'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.

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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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‘Incredibles 2’ opens with a record-breaking $18.5 million from Thursday night previews

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DISNEY/PIXAR

Disney and Pixar’s Incredibles 2 is off to an excellent start at the domestic box office as the long-awaited animated sequel leaped into theaters with a record-breaking $18.5 million on Thursday night, making it the biggest preview ever for an animated film.

The record was previously held by Finding Dory, which earned $9.2 million from Thursday previews in 2016. However, Dory still holds the record for best opening weekend ever for an animated film with $135 million—whether Incredibles 2 can break that record as well is still to be determined, but it’s chance look promising.

Incredibles 2 launches in 4,410 theaters across the U.S. starting today and, according to estimates from box office analysts, could gross anywhere between $125 million and $140 by Sunday.

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Still, the preview is an impressive feat for Incredibles 2, beating out Beauty and the Beast ($16.3 million), Spider-Man: Homecoming ($15.4 million), and Thor: Ragnarok ($14.5 million), while almost matching the $18.6 million preview number Deadpool 2 earned just mere weeks ago.

Incredibles 2 picks up just after the events of the 2005 original and finds the Parr family back again, but Helen (Holly Hunter) is off on important crime-fighting business, leaving Bob (Craig T. Nelson) at home with Violet (Sarah Vowell) and Dash (Huck Milner) to navigate the day-to-day heroics of parenting life.

Brad Bird returned to write and direct the sequel, which also stars Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener, Jonathan Banks, Sophia Bush, Isabella Rossellini, and Samuel L. Jackson.

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‘Aquaman’ first look reveals Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta

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Aquaman
WARNER BROS.

This week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly offers our first look at Nicole Kidman as Queen Atlanna and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Black Manta in James Wan’s highly anticipated Aquaman, which is due out in theaters this winter. The EW cover photo also features Jason Momoa as the titular superhero and Amber Heard as Mera.

While specific plot details are being kept tightly under wraps by the studio, the EW cover story features an interview with Wan where he teases what’s to come in the next installment in the DC Extended Universe, which, according to a new report, is currently undergoing some big changes behind the scenes amid a recent shakeup of DC’s top executives.

“The water world my movie takes place in is so separate and so far apart from previous DC movies it’s like I’m making my own sci-fi fantasy film,” the director said, adding that Aquaman will be “a whole new underwater world nobody has seen before in live action.”

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The cover story also details the “great white sharks, giant octopi, seven different underwater kingdoms, trench-dwelling cannibals, and even sea dragons” that are present throughout the film, which will find Aquaman going head to head with his archnemesis, Black Manta, and half-brother, Ocean Master (Patrick Wilson).

Written by Will Beall, Aquaman also stars Dolph Lundgren as Nereus, Temuera Morrison as Thomas Curry, and Willem Dafoe as Nuidis Vulko, and will hit theaters on December 21. You can check out the EW cover photos below.

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‘Ant-Man and the Wasp’ tracking a solid $75 million opening weekend at domestic box office

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Ant-Man and the Wasp
MARVEL STUDIOS

Ant-Man and the Wasp is looking to outgross its predecessor when it debuts next month as the upcoming Marvel Studios sequel is heading toward a solid $75 million opening weekend over the July 6-8 weekend, further proving the fact that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is showing no sign of losing momentum due to so-called “superhero fatigue.”

If these early figures are correct, this would put the sequel roughly 30% higher than Ant-Man‘s $57 million opening weekend total in 2015. The original went on to earn more than $180 million at the domestic box office and $339 million overseas, bringing its worldwide haul to a whopping $519 million.

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The latest Marvel adventure, which takes place in the aftermath of Captain America: Civil War but before the events of Avengers: Infinity War, follows Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) as he grapples with the consequences of his choices as both a superhero and a father. However, when Scott is confronted by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) with an urgent new mission, they must work together to uncover secrets from their past.

Ant-Man and the Wasp also stars Michael Pena, Walton Goggins, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, and Michelle Pfeiffer, who joins the cast Hope’s mother and the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne, who Marvel revealed for the first time in a set of a character posters released for the film earlier this month.

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