There is so much more we’re going to learn about New Zealand-born actress Thomasin McKenzie in the coming years. With each new role, we see her abilities tested and our expectations exceeded. After a small role in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies when she was barely even a teenager, she continued working in shorts and local television series, until her breakthrough role in 2018 in Debra Granik’s much acclaimed Leave No Trace, opposite Ben Foster.
Not surprisingly, the offers and work came in rapidly, and in 2019, she can be seen in the just released Netflix feature The King, directed by David Michôd and co-starring Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson, in which she plays Henry V’s sister Philippa. At the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, she also starred in the Australian biographical crime drama True History of the Kelly Gang, which presumably will open stateside in 2020. And in September 2020, she’ll be seen in director Edgar Wright’s latest work, Last Night in Soho.
But it’s her current remarkable take as the Jewish teenager Elsa in writer/director Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit that is garnering her significant notices in this World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy named Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis) whose world view is turned upside-down when he discovers his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic.
/Film spoke with McKenzie in Chicago during the recent Chicago International Film Festival, and she discussed the responsibility of playing the only Jewish character in a film set during World War II in Germany, the benefits of shooting chronologically, and why she thinks it’s important this story be told today. Jojo Rabbit is in limited release, opening wider in the coming weeks.
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Actor Michael Shannon has been a staple on the Chicago theater scene for decades, thanks in large part to his regularly appearing in productions at his own A Red Orchid Theatre company, but most of you know Shannon as a film actor, first appearing in smaller roles in such works as Groundhog Day, Chain Reaction, Pearl Harbor, Vanilla Sky, 8 Mile, and World Trade Center. Shannon caught many people’s eyes in the film adaptation of the Tracy Letts’ play Bug, in which Shannon had originally starred. But it was in the late 2000s that he really exploded and became the actor of choice for both new and established directors looking to tap into his intensity and inherent creepiness. He scored major roles in Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Jeff Nichols’ first feature Shotgun Stories (the two have collaborated on every Nichols’ film since, including Take Shelter, Mud, Midnight Special, and Loving).
But it was Shannon’s Oscar-nominated turn in the Sam Mendes-director Revolutionary Road that turned a corner for the actor, who might be best known for playing Nelson Van Alden, the FBI agent turned low-level associate of Al Capone, in five seasons of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and as General Zod in Zack Snyder’s reworking of the Superman legend in Man of Steel. Easily one of the busiest and most in-demand actors working today, Shannon was nominated for his second Academy Award for 2016’s Nocturnal Animals and made quite an impact in Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water, as well as in recent miniseries like Waco and The Little Drummer Girl.
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Odds are you don’t need to be told who John Travolta is, but you may need reminding every few years just why the man is such an icon as both an actor and personality. Depending on your age, you may know him best from different works. For the oldest of the old-school fans, he entered our lives on TV in Welcome Back, Kotter or in such films as Carrie, Saturday Night Fever, and Grease. If your film knowledge doesn’t go back any further than the 1980s, perhaps you know him from Urban Cowboy, Blow Out, or Look Who’s Talking. But Travolta has been working steadily and been fairly beloved thanks to a string of hits in the 1990s that began with Pulp Fiction and continued through Get Shorty, Broken Arrow, Face/Off, and Primary Colors.
His output in the 2000s has been spotty, but every so often he gives us a Swordfish or Hairspray or In A Valley of Violence or his Emmy-nominated portrayal of Robert Shapiro in the first iteration of American Crime Story—The People vs. O.J. Simpson. But there’s also Gotti, which was one of the worst-rated films of 2018 and deservedly so. The one thing that every single one of these roles has in common is that Travolta has never half-assed his way through any of them
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The latest film starring actor David Oyelowo, Don’t Let Go, is a difficult one to categorize. And the odds are good that if you don’t try to, you might really end up finding it one of the more intriguing concepts of any film out there right now. In it, Oyelowo plays a police detective, whose brother (Brian Tyree Henry) and his family are murdered mysteriously, and shortly after this horrible crime, he receives a phone call from niece Ashley (Storm Reid, from A Wrinkle In Time), who was among those killed. Through circumstances that are thankfully never explained, Ashley is somehow calling from two weeks in the past and is therefore hopefully able to manipulate things with the help of her uncle to avoid being murdered.
Writer/director Jacob Estes leaves open the possibility that Oyelowo’s character has gone crazy from grief or maybe Ashley is nothing more than a ghost, but it genuinely seems like he has willed this situation out of extraordinary grief. The film began life at the Sundance Film Festival under the title Relive, and has since been reworked considerably, according to Oyelowo, to de-emphasize questions about the time travel elements of the story and focus more on family and the emotional weight of the proceedings.
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Viveik Kalra is likely not a name you know, unless you happened to have seen the Sundance TV mini-series Next of Kin (he had a supporting role in it) or caught his other series Beecham House on PBS earlier this summer. But Kalra has been getting a great deal of acclaim since January when his film debut Blinded by the Light, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and quickly became a favorite among critics and audiences.
The film concerns a young Pakistani-British boy named Javed (Kalra), living in the crap town of Luten in 1987, when Britain was under the brutal reign of Margaret Thatcher, whose leadership seemed to usher the return of highly racist ideas among the populace. But when young, synth-pop-loving would-be poet and writer is introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen by a school friend, the world opens up to him as he begins to realize that the hard journey of a 30-something rock star from New Jersey is quite similar to his own struggles at home, in school, and in his changing country. It’s an uplifting and unapologetically joyful coming-of-age film from director Gurinder Chadha (Bend It Like Beckham), based on the memoir by journalist Sarfraz Manzoor, both of whom collaborated on the screenplay, and made the film with Springsteen’s blessing and quite a handful of his original songs.
Kalra is now filming writer/director Neil Burger’s new sci-fi thrill Voyagers, co-starring Colin Farrell, Tye Sheridan, and Lily-Rose Depp. /Film caught up with him in May during his appearance at the Chicago Critics Film Festival to discuss his crash-course introduction to the music of Bruce Springsteen, how he got the role of Javed, and how this music and experience has altered the course of his life as well. Blinded by the Light is currently in theaters.
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One of the most talked about and critically acclaimed films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (and frequent Audience Award winner at several film festivals since January) is writer/director Lulu Wang’s sophomore feature The Farewell, with Awkwafina in her first starring role.
Based on an incident in her own family (the movie opens with the title care “Based on an actual lie”), The Farewell concerns a Chinese family who discovers that the matriarch, Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen), has terminal cancer and on a few months left to live. In keeping with a Chinese tradition, her family opts not to tell her of the seriousness of her illness, and instead arranges to have most of the extended family members come visit her to say their goodbyes under the guise of a rushed wedding. Awkwafina plays Billi, who moved to America with her parents (Diana Lin and Tzi Ma) when she was very young and thinks keeping the truth from Nai Nai is a mistake, so everyone suggests she not come to visit, lest she spill the beans on the big secret. But she does make the trip, and the film follows Billi’s journey back to the land of her birth, where she can toe the family line or bring her modern, Western sensibilities to the situation.
It’s a remarkable, sometimes very funny, always highly emotional work that is sure to make a great number best-of-the-year lists in 2019 thanks to exceptional performances by both seasoned actors and Wang’s own family members. /Film spoke with Wang recently in Chicago (where The Farewell played to a sold-out crowd at the Chicago Critics Film Festival) to discuss the real-life inspiration behind her film and the importance of using first-time actors in such an emotionally volatile film. The Farewell has a limited release on Friday, July 12, and expands nationwide throughout July.
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Although both have made names for themselves outside of the world of movies, Kumail Nanjiani (as a stand-up comedian) and Dave Bautista (as a pro wrestler) are still relatively new faces on the big screen that have had recent, high-profile successes upon which they plan to build. After years of TV work and smaller parts in films, Nanjiani shared an Oscar nomination with wife Emily V. Gordon for their original screenplay for 2017’s The Big Sick. While Bautista co-starred in a pair of Guardians of the Galaxy movies as the mighty Drax, in addition to sizable roles in Blade Runner 2049, Hotel Artemis, and the upcoming Dune adaptation from his Blade Runner director Denis Villeneuve.
With their latest film Stuber, the pair each get to try out something they rarely get to do on screen. Bautista does something more purely comedic as Vic, an LAPD Detective in search of the drug dealer (Iko Uwais) who killed his partner (Guardian’s Karen Gillan) six months earlier. Having just gotten corrective eye surgery earlier the same day he gets a tip as to the location of said drug dealer, Vic is forced to hire an Uber driven by Stu (Nanjiani) to take him around the city in search of clues, as well as make it to his daughter’s (Natalie Morales) art show to prove he’s not a terrible father (he still is). There’s a potential love story opening itself up to Stu on the same day, with his long-time best friend, Becca (Betty Gilpin), and Vic’s boss (Mira Sorvino) is also involved, since technically the case has been passed on the feds and Vic shouldn’t be working it at all. As involved as the plot might sound, Stuber really comes down to this odd couple in an electric car driving around the worst neighborhoods in L.A., each learning things from each other about being tough and tapping into ones sensitive side. And there’s a lot of killing and crashing and exploding.
/Film spoke with Nanjiani and Bautista back in late April, not long after the’s film’s work-in-progress debut at the SXSW Film Festival. More the point of this particular interview, the interviewer had just seen a press screening of Avengers: Endgame (which features Bautista) the day before. But we also discussed the winning formula of buddy action-comedies, Nanjiani transforming into an action star, and Bautista’s attempts to broaden his range as an actor outside of the MCU. Stuber opens nationwide on Friday, July 12.
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While many have labeled the SXSW hit Booksmart the female version of Superbad (and not just because the former co-stars Jonah Hill’s sister, Beanie Feldstein), that seems slightly unfair since this film has loftier emotional ambitions. Helmed by actor-turned-first-time-director Olivia Wilde, Booksmart concerns two high school seniors—Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever—who want to change the course of their entire high school experience on the day before they graduate. The best friends have spent the last four years concentrating on scholastic achievements and put aside all thoughts of partying or socializing in any form with anyone but each other in the hopes of getting into the best colleges. But on the last day of school, Molly is confronted with the almost-unspeakable truth that all of the kids who had fun and partied every weekend also got into great schools, leaving her on a quest to have her last night as a high school student be one of throwing caution to the wind and going to a rager with best buddy.
The entire film takes place over the course of roughly a single 24-hour period, and during the course of that day, secrets and deeply buried feelings come to the surface, both girls have their friendship tested and hearts broken, and learn that judging the other kids in their school based on their public persona is perhaps a massive mistake.
Feldstein is just starting to build an impressive filmography with memorable supporting roles in such works as Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and Lady Bird, as well as the FX series What We Do in the Shadows, while Dever has made a reputation for herself from a young age as a hugely talented actor in some very serious roles, including parts in Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, Detroit, The Front Runner, and perhaps most memorably in the second season of FX’s Justified, in which she co-starred with Margo Martindale in one of the greatest seasons of television in modern memory. Seeing her play comedy in Booksmart with such gusto only adds to the lost list of what she’s capable of as a performer.
/Film recently spoke with Dever and Feldstein about bonding with each other and their director, the film’s powerhouse supporting cast of largely unknowns, and how celebrating intelligence is key to the film’s humor. Bookmsart is currently in theaters nationwide.
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Although he has tackled roles and projects varied in scope, both on the stage and screen, actor/director Kenneth Branagh made his name by bringing the plays of William Shakespeare to the masses (much like his hero, Lawrence Olivier) through a series of films that attracted an array of well-known faces, staged in ways that made the sometimes impenetrable words of the Bard accessible and joyous. Beginning 30 years ago with his triumphant Henry V, Branagh moved through a series of filmed adaptations (both as an actor and director, although not always both) in such works as Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet, Love’s Labours Lost, Othello (directed by Oliver Parker), and As You Like It.
Of course, he’s also acted and directed in non-Shakespeare works as well, most notably behind the camera for films like Dead Again, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Thor, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Cinderella, and 2017’s star-studded Murder on the Orient Express, as well as acting roles in The Gingerbread Man, Wild Wild West, Valkyrie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Dunkirk.
It seems only fitting that he would eventually star and direct a work in which he played Shakespeare. But All Is True is not your typical biopic. Commissioning a screenplay by Ben Elton, the movie examines the playwright’s later years, after he has retired from writing, as he struggles to blend back in with a wife (Judi Dench) and grown daughters whom he essentially abandoned 20 years earlier for the life of a celebrity. But he struggles with his return to Stratford with memories of a son who died too young and a family who doesn’t know what to do with him as he plays the part of a caring father. The film reveals a great deal about how Shakespeare attempted to deal with certain life struggles through his works, and Branagh delivers one of the most engaging, understated, and moving performances of his career. And if you can’t get enough of Branagh the director, he’s also got a little Disney project called Artemis Fowl on the way, based on the exceedingly popular series of books by Eoin Colfer.
/Film spoke with Branagh recently to discuss the importance of Shakespeare in his life and career; working with McKellen for the first time; his voice cameo in Avengers: Infinity War and playing detective Hercule Poirot once again in Death on the Nile (which he’ll also direct, with a cast that includes Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, and Letitia Wright). All Is True is currently playing in select cities and opens nationwide on Friday, May 17.
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O’Shea Jackson Jr. may not be guaranteed a long and successful career as a film actor, but there is certainly no shortage of motivating and inspiring factors in his life to get him there. Although he’s been acting for less than five years, he’s had a succession of fascinating roles in a short time, beginning with playing his father, the rapper Ice Cube, in the 2015 N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton. After key supporting parts in the dark comedy Ingrid Goes West (opposite Aubrey Plaza) and the brutal ensemble crime drama Den of Thieves, Jackson jumped at the chance to play Seth Rogen’s best friend Lance in Long Shot, a romantic-comedy set against the backdrop of politics, with Charlize Theron playing Charlotte Field, the current U.S. Secretary of State, who is on the verge of announcing her run at the presidency. Rogen plays journalist Fred Flarsky, who has known Charlotte since they were kids and she used to babysit for him. When she hires him to help her punch-up her speeches, the two begin to have all the feels for each other.
But Jackson’s May is just beginning. He also co-stars as the head of the secret, kaiju-fighting branch of the military in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, due May 31. And he just wrapped work on the drama Just Mercy, the latest from Short Term 12 writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton; the film co-stars Brie Larson, Michael B. Jordan, and Jamie Foxx. And it appears Jackson is gearing up to star opposite LeBron James in Space Jam 2 (working from a new script by Black Panther‘s Ryan Coogler and Searching‘s Sev Ohaniandue), for release in 2021.
/Film spoke with Jackson in Chicago recently to discuss the importance of not being pigeonholed as an actor, what he learned from working with Rogen and Theron, and just how many monsters he has scenes with in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Long Shot opens nationwide on Friday, May 3.
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