Review: ‘The Protégé’ (2021), starring Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Keaton

August 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Samuel L. Jackson and Maggie Q in “The Protégé” (Photo by Jichici Raul/Lionsgate)

“The Protégé” (2021)

Directed by Martin Campbell

Culture Representation: Taking place in Vietnam, Bucharest and London, the action film “The Protégé” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some Asians and a few African Americans) representing the wealthy, middle-class and people are linked to the criminal underworld.

Culture Clash: A skilled assassin is out for her revenge when she finds out that her mentor has been murdered.

Culture Audience: The Protégé” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching formulaic and derivative action flicks.

Michael Keaton in “The Protégé” (Photo by Simon Varsano/Lionsgate)

“The Protégé” is as unimaginative as its title. What could have been a next-level action showcase for star Maggie Q is instead a boring and idiotic retread of so many other movies about assassins out for revenge. The “mystery” and “intrigue” storyline in this movie is almost non-existent, especially when a completely unbelievable plot twist is revealed.

And that begs the question: Why was this movie even made? It seems like a bunch of men (the producers, writer and director of “The Protégé” are all men) just wanted to throw their money around so that they could see Maggie Q (or whichever actress would end up getting the role) in tight clothing while she’s toting a gun and other weapons. There is no interesting plot; it’s just fight scenes at various locations.

Did any of “The Protégé” filmmakers ever see the 2011 American movie “Hanna” or the 2017 South Korean film “The Villainess”? It sure seems that way, because “The Protégé” borrows heavily from the plots of both assassin action films. “Hanna” is about the title character getting trained as an assassin as an underage child. “The Villainess” (which was inspired by 1990’s “La Femme Nikita”) is about a female assassin who witnessed her father getting murdered when she was hiding in a room as a child. “Hanna” and “The Villainess” are infinitely superior to “The Protégé,” which thinks that a few intricate stunts can make up for a weak and nonsensical plot.

In “The Protégé” (directed by Martin Campbell and written by Richard Wenk), Maggie Q plays Anna, an assassin who is originally from Da Nang, Vietnam. She became orphaned in 1991, when she was 11 years old, when she witnessed her family getting murdered while she hid somewhere in the home. It’s eventually revealed in a flashback that an American soldier named Moody (played by Samuel L. Jackson) found Anna hiding in an armoir in the home, and he decided to raise her without formally adopting her.

Moody’s time in the military ended, and he became an assassin who trained Anna on his killer techniques. He’s described in the film as a “legendary” assassin, yet he makes a lot of dumb mistakes and nonsensical decisions that no so-called “professional” would make. A lot of time is wasted in this movie jumping from location to location, with empty-headed fight scenes that are intended to distract from a plot that barely exists.

An an early sequence in “The Protégé” takes place in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, where a ruthless crime lord named Don Preda (played by Velizar Binev) is infuriated because his adult son Vali (played by George Pistereanu) has been kidnapped. By the way, Don has the nickname Donald the Butcher of Bucharest, as if that’s supposed to make viewers of this movie terrified That nickname just sounds like someone who could be a local butcher at a grocery store.

Anna and Moody are in Bucharest around the time that Vali was kidnapped. Some vicious fighting ensues, and some people get killed. Anna and Moody are then seen in London, where Maggie has a cover identity working as a sales clerk in a boutique bookstore that sells rare publications. It’s supposed to make her look like a smart character, but it’s all for nothing because this is a very dumb movie.

For reasons that are never really explained, Moody owns the bookstore. And he’s given the deed to Anna. It’s a foreshadowing that he thinks he’s going to die soon, but Anna appears too dense to notice this clue. To portray a tender “mentor/protégé” moment, the film has Anna and Moody celebrating his birthday by themselves. Anna gives him a gift that Moody doesn’t expect but is delighted to get: a 1958 Gibson Flying V guitar. The guitar becomes a plot device later in the movie.

One day, a mysterious and wealthy American businessman named Michael Rembrandt (played by Michael Keaton) goes into the bookstore because he says that he’s looking for a rare book. Anna recommends a book of poetry by Edgar Allan Poe. But by the way that Michael looks at Anna, it’s obvious he’s not really interested in any rare books. Sure enough, he asks Anna on a date, and she ends up going to his mansion, where more violent hijinks ensue.

Some other characters come into the mix in this messy and undercooked story. Anna and Moody know an informant named Benny, who works out of the back room of a laundromat. Another underground connection for Anna and Moody is a motorcycle gang leader named Billy Boy (played by Robert Patrick), who doesn’t have a lot of screen time in the movie.

There’s also a deaf, blind and mute man in his early 30s named Lucas Hayes (played by Dimitar Nikolov), whose father Edward Hayes (played by David Rintoul) has been assassinated. The murder of Edward happened after he was indicted for war crimes of illegally selling chemical weapons. There’s a murky subplot of Anna trying to find out what Lucas knows, but the filmmakers seem to make Lucas’ disabilities an absurdly cruel joke on Anna, as if to say: “Good luck finding out witness information from a deaf, blind and mute person.”

At one point in the movie, which can’t make up its mind what storyline it wants to focus on, Anna finds a bloody Moody, lying mutilated in his bathtub. The condition of his body indicates that he was murdered. And that means one thing after that: Anna is out for revenge against whoever killed Moody. Because “The Protégé” filmmakers think that globetrotting will make the movie look better than it really is, Anna ends up in Da Nang again.

There’s something that happens later in the movie which absolutely puts it into garbage filmmaking territory. Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that whenever plot twists like this happen, viewers are supposed to believe that medical examiners and coroner reports don’t exist, in order for someone to be declared dead and the cause of death. It’s a very lazy plot twist that makes no logical sense.

Meanwhile, because every cliché movie about a woman who’s an assassin seems to require that she has sex with someone who might or might not be her enemy, you can easily guess what will happen between Anna and Michael. Just like the fight scenes in “The Protégé,” the movie’s sex scene looks too calculated and robotic. This is the movie’s idea of foreplay dialogue, when Michael says to Anna: “Do you want to kill me or fuck me?”

“The Protégé” is the type of awful dreck that has this cringeworthy line that someone utters when pointing a gun at someone and commenting on the gun’s bullets: “I can put two in the back of your head and make a sandwich.” How about you take that sandwich and flush it down the toilet, just like how this movie was made?

All of the well-known actors in the movie (Maggie Q, Jackson, Keaton and Patrick) are just doing bland retreads of characters they’ve played before in better movies. Maggie Q certainly has what it takes to be a major action movie star. And some of the stunts she does in “The Protégé” are impressive.

But you need more than just stunts and action choreography to make a good movie. You need to have dialogue and a story that will make people care about the protagonists and what will happen to them. All the actors are given such dreadful lines that they look like they’re just going through the motions and have no real emotional connections to their character roles. When they’re not in fight scenes, the actors look bored. If “The Protégé” filmmakers didn’t care to make a good movie with such a talented cast, then you shouldn’t care to watch it.

Lionsgate released “The Protégé” in U.S. cinemas on August 20, 2021.

Review: ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7,’ starring Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella and Michael Keaton

December 29, 2020

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row: Caitlin FitzGerald, Alex Sharp, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch and Sacha Baron Cohen in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Photo by Nico Tavernise/Netflix) 

“The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Directed by Aaron Sorkin

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1968 to 1970, primarily in Chicago and briefly in Washington, D.C., the dramatic film “The Trial of the Chicago 7” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the middle-class and upper-class.

Culture Clash: Eight men accused of inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago go on trial in a case that exemplified the conflicts between the “establishment government” and “radical activists.”

Culture Audience: “The Trial of the Chicago 7″ will appeal primarily to people interested in dramatic interpretations of real political and legal events in American history during the Vietnam War, with the stories being unapologetically sympathetic to progressive liberal politics.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ben Shenkman, Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne and Alex Sharp in “The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Photo by Nico Tavernise/Netflix)

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” might as well have been called “The Showcase of Sacha Baron Cohen.” Although the movie has a big ensemble cast, he ends up stealing the show in his portrayal of left-wing activist Abbie Hoffman. This elevation of Hoffman as the “star” of the story is entirely by design, since “The Trial of Chicago 7” writer/director Aaron Sorkin has a reputation for not allowing actors to improvise in the movies that he writes and directs.

Taking place mostly in Chicago from 1968 to 1970, amid protests against the controversial Vietnam War, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” seems entirely calculated to win as many prestigious awards as possible. “The Trial of Chicago 7” exposes those ambitions too blatantly for it to feel like a truly immersive cinematic experience. The results are that viewers will feel constantly reminded that they’re watching showboat performances and re-enactments rather than being transported to experiencing the genuine emotions of the real-life people involved in this story.

Sorkin (who won an Oscar for writing the 2010 movie “The Social Network”) delivers the type of articulate and verbose screenplay that people would expect from the Emmy-winning former showrunner of “The West Wing.” “The Trial of Chicago 7” has got plenty of sociopolitical commentary that makes conservatives look like villains, and liberals look like heroes. (Sorkin is an outspoken liberal in real life.) There’s also a lot of snappy dialogue with witty one-liners and feisty arguments. And the film editing, which jumps back and forth in time, keeps the tone and pace of the movie very lively.

The trial is obviously the center of the story, but the movie’s non-chronological scenes alternate between showing the trial, showing events leading up to the trial, and showing what happened outside of the courtroom during the six months that the trial took place. It’s a lot to cram into a feature-length movie—”The Trial of the Chicago 7″ clocks in at 129 minutes—so some defendants get a lot more screen time and backstories than others. For the most part, the dramatic retelling of this true story works. However, there are a few scenes that were obviously fabricated for the movie, while the movie also leaves out a lot of uncomfortable truths.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” begins with a brief overview of how the U.S. was affected by the Vietnam War, which was declared by President Lyndon Johnson (a moderate Democrat) in 1965 to save Vietnam from Communism. The Vietnam War escalated into a conflict that American protesters believed was a pointless and expensive war. As thousands of people died in the war, young men in America tried to avoid being drafted into the military. And millions of Americans, especially many of college age, became conscientious war protestors. Vietnam War advocates labeled anti-war protesters as “radicals” and “unpatriotic.”

In 1968, Johnson did not seek re-election. Hubert Humphrey, a former U.S. Senator from Minnesota, became the U.S. presidential nominee for the Democratic Party that year. Humphrey’s conservative Republican opponent was Richard Nixon, a former U.S. vice president under Dwight D. Eisenhower. Nixon would go on to win the presidential election in 1968 and was inaugurated in January 1969.

But before that happened, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago in August 1968 became a flashpoint for increasing civil unrest over the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Thousands of protestors gathered in Chicago, resulting in violent clashes between law enforcement (Chicago police and the National Guard) and protestors. The riots lasted for two days and ended with 11 people dead, an untold number of people wounded, and thousands of people arrested.

In April 1968, U.S. Congress passed the Rap Brown Law, to make it illegal for people who live outside a community to incite confrontations in a community where they don’t live. It was intended as an anti-riot law, but critics of the law believed its was just the government’s response to people who wanted to organize widespread protests against the Vietnam War and racial injustice. People who advocated for the law believed that it was necessary to help prevent violence during protests.

Johnson and his administration’s U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to federally prosecute anyone for the violence that happened at the 1968 DNC, which ended up being used as an example of how divided America was over the Vietnam War. However, Johnson’s presidential successor Nixon, who ran for U.S. president on a platform to restore “law and order,” had other ideas on how to deal with the chief protestors who were at the 1968 DNC. The Rap Brown Law was about to be enforced, and certain protestors were going to be prosecuted for it.

One of the early scenes in the movie takes place in 1969, in Washington, D.C., by depicting a meeting called by John Mitchell (played by John Doman), the U.S. attorney general appointed by Nixon. In the meeting with Mitchell are attorneys Richard Schultz (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Thomas Foran (played by J.C. MacKenzie) and Howard Ackerman (played by Damien Young), who is a special adviser to Mitchell. Mitchell tells Schultz and Moran that he intends to use the Rap Brown Law to prosecute the leaders of some of the anti-Vietnam War groups who were at the 1968 DNC.

Schultz, who is a very by-the-book young attorney, can’t understand why this prosecution should take place, because Johnson declined to federally prosecute anyone for the 1969 DNC riots because of a lack of evidence. Mitchell essentially says that he doesn’t care, and he agrees with Nixon in wanting to make an example out of these “radical” left-wing leaders. Mitchell also strongly hints that he has a grudge against Clark (played by Michael Keaton), because Mitchell believes that Clark disrespected him in the transition process when the Nixon administration took over from the Johnson administration.

Mitchell decides that Schultz will be the lead prosecutor in the case, with Foran also on the prosecution team. Schultz is very reluctant to take the job because he feels that he doesn’t have enough experience in handling such a big, high-profile case. However, Mitchell insists that Schultz is the best person for the job and convinces Schultz to be the lead prosecutor in the case. It’s not said outright, but viewers can infer that Mitchell chose Schultz because Mitchell probably felt that Schultz’s youth and inexperience would make it easier for the U.S. government to manipulate Schultz.

On March 20, 1969, eight left-wing group leaders were indicted for conspiracy to cross state lines to incite the 1968 DNC riots, among other charges. Their joint trial began in Chicago on September 24, 1969. Presiding over the trial was Judge Julius Hoffman (played by Frank Langella) of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The eight men on trial were:

  • Tom Hayden, a former president and prominent leader of the activist group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
  • Rennie Davis (played by Alex Sharp), another prominent SDS leader, who is depicted in the movie as Hayden’s best friend.
  • Abbie Hoffman (played by Baron Cohen), co-founder of the Youth International Party, also known as the Yippies, a group advocating for counterculture politics and lifestyles.
  • Jerry Rubin (played by Jeremy Strong), co-founder the Youth International Party.
  • David Dellinger (played by John Carroll Lynch), a prominent member of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (The MOBE), a conference of anti-Vietnam War groups.
  • John Froines (played by Danny Flaherty), a MOBE member who was eventually acquitted of all charges in the trial.
  • Lee Weiner (played by Noah Robbins), a MOBE member who was eventually acquitted of all charges in the trial.
  • Bobby Seale (played by Yayha Abdul-Mateen II), co-founder of the Black Panther Party, an activist group against racial discrimination of black people.

The attorneys for the defendants who are portrayed in the movie are William Kunstler (played by Mark Rylance) and his colleague Leonard Weinglass (played by Ben Shenkman). Kunstler is portrayed as passionate supporter of civil liberties who is fairly even-tempered except when his patience is pushed to the limits. On the prosecution side, Schultz’s courtroom style is more conventional than Kunstler’s style. The supporting lawyers on each side (Foran for the prosecution, Weinglass for the defense) don’t have as much screen time or personality in the movie as the lead attorneys.

And from the beginning, there were problems with Seale being on trial in the first place. He’s depicted as very outspoken in trying to distance himself from the other defendants, by saying that he didn’t even know most of them and certainly didn’t conspire with them. Seale was only in Chicago for four hours to give a speech on one of the days of the 1968 DNC. And in the portions of the trial that are depicted in the movie, Seale vehemently objected on his own behalf because his attorney Charles Garry wasn’t in the courtroom because Garry was in Oakland, California, having surgery.

“The Trial of the Chicago 7” portrays the biggest villain in the courtroom as Judge Hoffman, who doesn’t try to hide his bias against the defendants. The movie also shows that the judge had a racist side in how he treated Seale differently from the other defendants. Judge Hoffman didn’t seem to care that Seale’s attorney wasn’t present during the trial. In a harrowing scene, after Seale was jailed for contempt of court, for angrily talking back to the judge, the Black Panthers leader experienced police brutality from cops who were basically given permission by the judge to do whatever they wanted to Seale to teach him a lesson.

After being physically assaulted by these cops, Seale was paraded back in the courtroom in handcuffs and chains, with a gag on his mouth. Although the white defendants also received several contempt of court citations, they were not physically assaulted and humiliated in the way that Seale was during the trial. The movie depicts several people, including lead attorneys Kunstler and Schultz, being shocked and outraged at how Seale was mistreated, but not doing much about it.

In real life, several of the white defendants were heavily involved in the civil rights movement and fighting against racial discrimination. However, the movie focuses more on the white defendants’ anti-Vietnam War protests as their main activism. Racism is mostly used in the movie as a plot device for Seale’s storyline.

Early on in the trial, Kunstler advises Fred Hampton (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr.), the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers, to tell the Black Panthers who are gathered in the courtroom to not sit together. The implication is clear: A bunch of black people sitting together is considered a “threat,” while it’s perfectly okay for white people to sit together. Hampton understands why this request was made, and he tells the Black Panthers in the courtroom to spread out and to take off their hats—not because he wants to be subservient to white racism but because he knows that Seale has a better chance of being acquitted if the Black Panthers in the courtroom aren’t perceived as a “threat.”

And once Seale is out of the picture (a mistrial was declared for Seale on November 6, 1969), the issue of racism also disappears from the movie. Seale’s departure leaves seven remaining defendants, and then the movie really becomes the Abbie Hoffman Show. “The Trial of Chicago 7” makes wisecracking Hoffman out to be the “class clown” who’s also the “hero” of the movie. Hoffman clashes with Hayden outside of the courtroom, so that the movie can show that these seven defendants didn’t have the united front that the public thought they had at the time.

Hoffman’s sarcastic persona is often expressed in how he talks back to the judge. In an early part of the trial, Judge Hoffman announces in court that the record should reflect that he’s not related to Abbie Hoffman. In response, defendant Hoffman shouts out in mock indignation, “Father!”

It’s one of many outbursts that Hoffman makes in the courtroom during the trial. Hoffman also makes fun of the judge when the judge repeatedly and mistakenly uses the name Derringer when referring to defendant Dellinger. Hoffman suggests that the judge remember that Derringer is the brand name of a gun.

While out on bail, the movie shows several scenes of Hoffman on stage in darkly lit places filled with audiences eager to hear what he has to say. The movie frames these scenes as if Hoffman is a stand-up comedian in a nightclub, as he delivers jokes and one-liners about what it’s like to be on trial and what a farce he thinks the trial is. Judge Hoffman is often mentioned in Abbie Hoffman’s rants against the system.

Rubin is portrayed as Hoffman’s loyal sidekick who is effective in a way that calls less attention to himself than Hoffman’s more loudmouthed techniques. However, Hoffman and Rubin’s fiery brand of activism and shenanigans outside the courtroom garner enough media attention that Judge Hoffman wants to sequester the jury. It’s also implied that Hayden resented all the media attention that Hoffman was getting, and that was part of the reason why Hoffman and Hayden clashed so much behind the scenes during the trial.

Although “The Trial of Chicago 7” makes Hoffman the comic relief in the film, the movie also portrays him not as a buffoon but as the savviest one of the defendants. He’s the first one to declare in a meeting with the other defendants, “This is a political trial. It [the outcome] was already decided for us,” while Hayden still wants to believe that the defendants will get a fair trial.

Hayden is less inclined to believe that there are larger political motives behind the trial. “I would love it if the trial wasn’t about us, but I assure you that it is,” he tells a disbelieving Hoffman. Hayden also disagrees with Hoffman’s view that society needs a radical overhaul. During one of their arguments, Hayden yells at Hoffman: “I don’t have time for cultural revolution! I have time for actual revolution!”

Overall, Hayden’s character is portrayed in a less sympathetic light than Hoffman’s character. Hayden is depicted as uptight, somewhat pretentious and someone who isn’t as revolutionary as he claims to be. There are many hints that show that Hayden was using SDS because he had future ambitions to become a mainstream politician. (And if you don’t know what Hayden did with his life after the trial, the movie has an epilogue summary of what happened to all the trial’s main players.)

The most problematic and unrealistic scene in the film is when Hoffman and Rubin, out on bail during the trial, see lead prosecutor Schultz with one of his kids in a park. Hoffman and Rubin call Schultz over for a conversation, which is basically yet another scene to showcase Hoffman being a wiseass. Anyone who knows anything about trials would immediately see that it’s highly unethical and a cause for a mistrial for a prosecutor, while a trial is ongoing, to talk to the trial’s defendants outside of the courtroom without the defendants’ attorneys present.

It’s a scene that’s also out-of-character for Schultz, who made an impression as someone with high standards of playing by the rules, up until this scene. It just doesn’t make sense for prosecutor Schultz to risk having an unethical conversation before the trial is over with two defendants in a public park, of all places, where there would be witnesses who could report seeing this conversation. Not only could this unethical conversation cause a mistrial, but it could also taint Schultz’s career.

And therefore, the only conclusion that viewers can come to when noticing this big legal blunder in the movie is that this scene was concocted as a way to make Hoffman and Rubin have a face-to-face confrontation with one of their trial adversaries outside of the courtroom. It cheapens the movie’s screenplay and it actually insults the intelligence of anyone who knows what the law is when it comes to what U.S. trial participants can and cannot do before the trial is over.

There are also many disruptions during the trial that look exaggerated for the sake of making the movie more dramatic, comedic and tension-filled. There’s a point in the movie where Judge Hoffman loses control of the courtroom in such a way that it looks very fake. Don’t take a drink of alcohol every time Judge Hoffman is seen banging his gavel in frustration because people won’t listen to him, because you might end up with alcohol poisoning.

The costume design and production design for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” are very accurate, but the way the movie is filmed, everything looks like a movie set and everyone looks like an actor playing a role. The riot scenes are filmed in a perfunctory manner, in the way that many other similar Vietnam War-era riot scenes have been filmed in other movies. There’s some real-life news footage spliced in some of the scenes, which will just remind viewers even more how staged the re-enactments are.

And this is very much a “boys’ club” movie, since the few women with significant speaking roles in the film are either playing the role of an office worker, a romantic partner or a “temptress.” Caitlin FitzGerald is the only woman who’s listed as a co-star in the cast ensemble. She plays Agent Daphne O’Connor, an undercover officer who poses as a radical counterculture activist named Debbie, who pretends to show a romantic interest in Rubin so she can get information out of him. Agent O’Connor later testifies for the prosecution in the trial, and the movie makes a big deal out of Rubin being emotionally hurt over being “tricked” by this temptress.

What’s deliberately omitted from “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is any acknowledgment that these so-called “liberal” and “free-thinking” men who were on trial were leaders of organizations that perpetuated a culture of sexism against women. While this movie is busy making Hoffman look like a progressive left-wing hero, it doesn’t show or question why Hoffman couldn’t be bothered to treat women as equals in the activist group that he founded.

Women are certainly seen in the movie’s protest scenes, but they’re only as background extras, along with male protesters. In real life, there were some women who were able to break through sexist barriers and have prominent roles in America’s anti-Vietnam War activism, such as Sandra “Casey” Cason, Judy Gumbo and Robin Morgan, just to name a few of the female contemporaries who at one time or another worked with Hoffman and/or Hayden. But these women, or women who are like them, are completely shut out of the movie.

If you were to believe everything in “The Trial of Chicago 7,” women didn’t come up with any clever ideas or take any leadership roles in organizing these protests or activism in general. It’s a huge blind spot in the movie that erases women’s important contributions to this part of American history and therefore paints a very inaccurate picture. The movie makes it look like men did all the real work behind the scenes, and women just basically answered the phones.

Despite these flaws, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” can be considered entertaining enough because of the performances from the cast members. Baron Cohen is the obvious standout, but Redmayne, Abdul-Mateen and Rylance also turn in memorable and noteworthy performances. But just like the TV series “Law & Order” shouldn’t be considered a completely accurate portrayal of the U.S. criminal justice system, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” shouldn’t be considered a completely accurate depiction of this notorious case.

Netflix released “The Trial of the Chicago 7” in select U.S. cinemas on September 25, 2020. The movie premiered on Netflix on October 16, 2020.

2019 Academy Awards: performers and presenters announced

February 11, 2019

by Carla Hay

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 6, 2019. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced several entertainers who will be performers and presenters at the 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will not have a host. As previously reported, comedian/actor Kevin Hart was going to host the show, but he backed out after the show’s producers demanded that he make a public apology for homophobic remarks that he made several years ago. After getting a  firestorm of backlash for the homophobic remarks, Hart later made several public apologies but remained adamant that he would still not host the Oscars this year.

The celebrities who will be on stage at the Oscars this year are several of those whose songs are nominated for Best Original Song. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will perform their duet “Shallow” from their movie remake of “A Star Is Born.” Jennifer Hudson will perform “I’ll Fight” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG.” David Rawlings and Gillian Welch will team up for the duet “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Western film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” It has not yet been announced who will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the Disney musical sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”** It also hasn’t been announced yet if Kendrick Lamar and SZA will take the stage for “All the Stars” from the superhero flick “Black Panther.”

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic do the music for the “In Memoriam” segment, which spotlights notable people in the film industry who have died in the year since the previous Oscar ceremony.

Meanwhile, the following celebrities have been announced as presenters at the ceremony: Whoopi Goldberg (who has hosted the Oscars twice in the past), Awkwafina, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amandla Stenberg, Tessa Thompson Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Emilia Clarke, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Stephan James, Keegan-Michael Key, KiKi Layne, James McAvoy, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Momoa and Sarah Paulson. Goldberg and Bardem are previous Oscar winners.

Other previous Oscar winners taking the stage will be Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney, who won the actor and actress prizes at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Donna Gigliotti (who won an Oscar for Best Picture for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love) and Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss are the producers of the 2019 Academy Awards. This will be the first time that Gigliotti is producing the Oscar ceremony. Weiss has directed several major award shows, including the Oscars and the Tonys. He will direct the Oscar ceremony again in 2019.

**February 18, 2019 UPDATE: Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Los Things Go,” the Oscar-nominated song from “Mary Poppins Returns.” British rock band Queen, whose official biopic is the Oscar-nominated film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” will also perform on the show with lead singer Adam Lambert. It has not been revealed which song(s) Queen will perform at the Oscars.

February 19, 2019 UPDATE: These presenters have been added to the Oscar telecast: Elsie Fisher, Danai Gurira, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, John Mulaney, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Krysten Ritter, Paul Rudd and Michelle Yeoh.

February 21, 2019 UPDATE: These celebrities will present the Best Picture nominees: José Andrés, Dana Carvey, Queen Latifah, Congressman John Lewis, Diego Luna, Tom Morello, Mike Myers, Trevor Noah, Amandla Stenberg, Barbra Streisand and Serena Williams.

Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Keaton and ‘Spider-Man: Homecoming’ team reboot a classic superhero movie franchise

July 7, 2017

by Carla Hay

Spider-Man Homecoming photo call
Michael Keaton, director Jon Watts, Tony Revolori, Zendaya, Tom Holland, Laura Harrier, Robert Downey Jr., producer Kevin Feige, Marisa Tomei, producer Amy Pascal and Jacob Batalon at the New York City press junket for “Spider-Man”: Homecoming” (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey)

The “Spider-Man” movie franchise is now in its third incarnation. And when it comes incorporating other major characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the third time is the charm, because “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (directed by Jon Watts) is the first time that Marvel Studios has teamed up with Sony Pictures to bring other MCU characters such as Iron Man to a “Spider-Man” movie.

The “Spider-Man” franchise started with the original 2002 “Spider-Man” movie (starring Tobey Maguire as the web-slinging superhero), which spawned two sequels. In 2012, Andrew Garfield took over as Spider-Man (whose real identity is nerdy high-school student Peter Parker) for two “Amazing Spider-Man” movies. Now, in 2017, Tom Holland stars as Spider-Man, a role that Holland also played in Marvel Studios’ 2016 blockbuster “Captain America: Civil War.”

In “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Spider-Man is being mentored by Iron Man/Tony Stark (played by Robert Downey Jr.), who often grows impatient with the over-eager Peter, who’s ready to rejoin the Avengers in their mission to fight crime worldwide. For now, Peter is stuck in high school in New York City’s Queens, where his social life revolves around his best friend, Ned Leeds (played by Jacob Batalon), and fellow members of the school’s debate team, which includes the sarcastic Michelle (played by Zendaya), competitive Flash Thompson (played by Tony Revolori) and “cool kid” Liz (played by Laura Harrier), who is Peter’s secret crush. “Spider-Man: Homecoming” also stars Michael Keaton as Adrian Toomes/Vulture (the movie’s chief villain) and Marisa Tomei as Peter Parker’s Aunt May.

At the New York City press junket for “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Holland, Downey, Keaton, Harrier, Batalon, Zendaya, Revolori, Watts and producers Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige (who is also president of Marvel Studios) gathered for a press conference. This is what they said.

A scene from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

How excited are you to finally bring Spider-Man into the Marvel Cinematic Universe?

Feige: It was one of a handful of, “Well, this will never be possible but let’s dream about it moments” at Marvel studios … Having made the movie, it’s unbelievable. It’s incredible.

Pascal: It is incredible. It started with a lunch with me and Kevin, and I can’t believe we’re here now. It’s pretty exciting,

Director Jon Watts (far left) with cast and crew on the set of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Jon, the biggest challenge  was to not only make a fresh standalone movie but to make one that does fit into the MCU and does capture a unique tone that is delightful and hilarious. What were some of the challenges of capturing all those thins while staying true to the legacy of Spider-Man?

Watts: Well, I just tried to approach it as the biggest fan possible and the opportunity to finally put Spider-Man where he belongs in the Marvel universe, really just opened so many doors to all of the new kinds of stories we could tell. So if anything I felt like we were being as true as possible as anyone has ever been able to be about Spider-<an and how he fits into this world.

Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Tom, with great power comes great responsibility. What kind of responsibility did you feel playing a character that so many people love?

Holland: I think the thing that I had to remind myself most when I took on this character was that Tobey Maguire’s Spider-Man had such a huge impact on me as a kid. He was my role model growing up; he was my favorite character. So I had to remind myself that I’m going to have that same impact on kids of the younger generation. So I really wanted to do them proud, and be a solid role model for them to make a young, fresh version of the character we know and love so well.

The question that Jon and I asked ourselves was, “If you gave a 15-year-old superpowers, he would have the time of his life. And when I made this movie, I had the time of my life, so it really comes across on screen.

Jon Favreau, Robert Downey Jr. and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Robert, you’re like the godfather of the MCU. How do you feel about the way the MCU has evolved but expanded to now include the likes of Spider-Man?

Downey: Well firstly, I’m stoked that they got my memo to design the screening room like an old Miami Dolphins jersey. So that worked out. But Amy and them had done these iterations of Spider-Man previous. They really should do one of those breakdown,  kind-of-boring-to-read-but-somewhat-important books about all the miracles that had to had to happen for us to be sitting here today … This turned out so well. It really comes down to, as Kevin says, “You’ve got to see the movie and love it. “This turned out so well. I saw it, I was in it for a little bit, but I loved it. I think that’s what’s exciting is that they’re still really working.

Michael Keaton in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Michael, the thing about Adrian Toomes/Vulture in this film is that his motives are grounded because he’s motivated by wanting to help his family. What were your impressions when you signed on to this film, in terms of Vulture’s motives?

Keaton: I thought it was inventive and an interesting way to go. I’m not really familiar with a lot of the lore, so for me, I was trying to catch up. I just thought the simplicity of making this person approachable, it’s timely. Let’s not talk about why it’s timely, ’cause I want to blow my brains out.

Downey: He’s only threatening his own life right now.

Keaton: I thought it was a really unique approach and kind of obvious to make this person approachable and has a legitimate gripe and a legitimate argument. I thought it was really well-written. It was a fun gig.

Marisa Tomei and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Marisa, it seems like a fun gig for you as well. What was your take on playing Aunt May as completely different from what we know about the character?

Tomei: I didn’t really know what Aunt May looked like until after I signed up. I couldn’t understand why my agents kept saying to me “They’re going to make her sexy.” “Ugh, stop trying to coddle me. Oh, in contrast of another way to go.” These guys had this vision of how it would be revamped and everyone was going to be younger and she’s his aunt by marriage, so she can be any age at all.

Jacob Batalon and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Jacob, how do you feel about people reacting so well to your Ned character and his friendship with Peter?

Batalon: I’m not going to lie. I knew this was going to happen. Tom and really enjoy each other, and the cast and I enjoy each other, so it was easy to translate that into what you saw. I love them. I love all of them so much. It’s easy to be around them, and it’s easy to make the best things with them.

Zendaya at the Los Angeles premiere of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony Pictures/AP Images)

Zendaya, what was it like to make a big film like this one?

Zendaya: It was incredible. I’ve done a lot of things in my little career so far, but this is my first big movie, so I was terrified, but I suppressed it very well. It’s amazing to be here. I think all of us feel like it’s a bit of a dream. I don’t know when it’s going to feel real, but it definitely doesn’t feel real right now. I don’t mind living in this dream. I enjoy it here, so I think I’m going to keep doing it.

Downey: When the opening numbers come in, it gets real.

Laura Harrier and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Laura, why do you think out of all the superheroes, Spider-Man means the most to people?

Harrier: Because I think he’s the most relatable. We all know what it’s like to grow up and go to high school and go through growing pains and have awkward moments of talking to someone you have a crush on. It’s harder to connect with superheroes who are completely outside of our world, I think. Spider-Man is first and foremost Peter Parker, whom everyone can relate to.

A scene from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Jon, Spider-Man’s costume is the most high-tech we’ve ever seen. What were the challenges of keeping true to the Spider-Man mythology while evolving things in a way that it makes sense for 2017?

Watts: I got kicked off rather nicely by what the Russo brothers did in “[Captain America:] Civil War.” They had this really great premise that Peter Parker is going to get plucked out of obscurity by Tony Stark, given this really high-tech suit, and then get taken on a crazy adventure, and then dropped back into his regular life without another thought. So, to me, the challenge was an opportunity. If Tony Stark built a Spider-Man suit, what could it do that would be so amazing? There’s a little bit of precedent in the comics with the Iron Spider suit that gets built, so we used that as inspiration for all the bells and whistles that Tony would put into this thing.

Tom Holland, Michael Keaton and director Jon Watts on the set of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Tom, can you talk about your experience going from the movie “The Impossible,” when most people first discovered you, to how you got to this place in your life?

Holland: I’ve been so lucky in my career. I felt like I’ve been in the right place at the right time at every turn. I’ve been so lucky I’ve got to work with I would consider the best of the best and learn from people. Every movie has been a different experience for me. I’ve been able to play different characters without having to go too far. Now I’ve now finding myself to go a little bit further. This job since day one has been a rollercoaster. It has never ceased to amaze me.It’s the job that keeps on giving.

The fact that I’m here with these guys promoting this movie is insane. Like Zendaya said, it does not feel real in any way possible. I read a comic yesterday that is based off my face. I mean, what the hell! Nothing has sunk in. Nothing has sunk in. It feels like I’m about to wake up and be very disappointed. But I’m very happy here, and I can’t wait for you guys to see the movie.

Laura Harrier, Tom Holland and director Jon Watts on the set of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Robert, when we we asked Tom and Jacob if they could take anything from the set, Tom said he would take your Audi and Jacob said he would take your watch. How do you feel about that and what would you take from the set?

Downey: I’m sorry, which Audi and which watch? You know why I think this works? There’s something about the initial breaking the story and the concept. Whatever the mood board was for this movie, with all those different tones, it was creatively inspired. It’s really an inspired re-invention.

And what I would take is that moment where the creatives actually broke this story and said, “That’s it.” If it’s executed correctly, that’s what you see on the screen. And that’s why I love movies. I’m a huge fan of movies, and I always wondered, “How did they figure it out to entertain me this well?” The mood board!

Michael Keaton, Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. at the Los Angeles premiere of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony Pictures/AP Images)

Robert and Michael, since you know what it’s like to star as superheroes in blockbuster movies, what advice would you give o the younger members of the cast on how to deal with all the media scrutiny and fan love that comes with being in these types of films?

Downey: Every day you wake up, everybody’s even. All of this status or experience is all kind of a projection … It really comes down to, “Does [the director] like us? Does he think we know what we’re doing?” It’s all about having your feet on the ground, and realizing that you always start at zero MPH every day.

Keaton: I don’t have anything to say [to the younger cast members]. I’m listening to what these people are saying, and so far it’s impressive. Let’s keep an eye on them, but so far, they sound like pretty sane folks.

Zendaya, Tony Revolori, director Jon Watts and panel moderator Scott Mantz at the New York City press conference for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix for SPE)

Tony, what was it like to work on this movie with a character that is so well-known to fans around the world? And can you compare it to working on a movie like Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel”?

Revolori: It’s wonderful working with someone like Wes. He’s amazing and fantastic. But working on a project like [“Spider-Man: Homecoming”] is on a different level because you have so many fans and so many people who work so hard and put so much effort into it, you can’t help but want to do a good job. I’m very fortunate to be a part of it with a great cast. Thank you to Jon, Amy and Kevin for casting a 5’8″ brown guy to play a 6’2″ blonde, blue-eyed guy. Thank you.

Tony, how does it feel to represent the Latino community in this comic-book franchise?

Revolori: It’s wonderful. I think when you see the film, there’s not a single line of exposition to explain why I look the way I look. I think that’s wonderful. I just am in the movie. It’s not about being a certain race or doing anything. That’s the kind of diversity we need in Hollywood right now.

Amy Pascal and Kevin Feige, Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier, Michael Keaton, Tom Holland, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Zendaya, Tony Revolori, director Jon Watts and  panel moderator Scott Mantz at the New York City press conference for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey/Starpix for SPE)

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” has one of the most racially diverse casts in a superhero movie. What was the inspiration for having such diversity?

Pascal: The inspiration was reality.

Downey: Our last resort!

A scene from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Tom and Jon, what challenges would you like to see Spider-Man overcome in any future MCU movies?

Holland: I’m still getting over the first one.

Watts: I honestly try to think about this stuff one movie at a time, but I do feel like now that Spider-Man is part of this big, crazy universe, we can definitely tell some new stories, that’s for sure.

Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. at the Los Angeles premiere of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Steve Cohn/Invision for Sony Pictures/AP Images)

Tom and Robert, how would you say Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s relationship with Tony Stark/Iron Man has evolved since “Captain America: Civil War”?

Holland: I think the relationship between the two of us is more important from [Iron Man’s] point of view because he suddenly has someone to think about other than Tony Stark. He really cares about Peter, and one of the reasons why he doesn’t want Peter to become an Avenger is because he really doesn’t want the responsibility of something happening to Peter on his conscience. It’s a nice back-and-forth of [Spider-Man] saying, “Look, I’m powerful enough to be an Avenger,” and [Iron Man] saying, “But you’re not ready to be an Avenger.” It’s like a big brother/little brother. dad/son type of situation.

Tom Holland (second from left) at a Sony Square NYC fan event for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” in New York City (Photo by Marion Curtis/Starpix)

What do you hope teenagers will learn from watching “Spider-Man: Homecomng”?

Batalon: Our message is that you don’t have to be the jock, you don’t have to be the cool person in high school to be yourself. The coolest version of yourself is yourself. We’re nerds, and we love to be smart, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with being yourself.

Harrier: You don’t have to apologize for who you are. Everyone in this movie is so different, but genuinely themselves, especially Zendaya’s [Michelle] character, who is very different but not ashamed of it. If teenagers could take that away, it would be great.

Zendaya in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Zendaya, how much was your portrayal of Michelle inspired by Ally Sheedy’s character in “The Breakfast Club”?

Zendaya: Definitely inspired. I didn’t know what kind of character I was playing until I showed up. Everything is kind of top-secret. So I read the script, and I was like, “Okay, she’s interesting.This is going to be fun.” Then i met with Jon, and he had so many different references, and [Ally Sheedy in “The Breakfast Club”] was definitely one of them.

Just kind of making that distinct character, making somebody that I think is different, and embracing the weird. Like what we were talking about: Young people, it’s okay to be weird. It’s okay to be exactly who you are. I love that [Michelle] is outspoken, I love that she says what everybody’s thinking, but she just doesn’t care. I think a lot of young people should have that a little bit more. It was fun playing that dry version of myself.

Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon ((center) at a “Spider-Man: Homecoming” fan event in Singapore. (Photo by Ore Huiying/Getty Images for Sony Pictures)

Who was the biggest clown off set?

Holland: Jacob.

Batalon: I don’t think this is a good interview right now.

Holland: The amazing thing about Jacob is that he wrapped on the movie, he finished filming his part in the film, and he just moved in with me. It’s like, “Jacob, go home!” He lived with me and my best mate for six weeks.

Batalon: You’re talking as if you didn’t want me there.

Holland: We did want you there. [He says jokingly] And then we fell in love.

Batalon: It’s been great ever since. Don’t worry about it.

Executive producer Louis D’Esposito, Robert Downey Jr., Tom Holland and producer/Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige at the Los Angeles premiere of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony Pictures/AP Images)

Robert, how does it feel playing Tony Stark as the connective tissue across so many Marvel films?

Downey: What happens is that things are presented to me that are really well-thought-out by folks who have been doing this correctly for a really long time. And I just go “check,” and then I attempt to take the credit at press conferences. [He says jokingly] I’m holding this whole thing together. It’s obvious!

Logan Marshall-Green and Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Chuck Zlotnick)

Tom, how did you gymnastic and dance background help you in doing your stunts?

Holland: You can’t really master hanging upside down. It’s not something I really prepared for. But my dancing and gymnastic background was so helpful to the project because we were able to do things as Peter Parker that they probably hadn’t been able to do in the past. But with that said, sometime they would over-estimate my skill set. Jon would be like, “Can you back-flip off of that wall and land on that beam?” I’m like, “No, Jon. I can’t do that. I’m not that good, dude.”

Watts: You forget that you’re not actually Spider-Man sometimes.

Michael Keaton, Tom Holland and Robert Downey Jr. at the New York City press junket for “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo by Kristina Bumphrey)

Robert, did it feel like you were passing the torch to Tom Holland? And how long do you think you’ll keep doing Marvel movies?

Downey: I’ve been semi-retired since “Iron Man” opened in its first weekend. Speaking for myself, good things happen, and then you get inflated and you think, “Oh my God, I’ve created everything that’s going my way.” And then things happen, where you’re like, “Okay, there’s a little evidence to the contrary.” At this point, you go back and say, “It’s nice to be on this call sheet.” So as you can see, I’ve changed dramatically, and I’m an extremely humble individual.

A scene from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Can you consider doing more “Spider-Man” movie scenes on location in Queens?

Watts: As much Queens as possible. For sure.

Keaton: In terms of getting action in Queens … Robert, you and I have gotten action in Queens in 2001, I think.

Downey: Yeah, we kept a flat there for a while. Dirty deeds done dirt cheap.

A scene from “Spider-Man: Homecoming” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

Michael, you’ve played both the hero (Batman} and a villain (Vulture) in a superhero movie. Which one do you prefer?

Keaton: They’re both fun. I think actors tend to drawn to villainous characters. It’s a cliche, but it tends to be often true that you want to delve into the dark side. It gets interesting. The reality is the lead [actor] or hero by very nature of the piece has to be not one-dimensional but has to represent a thing very strongly, whereas the supporting characters are more dimensional, without going into bullshit actor talk. It tends to be true.

Most of us have had experiences where you’re playing one role, and you’re looking at some of those minor roles, and you think, “Oh, man, I’d like to have a bite of that,” because it’s just so much fun. I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to play a lot of different things: little tiny parts, big parts. They’re both fun. They’re both different. It’s more iconic, and you make a hell of a lot more dough being the big lead guy, but they’re both fun.

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