The title character in Sibyl Viginie Efira weaves herself a web of bedlam, not admitting that she has ensnared herself for the majority of the film. Her toxicity spills over into people’s lives. By willfully absorbing other people’s lives and allowing their troubles to fester her long existing issues, she’s in for a mess. Not to mention, said people ensnared in her web had already weaved their own toxic webs, now tangling in hers.
French psychotherapist Sibyl is setting off to write her book. One day, she receives a call from the tear-stricken Margot Adèle Exarchopoulos, an up-and-coming movie star in the midst of a difficult decision: She’s deciding whether to abort her pregnancy, a result of an affair with her famous costar, Igor Gaspard Ulliel before a film shoot. Not to mention, Igor has been in a long-term relationship with said film’s director Sandra Hüller.
Sibyl does the unthinkable and commits an ethics breach: She provides therapy to Margot but records their conversation and transforms Margot’s story into soap operatic beats for her fiction. Margot’s story is too enticing to Sibyl, not to mention it seems to resemble Sibyl’s own relationship woes. Soon, Margot’s emotional needs surges. The patient is unsure what decision she needs validated and Sibyl uneasily tries to guide Margot’s heart. But Sibyl becomes swept into a chaos so maddening that it exacerbates Sibyl’s angst over a past relationship and her alcoholism.
Hilariously, matters escalate to the point where Sibyl is summoned to Margot’s film shoot and assumes the role of an unofficial on-set therapist, directing Margot, even having to sing and direct a romantic scene between two estranged co-stars. How Sibyl is whisked into those scenarios sound inexplicable on paper yet are believable due to director Justine Triet’s staging—and anyone who has been on a film shoot can recognize these on-set desperation rings true.
Triet’s direction humanizes its female players in their overwrought outbreaks. Exarchopoulos is the rawest and reddest in Margot’s anguish. But special mention goes to Huller, with a smug Cate Blanchett mien, who steals every scene as a prima donna director whose soul has been sucked due to the personal mess, her sanity waning by the hour. She seethes with contempt as she furnishes her wavering commitment, ordering her players around, bewildered by the revelation of her relationship betrayal. He inexplicable rationale of enabling her boyfriend’s affair with his co-star is a riotous piece of dialogue, not just because of the denial but because it’s alarmingly believable in how someone might try to consolidate that which cannot be consolidated.
Sibyl renders itself a funny-to-riotous-to-heartwrenching viewing experience. Across rib-cracking production nightmares, eroticism, and drab sessions of Sibyl counseling a child, and breakdowns, sometimes the movie tries to assemble fragments that don’t tonally gel. Overall, Sibyl is a tense portrait of a woman who can no longer fake dignity or functionality. By the end, Sibyl completes her project but still has to live with the shatterings that can’t be reassemble.
In a competitive situation, Fox has given a put pilot commitment to Diversity Hire, a provocative single-camera workplace comedy from the Empire duo of Cameron Johnson and Felicia D. Henderson, producer Darryl Taja The Perfect Guy and Empire studio 20th Century Fox TV, where Henderson is under an overall deal.
Your Complete Guide to Pilots and Straight-to-Series orders
Written by Johnson, Diversity Hire is described as an irreverent workplace half-hour that will comedically explore our beliefs about race, class, and gender, while pushing the boundaries of political correctness. The show centers on Zenzi Baker, a brilliant, young, African-American, programmer whose life is turned upside down when her boss embroils his successful tech company in a publicity nightmare. To save face, Zenzi, a low-level coder, is plucked from obscurity and promoted to chief diversity and inclusion officer. Her primary qualification? She's “diverse.”
Henderson and Taja executive produce via Henderson's 20th TV-based WaterWalk Entertainment banner. Johnson is co-executive producer. Diversity Hire is a co-production of 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment.
This marks WaterWalk's second sale to Fox this development season. It joins music-driven drama, Opus, starring Nicole Ari Parker, which Henderson is writing.
Under the overall deal Henderson inked with 20th TV last summer to develop new projects with her longtime manager, Taja, as her producing partner, she joined the studio's Fox drama series Empire last season where she and Johnson met. Johnson is a writer on the family soap, currently staffed as a story editor.
“I love working with the next generation of content creators. It scratches my mentoring itch,” said Henderson. “And Cameron has this amazing, special, unique voice that is irreverent, honest, and hilarious. Developing this show with him has been a ridiculous amount of fun.”
Currently, Henderson is a consulting producer on 20th TV's upcoming Fox series neXt, an FBI cyber-crime drama set to premiere in January 2020. She recently co-created and executive produced the BET series, The Quad, and spent two years as a co-executive producer on Netflix's The Punisher. She also developed and executive produced Showtime's long-running drama series Soul Food.
Henderson's writing career began in half-hour comedy with stints on Everybody Hates Chris, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and Moesha. Sheis repped by Epidemic Management and attorney Mark Stankevich. Johnson is repped by Kim Stenton at Myman Greenspan.
It's hard to define exactly what actor/comedian/musician Tim Heidecker does — the deliberate result of a Dead Sea-dry sense of humor that can make even his most committed supporters feel like they're not always in on the joke — but if anything binds his various projects together it might be a consistent effort to explore the value of absurdity in an increasingly absurd world. You can see it in “The Comedy,” a semi-improvised satire in which Heidecker gave one of the decade's great performances as a trust fund man-child who gets unmoored between irony and entropy. You can hear it on albums like “Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker's Trump Songs,” in which he mocks our reality TV president in order to grapple with the futility of mocking our reality TV president.
And you can watch it darken and metastasize for hours and hours and hours on end as part of the ever-expanding “On Cinema” universe, which started as one giant subtweet of a movie review podcast before it grew to encompass 11 seasons of a television show, a five-hour fake murder trial, and now a feature-length film in which Heidecker campaigns to become the San Bernardino County District Attorney in order to get revenge on the man who rightly tried him for his role in an EDM concert where 18 people vaped themselves to death.
That may not make a ton of sense to anyone who didn't watch Tim's Electric Sun Desert Musical Festival go disastrously wrong in season nine of “On Cinema at the Cinema,” but “Mister America” — the new mockumentary about Heidecker's malicious political campaign — doesn't really seem to care. The movie is extremely fine with being a fans-only affair, but the fact is that Heidecker's comedy thrives in the liminal space between what's supposed to be funny and what's not, and the one thing he can't afford to do is stop to explain the joke. Besides, we all live at a time when a thin-skinned bully redoubled his efforts to take over the world after a comedian made fun of him at a fancy dinner party, so it's not like anyone is going to be all that starved for context. “Mister America” might be a much tougher sit for the uninitiated than it is for all the TimHeads out there, but even those who don't enjoy this half-baked stunt of a movie should be able to appreciate how sardonically it smudges the thin line between freedom and chaos.
Directed by “Nathan for You” vet Eric Notarnicola, whose TV work has elevated “Borat”-style comedy to cringe-worthy new s, “Mister America” uses both professional actors and random people in a way that helpfully destabilizes the entire project, while less helpfully making you wish that Heidecker had just entered the San Bernardino DA race for real. The comedian continues his “On Cinema” performance as an outrageously arrogant version of himself, an ego monster with a Trumpian gift for transmuting ignorance into anger.
It's equal parts funny and frightening to watch him accost strangers for their signatures, as he runs his campaign with all the social grace of a serial killer. In one scene, Heidecker barges into a family restaurant and asks a tableful of patrons if they're potential voters “I just want to know that I'm not wasting my time”. A later moment that feels like a tepid rehash of “The Comedy” finds him walking into a barbershop and lecturing two young men of color about how great their neighborhood was “in the good old days.”
Aside from a climactic rally where it becomes hard to suss fact from fiction, the funniest and/or most pointed stuff in “Mister America” tends to come from people who are part of the charade. Terri Parks is low-key hilarious as useless campaign manager Toni Newman, a former jury member on Heidecker's murder trial and the one dissenting vote that prevented him from spending the rest of his life in jail. Don Pecchia gets a few good moments as Heidecker's nemesis Vincent Rosetti, a totally baffled civil servant who can't help but insist that everyone in America — even cartoonish asshats who are clearly motivated by personal vendettas — has the right to run for office even if that means our democracy is always one megalomaniacal idiot away from becoming a circus.
And, of course, it's only a matter of time before Heidecker's “On Cinema at the Cinema” co-host Gregg Turkington shows up wearing a promotional hat from the misbegotten Guy Pearce vehicle “The Time Machine.” His scenes sprinkle in some of that classic “On Cinema at the Cinema” flavor, as Turkington provides a little backstory for Heidecker neophytes in between reminding us about his “Ant-Man” cameo, dumpster-diving for an old VHS copy of the Steve Martin/Queen Latifah vehicle “Bringing Down the House,” and bragging that he was one of the first 300 people to ever see Clint Eastwood's “Sully.”
All of this stuff pulls focus away from the local election, but Heidecker’s name isn't actually on the ballot anyway. He may have the grievance to become a major political force, but he lacks the money and the fool's gold charisma that some people are able to buy with it he campaigns on a promise to end 100 percent of crime in San Bernardino County, but the racism underlying that message is maybe too subtle to excite white voters. It's amusing that he lives in his hotel war room, and that his grassroots efforts amount to asking local businesses to hang anti-Rosetti signs that read “We have a rat problem,” but the overall inertia of the film's narrative makes it hard to sustain any real comic momentum from one gag to the next.
On the other hand, “Mister America” is the kind of comedy that can pivot from lethargic to legendary on the turn of a dime if only for a minute or two; a scene where Heidecker absentmindedly vapes his own toxic product is proof enough of that. And given how normalized this kind of character has become in these dumb times, that part can also be seen as a convenient metaphor for the entire movie. When the world is on fire, why go out of your way to suck up the smoke? When absurdism has become our day-to-day reality, what are absurdists supposed to do?
For Heidecker, one answer seems to be to make documentaries. A genuine attempt would have been preferable to this ersatz parody, but “Mister America” is real enough when it needs to be. One screaming “constituent” yells at our hero as he retreats from a campaign stop gone wrong: “Tim Heidecker is a fucking murderer! You know he killed those kids and he's going to fucking burn for it!” Cowardly speed-walking away, Heidecker shouts over his shoulder: “You'll vote for me!”
“Mister America” is now playing in theaters in New York and Los Angeles.
I’ve been in a spot where the young Yoko Atsuko Maeda was or maybe still in it: an existential anxiety about your prospects. For anyone who has ever done film production before, you know that small filmmaking roles can be a gateway to your desired grander opportunity. At this point in her life, Yoko is disillusioned with her position as a host of a reality travel show trailed by a trifling all-male crew in Uzbekistan. At first, Yoko treats her position like an unwanted obligation since she has been pining for better—or something she calls “better.” Now she fears she may be in stasis rather than moving forward toward her desired destination.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s To the Ends of the Earth encapsulates one woman’s blossoming from a reserved drone into a willing participant with Maeda’s subtle dynamism from a perpetually placid and pouty countenance to a focused visage.
Yoko’s stint in Uzbekistan takes off on undignified starts. When the camera rolls, she has to perform a bubbly persona—at odds with her current morose mood—that doesn’t pop enough for the director. The fishermen they film with also call her bad luck, since she is a woman, and their first shoot was reliant on them making a catch and the fishermen welcoming her. Her concerns and needs, while not ignored, are secondary in the production. When she is forced to endure an intense theme park ride, a crewmember checks on the camera before looking at her blatantly nauseated expression—then she is ordered to endure two more takes of the ride. To complicate matters, she cannot speak the Uzbekistan language and relies on a translator, which can be troublesome when she’s out alone and interacting with the locals. Along with it, she witnesses the deleterious effect of a production that doesn’t seem to be realizing its full potential, eavesdropping on the crew’s mulling over the quality of the footage. Obstacles are inevitable in any production.
On her break days, Yoko navigates the anxieties of traveling in a foreign country as she walks through the city alone, not for sightseeing but to buy supplies. She pushes away aggressive vendors—who profile her as a tourist and thus a potential customer—and breaks into a run when she walks past groups of strangers in an alleyway. However, she eases up in this strange environment, finding bits of enchantment, and getting lost in it, such as a penned goat on her encounter. Halfway through the film, does the story bring her desires to light as she wanders alone into an opera house and imagines herself on the stage. She voices this insecurity to her crewmember, who assures her there that her current station could still be a gateway for her singing aspirations.
The longer she stays in Uzbekistan, the more she feels attuned, even if she isn’t completely embracing the new world around her. She begins adding her two cents and pitching her ideas. One pitch comes through, her decision to liberate the penned goat she came across. They film her freeing the goat into the expanse, only for the owner to attempt to reclaim the goat. So they pay the original owners to let it wander, but she is more aware that the goat is more at risk when set free. Spoilers: the goat will return, and in a way that strikes the heart, and she accepts it as a sign from the universe that all will be well.
Kurosawa stacks a twist or two that may seem over-the-top, but they somehow compliment Yoko’s transformation. After a harrowing chase scene at the of Yoko’s anxiety, she doesn’t realize she has a paradigm shift. When there comes a moment a terror is resolved and she says, “The people here are nice and the country is nice” and means it. By that time, she has evolved in her potential as much as she evolved her perspective in a foreign place.
The film twirls into musical territory at two moments, the final a-la Sound of Music. For a film shot naturalistically, it manages to earn these sparks of spontaneity. Some questions linger after her final song of exuberance. Has she made peace with the elements given to her? Is she still optimistic she’ll reach her initial dream, just in a way she never expected? Either way, she knows she’ll be fine.
“I’m having trouble looking in the mirror lately,” says Henry Brogan Will Smith, one of the world’s best assassins. He’s spent a large chunk of his career bumping off bad guys for the government, but now he wants to hang up his guns and retire at the ripe old age of 51. He’s tired of killing people, and for the first time in his deadly career, he’s actually starting to grow what might be considered a conscience. But if Henry thought looking in the mirror was hard, just wait until he comes face to face with a new enemy: himself.
A younger, cloned Henry played by a digitally de-aged Smith has come calling, setting the stage for a big Will Smith vs. Will Smith action extravaganza wrapped-up in a package called Gemini Man. All the pieces are there, and those pieces rest in the able hands of director Ang Lee. So why is the end result so curiously lifeless? At some point, Lee got too caught up with the tech at work here and forgot to focus on a moving narrative. The end result is more video game than movie.
Digitally de-aging is becoming more and more prevalent. Marvel has been doing it for a few years now, perfecting things with a perfectly de-aged Samuel L. Jackson in Captain Marvel. Martin Scorsese’s upcoming The Irishman uses similar tech to de-age Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino – with mostly successful results there are one or two scenes where the effect seems off. Gemini Man wants to take things to a whole new level, so much so that Lee has been insistent on stating that this isn’t a “digitally de-aged” Will Smith – it’s a full CGI creation. Smith may have been his own stand-in, but his younger version is de-aged in body as well as face.
Smith has been in the limelight for decades, and we know exactly what he looked like as a younger man from his Fresh Prince days. So when the young Smith – nicknamed Junior – finally pops-up about a half-hour into the movie the result is momentarily stunning. It really looks like a young Will Smith has teleported from the past into this movie.
But then Junior starts talking – and the effect is completely blown. Because while the FX wizards Lee has worked with are able to master Smith’s resting face, they never quite get the knack to show it in motion. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of motion here. Henry and Junior are constantly sparring, fighting, and bickering, which means the digital Smith has a lot of action and acting to do. But every time he moves his mouth or blinks his eyes, there’s an eerie, uncanny quality at play. He starts to look less like a living, breathing human and more like a video game character – or even the lead character in this year’s Alita: Battle Angel. Alita never looked fully real in that movie, but it worked in that context – after all, she’s a cyborg. But Smith’s Junior is supposed to be flesh and blood.
None of this is Smith’s fault. The actor does the best he can with the clunky, humorless script from David Benioff, Billy Ray, and Darren Lemke. Smith has always had charisma to burn, and Lee was wise to cast him here, because Gemini Man has to coast almost entirely on that charisma. He brings a rough weariness to Henry and a conflicted tenderness to Junior that still manages to shine through all that damn CGI.
Along his journey, Henry is aided by Danny Zakarweski Mary Elizabeth Winstead, another agent accidentally caught up in this mess. There was a time when Winstead’s character would be little more than a tag-along – a hapless, helpless female character that Smith would have to save over and over again. But Gemini Man makes the smart choice of having Winstead’s Danny be more than able to handle herself, and she gets to kick as much ass as Smith. Progress!
Henry and Danny are also helped by Henry’s old pal Baron, a woefully underwritten character saved by a lively, if underused, Benedict Wong. Baron is more plot device than character – he exists because he knows how to fly a plane, and the story requires Henry to fly all over Europe at the drop of a hat. You keep waiting for the character to have a big moment to shine – but it never comes.
All of this cloning and mayhem has been orchestrated by Clay Varris, an evil government spy played by a sleepy, bored Clive Owen. There’s a lot of talk about how twisted and cold-hearted Varris is, but Owen plays him so low-key and lifeless that he makes for an ultimately drab villain. Varris’ plan to eliminate Henry begins to take on all the trappings of a Bourne sequel, where he bickers with other government agents behind-the-scenes about who to kill next. It’s all so boring that you might want to go ahead and take a bathroom break during these scenes.
The only time Gemini Man really comes alive is during its big action scenes. Lee stages many of these in brightly lit locals, all the better to highlight the High Frame Rate he shot the film in – a technique which looks like big-screen motion smoothing, and one which filmmakers should strop trying to make happen. There are several big set pieces including a motorcycle chase where the two Smiths are literally chucking their bikes at each other. But even these action scenes falter, particularly when Lee has his characters pull off the impossible. On more than one occasion Junior’s acrobatics make him look more like a rubber doll than a human being, and one specific moment where Henry does the world’s most powerful push-up – one that literally launches his entire body off the ground as if it were a spring – is so damn silly looking that it’s surprising it made it into the final film.
The video game comparisons come into play here, too. Not only do many of the action scenes get bogged down in digital nonsense, Lee often cuts to POV shots with the camera mounted on the barrel of whatever gun Henry happens to be holding, thus moving the camera along with the weapon. The end result looks exactly like a moment lifted from a first-person shooter game.
Lee is a daring filmmaker and deserves credit for trying new things visually with Gemini Man. But it would’ve been better off for everyone if he had stopped to think about the story as well. There’s a lot of psychological material to mine from this premise – a man literally coming face to face with himself. But Gemini Man only gives that material a cursory glance, and then it’s on to the next action scene drowning in digital drudgery. There’s nothing wrong with a middle-of-the-road action pic, but you can tell Gemini Man wants to be something much bigger, and better. It isn’t.
When the creators reflect on the early success of Brassic, a frenetic British comedy that lit up the schedules of Sky, their minds turn to the man who started it all: actor Dominic West.
David Livingstone, the founder of Brassic producer Calamity Films, was making British indie film Pride when West approached him with an idea. During their time on set, West was dazzled by the wild stories of his co-star Joe Gilgun's misadventures, and told Livingstone that he should consider bringing them to the screen.
“Dominic West called me over and said, 'You should listen to these stories. Joe is the funniest person I've ever met, you should make it into a TV show,'” Livingstone recalls. “I said, 'I've never made a TV show, but I'll make it if you'll be in it.'”
West, who starred in The Wire and the BBC's recent adaptation of Les Misérables, agreed. So, armed with an actor for a yet-to-be-created role and a scattered series of stories from another actor with no writing experience, Calamity set about making its first foray into television. Livingstone's first job: find a writer. This is where The Driver creator Danny Brocklehurst came in.
Brocklehurst picks up the story: “I'd loved Joe from This Is England and Misfits, so I was really happy to meet him, but deep inside me a little bit of me did think, 'Oh god, this probably won't happen.' But actually, we just got on really well and some of the stuff he was saying was just hilarious.
“He clearly put a lot of thought into what the show could be. Joe would be the first to admit it was rough around the edges, but we soon discovered we could collaborate and work well together, and knock it into something that could be a really entertaining comedy drama. I was itching to do something in this space again.”
Calamity took it to Sky, which loved the story Brocklehurst and Gilgun had created about a working-class group of friends finding creative and often illegal ways to win at life in the northern British county of Lancashire. And so Brassic was born — and it's start to life was as frantic as the car chase that opens the first episode.
Danny-Brocklehurst left and David Livingstone ITV Studios
Before the show had even aired, Sky commissioned a second series. When it debuted, it became Sky One's biggest comedy launch in seven years with 1.7M viewers. And with Mipcom weeks away, distributor ITV Studios Global Entertainment is already striking deals with international broadcasters.
Deadline can reveal that the show has been sold to CBC Gem in Canada, France's Canal+, and ABC in Australia. Comunidad Film in Spain and New Zealand's Rialto have also picked it up.
Brassic is inviting inevitable comparisons with Shameless, the comedy drama that started life on Channel 4 and has run for 10 seasons on Showtime with William H. Macy. “I don't love the comparisons with Shameless, but clearly there is a tonal similarity,” admits Brocklehurst, who worked on the original Paul Abbott show. He adds that it would “be amazing” if Brassic could be remade in the U.S. with the same level of success.
Frank Gallagher-style calamities come thick and fast in the first episode, with Gilgun's bipolar character Dylan killing a pheasant while trying to escape the police, and stealing a blonde shetland pony and dyeing its hair black. West, who started the whole thing, features as a doctor who spends more time on dating apps than listening to Dylan's woes.
Gilgun would spitball these ideas, very often through rambling late-night WhatsApp voice messages, and Brocklehurst wrestled them into a lively, fast-paced narrative. This was very purposeful.
“You have to be much more aware of grabbing the audience quickly and flying in there. I've been guilty of winding myself into a show and it takes you a while to get going. I just don't think you can afford to that at the moment,” Brocklehurst says. “I just know how unforgiving audiences are these days. There's a tendency, particularly with the lack of concentration and social media, that people like to declare things as 'slow.'”
This is partly a symptom of so much choice, which Brocklehurst thinks is a blessing and a curse for writers. “There are so many places now making drama, which is obviously great,” he says, but he does worry there is just “too much material” for audiences.
Livingstone agrees: “There's a lot of similar product out there... you do need to have a point of difference. You look at Netflix, there is such a breadth and depth of material, and I often don't know where to start.”
This is where Sky helped. “There was an advantage for us at Sky in that there is a captive Sky audience, and when Sky decides to sell something, they're pretty good and focused. You go to the gateway of Sky material, and Brassic is plastered in front of you for a significant period of time. No one is going to miss it,” Livingstone explains.
The creators were staggered by the reaction from Sky viewers. “When I first heard it [was the biggest comedy in seven years], I thought I must have been misunderstanding something,” Livingstone says. Brocklehurst says the response was “very gratifying,” including messages from colleagues and viewers.
Work is underway on series two of Brassic, while Brocklehurst and Livingstone are spinning a number of other projects. Brocklehurst has written a pilot of his BBC show The Driver for FX, with Breaking Bad's Giancarlo Esposito lined up to star. He is also developing Amazon show Dirty with Sharon Horgan about a female cop who works at night policing the sex industry.
Livingstone's Calamity Films has just released Judy Garland biopic Judy, starring Renée Zellweger, and is preparing for the launch of Netflix movie Last Christmas with Emilia Clarke. Calamity was working with StudioCanal to develop an adaptation of Man on the Run, Tom Doyle's book on Paul McCartney's 1970s adventures, but it has “stalled” following the death of writer Neil Jaworski in June. Jaworski was co-writing with Matt Delargy.
Livingstone says he would be open to doing more TV. He might just be waiting for the next tip-off from Dominic West or another unlikely source.