Dads and father figures are stepping up in new ways in this season’s movies

Mothers are the greatest. Not just in real life — but they’re also pretty solid as Oscar bait. A film featuring the tearful reunion or loss between a mother and her child will get audiences’ waterworks flowing, and the award season buzz stirring.

Dads, on the other hand, are often a different story. They don’t usually get center stage — but this year, things are looking a little different.

“Film fathers seem to always be there to pass on some male ritual of ‘this is what it means to be a father,’ or is a dopey dad who doesn’t know what he’s doing and is bumbling along,” suggests writer-director Siân Heder, whose “CODA” features a father (Troy Kotsur) of a different stripe: one who’s navigating not just his daughter leaving home, but becoming independent in a hearing world while the rest of her family is deaf.

Mike Mills, director of “C’mon, C’mon,” sighs in agreement. “I’m really tired of men who are dumb. Men who have never been to therapy. Or are an ugly guy with a beautiful woman,” he says — and in his film, Joaquin Phoenix’s Johnny is nothing like that: He’s an uncle and a substitute father figure to his nephew, and while there is some bumbling going on, it’s because he’s not a dad himself, much less a dad to a precocious kid who’s become his charge.

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These unique creations for three awards season films had us at hello

Every awards season, much oohing and aahing is done over meticulously rendered sets and gloriously tailored costumes in movies. But many contenders go one step beyond and present something unique and special — an object or gizmo that without it the whole film could flop over. We’re putting a microscope on three such critical objects — “Dune’s” stillsuits, “The French Dispatch’s” paintings, and “Annette’s” puppet — and exploring how they were born, what makes them tick and what makes them as critical as the stars on the marquee.

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How Margaret Qualley put her mom to work with her in ‘Maid’

Margaret Qualley’s background does not mirror Alex’s, the determined single mom in Netflix’s limited series “Maid.” In the series, based on the 2019 memoir from Stephanie Land, Alex flails through a broken governmental system as she tries to escape an abusive relationship, young daughter in tow. In fact, Qualley’s youth was the opposite: Her mom is actor Andie MacDowell (who also stars in “Maid”); dad is model Paul Qualley. She’s a trained ballerina who debuted at the Bal des Débutantes in Paris. But it’s a testament to her budding talent that she resonates in the role, in a series that’s clearly hit home for many audiences, of any background.

She spoke to The Envelope via Zoom about working with her mom, giving up ballet and how she wrangled a 4-year-old through some truly harrowing scenes.

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How does Cate Blanchett choose her roles? Hint: It’s not by the size of the part

If you’re Cate Blanchett, with two Oscars to your name (“The Aviator,” “Blue Jasmine”) you can do pretty much whatever you want in Hollywood. Which makes it extra fascinating that the Australian actress with the tremendous cheekbones and searing, narrow gaze has chosen to play supporting roles in two films this year: Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley,” a neo-noir indictment of capitalism set in the world of 1930s carnies and grifters, and Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” a warning about the climate crisis wrapped in the guise of a movie about an impending comet impact. The Envelope spoke with Blanchett via Zoom and learned that, for her, every film is an ensemble and there are no small roles.

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Kids say the darndest things — when film directors let them

Making a film requires a good deal of courage, along with a great script and cast. But writers and directors who choose to center their narrative on young people require an extra measure of bravery. Kids can add a lot of value to the story — humor, pathos, sheer cuteness — but the script has to first come up to meet them.

And then the director has to be ready to throw that script out the window.

This is something Joaquin Phoenix seemed particularly aware of when he signed on to work with writer-director Mike Mills on “C’mon C’mon,” which looks at the intense bond between Johnny (Phoenix) and his young nephew, Jesse (Woody Norman), that develops as they travel around America. Mills — who has scripted all of his films — may have been confident in his narrative, but he admits that the whole film was “hypothetical” until they had the right child in the part of Jesse.

“It’s like getting married,” says Mills. “We were both like — Joaquin was especially like — ‘Show me the kid. And then maybe this will happen.’”

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13 golden roles Betty White played in TV shows and movies

When they say Betty White was a national treasure, they aren’t wrong. The comedian and actor, who died on Dec. 31, 2021 just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday, entertained generations with her sassy, saucy wit, good heart and pure versatility.

“She was wholesome, and a little naughty underneath,” Ray Richmond, author of “Betty White: 100 Remarkable Moments in an Extraordinary Life,” which was published last December, told TODAY. “She was the grandma everyone wished they had.”

And no matter how much we love our grandmothers, Betty White truly was one of a kind, who really could do anything (she was offered an anchor slot on TODAY in the 1960s, but turned it down). Here’s a look back at just some of the roles that kept her golden in our hearts over the years.

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Mike Mills as a director of blockbusters? No thanks. He’ll stick with intimate dramas

Mike Mills is not a prolific filmmaker. In the last 16 years, he’s directed (and written) just four scripted features: “Thumbsucker” (2005); “Beginners” (2010); 2016’s “20th Century Women” (which earned him an Oscar nomination for original screenplay); and now “C’mon C’mon,” a film about a radio journalist named Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) who bonds with his precocious nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) while caring for him.

But taken in toto, this charmingly rumpled director-writer with a three-day beard sitting on a divan in a New York hotel room is a Renaissance man, having directed dozens of music videos and ads and designed further dozens of album covers, usually for independent artists. Of which he is one: The L.A.-based Mills and his movies hark to the golden years of Gotham’s indie scene in a way that’s simultaneously nostalgic and like a fresh, clarion call.

Mills sat down to tea with The Envelope to talk “C’mon,” weaving autobiography into his work and having zero interest in directing the next superhero blockbuster (not that anyone’s asking).

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Jodie Comer gives voice and strength to her 14th century rape victim in ‘The Last Duel’

Jodie Comer is killing it, as they say. An Emmy winner for her ruthless (though not humorless) assassin Villanelle on “Killing Eve” (heading into its fourth and final season), she’s now starring in Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” as the real-life Marguerite de Carrouges, a 14th century woman who seeks justice after a rape. And in each role she plays, the Liverpool-born Comer, 28, is deft with her preternatural ability to elicit sympathy — but not pity — for her damaged but still defiant characters. That said, “Duel” provides a challenging role to play — and to watch. Comer dug into the nitty-gritty of why it spoke to her with The Envelope.

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What to know about ‘Station Eleven,’ a new show about a post-pandemic world

“Station Eleven,” HBO Max’s new miniseries about a flu pandemic that ravages the world in a matter of weeks (and makes COVID-19 look like a mild allergy), has just begun airing the first few of its ultimate 10 episodes.

And it might seem like a curious time to do so: Now heading into a third year of our own, all-too-real flu-resembling-pandemic, do we really want to watch a fictional end of the world? Haven’t we been there, done that with shows like “The Walking Dead” and ‘The Stand”?

The thing is, “Station Eleven” isn’t exactly the same old end-of-the-world scenario. Yes, there’s a plague. Yes, civilization falls to its knees. But there’s a curious calm and even humor (though not straight-up laughs) to the story, which blends the lives of several characters with a theater troupe who truly believes that amid the rubble of the world that was, the show must go on.

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One actor’s crucial advice for playing a real person? ‘Don’t be an idiot.’

Young Saniyya Sidney remembers what it was like to meet Venus Williams: “She was sweet and funny, and I connected with her.” But Sidney is also an actor at heart: She’s playing the future tennis superstar in “King Richard,” which tells the story of Venus and Serena Williams’ rise to fame via their focused, assertive father, and she made sure to observe her subject in person for clues.

“It was her walk I had to get down,” says Sidney. “Every time I had to become Venus, her walk is what I would hop into — and then I felt like her from then on.”

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