Mackenzie Davis, whose vibrancy practically jumps off the screen), a night nanny, hired by Margo’s well-off brother (Mark Duplass) to take responsibility of the infant while Margo gets a full night’s sleep. But Tully sees her job as not only taking care of the baby but taking care of Marlo’s needs as a human being, and the two form an instant bond as they discuss their lives. Marlo sees a lot of herself in Tully, and Tully views Margo’s life of stability — albeit a little boring — as something to aspire to and not avoid.
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The latest vehicle starring Amy Schumer may appear on the surface to be a romantic comedy about an insecure woman who gets a blow to the head and suddenly sees herself as the most beautiful woman she’s ever seen. However, the heart and soul of I Feel Pretty is the bond Schumer’s Renee has with her long-time best friends Jan (Busy Phillips of Cougar Town and Vice Principals) and Vivian (SNL’s Aidy Bryant, in her follow-up to last year’s The Big Sick).
Marking the directing debut from popular writing team Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein (co-writers on Never Been Kissed, He’s Just Not That Into You, and How to Be Single), I Feel Pretty speaks a sometimes brutal truth about how women’s self-esteems are chipped away systematically on a daily basis by the world at large. But using humor, it also delivers a message about empowering oneself and not giving a toss what the world thinks about you. On top of that, it’s also a sweet love story and a tale of a woman who infiltrates a high-end makeup company and gets them to more effectively market their products to all women.
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Originally published in 1999, Walter Dean Myers’s novel Monster has been a favorite among young-adult readers, using both a third-person screenplay device and first-person diary format to tell the story of honors student Steve Harmon, a black teenager with dreams of becoming a filmmaker, who is arrested and tried for felony murder in New York City after a bodega robbery goes wrong and the owner is killed. Was this kid from a supportive home a part of this crime? Or is he simply guilty of being young, black and on trial when he walks in the courtroom?
Music video veteran and first-time feature director Anthony Mandler has been desperate to bring Monster to the screen for years, and now he’s done so with a cast that includes such heavyweights as Jennifer Ehle, Jeffrey Wright, and Tim Blake Nelson, as well as musicians-turned-actors like Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, Nas, and A$AP Rocky (real name Rakim Mayers) as Harmon’s co-defendant. Told in a non-linear fashion, Monster moves from Harmon’s life just before the crime to his time in prison and the eventual trial, all culminating in a look at the actual events surrounding the robbery. Various versions of the truth are told, and Mandler illustrates how a kid who wanted to capture the reality of his neighborhood got caught up in way he could never have imagined or wanted.
Harmon is played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., best known as the son in last year’s It Comes At Night. However, he was also in the Oscar-nominated Mudbound and was in two other Sundance films this year: Assassination Nation and Monsters and Men. Harrison delivers some truly rage-filled inner monologues in Monster that add a depth and level of frustration to both the character and the experience of watching the film.
This interview with Mandler and Harrison took place at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where Monster debuted. /Film spoke with the two about the process of bringing the novel to the screen and the movie’s fluid definition of “the truth.” Monster has yet to announce a distributor or release date.
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For her second feature at Sundance (after her highly praised 2014 debut Little Accidents), writer/director Sara Colangelo has chosen to remake a four-year-old Israeli drama to examine the dying practice of encouraging and protecting artistic genius. Like the Staten Island educator at the center of this film, The Kindergarten Teacher pushes boundaries and crosses lines as it navigates its way through a tricky story of a five-year-old boy (newcomer Parker Sevak), who shows an unreal gift for poetry, and his teacher, Lisa (a career-best performance by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is also one of the film’s producers), who struggles in her adult-education class to be a poet as well, if only to add a bit of culture to a home life that offers her little by way of intellectual stimulation.
This interview with Colangelo took place at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where The Kindergarten Teacher premiered and earned Colangelo the festival’s Directing Award in the U.S. Dramatic category. /Film spoke with her about the appeal of this difficult story, the decision not to paint her protagonist as mentally unbalanced, and the risk of losing the next Mozart without proper encouragement. The Kindergarten Teacher has yet to announce a distributor or release date.
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