First of all, kissing in Barbie movies is super rare. They certainly don’t kiss their “boyfriends” in this one. And secondly, whatever, they meet a couple of attractive brunette boys. Do they LIVE with those boys?!? Do they sleep in the same room with those boys? Do they even sing love songs with those boys? NO! Listen, it’s 2021. We don’t have time or energy for heteronormative assumptions! They also return to their garden at the end without the boys, riding away in a diamond carriage.
Sundance 2021: which films might break out this year? | Sundance 2021
Even in any normal year, trying to predict what will and won’t land at the Sundance film festival is something of a fool’s errand. It’s a lineup filled with small, often totally unknown films, most of which don’t yet have distribution, a long list of italicised question marks waiting to be underlined or erased and what makes it all that much harder to predict is that the movies that premiere with big names are often the biggest disasters. In recent editions, films such as Eighth Grade, The Farewell, Never Rarely Sometimes Always and Hereditary all came from nowhere to end up going somewhere while more obviously starry fare such as Four Good Days (Glenn Close and Mila Kunis), The Last Thing He Wanted (Anne Hathaway and Ben Affleck), After the Wedding (Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams) and Beirut (Jon Hamm and Rosamund Pike) all sank without a trace.
With Covid still preventing a traditional in-person Utah festival, this year’s set of films will all premiere online (with some physical and drive-in screenings nationwide) and the impact of the pandemic has also led to a more modest lineup (72 premieres compared with last year’s 118), making it an unusual year but one that may allow space for some of the smaller films that often get ignored.
So with an awareness of the pitfalls that come with such an exercise, here’s a look at seven films that look most likely to break big:
Ever since confused attendees laid witness to “documentary” The Blair Witch Project back in 1999, the festival has become a reliable first port for at least one buzzy horror film from Saw to Get Out to The Babadook and this year’s Midnight section offers up a few tantalising candidates. Top of the list is the Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond’s atmospheric chiller Censor, set during the UK’s video nasty moral panic of the mid-80s. It’s the tale of Enid (Raised by Wolves rising star Niamh Algar), whose job as a censor requires her to make difficult decisions, picking and choosing which on-screen acts of violence she deems too extreme, hyper-aware that her choices are being analysed by bloodthirsty tabloids. When her latest assignment, a disturbing film from a mysterious director, echoes her own childhood trauma, Enid starts to unravel. Unlike so many retro horrors that have clumsily used nostalgia to secure at least the mildest of adoration from genre buffs, Censor uses a fascinating point in British history to explore issues of trauma, mental health and the realities of violence. It’s likely to be haunting us not just for the duration of the festival but for the next 12 months and further.
Tackling an almost impossibly difficult subject with bracing directness, tough drama Mass might not be one of the most enjoyable films of the festival but it’s set to be one of the most powerful. It’s the debut feature from actor Fran Kranz (arguably best known as the stoner from The Cabin in the Woods) and he constructs a low-budget, high-stress set-up, one that many viewers might prefer to avoid experiencing. Years after a school shooting, two sets of parents meet for a discussion about their sons, both of whom lost their lives. For one couple (played by Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton), it involves a difficult journey back through the wreckage of their grief but for the other (Ann Dowd and Reed Birney), it also requires an even harder analysis as it was their son who was the shooter. Inspired by the fallout from the Parkland shooting, Kranz has made a small film that finds its way around a big issue with sensitivity, uncomfortable to watch but with important, non-judgmental insights for many of us who are able to endure it.
The directorial debut of the actor Rebecca Hall (next seen heading up #TeamKong in March) is an adaptation of Nella Larson’s acclaimed 1929 novel Passing, a story of two childhood friends in Harlem who reunite after years apart. Both are light-skinned women of colour (played by Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson) and at a time of racial division, one has chosen to “pass” as white, a decision that leads to tragedy. When Hall initially presented her script, she was met with caution from producing partners Nina Yang Bongiovi and Forest Whitaker (the pair’s films include Fruitvale Station and Sorry to Bother You) as they were concerned that a white British woman wouldn’t be the best choice until Hall told them about her bi-racial heritage and how generations of her family have passed for white because of their light skin. It’s a passion project for Hall, described as a combination of a drama about race and gender but also a Hitchcockian thriller, filmed in black and white in an old-fashioned 4:3 ratio with a cast that also includes Andre Holland and Alexander Skarsgård, an exciting and challenging package that could be one of the most talked about films of the festival.
In the Earth
Given the quality of the made-during-pandemic movies we’ve already had the chance to see, there is every reason to be cautious about Ben Wheatley’s “secret” horror film shot over 15 days last August. But the director has shown us that he works best with a low budget and without a studio breathing down his neck (his recent remake of Rebecca was a regrettably bland mis-step) and In the Earth promises a return to the sharper bite of the films that originally brought him to our attention, from Kill List to Sightseers to A Field in England. The story focuses on a deadly virus and a mission into a forest to locate a research hub. Details are scarce but it sounds like a potential return to form with Wheatley thrusting his small cast (including Yesterday’s Joel Fry, the excellent Hayley Squires and a malevolent Reece Shearsmith) into a strange world of psychedelic horrors.
In the Same Breath
With breathless speed, film-makers have been deftly documenting the chaos of the past year and releasing their work as fast as possible so that people can have direct access to the many errors and injustices that have found us in such an unprecedented place. The Chinese-born, America-based director Nanfu Wang, whose devastating and personal film One Child Nation won the Grand Jury prize for best documentary at Sundance in 2019, has created what might be the most effective one to date with In the Same Breath. Wang has focused her attention on both China and America in a film that probes the political, looking at the responses from Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, while also reminding us of the personal, speaking to people in both countries whose lives have been irrevocably affected. The film promises to be an infuriating indictment as well as a testament to those who have risked, and often lost, their lives to keep others safe.
On the Count of Three
An unusual, dark bromance here, one centered around two characters who decide upon a double suicide pact right after they deal with some unfinished business in a caper that also touches upon of domestic abuse and child molestation. But it’s kind of a comedy. That’s the ambitious set-up of the comedian Jerrod Carmichael’s directorial debut On the Count of Three, where he stars alongside Sundance stalwart Christopher Abbott (quietly becoming one of the most successful Girls alumni), Tiffany Haddish, Henry Winkler and JB Smoove in a film that at the very least will be nothing like anything else we’ll see at this year’s festival. Carmichael’s underrated semi-autobiographical sitcom The Carmichael Show and his intensely personal documentary shorts released after have shown us that he is a comic with something to say and so many are cautiously excited to see what he’ll do with such audacious material.
Judas and the Black Messiah
The strange, fractured nature of the past year has turned 1960s drama Judas and the Black Messiah from a late summer release to a Sundance premiere and the delayed Oscar eligibility date (from end of December to end of February) has meant that for the first time, a film can travel straight from the festival to the Academy Awards. Buzz around the film (already, confusingly named one of 2020’s best by the National Board of Review) is nothing but positive with stars Lakeith Stanfield, Daniel Kaluuya and Dominique Fishback all deservedly included in the awards conversation. The story is a compelling one, that of a petty criminal who became an informant for the FBI who wanted to dethrone and destroy Black Panther activist Fred Hampton. It’s a still rather untapped corner of history and in Shaka King’s bold studio debut, it’s inarguable proof that more stories from a difficult period of American history deserve to be told, especially on such a large canvas.
Cloris Leachman, who played Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, dies at age 94 | Film
Cloris Leachman, a character actor whose depth of talent brought her an Oscar for the The Last Picture Show and Emmys for her comedic work on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and other TV series, has died. She was 94.
Leachman died of natural causes at her home in Encinitas, California, her publicist Monique Moss said Wednesday. Her daughter was at her side, Moss said.
Millions of viewers knew the actor as the self-absorbed neighbour Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She also appeared as the mother of Timmy on the Lassie series. She played a frontier prostitute in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a crime spree family member in Crazy Mama, and the infamous Frau Blücher in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein.
Born in Iowa in 1926, Leachman began her performing career with plays and beauty pageants during her teens. She began appearing in small television and film roles after winning a place in the 1946 Miss America pageant and studying acting in New York City. Her early career included small parts in the Robert Aldrich film Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and the Paul Newman film The Rack (1956).
Her acting career only really took off in her 40s, when she was cast as Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970. In the early 70s she was cast as Ruth Popper, wife of the high-school gym teacher in The Last Picture Show, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and based on Larry McMurtry’s book. The role would bring her the best supporting actress Oscar at the 1971 Academy Awards, a British Academy film award, and cement her reputation in the screen industry and her presence in the public eye.
In 1975, Leachman’s character on The Mary Tyler Moore Show – and Leachman herself – was given her own spin-off series, Phyllis, which ran for two seasons.
Leachman continued to work in television and film over the next 50 years, amassing close to 300 acting credits over her lifetime. She had recurring roles in the early 00s television series Raising Hope, the 2019 revival of Mad About You, and the adaptation Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods. Her role as Grandma Ida in Malcolm in the Middle from 2001-2006 was one of her most popular, netting her two Emmy awards and a slew of nominations.
In 1977 she appeared in an episode of The Muppet Show. She also performed as a voice actor in the 1986 My Little Pony movie, the 1994 animation A Troll in Central Park, the English dubbing of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1986 Castle in the Sky, and an episode of The Simpsons.
Leachman worked frequently with Mel Brooks, appearing in Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety (1977) and History of the World, Part I (1981).
Brooks paid tribute to Leachman on Wednesday on Twitter, calling her “insanely talented”.
“Every time I hear a horse whinny I will forever think of Cloris’ unforgettable Frau Blücher. She is irreplaceable,” Brooks said.
Leachman holds the record for the most Primetime Emmy acting nominations in history, with 22, and she is tied for the most awarded: she has eight Primetime Emmys to her name (a record later equalled by Julia Louis-Dreyfus), as well as one Daytime Emmy.
Other members of the screen industry paid tribute to Leachman’s talent and humour on social media on Wednesday.
Hear me out: why Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes isn’t a bad movie | Planet of the Apes
Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes is a remake that has the forward momentum and expansive qualities of a sequel; a love letter assuming a familiarity with the 1968 sci-fi classic, counting on our expectations so that it could playfully thwart them.
The 20-year-old Planet of the Apes was the best version of fan service, arriving well before we knew what fan service would be: think recent franchise sequels like Star Wars: The Force Awakens or Jurassic World that are precious about colouring within the lines, often behaving more like remakes than Burton’s Apes.
In the latter, Mark Wahlberg, an admittedly bland alternative to Charlton Heston, plays an astronaut who once again crash lands into a futuristic society where apes capture and enslave humans in an evident reversal of evolution.
The surprise in the original (spoiler alert!) is that the seemingly foreign planet ruled by apes is actually a post-apocalyptic Earth. The revelation arrives in a scorching and iconic final image where Heston’s George Taylor discovers the Statue of Liberty strewn about as rubble.
In his blockbuster spectacle, Burton levels up the time travel mechanics to approach Tenet-like complexity. And he manages to squeeze a couple OF genuinely breathtaking surprises that stay true to the spirit of the 1968 film. But audiences weren’t as appreciative of the inexplicable cliff-hanger ending.
Burton’s Planet of the Apes is widely maligned. It’s got a 44 percent critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 27 percent audience score. The public were keener on the Rise, Dawn and War of the Planet of the Apes prequel cycle that would follow a decade later. Those films stripped down the sci-fi premise, serving up an explainer with a real-world aesthetic (ironically, with heavy CGI) that narrates in overwrought detail how apes could come to rule an inhumane society.
The recent Apes cycle leans towards the “serious” affect of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, while Burton’s Planet of the Apes unsurprisingly hews closer to the sexy, stylized and macabre take on Gotham in Batman and Batman Returns. Maybe it’s just a matter of preference that I lean towards Burton’s elevated, B-movie funhouse, enjoying fine details like interspecies sexual tension (a dialed up version of what’s in the original) or a hilarious display of ape foreplay. Glenn Shadix’s horny hooting and hollering and the seductive dance from Lisa Marie (Burton’s girlfriend at the time) are particularly unforgettable.
In a time before CGI completely took over, Burton relished what actors accomplish with prosthetics. Paul Giamatti, Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Roth chew scenery while hunching and hoisting their bodies to mimic simian behaviour.
Burton’s Planet of the Apes is also popcorn fare that doesn’t sacrifice the striking visual treats: a playful rotating camera that reveals why rose petals are falling upwards; an army of apes falling into formation at the pace of dominoes; the numerous visual nods to the original, including a twist on the Statue of Liberty’s fossilized crown.
But none of the images in Burton’s movie or the prequel trilogy for that matter even try to be as implicating or impactful as those in Franklin J. Schaffner’s Planet of the Apes. That film, which was playing In theatres weeks after the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, showed ape soldiers posing for a photo over a pile of human carcasses. In another scene, Schaffner’s civil rights era allegory about equality and justice depicts a courtroom scene with apes positioned like the three wise monkeys (“hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil”).
The most unfortunate departure for Burton’s Planet of the Apes is that it gestures towards the civil rights era politics of the original without engaging in meaningful ways, as if inhumanity towards Black people wasn’t as urgent at the dawn of the 21st century. But that doesn’t mean his Planet of the Apes is completely apolitical. Tim Roth’s sneering and menacing General Thade is like a forecast for the kind military maneuvering to come after 9/11, which took place weeks after the movie was released.
The most memorable scene in Burton’s Planet of the Apes is also its most subversively political. The scene features original franchise star Charlton Heston. He plays the ailing father to Roth’s General Thade, occupying a villainous knowledge keeper role similar to Maurice Evans’ Dr. Zaius in the 1968 film.
In that scene, Heston’s Zaius warns Thade of the threat humans pose by pointing him to a man-made invention: a handgun.
At the time, Heston was the president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). A year before Burton’s Planet of the Apes hit theatres, Heston was at an NRA rally, countering post-Columbine sentiments for gun control by hoisting a replica musket in the air and shouting defiantly at reformists “From my cold, dead hands!”
Burton gave us Heston as a dying elderly ape, quivering at mankind’s ability to produce weapons. “Their ingenuity goes hand in hand with their cruelty,” he says, in the ultimate self-own. “No creature is as devious, as violent.”
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