Category: MONDO

‘Wish Dragon’ Review: Hong Kong-Set Netflix Movie Makes Up in Attitude What It Lacks in Originality


Wish Dragon” is well aware that “Aladdin” got there first. Making his spirited feature debut, dream-big animation director Chris Appelhans pretty much assumes you’ll be thinking of Disney’s blue genie when his humble Hong Kong hero rubs a jade teapot and produces a fluorescent flamingo-pink dragon, ready to grant his wildest dreams — or three of them at least. And you know what? He doesn’t care, because “Wish Dragon” delivers a whole new world, a new fantastic point of view, and that’s plenty.

Technically, China’s ancient wish dragon legend predates even “Arabian Nights,” a detail that gives Appelhans license to update the folk tale for the modern world, while stripping it of so many of the tired clichés that now come with the territory in practically any wish-granting fable — like the wet-blanket “be careful what you wish for” trope, where an unlucky so-and-so’s poorly worded request inevitably backfires, teaching that person he was better off without whatever lust magic may have rustled up inside him.

The hero of “Wish Dragon” doesn’t have big ambitions. Din (Jimmy Wong) may be dirt poor and desperate, but he’s unusually well-grounded as such characters go. When offered three wishes, he honestly doesn’t know what to request — whereas Long, his dutiful, all-powerful dragon (voiced by John Cho), is full of suggestions: Why not wish for piles of gold? Or his own personal army? After all, every one of Long’s previous masters wanted wealth and power. But not Din. He just wants his best friend back.

In the film’s upbeat opening, we see young Din and neighbor Li Na bonding over all things dragons. They pinky-swear to being pals forever, then the prologue turns melancholy, as Li Na’s father moves away and the buddies are separated. Flash forward a few years, and Din still can’t get her out of his mind — and who can blame him, now that Li Na’s a successful model whose face pops up on billboards all over town (including one of the roof of the hovel where Din still lives with his pragmatic Mom, voiced by Constance Wu).

So, when poof, the magic dragon shows up eager to serve, Din doesn’t covet money or power per se — although both would help him finagle his way into Li Na’s birthday party, since she’s now wealthy enough to be out of his league. To Long’s surprise, Din wishes for temporary wealth and power (but just enough dough to get through the door), trusting that they’ll be able to pick up where they left off if they can only be reunited.

The plot’s a little “have your cake and eat it too” in this regard: “Wish Dragon” presents Din as a pure, sincere soul — someone who can teach Long a lesson or two about life’s priorities — but also as a “peasant” to Li Na’s “princess.” Ergo, we’d expect him to be a little greedier in compensating for all that he lacks. But that’s not so hard to accept, since Appelhans’ aesthetic — both the quick, clever animation style (a zippy pose-to-pose technique that mirrors classic martial-arts movies) and all-around openness to Chinese culture, old and new — proves so entertaining unto itself. The exaggerated squash-and-stretch style (reminiscent of “Despicable Me” and the “Madagascar” movies) elevates otherwise familiar scenes, as when Din (who idly wishes he knew how to fight) faces off against a trio of lithe henchmen. And it’s great fun to watch Long bend and fold at right angles. (Chinese audiences benefit from producer Jackie Chan supplying his voice for the Mandarin-language version.)

Even more than last year’s Netflix original “Over the Moon,” this Sony Pictures Animation-produced pickup seems to recognize and respect the Eastern milieu in which it’s set, albeit with an appreciate outsider’s curiosity. Granted, most audiences won’t know anything about Appelhans (a gifted concept artist on films such as “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Monster House”) or where he’s coming from, but I was pretty excited to see his name on the film. I’ve been a longtime admirer of his watercolor illustrations — fantastical scenes between kids and floppy sloths, rusty robots and misshapen unicorns — and can see how such portraits of improbable friends, both real and imaginary, might translate to a teen and his trusty wish dragon.

What Appelhans and the makers of “Wish Dragon” couldn’t have known when they set out was that Disney had a kinda similar movie up its sleeve in “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Plus, they had Awkwafina on their side (she’s a lot funnier than Cho, who’s got personality, but can’t do impressions or improv the way a comedian can). “Raya” also riffed on the “Aladdin” myth, which leaves this project feeling slightly less fresh, although there’s room enough for multiple dragon-themed/wish-granting fables in this world. So go with the one streaming on whatever service you patronize — at least until we all get our wish of such movies finding their way back to the big screen.

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‘Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain’ Review: The Insatiable Life and Enigmatic Death of a Foodie Superstar


Why did he do it? That’s the question that anyone who’s ever been touched by the hungry, life-force spirit of Anthony Bourdain will have at the top of his or her head going into “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.” Directed by the award-winning Morgan Neville (“20 Feet from Stardom,” “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”), the documentary, which premiered tonight at the Tribeca Festival, is an intimate and fascinating portrait of the beloved celebrity chef and television globe-trotter. It is also, inevitably, a spiritual investigation into why his life ended. On June 8, 2018, Bourdain hung himself in his hotel room. Three years later, it’s still shocking to think that his name could be included in the same sentence with the word “suicide.”

We all know that suicide, too often, is a cruel mystery, that it has a way of mocking our need for “why.” (Bourdain was a brilliant writer who left no note.) We also know that people who are bursting with brilliance and passion, love and success — people like Anthony Bourdain — can carry demons around that they don’t reveal to the outside world, or maybe to anyone. Yet Bourdain still seemed a special case. He presented himself as an open book (quite literally in “Kitchen Confidential,” the superb inside-the-restaurant-world memoir that made his fame), and he forged his celebrity not just by taking great big bites out of life, but from the way that he put his demons right out there — as entertainment, as therapy. He seemed to turn a certain jaded streak of burnt-ash cynicism in his nature into a weapon for defeating his own despair.

Every celebrity projects an image, but Bourdain, the disarmingly literate bad-boy punk rock star of the restaurant world, was a compulsive truth-teller who scraped the fakery off every encounter. That’s part of what made him such a great TV star — his eagerness to go around the world and broadcast his honest responses to every meal, every situation, every human being he encountered. His appetite (for food and drink, for experience and pleasure, for wit and words and connection) seemed boundless; in his irascible down-the-hatch way, he seemed to love humanity and to love this life. So yes, we go into this movie hoping that it will shed an essential light on why.

It does, but not in the way you expect. The cliché I had in my mind is that Bourdain, by the end, was secretly depressed, that he was drinking far too much, and that the heightened media glare brought on by his relationship with Asia Argento, as she become a controversial spokesperson for the #MeToo movement, overwhelmed him. To a degree, all those factors were at work. But the story told by “Roadrunner” is richer, darker, and stranger.

Instead of coming on as an archival look back at Bourdain’s life, the film begins where “Kitchen Confidential” left off — with the birth of his celebrity. There’s a wealth of footage of Bourdain, since TV camera crews were always shooting him, and the film includes plenty of home-video footage as well. We see him in 1999, doing his executive-chef-as-badass-taskmaster routine on the sidewalk outside Les Halles, the Park Ave. steak haven where he ran the show. (Complaining that the fish guy is late, he says, “That’s why all chefs are drunks. It’s because we don’t understand why the world doesn’t work like our kitchens.”) And there is footage shot in his apartment as he’s writing the memoir, with no idea of how it’s going to blow up.

Bourdain was by then in his early 40s, tall and handsome in a louche Romanesque way, a chain-smoking motormouth hipster, but with a rabbity grin of disarming sincerity. As anyone who has read “Kitchen Confidential” knows well, he was an extraordinary writer, with a voice that was like Tom Wolfe cut with Howard Stern, and the movie briefly shows us how that book came to be (it all started with a rantingly eloquent email, which a friend of his showed to his wife, who was a publisher). The book took off like a rocket, riding the first wave of the celebrity-chef revolution. Bourdain, serving up his nightly steak au poivre, hadn’t been a star of the restaurant world the way that Emeril or Mario Batali were, but his book, with its confessional tales of his heroin addiction and the-kitchen-as-jungle, made him the inside-dope icon of that world.

And then, just as quickly, the idea of making him over into a TV star, one who would travel to different exotic tasting locales, came to the fore. After several rocky episodes, it connected. Bourdain was born to do it. “Roadrunner” devotes itself almost entirely to his life on the road from 2000 on. It captures the enthusiasm with which Bourdain embraced his fame, and the high-maintenance joy he took in becoming the guru-host of “A Cook’s Tour,” “No Reservations,” and “Parts Unknown.” The film is more than an inside look at the making of those shows, though we do get the heady flavor of them, from the knowing gloss on “Apocalypse Now” that held a Congo episode together to the way that a military blowup between Lebanon and Israel turned a visit to Beirut into a skittery nightmare to the foodie-fear-factor extreme element, as when Bourdain, in Vietnam, gobbles down the still-beating heart of a freshly killed cobra.

More than that, though, the film presents a psychological, almost novelistic portrait of how Bourdain evolved as a person during the years of his celebrity. The perks of fame can change anyone, of course. But what was unique in Bourdain’s case is that he was a high-flying personality ­— an addict, a sensation-seeker, a reckless rebel who craved experience — who had found a way to ground himself in the nightly demands of working in restaurant kitchens. The kitchen was his home. It gave him structure and purpose, a place to play out his obsessive nature. And once he became a TV star, his life as a chef got left behind. The home was gone.

He transferred the obsession over to his shows, schooling himself in how to be the audience’s token curiosity seeker. He approached reality TV like an art form, and turned it into one. His first marriage, to Nancy Putkoski, collapsed, but he got married again (to Ottavia Busia, who’s interviewed in the film) and they had a child, which he had never expected to do. For a while, he was on top of the world. We see him cooking sausages on the backyard barbecue like a ’50s dad, and he says that it’s the happiest he’d ever been.

Until it wasn’t. Bordain, whose heroin addiction is an element of his legend (in part because of how unapologetically he pursued it), had cleaned up his act by the end of the ’80s. He stopped being just a talented fuckup, and that’s the story told by “Kitchen Confidential.” But he remained, at heart, an addict, and “Roadrunner” captures how the constant travel (over 200 days a year) filled the hole in his soul. He was like the George Clooney character in “Up in the Air,” living an untethered flyover existence patched together out of his search for the next high. He was no longer grounded. And when his family life collapsed again (even after his embrace of fatherhood), it was as if in the guise of saying “I can’t hack normality” (which carried an anti-bourgeois defensive cool edge) he was really saying, “I can’t hack life.” He became an acerbic, intoxicated, new-sensation-seeking Nowhere Man.

“Roadrunner” is full of good stories — from Bourdain’s chef pals, like Eric Ripert and David Chang, from the producers and the loyal crew he shot his shows with, and from musician friends like Iggy Pop, Josh Homme, and Alison Mosshart. What emerges is that Bourdain, though he commanded the room and always looked like the star he was (he could hardly walk a New York block without being approached by someone wanting a moment), was also a a “big nerd” whose insecurity was a projection of his judgmental nature: He gazed at the world with scalding eyes, and expected it to scald him back. He was a perfectionist, a junkie hedonist, a creature of strong attitude but weak identity.

In “Roadrunner,” the ultimate why eludes us. How could a man so beloved, who gave so much pleasure, whose life was so much about pleasure not find his way out of the darkness? To ask that question is to be haunted by it. Yet Bourdain, without resolving it, says something early on that is very zen and very Anthony Bourdain. “I realized,” he says, “that one thing led directly to the other. Had I not taken a dead-end dishwashing job, I would not have become a cook. Had I not become a cook, I would never have become a chef. Had I not become a chef, I never would have been able to fuck up so spectacularly. Had I not known what it was like to really fuck up, that obnoxious but wildly successful memoir I wrote wouldn’t have been half as interesting.” And had it not been half as interesting, he wouldn’t have become so addicted to tasting the far ends of the earth that he melted down his sense of self. Bourdain’s death was a tragedy, but “Roadrunner” suggests it was a tragedy with a touch of destiny.

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‘Poser’ Review: A Compelling Psychodrama Set Inside Columbus’ Underground Music Scene


Stylish and insidery, “Poser” is enthralled by Columbus, Ohio, particularly its burgeoning independent arts and music scene. It’s a sophisticated, if not cold-to-the-touch psychodrama of elegant visuals and innovative tunes, which debuting co-directors Ori Segev and Noah Dixon (who also scripted) beguilingly steer as a cheeky yet gradually darkening ode to their adoptive city.

So it’s all dimly lit underground clubs, highbrow art gallery corners, gritty warehouses and edgy concert venues here, with an array of impossibly unruffled, coolly clad artists and musicians doing their hip thing with ease. Frankly, their company feels a bit intimidating at first, especially if you are the more mainstream sort not actively pursuing a sampling of alternative music. But thanks to Segev and Dixon’s joint confidence, you feel just comfortable enough within the bowels of the town’s unique indie scene next to ombre-haired Billie Eilish types, even if the film doesn’t always welcome you in.

So consider it an act of generosity by the filmmakers that someone equally on the outside leads the way into “Poser,” making you feel a little less alone as you find your feet within this fascinating counterculture. Her name is Lennon Gates (Sylvie Mix), a wannabe artist/musician dwelling on the fringes of the world she so desperately wants to belong to that she is prepared to do whatever it takes to make it. Working at a dead-end job as a maid by day, she possesses a chilling, double-edged obsession for things out of her reach, the destructiveness of which we’ve seen many times before in the likes of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and, more recently, “Ingrid Goes West.” The moment Lennon, portrayed by Mix in an unnerving performance that blends wide-eyed awe and alarming apathy, googles, “How to start a podcast,” you somehow sense that she’s up to no good.

For some time though, we can’t quite get inside her head. That’s because instead of building the fake-it-till-you-make-it Lennon with any kind of complexity on a micro level, Segev and Dixon dive head-first into the dizzying macro universe that surrounds her. Fortunately, they have some fun with this navel-gazing mode. Through entertaining, snippily assembled sequences (the duo handled editing duties themselves) during which Lennon records her podcast, we get acquainted with various bands, from “WYD” to “Son of Dribble,” and hear from an idiosyncratic bunch that soulfully speak straight into the camera, defining their style with a variety of amusing jargons like “Junkyard Bop” and “Queer Death Pop.”

The directing partners’ tone in these segments sway between lovingly satirical and experimental, a narrative fusion that feels directionless at times. When a path forward finally yet belatedly arrives in the form of the impish, rule-breaking Bobbi Kitten (a real-life artist playing a loose version of herself), an alluring figure who charitably decides to take Lennon under her protective wing, “Poser” immediately finds new life. Some of the credit surely belongs to “Damn the Witch Siren,” Bobbi’s band alongside Z-Wolf, whose music we get a generous taste of throughout.

The dynamic between Bobbi and Lennon grows rather predictably, with the latter abusing the former’s kindness through lies and a sense of manipulative innocence. But you forgive the story’s commonness all the same, as Segev and Dixon manage to conceal it via their pleasing aesthetics and sharp eye for thoughtful, modish photographic compositions, culminating in what could be the movie version of a soothing and intellectually enriching walk through a minimalist modern art museum.

They also take a creative editing route for Lennon’s journey — not only is “Poser” partially structured in parallel to her podcast episodes, but it also contains smart interludes of flashbacks imagined in her mind. The most inspired of these appears casually, when Lennon tells the tale of an abandoned warehouse concert venue and an accidental, drunken death that occurred on the train tracks located right by it. Seemingly random at first, this gorgeously filmed, near-surreal diversion leads to a clever payoff later, demonstrating Segev and Dixon’s studious ambitions as filmmakers.

But again, their script is sadly the weak link on an otherwise strongly woven canvas — so much that you will leave “Poser” craving to get to know more of the quiet grifter Lennon, beyond her thinly justified fixations such as scavenging LPs, recording sounds and documenting strangers’ words, and a vaguely written sister character that emerges in the story out of nowhere, only to vanish equally pointlessly. Overall, the film often resembles a hybrid of documentary and fiction, with a narrative movie on its sidelines trying to muscle its way in. Still, the whole thing is oddly beautiful, absurdly compelling and even freakishly watchable. The general sensation of it approaches the out-of-place feeling of being at a party you don’t quite feel cool enough for. But since you’re already there, why not linger for a few drinks and embrace an intriguing ride outside your comfort zone?

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‘In The Heights’ Soundtrack Album Reaches the Same Heights as the Movie


Lin-Manuel Miranda’s joyous celebration of the Washington Heights neighborhood, “In The Heights” has finally arrived on the big screen and HBO Max… and also Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music and all other DSPs, for a soundtrack that soars just as high even without benefit of interstitial dialogue and sumptuous visuals.

Adapted from the Broadway musical, the story centers on a bodega owner, Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), who discovers his mom-and-pop stop-and-shop has sold a winning lottery ticket. Melissa Barrera, Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits and Olga Merediz make up the ensemble cast. While the original cast recording exists featuring Miranda in the lead role, Atlantic Records’ soundtrack showcases the remarkable talents of this new cast singing the old favorites, along with a newly written closing song, “Home All Summer.”

Diehards of the musical will immediately notice the shifts of songs… and, lamentably for some, the inevitable cuts. Gone are “Sunrise,” sung by Nina and Benny after they spend a night together, and “Hundreds of Stories,” a duet between Usnavi and Abuela Claudia as they sing about what they’ll do with the lottery money. Also missing is “Atención,” a song that Kevin sings, announcing Abuela Claudia’s passing. And MIA is the character of Nina’s mother, Camila Rosario, which changes the dynamics between college student Nina, her father and their story.

The good news is, despite those omissions, which were done to fit the movie’s run time, the album is still a scorcher. The movement of numbers allows for director Jon M. Chu to put his creative stamp on the movie, and what a stamp he makes. It’s one that diehards will embrace with open arms, or arms handing him the keys to the stage-to-screen kingdom.

Anthony Ramos Jr. is delightful as Usnavi, narrating the story for audiences and listeners in the opening number, “In the Heights.” His voice is crisp from beginning to end whether rapping or singing. He introduces himself, the neighborhood, and the key players in a song that is a vibrant mix of Latin, po, and R&B. This is Ramos’ first major leading role. and you could never tell.

Melissa Barrera’s Vanessa is the perfect partner to Usnavi; even through the pure listening experience, you root for the leads to get together. Her belting intro snaps as she holds her notes in a fashion worthy of a Broadway performance. Gregory Diaz IV’s Sonny steals the show in “96,000,” with his solo during the hip-hop-infused number. The fantasy number is another ensemble piece in which everyone gets the chance to imagine what they would do with that winning lottery money.

Maybe the most welcome of all the changes made between stage and screen: fans who cringed every time they had to suffer through Donald Trump’s name being mentioned in the Broadway cast album lyrics during this number will find that he’s been replaced by a Tiger Woods callout.

Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia flexes her chords in “Paciencia y Fe.” In the musical, the song is used as an announcement: she has won the lottery. The movie version not only holds on to the suspense of who won a tad longer, but the song also comes moments before she passes away and is a reflection on the sacrifices made for her to emigrate and portrays her arrival in America. “Fresh off the boat in America. Freezing in early December, a crowded city in 1943, learning the ropes in America, in Español, I remember, dancing with Mayor La Guardia, all of society welcoming mami and me,” she sings. There is no doubt of Merediz’s ability to deliver a number. She’s reprising her role from Broadway but her power strikes strong here as if she’s discovering the part for the first time, rippling through the emotion of the journey for a tear-jerking highlight.

On a lighter note, the salon ladies who are mistresses of hair, nails and gossip are led by Daphne Rubin-Vega who steps into the role of Daniela. She brings

But it’s in “Carnaval del Barrio” where listeners should turn the volume up as the energy of the musical hits as high as it can go. Rubin-Vega takes this community-rallying celebration of heritage to full force, as the film’s theme of music, dance and culture culminates in a single, glorious number as the salon ladies say goodbye to the neighborhood after being priced out.

Miranda makes his cameo and gifts listeners with “Home All Summer,” performed by stars Anthony Ramos, Leslie Grace, and Marc Anthony. The song plays over the film’s end credits and is a Latin-pop infused number filled with fun and energy while driving the point of home.

It’s a rarity that an original cast recording and subsequent film soundtrack for a musical find an equal place in the hearts of fans of a show, but that’s likely to be the case here; making the touch choice of which should come up first in a playlist will be a perfect problem to have.

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A3 Artists Agency Promotes Alexis Cooper to VP of HR, Ulisses Rivera to Director of Communications


A3 Artists Agency announced on Friday that Alexis Cooper will now serve as vice president of HR, while Ulisses Rivera was promoted to director of communications. Both Cooper and Rivera will continue reporting to Chief Operating Officer Todd Quinn.

“Alexis and Ulisses have been key to helping us take the agency to the next level,” said A3 Chief Executive Officer Robert Attermann. “Alexis has empowered staff development and created a culture of strong rapport, diversity, and inclusivity, while Ulisses has enabled us to become storytellers and bolstered the agency’s presence across the media. They contribute to important components of the business that integrate seamlessly with the rest of the agency to help us achieve our core mission.”

Cooper joined A3 in 2018, bringing more than 15 years of experience across all facets of human resources to the company, and has since worked to promote inclusion within A3, revamping the agency’s internship program with a focus on diversity, and creating a pipeline for students from underrepresented communities. Cooper founded and co-chairs the agency’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Awareness (IDEA) committee, which provides ongoing educational programming for staff.

Rivera launched the talent agency’s public relations division in 2019, serving as its spokesperson and managing overall communications strategy, including publicity efforts for national and international announcements. He also co-chairs A3’s IDEA committee. Prior to joining the agency, Rivera worked for public relations firm Sunshine Sachs.

Outside of A3, Cooper serves as a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters and is on the board of directors for Fem the Future, an organization committed to ensuring that girls and women have access to all spaces necessary to create change. Rivera sits on the board of directors for Christopher Street West/LA Pride, whose mission is to create safe and inclusive spaces of self-expression, celebration, and diversity/equity/inclusion for the LGBTQ+ community of Greater Los Angeles.

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Natalie Portman, Julianne Moore Join Todd Haynes Drama ‘May December’


Oscar-winning actors Natalie Portman and Julianne Moore are set to headline a new drama from acclaimed director Todd Haynes.

“May December” will see the heavyweights pair for the story of a Hollywood actress (Portman) who travels to the picturesque coast of Maine to study the real-life woman (Moore) she’s set to play in a film. The woman in question was the subject of a tabloid scandal two decades prior, for marrying a man 23 years her junior. As Moore’s character and her husband prepare to send their twin girls off to college, the family dynamic begins to unravel under Portman’s outsider lens.

Samy Burch is writing the script, based on a story from herself and Alex Mechanik. The project is launching international sales via Rocket Science at this year’s Virtual Cannes Market. UTA Independent Film Group and CAA Media Finance are handling domestic sales.

Jessica Elbaum and Will Ferrell of Gloria Sanchez Productions (“Hustlers,” “Booksmart,” “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar”) and Christine Vachon (“Shirley”) and Pam Koffler of Killer Films will produce alongside Portman and Sophie Mas under their MountainA banner. Shooting is set to commence in 2022.

“What so appealed to me about Samy Burch’s exceptional script was how it navigated potentially volatile subject matter with a kind of observational patience that allowed the characters in the story to be explored with uncommon subtlety,” said Haynes.

Haynes reunites with his “Far From Heaven” lead Moore for the sixth time on this project, and also counts a film in the official selection at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the Apple Studios original documentary “The Velvet Underground.” He is represented by CAA and Cinetic Media.

Portman is a three-time Oscar nominee who took best actress in 2011 for “Black Swan.” She just completed production on Marvel’s “Thor: Love and Thunder” from Taika Waititi. She is repped by CAA and Agence Adequat.

Moore is a five-time Academy Award nominee with a best actress win for the 2015 drama “Still Alice.” She’s currently playing in the Apple original “Lisey’s Story” and will be seen later this year in Universal’s musical adaptation “Dear Evan Hansen.” Moore is repped by WME and Management 360;

Screenwriter Burch is represented by Grandview. Elbaum, Ferrell and Gloria Sanchez are represented by UTA, Mosaic and attorneys Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer Mandelbaum Morris Bernstein Trattner & Klein.

Rocket Science’s Cannes slate includes Sean Penn’s “Flag Day,” the competition title which was just acquired by MGM,  and Eva Husson’s “Mothering Sunday.” Recently announced projects include Zach Braff’s “A Good Person” with Florence Pugh and Morgan Freeman and the Robbie Williams biopic “Better Man” from director Michael Gracey.

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J.J. Abrams’ Loud Robot Label Strikes Deal With RCA, Premiering With Nnena (EXCLUSIVE)


RCA Records has announced a new partnership and label deal with Loud Robot, the record label from J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot, to release new musical talent.

To kick off this partnership, Nnena, the first musical signing to Loud Robot, today releases a brand-new track and video for “Heart Moan,” the second track from her forthcoming debut EP “Bipolar AF,” which is set for release on June 25. Other new artist signings to Loud Robot/RCA Records will be announced soon.

Rapper-singer-songwriter Nnena Adigwe was born in Cleveland to Nigerian parents. A former basketball player, she began writing comedic sketches during college which led to more full-fledged projects that required music. Rather than pay licensing fees, she decided to do it herself.

RCA COO John Fleckenstein said, “Nnena is such a talent. Full of personality, stories and song. We are thrilled to announce her debut!  And I cannot imagine a more perfect debut to kick off our new partnership with Loud Robot. The combination of Bad Robot’s creative engine and storytelling prowess combined with RCA’s obsessive ears for the worlds brightest music talent offers an extremely potent mix. Brian Weinstein, McKee Floyd and Nicky Berger have already proven to be all-star partners and serious operators. Backed by the vision of J.J. Abrams and Katie McGrath, it is not hard to imagine the potential that lies ahead of this exciting new venture.”

Brian Weinstein, President and COO of Bad Robot, stated, “We are thrilled to collaborate with RCA’s Peter Edge, John Fleckenstein, and the entire RCA team. Their creative sensibility, business acumen, and industry leadership is unparalleled and we’re proud to call them our partners. Given the momentum that Loud Robot’s McKee Floyd and Nicky Berger have already generated alongside RCA, we are endlessly excited about the future of this new partnership.”

In a joint statement, McKee Floyd and Nicky Berger, Loud Robot co-General Managers, added, “RCA has supported our vision to sign creative, left-of-center artists, like Nnena, who might not traditionally see themselves signing to a major label. At her core, Nnena is a storyteller, channeling her experiences into songs, videos, and sketches that are at once relatable and wildly unique. We want Loud Robot/RCA to be the home for these artists to tell their stories through a host of mediums, centered around music.”

Nnena has scripted and produced comedic bite-sized sketches to post as companion pieces for each track from her forthcoming EP – Check out the one for “Heart Moan” HERE and for the previously released track “Rewind” HERE. Last month Nnena released a hilarious visualizer and stunning live performance video for lead track “Rewind” from her EP.

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Thessaloniki Goes to Cannes Picks Six for Pix-in-Post Industry Showcase


Four Greek fiction features and two documentaries have been selected for this year’s edition of Thessaloniki Goes to Cannes, the Cannes Film Market’s pix-in-post industry showcase. The projects will be presented to potential sales agents, distributors and festival programmers during a presentation at the Palais des Festivals on July 12.

The event is a collaboration between the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the Greek Film Center, and the Cannes Film Market. Greece is the only country in Southeastern Europe and the Balkans to take part.

This year, the event’s organizers received even more applications than in years past, according to Yianna Sarri, head of the Thessaloniki Film Festival’s industry arm, Agora. “It seems that even during the pandemic, film directors found a way to be more creative,” she said.

Sarri noted that the annual event has become a prime launching pad for rising Greek talents. Two years ago, Christos Nikou’s “Apples” was presented for the first time at Thessaloniki Goes to Cannes, before going on to open the Horizons sidebar at the Venice Film Festival and land on the shortlist for the best international feature film Oscar.

“The majority of [this year’s] films are from newcomers, and Thessaloniki has always been a space of talent discovery,” said Sarri. “We are also very proud this year that half of the selection comes from women directors.”

“Behind the Haystacks,” by director Asimina Proedrou, is the story of a middle-aged fisherman and farmer living with his wife and daughter in a lakeside Greek village on the border with North Macedonia. Afraid of going to jail for a fraud he committed in the past, he starts to traffic migrants across the border to repay the money he stole. But soon he finds himself trapped in a deadly game between the local mafia and his conscience, while his family starts falling apart.

The film is produced by Ioanna Bolomyti (Argonauts Productions), Markus Halberschmidt (Fiction Park), Vladimir Anastasov and Angela Nestorovska (Sektor Film).

Written and directed by Maria Douza and based on a true story, “Winter with Valmira” is the story of a deaf teenage girl who leaves her specialized school in Athens for her father’s island, where she’s abruptly forced to live among the hearing. There her interactions unwittingly trigger a series of long-simmering conflicts and misunderstandings. Pic is produced by Michael Sarantinos (Steficon, Greece) and Ivan Tonev (Ars Digital, Bulgaria).

“The film is a reflection on loneliness and isolation provoked by our inability, fear and resistance to reach out to other people,” Douza told Variety. “Valmira’s deafness serves as a metaphor both of our need to hear and our choice not to hear; our desire to be heard but also our refusal to listen; our egotistic preoccupation with the self. But it is also a reflection on the power of goodness in a world where cynicism passes for wisdom and evil as the only essence of human nature.”

She continued, “Our intention is to make a film that will show the humanity we all carry in ourselves, our potential to choose goodness over hatred, understanding over intolerance, empathy over selfishness. We want to make a film that ‘will allow goodness its own speech,’ as Toni Morrison would say,’ not to deny the existence of evil, but to counter it.”

“Bastards” is directed by Nikos Pastras and produced by Pastras and Nicholas Alavanos. It follows 10 youths who flee the rules of a suffocating society to create their own community in a large, isolated house. But the balance will soon be upset and relationships will be tested, forcing them to find a way to remain free.

“My desire to make ‘Bastards’ did not sprout from the story itself, but from the condition in which the story was created,” said Pastras. “The characters relied on the actors and evolved with them in both the preparation of the film and the actual shooting. The idea was to make a film that goes against all forms of authority relying only on the joy of playing, life and freedom. A subjective look at youth and revolution. Individual, collective, sexual, heroic and childish.”

He added, “The fact that the birth of this film and its realization took place in a pandemic and in a hard lockdown is not only not accidental, but on the contrary, it gave us a force, a momentum and a sort of freedom that came from the desire to resist.”

“Dogwatch” is a documentary from director Gregoris Rentis. It centers on privately hired mercenaries who are responsible for protecting vessels crossing the High Risk Area off the Somali coastline against pirate attacks. Rigorously preparing to face the enemy, each watch brings them closer to the day of contact. Often, though, that day never comes to pass.

The Greece-France co-production is produced by Rentis (BYRD), Vicky Miha (asterisk*), Clément Duboin and Florence Cohen (Good Fortune Films).

In a director’s statement, Rentis described the existential challenge facing these mercenaries, whose craving for adventure is offset by the mundane nature of their job. “Life at sea is mentally challenging enough, and standing guard against what often seems like a non-enemy makes the days passing almost absurd,” he said.

“The same fear of inaction echoes across our goal-setting yet disoriented Western societies,” he continued. “‘Dogwatch’ enlists the backdrop of maritime piracy to draw a portrait of society on a treadmill, circling from crisis to war and back, hopelessly waiting for something to break the pattern.”

“Into the Land of Ice and Fire” (pictured) is directed by Dimitra Zirou and produced by Nikos Moustakas (Bad Crowd). The documentary is inspired by the contemporary life of the indigenous people inhabiting the European Arctic region, the Sámi. After twenty years of researching and photographing the European Arctic and its indigenous inhabitants, Zirou tells two parallel stories.

One follows the everyday life of 85-year-old Sara, one of the few remaining traditional healers and keepers of Sámi oral tradition. The other centers on Mihka, a 6-year-old Sámi boy who lives with his family in a small, distant town in the middle of the Norwegian Arctic tundra. Their stories gradually unfold against the changing of the Arctic seasons and the passage from the long winter’s darkness to the never-setting light of the summer.

Finally, “EX” is set against the backdrop of Berlin’s nightlife scene. Directed by George Markakis and produced by Markakis and Chris Cornelsen, this fiction film follows Diana and a flurry of gorgeous party people for one night of sublime chaos that invites the audience to see more than reckless hedonism. As its characters share stories about lives lived at the fringes of society, a deeper connection unravels, sparking soul-baring moments of clarity, acceptance, and unapologetic truth.

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Shark Attack Thriller ‘The Wreck’ Sets Malta Shoot, Altitude to Sell at Virtual Cannes Market (EXCLUSIVE)


Altitude Film Sales has boarded high concept survival thriller “The Wreck” and will introduce the project to buyers at the upcoming Cannes virtual market.

Based on a screenplay by Nick Saltrese (“Jetski,” “A Prayer Before Dawn”), the film will follow a group of old college friends who reunite on a Caribbean scuba diving trip exploring the wreckage of a WWII battleship and find themselves trapped inside the underwater labyrinth of rusted metal surrounded by great white sharks.

The film will be directed by Liam O’Donnell, who began his career working with Hydraulx VFX on projects including Fox’s “Alien vs. Predator: Requiem” (2007), Marvel’s “Iron Man 2” (2009) and Relativity/Universal’s “Skyline” (2010), which he produced and co-wrote. In 2017, O’Donnell wrote his directorial debut, “Beyond Skyline,” starring Frank Grillo, Bojana Novakovic and Iko Uwais. Recently, O’Donnell wrote and directed the trilogy capper “Skylines,” starring Lindsey Morgan, Rhona Mitra and Alexander Siddig.

Principal photography will commence in Malta in September with shark attack film veteran Mark Silk (“47 Meters Down,” “47 Meters Down: Uncaged”) serving as DoP.

Andrew Prendergast and Chris Reed, whose latest project “Jetski” completed principal photography during lockdown and is now in post-production, are producing “The Wreck.” Will Clarke, Andy Mayson and Mike Runagall will executive produce for Altitude.

O’Donnell said: “Who doesn’t want to explore a beautiful underwater shipwreck with smart, funny and gorgeous people as great white sharks try to tear them all to shreds? Nick’s script is a real white knuckled ride and Mark is one of the best underwater cinematographers in the world. I can’t wait to dive in.”

O’Donnell is represented by Zero Gravity Management and Miloknay Weiner.

Altitude Film Sales’ slate also includes survival thriller “Out Come The Wolves” from Canadian filmmaker Adam MacDonald; “Jetski,” directed by James Nunn; “Diana” from Oscar-Award nominee Ed Perkins; and “The Real Charlie Chaplin” from BAFTA and Sundance-nominated filmmakers Peter Middleton and James Spinney.

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‘Queen Bees’ Review: A Lightweight but Likable Comedy Propelled by an All-Star Team of Old Pros


There will always been a place in the world for older-skewing movies as pleasant as “Queen Bees,” a lightweight but likable comedy set primarily in a retirement community where close friendships are forged — sometimes reluctantly, sometimes immediately — and autumnal romance can blossom. For years, their natural habitat has been bargain-matinee multiplex screenings, where over-50 ticketbuyers might attend solo, in groups or accompanied by children and/or grandchildren. More recently, viewing options have expanded to include the modern miracle of VOD. But any way you look at it, director Michael Lembeck’s indie offering is bound to please nearly anyone in its target demographic who isn’t easily offended by unmistakable indications that, as the old saying goes, although there’s snow on the roof, fire can still burn in the hearth.

Ellen Burstyn heads the unusually strong cast of familiar faces as Helen Wilson, a fiercely independent retired schoolteacher who — much to the dismay of Laura (Elizabeth Mitchell), her slightly control-freakish daughter — is determined to keep living in the spacious house where she shared so many good times with her three-years-deceased husband. But after she accidentally causes a fire in her kitchen, Helen is forced to move into a retirement community while extensive damage is repaired. The relocation, she insists to anyone who’ll listen, is only temporary. Sure.

Shortly after she settles in at Pine Grove Senior Community, Helen runs into the unofficial rulers of the roost: much-married Margot (Ann-Margret), free-spirited Sally (Loretta Devine) and their ringleader, the sternly matriarchal Janet (Jane Curtin). These “Queen Bees,” Helen tells her attentive grandson Peter (Matthew Barnes), “are like mean girls, but with medical alert bracelets.” When a fourth member of the geriatric clique conveniently dies, however, there is an opening at the card table. And Helen just happens to be an ace bridge player.

Things proceed apace — predictably, yet amusingly — as love (or, to be more precise, lust) instantly binds Margot and Arthur (Christopher Lloyd), a Pine Grove newbie with a seemingly turbo-charged libido, while Helen takes considerably more time warming to the romantic overtures of Dan (James Caan), another recent addition to the retirement community.

Janet, a chronic sourpuss with a touch of Iago about her, periodically commits malicious mischief to complicate things, leading to a third-act revelation that seems cribbed from a turn-of-the-century romcom. More often, though, “Queen Bees” plays like a 1980s or ’90s sitcom — hey, did somebody say “The Golden Girls”? — complete with “very special episodes” involving cancer threats and other mortal stakes, and wisecracks that sound hand-tooled for laugh-track accompaniment. (Asked if Helen exercises, Laura replies, “She burns most of her calories rolling her eyes.”)

On the other hand, there are good reasons why many of those decades-old sitcoms remain enduringly popular on cable TV, not the least of which being the potent chemistry of their casts. A similar sort of charm propels “Queen Bees,” as well-cast supporting players like French Stewart (as the excitable Pine Grove manager) and Alec Mapa (as a philosophical Filipino masseur) have their moments to shine, and the leads interact with crowd-pleasing deftness.

Burstyn and Caan are so effortlessly charming together, you find yourself wishing they would be cast in a long-afterwards sequel to “Same Time, Next Year.” Lloyd and Ann-Margret are affectingly pitch-perfect in a payoff scene for the relationship between their characters, Devine brings equal flair to funny business and serious stuff, and Curtin is hilariously hateful until she doesn’t have to be.

There are about a dozen different ways “Queen Bees” could have soured into something unbearably silly and condescending — like, say, 2017’s unfortunate “Just Getting Started” — while dealing with the diminished physical abilities and unabated physical desires of its older characters. Fortunately, director Lembeck and scripter Donald Martin are savvy enough to avoid almost all of the booby traps — even while Helen and Sally are talking about, well, boobs — and emphasize the rueful self-awareness of those Pine Grove residents who want to enjoy their twilight days to the fullest before they go gentle into that good night.

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