Review: ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,’ starring Nicolas Cage

April 19, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pedro Pascal and Nicolas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (Photo by Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate)

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”

Directed by Tom Gormican

Some language in Spanish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Los Angeles and Mallorca, Spain, the action comedy “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” features a cast of white and Latino characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Desperate for money, famous actor Nick Cage agrees to a $1 million fee to appear at a wealthy superfan’s birthday party in Mallorca, where he reluctantly gets in the middle of an international espionage case. 

Culture Audience: “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” will appeal primarily to fans of star Nicolas Cage and comedies that are satires of real people.

Nicolas Cage, Lily Sheen and Sharon Horgan in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” (Photo by Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate)

It’s not the comedy masterpiece that some people have been hyping it up to be, but “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has plenty of hilarious moments in spoofing Nicolas Cage’s public persona and action films. The movie has some genuinely inspired scenes before the film’s last 20 minutes devolve into stereotypical formulas seen in many other comedic spy capers. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is also an above-average buddy comedy, with touches of family sentimentality to balance out some of the wackiness.

Tom Gormican directed “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Kevin Etten. It’s Gormican’s second feature film, after he made his feature-film directorial debut with the forgettable 2014 male-friendship comedy “That Awkward Moment.” Gormican’s background is mainly as a TV writer/producer, with credits that include “Scrubs,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Ed.” At times, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” veers into stale TV sitcom territory, but the movie has enough originality and charm to rise above its repetitive clichés. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

Cage has said in interviews that he initially rejected the idea of doing this movie. It’s a good thing that he changed his mind, because “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is easily one of the funniest comedy films that Cage has done in decades. In the movie, he plays two versions of himself: (1) main character Nick Cage, a present-day version of himself, and (2) Nicky Cage, a younger, brasher version of Cage, circa the late 1980s/early 1990s. (According to the movie’s production notes, Nicky’s physical appearance was inspired by how the real Cage looked in his 1990 movie “Wild at Heart.”)

Nicky has de-aging visual effects for his face, and he appears to Nick as a figment of Nick’s imagination, in moments when Nick is feeling insecure. Nicky’s blunt and sometimes crude conversations with Nick (which are either pep talks, insults or both) are among the more memorable parts of the movie. Nicky has a habit of yelling out “I’m Nick fucking Cage!,” in an elongated way, as if he’s a WWE announcer yelling, “Let’s get ready to rumble!” before a wrestling match. In the film’s end credits, the actor listed as portraying Nicky is Nicolas Kim Coppola, which is a cheeky nod to Cage’s birth surname Coppola. (Numerous movie fans already know that Cage is part of the famous Coppola movie family.)

In the beginning of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Nick is a world-famous actor in Los Angeles, but he’s currently not getting the acting roles that he wants. Nick has been struggling with being labeled a “has-been” who’s been doing a lot of low-budget, low-quality movies in recent years. (Real-life filmmaker David Gordon Green has a cameo as himself in an early scene in the movie where Nick tries to impress him with an impromptu monologue reading.)

When Nicky shows up and talks to Nick, it’s usually to remind Nick that his younger self would never have stooped to the level of the type of work that Nick is doing now. In one of the movie’s early scenes, Nicky is lecturing Nick about it during a drive in Nick’s car, with Nick driving. A defensive Nick snaps back: “Hello! It’s my job! It’s how I pay my bills. I have to feed my family.” Nick ends the conversation by telling Nicky, “You’re annoying!” And then Nick kicks Nicky out of the car.

Nick’s fast-talking agent Richard Fink (played by Neil Patrick Harris, in a cameo role) tells Nick about a job offer from a Nick Cage superfan in Mallorca, Spain. This wealthy fan wants to pay Nick $1 million to make a personal appearance at the fan’s birthday party. Nick says no to the idea, because he thinks that these types of personal appearances are beneath him as a “serious actor.”

However, because Nick gets rejected for a movie role that he had been counting on getting, and because he has high-priced divorce payments and other bills, a financially desperate Nick agrees to the birthday party job offer. Nick makes it clear to Richard that this personal appearance better not include anything involving kinky sex. Nick has no idea that what he thinks will be an easy gig will turn out to be a life-threatening, mind-bending experience for him and other people.

Nick isn’t just having problems in his career. His personal life is also messy. Nick has a tension-filled relationship with his ex-wife Olivia (played by Sharon Horgan), a former makeup artist whom he met on the set of his 2001 movie “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” It’s revealed in “The Unbearable Wright of Massive Talent” that one of the main reasons why they divorced was because Olivia thought that Nick put his career above everything else in his life.

Nick and Olivia have a daughter named Addy (played by Lily Sheen), who’s about 15 or 16 years old. Addy is usually annoyed with Nick because she thinks he forces her to do things (such as watch movies) that are according to what he wants to do and his personal tastes, without taking into consideration Addy’s own personal wants and needs. For example, Nick has insisted that Addy watch the 1920 horror film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” even though Addy has no interest in seeing this movie.

Addy also thinks Nick has been a neglectful father for most of her life. That’s why Nick and Addy are in therapy together. But as an example of Nick’s self-centered ways, a therapy session that’s shown in the movie reveals that Nick spends most of the time talking about himself, while Addy sulks in a corner on a couch. Their therapist named Cheryl (played by Joanna Bobin) has to listen to Nick ramble on about his career problems, while she tries to steer the conversation back to how to improve his personal relationships.

Nick is so financially broke, he doesn’t have a permanent home, and he’s living at a hotel. When he gets locked out of his hotel room due to non-payment, he calls his agent Richard to tell him that he’s taking the birthday party job. A self-pitying Nick also tells Richard that he’s going to quit being an actor. On his way to Mallorca, Nick has no idea that he’s gotten on the radar of the CIA, which has been tracking the activities of the fan who has hired Nick to be at the fan’s birthday party. The CIA has this superfan under investigation for being the leader of a ruthless international arms cartel.

Two CIA operatives who have been assigned to the case are named Vivian (played by Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (played by Ike Barinholtz), who are surprised and confused when they see Nick disembarking from the private plane that the superfan has chartered for this trip. Vivian, who has a take-charge and quick-thinking personality, immediately pretends to be an adoring Nick Cage fan, and stops him at the airport to take a selfie photo with him. It’s really a ruse to plant a tracking device on Nick. Vivian and Martin are generic and underwritten roles, so Haddish and Barinholtz don’t do much that’s noteworthy in the movie.

In Mallorca, Nick is taken to a lavish cliffside mansion, where he is greeted by several employees of this rich superfan, who is described as a mogul in the olive grove business. The fan’s name is Javi Gutierrez (played by Pasco Pascal), and he is so unassuming on first impression, Nick initially mistakes Javi for one of the servants, because Javi was the one who drove Nick to this mansion by speedboat. The two people in Javi’s inner circle who are the closest to him are his cousin/right-hand man Lucas Gutierrez (played by Paco León) and a savvy business person named Gabriela (played by Alessandra Mastronardi), nicknamed Gabi, who is Javi’s director of operations.

Nick soon finds out that Javi didn’t just invite him to make an appearance at Javi’s birthday party. Javi has written a movie screenplay, and he wants Nick to star in this movie. Javi is crushed when Nick tells him that he’s going to quit acting, so Javi desperately tries to get Nick to change his mind One of the running gags in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is how Nick reacts to Javi’s attempts to befriend Nick and get Nick to read his script. It should come as no surprise that Javi makes revisions to the screenplay, based on a lot of the shenanigans that he experiences with Nick.

As shown in the movie’s trailer, Vivian and Martin recruit/pressure Nick to spy on Javi for the CIA. Meanwhile, things get more complicated with the kidnapping of Maria Delgado (played by Katrin Vankova), a teenage daughter of a politician who’s running for a high office in Spain. There are entanglements with a thug named Carlos (played by Jacob Scipio) and a group called the Carabello crime family. And it should come as no surprise that Addy and Olivia somehow get mixed up in this mess too.

Along the way, there’s some drug-fueled comedy that’s intended to make the most of Cage’s slapstick skills. First, Nick accidentally drugs himself with a potentially lethal dose of gaseous poison. Later, Nick and Javi take LSD together and have a bonding experience where they go through various levels of elation and paranoia.

Nick and Javi’s budding friendship is at the heart of the movie. However, there are also some standout moments involving Nicky, Olivia and Addy and how their relationships to Nick end up evolving. (Nicky spontaneously does something outrageous, when he kisses Nick, in a scene that will have viewers either shocked, roaring with laughter or both.)

Pascal is pitch-perfect in his role as Javi, who might or might not be the movie’s biggest villain. When secrets are revealed, they’re not too surprising, but one of the best things about “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is that it doesn’t make Javi into a meaningless caricature. Even though Cage is the larger-than-life central character in the movie, Pascal holds his own and can be considered a scene-stealer.

“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” has the expected stream of jokes about previous real-life movies of Cage. Among those that get name-checked or parodied include “Con Air,” “Face/Off,” “Moonstruck,” “Valley Girl,” “The Croods: A New Age,” “Gone in 60 Seconds,” “The Rock,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “National Treasure” and “Guarding Tess.” Also in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” is a recurring joke about the animated film “Paddington 2” (which is not one of Cage’s movies) and how this family film sequel about a talking bear affects certain people who watch it.

Cage is a versatile actor who tackles his role in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” with gusto. (He’s also one of the movie’s producers.) Cage makes this movie work so well because he’s fully on board with laughing at himself. Not too many well-known actors would risk doing a movie where they have to poke fun at their triumphs and failures, but it’s precisely this risk-taking that has made Cage one of the most interesting and unpredictable actors of his generation. “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” does indeed have massive talent, but this talent helps the movie soar instead of sink.

Lionsgate will release “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent” in U.S. cinemas on April 22, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on June 7, 2022, and on 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray on June 21, 2022.

Review: ‘8-Bit Christmas,’ starring Winslow Fegley, Neil Patrick Harris, Steve Zahn, June Diane Raphael, Bellaluna Resnick and Sophia Reid-Gantzert

December 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Winslow Fegley in “8-Bit Christmas” (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/New Line Cinema/HBO Max)

“8-Bit Christmas”

Directed by Michael Dowse

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Chicago area in the present day and in 1988, the comedy film “8-Bit Christmas” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A man in his mid-40s tells his 11-year-old daughter the story of his misadventures in 1988, when he was an 11-year-old boy who desperately wanted a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas, even though his parents forbade him from playing video games at the time.

Culture Audience: “8-Bit Christmas” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching lightweight Christmas holiday comedies that are steeped heavily in 1980s nostalgia.

Sophia Reid-Gantzert and Neil Patrick Harris in “8-Bit Christmas” (Photo by Sabrina Lantos/New Line Cinema/HBO Max)

The formulaic family comedy “8-Bit Christmas” is elevated by a watchable and occasionally amusing performance by Winslow Fegley as an 11-year-old boy in 1988 who goes to great lengths to get a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Directed by Michael Dowse, “8 Bit Christmas” is really just a series of slapstick scenarios that culminate in a sentimental “life lesson” that’s expected in a movie with a Christmas theme. Kevin Jakubowski adapted the “8-Bit Christmas” screenplay from his 2013 novel of the same name. The movie is best appreciated by viewers who have some fondness for 1980s nostalgia or who know how big of a deal a Nintendo Entertainment System was to many kids during this decade. (The movie’s title refers to the primitive 8-bit data resolution of 1980s video games.)

“8-Bit Christmas” begins with a man in his mid-40s named Jake Doyle (played by Neil Patrick Harris), who is traveling with his 11-year-old daughter Annie Doyle (played by Sophia Reid-Gantzert) to the home of Jake’s widowed mother for a Christmas holiday visit. Jake grew up in Batavia, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago), where his mother still lives. Annie has been pestering Jake to get her a smartphone for Christmas.

Jake adamantly refuses because he thinks Annie is too young to have this type of phone. Annie has to use Jake’s phone, only when he’s with her. It’s embarrassing to Annie that she doesn’t have her own phone, but Jake won’t change his mind.

Instead, Jake tells Annie about the time in 1988, when he was Annie’s age and was obsessed with getting a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Jake says to Annie, “When I was a kid, I wanted a Nintendo worse than you wanted a phone.” Annie replies, “That’s not possible.”

Jake is prompted into telling this story when he and Annie arrive at his mother’s house and they find his old Nintendo Entertainment System in the room that Jake had as a child. Annie knows that there was a time when Jake’s parents didn’t allow him to play video games, so she wants to know how he ended up with a Nintendo Entertainment Sysem . Most of the movie then switches to flashback mode when Jake tells his story in voiceover narration, with occasional scenes that go back to the present-day Jake and Annie.

In 1988, 11-year-old Jake (played by Winslow Fegley) considered himself to be an average boy in an average middle-class American family. His parents John Doyle (played by Steve Zahn) and Kathy Doyle (played by June Diane Raphael) are happily married. Jake has a precocious younger sister named Lizzy (played by Bellaluna Resnick), who is about 6 or 7 years old in 1988. Lizzy is a “goody-two-shoes” child who likes to snitch on Jake to their parents whenever Jake does something wrong.

The kids at Jake’s school are envious of a spoiled rich boy named Timmy Keane (played by Chandler Dean), who’s apparently the only kid for miles who has his own Nintendo Entertainment System. Therefore, small crowds of children gather in front of Timmy’s house on a regular basis because they want to get invited inside Timmy’s home to play Nintendo games with him. However, Timmy will only allow certain kids inside, based on whatever gifts or favors they can offer to him.

Needless to say, Timmy is an obnoxious brat who takes advantage of his social status to make some kids feel bad about themselves if they don’t get invited into his house. Timmy has an elaborate play area in his home that would rival any recreational arcade for children. The first time that Jake plays Nintendo, it’s at Timmy’s house. Jake instantly gets hooked and wants his own Nintendo Entertainment System.

It’s the same wish for many of Jake’s friends too. Jake hangs out with a small group of kids, who eventually make it their mission to get their own Nintendo system. The close-knit pals in Jake’s clique are:

  • Mikey Trotter (played by Che Tafari), whom Jake describes as being allowed to watch R-rated movies, and Mikey has an adult cursing vocabulary and mischievous nature to prove it.
  • Evan Olsen (played by Santino Barnard), who is nervous and neurotic.
  • Tammy Hodges (played by Brielle Rankins), who is smart and confident.
  • Teddy Hodges (played by Braelyn Rankins), who is Tammy’s fun-loving twin brother.

Other kids who are not part of this clique but who factor into the story are:

  • Josh Jagorski (played by Clay Arnold), the school’s large and violent bully, who looks like he’s a teenager, not a pre-teen like all the other students.
  • Jeff Farmer (played by Max Malas), whom Jake describes as a “pathological liar.”
  • Conor Stump (played by Jacob Laval), who is the school’s nerdy social outcast.
  • Katie Sorrentino (played by Sofie Michal Maiuri), a classmate who casually observes some of the shenanigans of Jake and his friends.

Jake knows that his parents are not inclined to want to give him a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas. Therefore, he comes up with a scheme to trick them into saying yes to his request. With his mother, Jake waits until she’s distracted and asks her for this gift when she’s not really listening to him. She says yes.

With his father, whom an adult Jake describes in a voiceover as a “dyslexic Bob Vila” when it comes to carpentry hobbies, Jake waits until they have some father/son time doing some woodshopping in the garage. Jake compliments his father John on John’s hand strength. Jake says he would like a gift for Christmas that would let him build up his hand strength, so Jake suggests a Nintendo Entertainment System. John says yes to this request too.

But there would be no “8-Bit Christmas” movie if Jake got his wish so easily. Eventually, Jake’s parents (and some of his friends’ parents) become paranoid that video games are bad for children, so the parents are determined to not have anything related to video games in their homes. Undeterred, Jake and his male friends, who are members of the Ranger Scouts, find out about a Ranger Scouts contest where the person who sells the most Christmas wreaths will win the grand prize of a brand-new Nintendo Entertainment System.

A large part of “8-Bit Christmas” is about this race against time to sell the most Christmas wreaths, as friends turn into rivals to win this contest. There’s also some gross-out comedy, such as a scene of a child vomiting profusely and repeatedly, and a joke that goes on for too long about Jake having to clean up defecation from the family dog Ellwood. Not surprisingly, Jake wants avoid cleaning up after the dog as much as possible, so it leads to some minor conflicts with between Jake and his father John.

David Cross has a small role in “8-Bit Christmas” as an unnamed opportunist, who sells toys (probably stolen) out of the trunk of his car. His stash includes a Nintendo Entertainment System and Cabbage Patch dolls. Jake’s sister Lizzy wants a Cabbage Patch doll for Christmas, so Jake feels some sibling jealousy when John is more eager to get Lizzy’s most-wanted Christmas gift but is unwilling to get Jake’s most-wanted Christmas gift.

There’s a lot of mediocre slapstick scenarios in “8-Bit Christmas” that clog up the story. For example, a recurring “joke” in the movies is that Jake’s mother Kathy accidentally bought a pair of girls’ Esprit snow boots (purple with flower-print trimming) during a frenzied shopping sale. Kathy never bothered to get Jake any other boots, because apparently she didn’t want to go back to the store to exchange the Esprit boots for boots that Jake actually wants to wear.

Jake is embarrassed because his mother makes him wear these boots to school and other places when there’s snow outside. (Animotion’s 1984 hit “Obsession” plays on the movie’s soundtrack every time Jake puts on these boots.) And predictably, Jake gets harassed by bully Josh when Josh sees Jake wearing these feminine-looking shoes. It’s a not-very-well-written part of the story because this problem would’ve easily been solved by a merchandise exchange at the store.

Jake’s humiliation for wearing these boots (which is an over-used gag in “8-Bit Christmas”) plays into tired movie/TV stereotypes that anything “feminine” associated with a boy is supposed to automatically be a reason for the boy to be ridiculed and bullied. The movie makes a half-hearted attempt at explaining this sexist trope, by having the adult Jake explain to his daughter Annie that in the 1980s, people were less open-minded about gender equality and many other things. But if the filmmakers wanted a recurring joke about Jake being embarrassed about something that his mother makes him do, they could’ve picked a funnier scenario than Jake having to wear feminine-looking boots.

The good news is that “8-Bit Christmas” at least presents the girls in the movie as just as intelligent if not smarter than the boys. It certainly makes up for how this movie gives most of the screen time and the most adventurous parts of the story to the male characters. It’s pretty obvious that the movie’s main target audience is supposed to be anyone who has nostalgic memories of 1980s Nintendo video games, even though there isn’t one particular Nintendo game that gets spotlighted in the movie.

In terms of the “8-Bit Christmas” cast members, Fegley as the young Jake absolutely carries this movie to any level of charm that it might have to audiences. And that helps a lot, because the young Jake gets the vast majority of the screen time in this movie. Fegley has good comedic timing, and his character is relatable to most people who’ve been an 11-year-old child, regardless of gender. The rest of the cast members are serviceable in their roles, with some of the actors continuing to be typecast as characters they’ve played in many other movies. (Zahn as a goofball; Cross as a sarcastic wiseass.)

“8-Bit Christmas,” which clocks in at a breezy 97 minutes, isn’t the type of movie that’s going to be considered a Christmas holiday classic, but it’s an agreeable way for viewers to pass some time if they want to see an entertaining Christmas holiday film for people in various age groups. The last 20 minutes of “8-Bit Christmas,” which are the best parts of the film, make up for much of the silliness that lowers the quality of the rest of the movie. “8-Bit Christmas” is ultimately a film that’s enjoyable without demanding too much intelligence or emotional investment from viewers.

HBO Max premiered “8-Bit Christmas” on November 24, 2021.

Review: ‘The Matrix Resurrections’ starring Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Henwick, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and Jada Pinkett Smith

December 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Matrix Resurrections”

Directed by Lana Wachowski

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, Tokyo and various parts of the universe, the sci-fi action flick “The Matrix Resurrections” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Thomas Anderson, also known as universe-saving hero Neo, gets pulled out of his “normal” life and back into the Matrix, as he strives to reunite with his long-lost love Trinity.

Culture Audience: “The Matrix Revolutions” will appeal primarily to people who are die-hard fans of “The Matrix” franchise and star Keanu Reeves, because everyone else will be easily lose interest in the movie’s jumbled and monotonous plot.

Jessica Henwick, Keanu Reeves and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in “The Matrix Resurrections” (Photo by Murray Close/Warner Bros. Pictures)

If you’re not familiar with any of the previous “Matrix” movies, then “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t care about you. The visual effects and stunts are dazzling, but this sci-fi/action movie’s plot is convoluted and duller than it should have been. Many people who’ve seen the previous Matrix movies will get confused or bored. You really need encyclopedic “Matrix” knowledge and an excellent memory to keep track of all the references to the previous “Matrix” movies that “The Matrix Resurrections” keeps dumping in the story without a proper explanation or much context.

Even if you prepare to watch “The Matrix Resurrections” by watching or re-watching the previous “Matrix” movies, you’ll notice that “The Matrix Resurrections” doesn’t do anything clever or innovative with the story. It’s just a tangled and tedious retelling of a basic adventure concept of a male hero going to a lot of trouble to impress and save the woman he loves.

In “The Matrix Resurrections,” which is the fourth movie in “The Matrix” film series, Lana Wachowski returns as a solo director, after co-directing the previous three “Matrix” films with her younger sister, Lilly Wachowski. The three previous films are 1999’s “The Matrix” (still the best one in the series), 2003’s “The Matrix Reloaded” and 2003’s “The Matrix Revolutions.” The first “Matrix” movie earned four well-deserved Academy Awards: Best Visual Efects, Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

Lana Wachowski co-wrote “The Matrix Resurrections” with David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon. These screenwriters have a clear disregard for the possibility that “The Matrix Resurrections” might be the first “Matrix” movie that some people will ever see. There is almost no attempt in “The Matrix Resurrections” to clearly explain what happened in the previous “Matrix” movies. When familiar characters appear in “The Matrix Resurrections,” viewers who are new to the franchise will not have an understanding of how these characters are relevant to the story, unless viewers know what these characters did in the previous “Matrix” movies.

There are some flashback scenes in “The Matrix Resurrections,” but they do little or nothing to explain the purpose of the characters who are shown in the flashbacks. Pity anyone who watches “The Matrix Resurrections” without this basic knowledge: Thomas Anderson, also known as Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), is the chosen hero, who is called The One, in an ongoing battle over control of humans and other beings in the universe. There’s an alternate world called the Matrix, where people are under the delusion that the world they live in is reality, but the Matrix is in fact a simulated reality.

In the first “Matrix” movie, Neo had a mentor named Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), who gave Neo the choice between taking a blue pill or a red pill. The blue pill would ensure that Neo would continue to live a blissful but delusional existence. The red pill would open Neo’s eyes to the truth. Neo took the red pill.

During Neo’s battle to save the universe in the first “Matrix” movie, Neo met another warrior named Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), and they fell in love. Neo and Trinity are soul mates and the biggest love of each other’s life. Their biggest nemesis was Agent Smith (played by Hugo Weaving), who had the ability to shapeshift and morph into other people or clones of himself. This is an essential detail to have some understanding of “The Matrix Resurrections,” because when Agent Smith’s name is first uttered in the movie and he appears in disguise, viewers need to know why this character is such a big deal.

At the beginning of “The Matrix Reurrections,” which does a lot of time-jumping and traveling between various realities, Neo/Thomas is “retired” from his “saving the universe” legacy. He’s living and working in San Francisco as an award-winning, legendary video game designer at a company he co-founded called Deus Machina, where he works with people who are mostly in their 20s and 30s. Thomas is famous because he designed a blockbuster video game series called “The Matrix” that’s based on his own experiences.

Even though Thomas has achieved the pinnacle of success in this industry, he remains humble and low-key. His ambitious and greedy business partner Smith (played by Jonathan Groff) has coaxed a reluctant Thomas to do a fourth installment of “The Matrix” video game series. Smith mentions that Deus Machina’s parent company is Warner Bros., which is the movie’s way of referencing “The Matrix” movie franchise distributor Warner Bros. Pictures. There’s a self-deprecating “wink wink, nudge nudge” tone to the number of times that “The Matrix Resurrections” refers to this fourth installment (of Thomas’s video game series and this movie) as being a cash grab, until the joke is repeated so many times that it gets very old.

As for business partner Smith, the significance of the name is so obvious, when a big reveal about this character arrives, it’s actually no big surprise. (This reveal is already in one of the movie’s trailers.) He’s slick and has some high-octane fight scenes, but he’s not a particularly interesting adversary when he gets into conflicts with Thomas/Neo. Much like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Smith in this movie is very superficial and flashy with not much substance.

Thomas/Neo has been having nightmares or hallucinations, so he’s in therapy. And if he seems like a heartbroken loner, that’s because he is. He’s still pining for Trinity. But he’ll get his chance to reunite with her, because that’s essentially the main goal in this muddled film that takes too long (two hours and 28 minutes) to tell a story that could’ve been told in two hours or less.

Whenever “The Matrix Resurrections” gets stuck in a plot rut (and it happens a lot), it shows Thomas waking up from a “hallucination,” and he’s in the therapist office of his unnamed analyst (played by Neil Patrick Harris), who seems to know everything about Thomas. There’s a scene in the movie where Thomas/Neo looks in a mirror and finds out that his physical appearance is not what he thinks it is: He looks like an elderly man (played by Steven Roy) to many people.

The movie keeps people guessing on what’s reality and what’s not reality for Thomas/Neo, until it reaches a point when a lot of viewers won’t care much anymore. “The Matrix Resurrections” has too many gimmicks that are meant to deliberately confuse viewers. After a while, all these gimmicks are a turnoff. A big reveal toward the end the movie is not surprising because the movie telegraphs it many times.

Thomas’ identity as Neo has long been dormant, because most people think Neo is dead. However, a young computer hacker named Bugs (played by Jessica Henwick) has discovered that Neo is alive and well. In flashbacks, Bugs tells people how she found out: She works as a skyscraper window washer and saw Neo disguised as another man as he was about to jump off a nearby high-rise building. Bugs saw Neo jump off of the building and survive, so Bugs has been on a quest to find Neo ever since.

Of course, in a movie like “The Matrix Resurrections,” Bugs is no ordinary window washer/computer hacker. She has combat skills on the level of a super-soldier in a video game. Bugs has a computer hacking sidekick named Sequoia (played by Toby Onwumere), who’s mostly a virtual reality operator telling her what’s going on in alternate realities. Don’t expect a logical explanation for many of the identities of the new characters introduced in “The Matrix Resurrections.” It just seems like the filmmakers just made up things as they went along.

Bugs finds Neo, of course, and she takes it upon herself to be his “protector” when things go awry. Another person who finds Neo is the young-man version of Morpheus (played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who predictably brings out that red pill and blue pill again for Neo to choose which path Neo’s life will take. However, anyone who’s seen any of the previous “Matrix” movies knows that Neo’s life was pre-ordained anyway.

One day, Thomas/Neo is hanging out at a coffee shop with a Deus Machina co-worker named Jude Gallagher (played by Andrew Lewis Caldwell), when Thomas/Neo sees Trinity, and Jude notices that Thomas/Neo seems attracted to her. However, Thomas/Neo pretends to Jude that he’s never met Trinity before. Thomas/Neo is too shy to approach her, so Jude (who tells Thomas/Neo that he thinks she’s a “MILF”) approaches Trinity on behalf of Thomas/Neo and makes the introduction.

Thomas/Neo is dismayed to find out that Trinity’s memory appears to have been blocked or erased, because she doesn’t know him when he starts talking to her. She’s now living as a woman named Tiffany, who builds and repairs motorcycles for a living. She’s also married to a guy named Chad (played by “John Wick” series director Chad Stahelski) and they have three underage kids together. At the coffee shop, Neo briefly meets Chad and two of the kids.

Later in the movie, Thomas/Neo and Trinity/Tiffany meet again at the same coffee shop, where she tells him that she thinks that she looks like Trinity in “The Matrix” video games. Trinity/Tiffany also says that when she mentioned the physical resemblance to her husband, he just laughed at her. It’s the first sign that Trinity/Tiffany might have a glimmer of recognition that maybe she had another life with Neo that has long been buried.

It’s enough to convince Neo to want to save Trinity from her blocked memory and get her back in his life. Along the way, he gets in numerous fights with people, creatures and machines that want to stop him in this quest. Bugs and Morpheus are also in most of these fight scenes with Neo. Also along for the ride to help Neo are young, good-looking combat warriors Lexy (played by Eréndira Ibarra) and Berg (played by Brian J. Smith), who look like they came from a modeling agency assembly line.

If you don’t know the purpose of Agents and Sentinels in the “Matrix” movies, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you have no idea who Niobe (played by Jada Pinkett Smith) and Sati (played as an adult by Priyanka Chopra Jonas) are and why they’re important to “The Matrix” saga, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.” If you don’t care about the differences between the battle ships Nebuchadnezzar, the Hammer, and the Logos, then skip “The Matrix Resurrections.”

Simply put: “The Matrix Resurrections” can be extremely alienating to anyone who isn’t a die-hard, obsessive “Matrix” fan. Sometimes, people just to turn their brain off and watch an action-filled sci-fi movie. But most viewers don’t want to watch a movie sequel where their brains have to work overtime trying to figure out what’s going on and who certain characters are. And some of the characters didn’t need to be in the movie at all, such as Deus Machina executive Gwyn de Vere (played by Christina Ricci), which is a small, inconsequential role that’s a waste of Ricci’s talent.

If viewers get confused over what’s going in “The Matrix Resurrections,” it’s because “The Matrix Resurrections” filmmakers made the arrogant assumption that everyone watching should have seen all the previous “Matrix” movies. Therefore, a lot of “inside jokes” in “The Matrix Resurrections” are not as impactful as they could’ve been if the previous three “Matrix” movies had been better explained in “The Matrix Resurrections.” However, the screenplay and editing still make the movie very difficult to follow for people who’ve seen the previous “Matrix” movies but have hazy memories about them.

In between the action scenes of “The Matrix Resurrections” are characters standing around or sitting in meetings that are quite boring. A great deal of what they discuss is shared history that will be meaningless to viewers who don’t know anything about this shared history because they haven’t seen the previous “Matrix” movies. It’s like going to a class reunion when you never even went to the school.

Although the visual effects and stunts are the best things of “The Matrix Resurrections,” they’re not enough to make the movie feel like a relatable human saga. All of the acting is mediocre or just plain awful. The dialogue isn’t much better.

The movie’s attempts at comedy usually fall flat, including the silly and useless end-credits scene. Throughout the movie, Reeves seems like he’s sleepwalking through some of his lines of dialogue. That’s not what you want for a protagonist in what’s supposed to be a high-energy action flick.

“The Matrix Resurrections” seems so enamored with its parade of sci-fi and technological tricks, it fails to bring enough in the story that will make viewers feel connected to the characters in a relatable way. Unfortunately, “The Matrix Resurrections” leaves new viewers of the franchise in the dark about essential, interpersonal histories about many of the characters. Other viewers who know all about familiar “Matrix” characters before seeing “The Matrix Resurrections” might still end up feeling disconnected and disappointed that they haven’t learned anything fascinating at all.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Matrix Resurrections” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on December 22, 2021.

Review: ‘Dads,’ starring Ron Howard, Will Smith, Conan O’Brien, Ken Jeong, Jimmy Fallon, Neil Patrick Harris and Jimmy Kimmel

June 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Bryce Dallas Howard and her father Ron Howard in “Dads” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“Dads” 

Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard

Culture Representation: The documentary “Dads” has a racially diverse group of people (white, black, Asian and Latino) representing the middle-class and wealthy and talking about fatherhood.

Culture Clash: Some of the fathers interviewed in the film talk about defying traditional masculine stereotypes, by being more involved in raising their children than previous generations of fathers were expected to be.

Culture Audience: “Dads” will appeal to anyone who likes nonfiction films about parenting issues, even though it shuts out any perspectives of fathers who are poor or have negative attitudes about being fathers.

Robert Selby (pictured at right) and his son RJ in “Dads” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

The documentary “Dads” puts such an unrelenting positive and happy spin on fatherhood that it has a strange dichotomy of being a nonfiction film that isn’t entirely realistic. Bryce Dallas Howard (the eldest child of Oscar-winning filmmaker Ron Howard) makes her feature-film directorial debut with “Dads,” which devotes considerable screen time to members of the Howard family talking about fatherhood. “Dads” is ultimately a very uplifting “feel good” movie, but it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking or reveal any new concepts of fatherhood.

There are no deadbeat dads or bitter fathers who’ve lost child custody in “Dads.” Instead, the documentary focuses only on fathers who love being dads and have good relationships with their children. There are several celebrities interviewed in the film (all of whom have a background in comedy), such as Judd Apatow, Jimmy Fallon, Neil Patrick Harris, Ron Howard, Ken Jeong, Jimmy Kimmel, Hasan Minhaj, Conan O’Brien, Patton Oswalt and Will Smith.

“Dads” has three kinds of footage: soundbites from the celebrities, with Bryce Dallas Howard as the interviewer (she sometimes appears on camera); clips of home movies (the clips from random, unidentified people give the documentary an “America’s Funniest Home Videos” look); and six in-depth profiles of seven middle-class fathers from different parts of the world.

Although the celebrities offer some amusing anecdotes, many of their stories seem rehearsed or their comments are made just to crack a joke. Smith, in particular, seems to have memorized way in advance what he was going to say in this documentary. With the exception of Ron Howard, the celebrities are not shown with their children in this documentary, which is why the celebrity segments in the film are pretty superficial. The best parts of the documentary are with the people who aren’t rich and famous, because that’s the footage that actually shows “regular” fathers (who don’t have nannies) taking care of the kids.

The seven non-famous fathers who are profiled in the movie are:

  • Glen Henry (in San Diego), an African American who became a “daddy vlogger” to document his experiences as a stay-at-home dad.
  • Reed Howard (in Westchester, New York), who is Bryce Dallas Howard’s youngest sibling and was a first-time expectant father at the time the documentary was filmed.
  • Robert Selby (in Triangle, Virginia), an African American whose son survived a life-or-death medical crisis.
  • Thiago Queiroz (in Rio de Janeiro), a Brazilian who started a podcast and blog about fatherhood and who advocates for longer time for paternity leaves.
  • Shuichi Sakuma (in Tokyo), who is a Japanese homemaker.
  • Rob Scheer and Reece Scheer (in Darnestown, Maryland), a white gay couple who adopted four African American kids.

Glen Henry used to work as a sales clerk at men’s clothing store, but he was so unhappy in his job that his wife Yvette suggested that he quit his job and become a stay-at-home father. (At the time “Dads” was filmed, the Henrys had two sons and a daughter.) Glen Henry, who has a blog called Beleaf in Fatherhood, began making videos documenting his fatherhood experiences.

Glen admits that he thought at first that it would be easy to take care of the kids by himself, but he found out that he was very wrong about that. “I felt like an imposter,” he says of his early years as a homemaker. Even though his wife Yvette says she wasn’t thrilled about Glen putting their family’s life on display for everyone to see on the Internet, she says it’s worth it because Glen is a much happier person as a stay-at-home dad.

Echoing what many of the fathers say in the documentary, Glen Henry comments: “The role of father has shifted in a major way. We went from providing, being there for holidays and disciplining to being all the way involved—and you kind of look like a dork if you’re not.”

He continues, “I feel like being a father made me the man that I am. My children taught me to be authentic and honest with myself. Fatherhood has given me a whole new identity.”

Reed Howard, who was expecting his first child with his wife when this documentary was being filmed, talks about the home videos that his father Ron filmed of all of his children being born. (Clips of some of those videos are included in the documentary.) Reeds says half-jokingly that since all of Ron’s kids were forced to watch the videos, it was “traumatic” to see part of his mother’s body that he never wanted to see.

Ron Howard’s father Rance (who died in 2017) is also interviewed in “Dads.” Rance says that when Ron was a co-star on “The Andy Griffith Show,” Rance suggested to Andy Griffith to not have Ron’s character Opie written as a brat. Griffith took the advice, and the father-son relationship on the show was modeled after the relationship that Rance had with Ron in real life. (Rance Howard and Ron Howard are the only grandfathers interviewed in the movie, by the way.)

Most of the dads interviewed in the documentary get emotional and teary-eyed at some point in the film. Ron Howard’s crying moment comes when he says that his greatest fear as a father was that he wouldn’t be as good as his father was to him. Reed (who is Ron’s only son) expresses the same fear about not being able to live up to the great experiences that he had with Ron as his father.

Selby has perhaps the most compelling story, since his son RJ was born with a congenital heart defect. Selby describes years of stressful hospital visits and medical treatments in order to help RJ live as healthy of a life as possible. This dedicated dad had to make many sacrifices, such as taking unpaid time off from work and forgo paying some bills in order to pay for RJ’s medical expenses. “There was no doubt in mind: I would forever be his protector,” Selby says of his outlook on being RJ’s father.

Selby is also the only father interviewed in the film who isn’t financially privileged, since he says that he often didn’t have a car during his son’s ongoing medical crisis. And when he did have a car, it was repossessed  multiple times because he couldn’t make the payments. He ended up working a night shift because it was the only way he could have a job (he doesn’t mention what he does for a living) while also going to school and taking care of RJ during the day.

Chantay Williams (who is RJ’s mother) and Selby were never married and didn’t have a serious relationship when she got pregnant with RJ. Selby breaks down and cries when he remembers that when he found out about the pregnancy, he didn’t want Williams to have the child and he didn’t talk to her for two months. But he changed his mind, asked for her forgiveness, and is now a very involved father.

However, Selby says that he still feels shame over his initial reaction to the pregnancy, and he comments that he’ll probably spend the rest of his life trying to make up for that mistake. Williams says in the documentary that Selby is proof that someone can change, and that he’s truly a devoted father and that his devotion isn’t just a show for the documentary cameras.

Quieroz (a married father of two sons and a daughter) knows what it’s like to not have a father raise him, since his dad wasn’t in his life for most of his childhood. He says that it’s one of the reasons why he vowed to always be there for his kids. Quieroz’s day job is as a mechanical engineer, but he also started a fatherhood podcast with two other Brazilian fathers, and he has a fatherhood blog. It’s through the blog that Quieroz’s estranged father got in touch with him. The outcome of that contact is revealed in the documentary.

Sakuma talks about how, in Japanese culture, men who don’t work outside the home are considered “society dropouts.” When he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder 20 years ago, Sakuma could no longer work outside the home. He became so depressed that he contemplated divorce and suicide, until his wife begged him: “Please continue living for me.”

After Sakuma regained his health, one of the first things he wanted to do was become a parent, but his wife didn’t want to have kids. He says in the documentary that he began a personal campaign that lasted two years to get his wife to change her mind. She changed her mind when he told her that men can do anything when it comes to raising a child, except for pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. He convinced her that he would make a great stay-at-home dad, which he is to their son.

Rob and Reece Scheer didn’t expect to become parents to four kids in a short period of time (less than a year), but that’s what happened when they fostered four children, whom they eventually ended up adopting. Rob and Reece have three sons and one daughter; two of the sons are biological brothers. Rob (the older husband) says he knew that he wanted to be a father since he was 6 years old. Rob describes how he grew up with an abusive father, but that traumatic experience helped him know that he wanted to be the opposite of abusive when he became a dad.

The four kids adopted by Reece and Rob also come from troubled backgrounds, so Rob believes surviving his own abusive childhood helps him relate to his kids in that way. As for Reece, he was working two jobs when he decided quit those jobs to be the couple’s stay-at-home partner. They had to make the sacrifice of having a lower household income, but now the family lives happily on a farm, which the dads say has been beneficial for the emotional well-being of their kids.

Rob Scheer says that sometimes people say unintentionally ignorant things  about gay couples who are parents. “People ask, ‘Who’s the mom and who’s the dad?’ We’re both dads, but the one thing that we do is that we both partner. That’s what parents should be doing.”

One of the questions that Bryce Dallas Howard asks the celebrities is to define what a father is in one word. Fallon says “hero,” while Minhaj says “compass.” Many of the celebrity fathers in the documentary make obvious comments that are similar to each other, such as: “There’s no instruction manual/rulebook to being a father.”

And although Kimmel and Jeong briefly mention the medical scares they went through with their children (a heart defect for one of Kimmel’s sons, a premature birth for one of Jeong’s children), the documentary doesn’t show them opening up about these issues in a meaningful way. Instead, most of the celebrity soundbites are meant to elicit laughs. Several of the celebrities make references to their busy careers when they talk about how their work keeps them from spending more time with their kids, but they know that they’re working hard to provide very well for their children.

Although the non-famous fathers who are profiled  in “Dads” seem to be a diverse group because they’re from different countries and racial groups, they actually have more in common with each other than not, because they’re all middle-class fathers with children who were under the age of 13 at the time this documentary was filmed. It seems like these fathers were selected because they have young children who are in the “cute” stages of life—no kids who are teenagers or adults—thereby creating more documentary footage that was likely to be “adorable.”

Apatow and Smith are the only fathers who talk about how fatherhood became less fun for them when their children became teenagers. They mention that they had to learn to give their teenage kids space, adjust to their kids’ growing independence, and allow them to make their own decisions on issues, even if those decisions turned out to be mistakes. But since the documentary doesn’t do any up-close profiles of non-famous fathers who have teenagers, the only commentaries about raising teenagers come from rich and famous guys, and it’s questionable how relatable these celebrity dads are to the rest of the public.

For example, Smith has said in other interviews (not in this documentary) that he and his wife Jada don’t believe that their kids should be punished in their household when they do something wrong, their kids never had to do household chores, and he and Jada allowed their kids to drop out of school when the kids didn’t feel like going anymore. Apatow admits in the documentary that he’s also a permissive dad who never really punished his kids if they did something wrong. Is it any wonder that many celebrities are perceived as raising spoiled kids who are out of touch with the real world?

One of the other shortcomings of “Dads” is that, except for Selby, the documentary completely ignores major financial strains that parenthood can cause. It’s as if the documentary wants to forget that financially poor fathers exist in this world too. And even though Minhaj is the only one in “Dads” to mention the immigrant experience, “Dads” could have used more fatherhood stories from an immigrant perspective.

However, if you want a heartwarming look at famous and non-famous dads who say that parenthood is the best thing that ever happened to them, “Dads” fulfills all those expectations. This documentary is more like a series of love letters instead of a thorough and inclusive investigation.

Apple TV+ premiered “Dads” on June 19, 2020.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Wig’

May 5, 2019

by Carla Hay

Nelson Sullivan in “Wig” (Photo courtesy of HBO)

“Wig”

Directed by Chris Moukarbel

World premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on May 4, 2019.

The documentary “Wig” is a joyous and sassy love letter to Wigstock (the annual drag festival in New York City) and New York City’s drag culture. The movie comes 24 years after the 1995 documentary “Wigstock: The Movie,” which chronicled the 1994 Wigstock event. Unlike “Wigstock: The Movie,” which was essentially a concert film, “Wig” takes a deeper dive into the history of Wigstock and its underrated impact on pop culture.

Wigstock was launched in 1984 by Lady Bunny, and its first incarnation ran until 2001. The festival was revived in 2018 by Lady Bunny and Neil Patrick Harris. (Harris and his husband, David Burtka, are two of the producers of “Wig,” which had its world premiere as part of the Tribeca Film Festival’s inaugural Tribeca Celebrates Pride, an entire day of LGBTQ-themed programming. Lady Bunny performed after the film’s premiere.)

A lot has changed since Wigstock went on hiatus in 2001. RuPaul, who was one of Wigstock’s original stars, has become an entertainment mogul, as the host/showrunner of the Emmy-winning drag contest “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and the founder of RuPaul’s DragCon event, which currently has annual editions in Los Angeles and New York City. The rise of RuPaul and drag culture is a direct result of LGBTQ culture overall becoming much more visible in the 21st century, with more LGBTQ characters and reality stars on screen; the launch of LGBTQ TV networks, such as Logo and Here; and more LGBTQ celebrities living their lives openly. That visibility and growing public support for LGBTQ rights also had an impact on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to make marriage equality legal for same-sex couples.

In its own unique way, Wigstock has been part of this movement. It’s important to bring up this historical context because “Wig” would have been a very different movie if it had been made in the 1990s. “Wig” director Chris Moukarbel (who directed Lady Gaga’s 2017 Netflix documentary “Gaga: Five Foot Two”) skillfully rises to the challenge of presenting the history of Wigstock in a cohesive, entertaining style that a wide variety of people can relate to and enjoy.

“Wig” includes some prophetic archival footage from the early 1990s showing RuPaul having a bathroom conversation with British filmmaker Fenton Bailey, who asks RuPaul if drag queens will be popular in America. Fast forward decades later, and Bailey’s World of Wonder production company (which he co-founded in 1991 with fellow filmmaker Randy Barbato) is producing the “Drag Race” franchise, drag queen Big Freedia’s self-titled reality series and numerous other film, TV and digital projects. RuPaul is seen frequently throughout the “Wig” movie, including RuPaul’s early club days at New York City’s Pyramid Club (which was a vital part of the city’s drag scene that birthed Wigstock), to directing an impromptu home photo session with fellow drag queen Nelson Sullivan in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s, to on-stage appearances at Wigstock throughout the years.

In “Wig,” many of the drag queens comment on the mainstreaming of drag culture, compared to the early years of Wigstock. Although many of the queens appreciate that drag culture has become more accepted and has become a more viable way to make a living, some of the queens express some wistful nostalgia for the days when the community was much smaller and more tight-knit.

Drag queen Linda Simpson says that “’Drag Race’ was groundbreaking,” but the flip side is that drag culture was “more fun” when it was less mainstream. Simpson adds, “Now, drag is all about de-mystifying drag. It takes away from the insider-y feel that we had before.”

Flotilla DeBarge comments, “There are too many people right now who want to be drag queens, but they don’t know what it’s about,” adding that doing drag should be about passion, not money. “Anybody can do drag, but what kind of drag queen do you want to be?” As drag queen Naomi Smalls puts it: “RuPaul paved the way for me, but who the fuck paved the way for Ru? I love that drag is being normalized.”

For many drag queens, validation outside the drag community is the ultimate sign of success. Willam Belli, also known as drag queen Willam (a former “Drag Race” contestant who landed a cameo in the 2018 remake of “A Star Is Born”), hilariously tells a story about surprising a male intruder who had broken into Willam’s home, and the intruder backed away and called her “ma’am.” Willam laughs when remembering how the intruder acknowledged her as a woman: “I passed!”

Some of the Wigstock devotees also talk about their early influences. Charlene Incarnate says that most of her gay role models were closeted dads in her church. Harris said that drag culture appeals to him as a magician. As drag queen Tabboo! says in the film, “Wigstock was revolutionary because it kickstarted the ‘Come out, come out, wherever you are.’”

Lady Bunny adds, “We were putting something special out there in New York because this was the time of AIDS.” The AIDS crisis and its impact on the LGBTQ community is given a respectful amount of acknowledgement in “Wig,” which includes some heartbreaking testimonials of people who have lost friends and loved ones to the deadly disease.

Hate crimes against drag queens and others in the LGBTQ community are also mentioned in “Wig.” Jeremy Extravagance talks about his longtime friendship with singer/drag queen Kevin Aviance, who was the survivor of a vicious beating in 2006, outside of a gay bar in Manhattan. Aviance, who is interviewed and has some of the movie’s best scenes, describes his attack as, “I never felt so much hate in my life from someone I never met.” He says of being a hate-crime survivor: “Drag is my silver lining.”

As one commentator puts it: “Drag is hyper-femininity in response to aggressive masculinity.” If that’s the case, then Wigstock is the ultimate on-stage clapback. The heart of the movie is still about the thrill and the spectacle of performing at Wigstock, with Lady Bunny as the event’s founding mother. Blondie lead singer Debbie Harry, a previous Wigstock performer, says cheekily of Lady Bunny: “The thing that annoys me about Bunny is that she flirts like crazy…and nothing happened [between us].”

If there’s any one person who’s portrayed as a chief villain in “Wig,” it’s Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York City from 1993 to 2001. (He is not interviewed in the movie.) Giuliani’s crackdown of the city’s nightclubs resulted in numerous closures that directly affected gay nightlife and drag culture. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Wigstock went out of business when Giuliani was in office.

The movie culminates with a dazzling array of footage from Wigstock’s spectacular comeback in 2018, including appearances from Lady Bunny, Bianca Del Rio, Aviance, Ladies of Lips, Amanda Lepore and Harris in full costume from his Tony-winning “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” drag role. If people still don’t understand what drag culture is about, one “Wig” commentator says it best in the movie: “Drag is about putting on the outside what you feel on the inside.”

HBO will premiere “Wig” on June 18, 2019.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival: Tribeca Celebrates Pride inaugural event launches to spotlight LGBTQ culture

April 9, 2019

Tribeca Film Festival - white logo

Neil Patrick Harris (Photo by Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank)

The following is a press release is from the Tribeca Film Festival:

The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, will continue its tradition of celebrating activism in the arts with the inaugural Tribeca Celebrates Pride, a day-long event on Saturday, May 4th at the Tribeca Festival Hub at Spring Studios. The day will honor the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, including one-on-one interviews with LGBTQ+ luminaries including Neil Patrick Harris, John Cameron Mitchell, Larry Kramer and guest speaker Asia Kate Dillon. The program will reflect on the impact of this seminal moment for the LGBTQ+ community and include conversations with Raul Castillo, Patti Harrison, Angelica Ross, and more. Tickets are on sale now for the event, which runs from 10am to 6pm.

Tribeca encourages and supports inclusive storytelling and its LGBTQ+ focused programming is an integral part of the Festival, mirroring the diverse population of New York City itself. The program will feature notable LGBTQ+ guest speakers in a series of conversations, including the activists that make up the fabric of New York’s queer community, the thought leaders changing the landscape of film and television and the public figures leading the cultural conversation. Additionally, the event will shine a light on the LGBTQ+ experience through a carefully curated program of seven short films, all of which are playing in competition at the Festival. Notable talent featured in these shorts include Angelica Ross (Pose), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Zackary Drucker (Transparent).

The day will conclude with the world premiere of the HBO Documentary Film Wig, a film spotlighting the art of drag, centered on the New York staple Wigstock, that showcases the personalities and performances that inform the ways we understand queerness, art and identity today. Following the premiere, audiences will be treated to a live drag show hosted by the founder of Wigstock, Lady Bunny. Tickets are on sale now for the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, taking place April 24 – May 5.

“This year, Tribeca will showcase artists who have used storytelling to bring people together around a common goal: inclusivity. We’ve come so far in the fifty years since the Stonewall riots, but there is so much more to be done,” said Paula Weinstein, EVP of Tribeca Enterprises. “In honor of that pivotal moment in our culture, we hope this day of LGBTQ+ storytelling-driven programming will not just honor the work of those who came before us, but also those who are helping to ignite the passion of the next generation.”

Leading the programming for Tribeca Celebrates Pride is Lucy Mukerjee, a Senior Programmer at the Tribeca Film Festival, and formerly the Director of Programming at Outfest and Newfest LGBTQ Film Festivals. Mukerjee said, “I’m thrilled to have this opportunity during my first year at the Tribeca Film Festival to bring the queer community and our allies together. This exciting landmark event at the Festival showcases how fostering LGBTQ+ culture plays a role in moving society forward and creating a better tomorrow.”

Tribeca Celebrates Pride partners include The Stonewall Inn, NYC Pride, and The Human Rights Campaign. Co-hosts include ACT UP, Callen Lorde, Immigration Equality, NALIP, NewFest, Queer|Art, The Trevor Project, Trans Can Work, True Colors United and Vocal NY. Rivianna Hyatt will speak on behalf of True Colors United and Laura A. Jacobs on behalf of Callen Lorde.

Tickets are on sale now for Tribeca Celebrates Pride a day long event from 10am to 6pm ($30), followed by the World Premiere of Wig ($30).

TRIBECA CELEBRATES PRIDE:
Event time: 10:00AM – 6:00PM
Location: Tribeca Festival Hub at Spring Studios

Speakers:

Neil Patrick Harris
The Emmy and Tony award-winning actor, writer, producer, singer and all-round entertainer, known most recently for his role in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, will take a look back at some of his most significant milestones including being the first openly gay man to host the Academy Awards, being named one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People, and being a father of two.

John Cameron Mitchell in conversation with Patti Harrison
The director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001), Shortbus (2006), Rabbit Hole (2010), How To Talk To Girls At Parties (2017) and the upcoming musical podcast series Anthem: Homunculus, reflects on being open about his queer identity throughout his career and how that has fed his creative work. In conversation with his Shrill co-star, comedian Patti Harrison.

Larry Kramer in conversation with his friend and biographer Bill Goldstein
The founder of ACT UP, playwright of A Normal Heart, and subject of the documentary Larry Kramer in Love and Anger talks us through his experiences from the Stonewall riots to today, and how he’s witnessed the LGBTQ+ movement evolve from protest to pride.

Asia Kate Dillon
Best known for their roles on Billions and Orange Is The New Black, and soon to be seen in John Wick 3: Parabellum, Asia Kate Dillon is a non-binary actor and activist who advocates for expanding the definition of gender identity beyond just man and woman.

Kathy Tu and Tobin Low
Kathy Tu and Tobin Low are the co-hosts of “Nancy,” the critically acclaimed storytelling podcast from WNYC Studios exploring how we define ourselves, the journey it takes to get there, and the queer experience today. Praised as “warm and inspiring” by The Guardian, Tu and Low were recently named to the OUT 100 and to Logo TV’s Logo30 for being among the most “extraordinary people who show pride in unique and provocative ways.”

Conversations:

Activism Through The Ages
An inter-generational panel of thought-leaders and changemakers discuss the different forms their activism takes, and share some of the biggest highlights and challenges they’ve encountered on the front line in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality.
Moderator: Twiggy Pucci Garcon
Panelists: Jason Walker, Fabrice Houdart, Staceyann Chin, Stacy Lentz

Being A Multi Hyphenate
This panel will bring together queer creatives who have interpreted their artistic visions across various mediums, from art and fashion, to theater and film. As multi hyphenate cultural producers, the influence of these individuals runs deep within the community. In this conversation, we will hear from authors, filmmakers, performers and Broadway producers who have found themselves experimenting with many artforms in order to express themselves and tell their story.
Moderator: Tre’vell Anderson
Panelists: Alok Vaid Menon, Jordan Roth, Leilah Weinraub, Jacob Tobia

From Persecution to Asylum: LGBTQ Refugees Tell Their Stories
In more than 70 countries around the world, it is still considered a crime to be LGBTQ+. For nearly 25 years, Immigration Equality has provided free legal services to LGBTQ+ and HIV-positive immigrants fleeing persecution and has won asylum for more than 1,000 people. Hear first-hand testimonies from queer and trans asylum recipients about their experiences rebuilding their lives in the United States in partnership with Immigration Equality.
Moderator: Aaron C. Morris
Panelists: Denise Chambers, David Paul Kay, Ilo Rincón

LGBTQ Media Visibility
Media portrayals of our community have changed significantly in the past decade, not only becoming more frequent but also increasingly complex, representing intersectional identities across race, religion and genders. Inevitably, this LGBTQ representation has impacted societal attitudes. This conversation will look at how being out in the public eye has affected our panelists’ identities, their day to day lives and careers and also shaped the cultural conversation of this country. We will talk about the milestones our panelists have been part of, both scripted and unscripted – from onscreen coming out declarations to triumphant same-sex embraces, and how the professionals around them have supported or discouraged their living openly and honestly.
Moderator: Brad Calcaterra
Panelists: Joanna Lohman, Raul Castillo, Roberta Colindrez, Wade A. Davis

Who Gets To Tell Whose Story?
Telling the story of a community that you don’t represent is a dicey prospect; filmmakers risk alienating the very audience the film is aimed at. Ego-free collaboration is crucial. This productive panel will include discussions of cross-community collaborations where trans, non-binary and intersex artists have joined forces with cisgender creatives to forge successful storytelling partnerships. The conversation will look at allyship and how filmmakers can use their privilege for good, putting historically marginalized characters front and center to tell unsung stories with respect and authenticity. Three teams will be showcased.
Moderator: Tiq Milan
Panelists: Angelica Ross & Steven Canals, Ser Anzoategui & Tanya Saracho, River Gallo & Sadé Clacken Joseph

Out in Office
A cross section of individuals from congress and state legislation discuss their personal path to leadership, the state of equality today, and the importance of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the lawmaking process.
Moderator: Allison VanKuiken
Panelists: House Representative Malcolm Kenyatta (PA), House Representative David Cicilline (RI), Sarah McBride

Representing Hollywood
Several representatives discuss how they have supported and strategized the career trajectories of their high profile LGBTQ+ Clients.
Moderator: Bill Keith
Panelists: Simon Halls, Kevin Huvane, Joe Machota

Shorts Program Pride: Front and Center
Standing tall with these short films that celebrate Pride, this carefully curated program contains both narrative and documentary shorts, and poignantly explores LGBTQ+ life with humor, panache, kindness and compassion. Featuring Angelica Ross (Pose), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool) and Zackary Drucker (Transparent), prepare for a cross-cultural odyssey that ends, fittingly, with the safe queer haven of Christopher Street Pier. Curated by Tribeca Film Festival Shorts Programmers Sharon Badal and Ben Thompson. Featured shorts are: I Think She Likes You, Momster, Ponyboi, Black Hat, Carlito Leaves Forever, Framing Agnes and Stanley Stellar: Here For This Reason.

EVENING PROGRAM:
Event time: 8:00PM
Location: Tribeca Festival Hub

World Premiere of Wig
Wig, directed by Chris Moukarbel. Produced by Jack Turner, Bruce Cohen, David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Jason Weinberg, Jay Peterson, Michael Mayer, Todd Lubin. (USA) – World Premiere, Feature Documentary.

Wigstock was an annual drag festival, which glamorously signaled the end of summer for the gay community in NYC for almost twenty years. Late one night in 1984, Lady Bunny and a few friends drunkenly wandered from the Pyramid Club in the East Village to Tompkins Square Park and staged an impromptu drag show in the bandshell. This would soon become an annual drag bacchanal, that lasted up until 2001. And now, Lady Bunny has brought it back. This past summer, the festival returned, bringing together legendary queens with some of the new children of drag, into one of the largest drag performances ever staged.

Wig explores the origins and the influence of the historic festival through rich archival footage, as well as provides a look into the contemporary drag movement that the festival served as a foundation for. It’s a celebration of New York drag culture, and those personalities and performances that contribute to the ways we understand queerness, art, and identity today. With Lady Bunny, Charlene Incarnate, Flotilla DeBarge, Kevin Aviance, Neil Patrick Harris, Willam, Linda Simpson, Naomi Smalls, Tabboo! HBO Documentary Films

After the Premiere Screening: A special drag performance hosted by legendary drag queen Lady Bunny including Charlene Incarnate, Bobby Samplsize, Flotilla DeBarge, Willam, and more.

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Passes and Tickets for the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival

Tickets are on sale now for Tribeca Celebrates Pride and Wig at tribecafilm.com/tribecapride

Tickets for all events at the Tribeca Film Festival are on sale at tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets, or by telephone at (646) 502-5296 or toll-free at (866) 941-FEST (3378).

Also available for purchase now is The Hudson Pass, an all-access pass to screenings and talks taking place at BMCC TPAC, Regal Battery Park Stadium, Village East Cinema, and SVA theaters as well as full access to all events at the Festival Hub at Spring Studios, which includes VR and Immersive projects, Movies Plus screenings and access to Festival lounges.

Single tickets cost $24.00 for evening and weekend screenings, $12.00 for weekday matinee screenings, $30.00 for Tribeca TV and Movies Plus $40.00 for Tribeca Talks events and $40.00 for Tribeca Immersive.
All are available for purchase on the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival App on:

● iTunes:https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tribeca-festival/id1208189515?mt=8
● Google Play:https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tff2017.android

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About the Tribeca Film Festival:
The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, brings visionaries and diverse audiences together to celebrate storytelling in all its forms, including film, TV, VR, gaming, music, and online work. With strong roots in independent film, Tribeca is a platform for creative expression and immersive entertainment. The Festival champions emerging and established voices; discovers award-winning filmmakers and creators; curates innovative experiences; and introduces new technology and ideas through premieres, exhibitions, talks, and live performances.

The Festival was founded by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff in 2001 to spur the economic and cultural revitalization of lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Now in its 18th year, the Festival has evolved into a destination for creativity that reimagines the cinematic experience and explores how art can unite communities. The 18th annual edition will take place April 24 – May 5, 2019.www.tribecafilm.com/festival

Hashtag: #Tribeca2019
Twitter: @Tribeca
Instagram: @tribeca
Facebook: facebook.com/Tribeca

About 2019 Tribeca Film Festival Partners:
As Presenting Sponsor of the Tribeca Film Festival, AT&T is committed to supporting the Festival and the art of filmmaking through access and innovation, while expanding opportunities to diverse creators around the globe. AT&T helps millions connect to their passions – no matter where they are. This year, AT&T and Tribeca will once again collaborate to give the world access to stories from underrepresented filmmakers that deserve to be seen. “AT&T Presents Untold Stories” is an inclusive film program in collaboration with Tribeca – a multi-year, multi-tier alliance between AT&T and Tribeca along with the year-round nonprofit Tribeca Film Institute.

The Tribeca Film Festival is pleased to announce its 2019 Partners: 23andMe, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Bai Beverages, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC), BVLGARI, CHANEL, CNN Films, Diageo, ESPN, HBO, IMDb, Kia, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card from Chase, Merck, Montefiore, National CineMedia (NCM), Nespresso, New York Magazine, NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Prime Video Direct, P&G, PwC, Salesforce, Spring Studios New York, Squarespace, Status Sparkling Wine, and Stella Artois.

 

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