'Princess Cyd' director Stephen Cone on cinema, literature, and religion
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Stephen Cone on ‘Princess Cyd’: ‘It feels like me closing a chapter in my work’

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CRITERION

Editor’s note: Following its Philadelphia premiere at the 26th annual Philadelphia Film Festival earlier this month, our own Sam Mauro had the opportunity to sit down with Princess Cyd director Stephen Cone to discuss the indie filmmaker’s latest project, which opens at Museum of the Moving Image in New York on November 3. Their conversation picks up below:

Princess Cyd was a phenomenally structured film, the sort that felt genuinely novelistic without being overwritten. I’m wondering how that cross-media osmosis is fostered…that’s poorly phrased. What do you read?

I spend a lot of my time lamenting my diminishing attention. I think about how quickly and how much I read in high school, versus now where I get distracted by all sorts of different things. I do read, regularly, but it takes me forever. It’s quite embarrassing. I used to read more novels than I do now. I read a lot of film criticism and film theory, actually, and I read a lot of essays. I have a book of American Transcendentalism that I like to pick up and read random passages from Emerson, Whitman, the whole gang.

My favorite author is Marilynne Robinson, who inspired Princess Cyd. I love Housekeeping. Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Housekeeping and Beloved are my favorite books, good writing about spirituality and science and all that sort of thing. I don’t read as much as I used to, is the short answer. I’m reading Moby-Dick right now. It’s Marilynne Robinson’s favorite novel. That may be why I’m reading it.

As someone who is non-binary and gender fluid, I found the character of Katie so affirming and wonderful. How did you find such an acutely positioned, special sort of performer?

Well, it’s an exciting process but a boring answer. I think Chicago is just a great city for talent. There’s no formula. I think you and maybe others would be surprised at the lack of directing I sometimes do on set. It’s much more about a positive vibe, a mutual respect. There’s nudging here and there, but mostly it’s an attitude like, “I respect you to do your job,” just backing off and finding themselves. Malic White, they’re a gender fluid performance artist who looks younger than they are. They’re playing around five or six years younger in the film. But I’m glad to hear that. I always wished we had more of Malic in the film. You know the movie was designed to be about the aunt and the niece, and like, to go into these corners of the store and ask how can you queer this up? I don’t think that was part of the original concept of the story, actually. I was like, “should Cyd meet a boy or a girl? And then I was.”

Do you have an audience who you hope sees your work with whom it resonates?

I get really excited whenever I see an 18, 19, 20-year-old, go into the theater and get really excited. I sort of live for [Princess Cyd], like, getting discovered on Netflix in the middle of the night by some queer girl in Arkansas, though I also wish they’d see it in a theater. With Henry Gamble, I’ve run across really hilariously cruel live-tweets of it by people who are not on the wavelength. That movie’s an interesting litmus test. Some people find it really organic and flowy and others find it profoundly contrived. I do look up these movies, not to massage my own ego, just to watch these kids finding the movie. With a movie like Henry Gamble, there’s gotta be at least one character you can identify with, statistically.

Your films often grapple with a fluidity in sexuality, in gender, in personal expression – in context of the rigidity of so many of the world’s systems, especially Christianity. How do you believe conventional organized religion interacts with personal spirituality?

I always get asked about spirituality versus sexuality, but not that. Cyd was a deliberate break from exploring oppression. The movie is supposed to be easy. Sexual fluidity is so rarely seen in American cinema. I’m thinking hard. I will arrive at an answer. But I’m excited by the challenge. I’m interested in a spiritual worldview, and this is really where Marilynne Robinson comes into play, that is inspired, kind of imaginatively, by antiquities religion, but is deeply grounded in the present moment. My entry point is really Robinson. She is Christian, she loves science as much as theology, she loves the Bible as much as she loves American history. That sort of all-encompassing belief is inspiring to me.

I wouldn’t even call myself a Christian. I barely believe in a spiritual realm. But you can have a worldview that encompasses all the beautiful things without it feeling like a copout. And my movies are a way of, I guess, carve through a wall, and figuring out where these things go wrong and where they go right and also making sure that particular brand of spirituality doesn’t get lazy, as it often can get. What is lazy versus personal and liberating? All I have are questions, too.

I was raised to believe liberal Christian were lazy people who wanted to pick and choose what they liked from Christianity and unable to accept the harsh truths of Christianity. So once I graduated high school and started doubting my faith, I tried to be a liberal Christian for a while, but then I was like, “Oh maybe there is something to that.” It’s like making your own pizza off of a menu. So then I just tried to be an atheist. I don’t want to create my own religion. It’s only now that I believe that it is valid to have a personal faith.

That answer reminds me of Miranda, and of my mother, who raised me in Chicago until I was a toddler. I love how, say, if Miranda lived in California, or Upstate New York, she’d be sharper, or more obnoxious.

(Chuckling) Oh, that’s funny, I’ve never thought of that. Although I have to say, one of my regrets of the film is making her faith what I think is too vague. I actually wish she was more specifically a Christian, and I wish there was a scene of her either going to church or praying. She sort of accidentally became spacey. I feel like that was maybe a mistake. Because her faith should be as formidable as Cyd’s desire, for them to fully meet their match. I think the movie condescends a touch to Miranda’s faith. So much of this movie came out of that concern, you know – are we losing the quiet? Are we losing that ability to dream? We’ve obviously progressed in so many important ways, but I don’t want to lose that quiet. 

I think because of that I’m viewed as safe, soft filmmaker. Some critics have an interest in not just textural grit, but also a textual grit. See the risk, there, is that the utopia becomes a lax energy. Whether the movie succeeds or fails, that’s the scary thing. You risk losing action or conflict because you’re enjoying yourself. And certain viewers might just say, “Okay, nice party” and then move on to what they say is a meatier picture. This movie is interesting to gauge people’s entry-points in that sense. 

I think I have a good life. But that’s not to say I’ve settled. I’m exhausted with raising money for these micro-budget movies myself. I feel like Princess Cyd was me closing a chapter in my work. Next summer I’ll finally be shooting my first larger project; a Southern family drama.

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M. Night Shyamalan’s sequel ‘Glass’ heading towards $50 million opening weekend

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Glass
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M. Night Shyamalan’s eagerly awaited sequel Glass is off to a solid start at the North American box office, raking in more than $3.7 million from 3,200 theaters on Thursday, putting it on track to have the second-largest debut ever for a January release.

The film, which expands into 3,841 theaters today, is expected to earn just over $50 million over the course of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, putting it behind only American Sniper, which opened to $89.2 million over the same holiday weekend in 2014.

Glass, which brings together the narratives of Shyamalan’s 2000 film Unbreakable and his 2016 film Split, was written and directed by Shyamalan, who also produced along with Jason Blum, Marc Bienstock, and Ashwin Rajan.

The sequel sees Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson reprise their respective roles as David Dunn and Elijah Price from Unbreakable, while James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy return as Kevin Wendell Crumb and Casey Cooke from Split, respectively.

While many critics were hoping Glass would be another step in the right direction for Shyamalan, whose career has suffered from multiple critically-panned misfires, it seems most of them left largely unimpressed by the filmmaker’s latest offering, earning the film a measly 36% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

However, despite the disapproval of critics, Glass does seem to be performing exceptionally well with audiences, who have given the film an 80% approval rating on the review aggregator—a significantly higher number than the critic score.

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Kumail Nanjiani and Issa Rae to star in the romantic comedy ‘The Lovebirds’ from Paramount

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The Lovebirds Kumail Najiani and Issa Rae
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Following the surprise success of the sleeper hit rom-com The Big Sick in the summer of 2017, THR is reporting that Kumail Nanjiani is reteaming with director Michael Showalter for The Lovebirds, a new romantic comedy in which the comedian will star opposite Issa Rae.

According to the film’s logline, The Lovebirds follows a couple on the brink of a breakup when they suddenly find themselves caught in the middle of a bizarre, hijinks-filled murder mystery, forcing them to figure out how they, and their relationship, can ultimately survive the night.

Showalter will direct the film, which Paramount recently acquired the rights to and has decided to put on the fast-track to production, from a script written by Aaron Abrams, Brendan Gall, and Martin Gero.

Tom Lassally, Oly Obst, Todd Shulman, Jordana Mollick and Gero are producing The Lovebirds along with executive producers Nanjiani, Rae, and Showalter. MRC is co-producing and co-financing the project.

Nanjiani, who is also set to begin shooting the eagerly awaited next season of the HBO comedy Silicon Valley later this year, earned an Oscar nomination in 2018 for his screenplay for The Big Sick, which he co-wrote with his wife Emily V. Gordon.

Rae recently starred in the social justice drama The Hate U Give and will next appear in Black-ish star Marsai Martin’s upcoming comedy Little. She is also the co-creator, writer, executive producer, and star of the HBO comedy Insecure, which was recently renewed for a fourth season.

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Keanu Reeves is on the run from a gang of bounty-hunters in the ‘John Wick: Chapter 3’ trailer

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John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum
LIONSGATE

Lionsgate has released the first trailer for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the eagerly awaited next installment in the action series, which finds Keanu Reeves‘ titular hitman on the run from an onslaught of bounty-hunters in New York City.

Indeed, the hunter becomes the hunted in Parabellum as John Wick returns with a $14 million price tag on his head and a group of assassins hot on his trail, hoping to get their reward.

After killing a member of the shadowy international assassin’s guild known as the High Table, Wick is excommunicado, but some of the world’s most ruthless hit men and women are around every corner, awaiting his every turn.

Parabellum finds Chad Stahelski, who co-directed the first John Wick along with David Leitch before going solo on the second movie, back behind the camera, working from a script written by Derek Kolstad.

In addition to Reeves, Parabellum‘s all-star cast includes the likes of Halle Berry, Mark Dacascos, Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Laurence Fishburne, Anjelica Huston, Robin Lord Taylor, Asia Kate Dillon, Jason Mantzoukas, John Leguizamo, and Jerome Flynn.

John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will hit theaters on May 17.

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