Disney Teams with Geena Davis To Check Scripts for Bias Using AI

Last week, at New Zealand’s Power of Inclusion Summit, Oscar-winner Geena Davis announced her Institute on Gender in Media will partner with Disney to use a new AI tool to help “spell check” its scripts for potential bias. The tool, called GD-IQ: Spell Check for Bias, helps identify opportunities for filmmakers to increase representation by women and girls as well as other underrepresented groups in movie scripts. (GD-IQ stands for Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, if you’re wondering.) 

In the closing keynote of the summit, Davis said, “I’m very proud to announce we have a brand new partnership with Walt Disney Studios using Spell Check for Bias. They are our pilot partners and we’re going to collaborate with Disney over the next year using this tool to help their decision-making, identify opportunities to increase diversity and inclusion in the manuscripts that they receive. We’re very excited about the possibilities with this new technology and we encourage everybody to get in touch with us and give it a try.”

The Spell Check for Bias tool uses technology developed at the University of Southern California to scan scripts and identify opportunities for inclusion. The tool can determine how the characters’ gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, and other characteristics that are underrepresented on film stack up to real-world population metrics. It can also provide data on how many speaking lines each group has, the sophistication of the language each uses, and social hierarchy of the characters.

Geena Davis poses with Minnie Mouse in front of Cinderella’s castle; Photo from Screen Rant

Davis made it clear that her goal is not to “shame and blame” well-meaning screenwriters, but rather to uncover potential opportunities to increase audience exposure to underrepresented groups. Davis has been an ardent advocate for inclusivity in film, specifically for female representation. In 2004, she started the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. The institute’s mission is to work with the entertainment industry to “engage, educate and influence the creation of gender balanced onscreen portrayals, reducing harmful stereotypes and creating an abundance of unique and intersectional female characters in entertainment targeting children 11 and under.”  

In her keynote, Davis went on to say, “There’s one category of gross gender inequality where the underrepresentation of women can be fixed absolutely overnight — and it’s onscreen. The very next project somebody makes — the next movie, TV show — can be gender-balanced. We can make this change happen very fast. In the time it takes to create a new show or a new film, we can present a whole new vision of the future. Yes, there are woefully few female CEOs in the world, but half of them can be female onscreen immediately. How are we possibly going to get the number of women and girls interested in STEM careers that we need for science, technology, engineering and math? There can be droves of women in STEM careers now on TV and in movies, and then it will happen in real life.”

“In the Tall Grass” Premiers at Austin’s Fantastic Fest

The screen version of the 2012 novella In the Tall Grass by Stephen King and his son (Joe Hill) debuted at Austin’s Fantastic Fest last week to rapt audiences. The novella is the third work of King’s to get the big-screen treatment in 2019, making it a memorable year for his massive fanbase. 

The film kicks off with two siblings, Becky (played by Laysla De Oliveira) and Cal (Avery Whitted), on a road trip to California. The trip takes a turn as they pull over near a tall, grassy field in Kansas when Becky, who is pregnant, suffers a bout of nausea. When they hear the cries of a boy coming from the grass, Becky and Cal follow them, unknowingly embarking on a horrific venture.   

Laysla De Oliveira in the tall grass; Photo from Screen Rant

Vincenzo Natali, who directed In the Tall Grass and wrote the screenplay, is also responsible for 1997’s cult classic, sci-fi thriller Cube. In an interview with SyFy Wire, Natali talked about the challenges of working in this single-location set. “There was a lot of horticultural R&D involved in this,” said Natali. “The grass itself is an organism that we can’t control, but we had to schedule the movie around the optimal period to shoot in it. It obtains a certain height, but then after that it starts to brown and flower and do all kinds of things we don’t want. So we had this window and the whole production had to be built around this very specific time that was based on hearsay. We were basically just listening to the farmer.”

In terms of direction, Natali took the lead from King: “We begin the movie much like Stephen King writes, where you feel like this is a real place with real people that we can relate to, and then we go down the river and it’s going to get weirder and weirder and weirder, until by the end it’s utterly psychedelic. That was obviously part of the visual design and the fun of it.”

The cast of In the Tall Grass; Photo from Screen Rant

In the Tall Grass comes to Netflix on October 4. 

“Good Boys” Breaks Record in Opening Weekend

Good Boys had a stellar opening weekend, bringing in $21.4 million and blowing its $11 to $12 million projection out of the water. It’s also the first R-rated comedy to reach the coveted #1 spot in the charts since 2016’s The Boss.

The movie stars three seasoned young actors Jacob Tremblay (Max), Keith L. Williams (Lucas), and Brady Noon (Thor) as the “good boys.” Delighted audiences get to laugh along as these sixth-graders skip school to embark on mission (chock full of hijinks, of course). Over the course of their hooky day, the boys find themselves (accidentally) in possession of narcotics and being chased by girls. The sometimes-raunchy, sometimes-sweet comedy is a modern coming-of-age tale audiences are loving. Rotten Tomatoes’ audience score is sitting at 86%, with its Tomatometer at 79%.

The boys of Good Boys; Screen Rant    

The movie was directed and co-written by Gene Stupnitsky, known for his writing and producing credits on The Office and 2011’s Bad Teacher. Lee Eisenberg co-wrote the script with Stupnitsky and was also a producer on the film. 

In a review for rogerebert.com, film critic Christy Lemire praised the movie’s portrayal of adolescence, saying, “It’s a time in your life that sucks no matter who or where you are—you’re not a kid anymore and you’re not yet a teenager, but you are a jumble of confusing hormones. Stupnitsky and Eisenberg have created a trio of distinct characters to navigate this minefield, and the actors playing them bring them refreshingly to life.” 

Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and Brady Noon in Good Boys; Screen Rant

Heavy hitters Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and James Weaver rounded out the production team. Executive producers included John Powers Middleton, Jonah Hill, Nathan Kahane, and Josh Fagan. What will this power team produce next?

Awkwafina Shines in “The Farewell”

Following a successful film festival run, writer and director Lulu Wang’s new movie The Farewell opened in select theaters earlier this month. The movie is based on real events from Wang’s life (or, more accurately, “based on an actual lie” as we’re told in the first frames of the film). 

The story focuses on Wang’s relationship with her family after her grandmother (Nai Nai) is diagnosed with advanced stage lung cancer. In keeping with Chinese tradition, the family keeps the diagnosis from Nai Nai to help preserve her quality of life. As Wang’s mom character tells her daughter, Billi (played by Awkwafina), at one point early in the film, “People don’t die of cancer—they die of the fear.” (If the premise of the movie sounds familiar, it may be because Wang’s story was featured on This American Life in 2016.) 

Awkwafina and Zhao Shuzhen in The Farewell; Screen Rant

Following her breakthrough roles in Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight, critics are raving about Awkwafina’s performance in The Farewell. The New York Post proclaimed, “Awkwafina has gone from rapper to comedic powerhouse, and now, most powerfully, to indie darling in ‘The Farewell.’ It’s one of the year’s sweetest films.” 

First-time actress Zhao Shuzhen, who plays Nai Nai, was another bright spot in the dramedy. Awkwafina took to Twitter to praise her performance and thank her for her mentorship, “This amazing woman’s name is Zhao Shuzhen, but I call her Teacher Zhao. Her performance in @thefarewell is beyond incredible, and working with her was a privilege and an honor. Our movie is out today, and go see it for our incredible ensemble, helmed by the GOAT @thumbelulu.”

The cast of The Farewell; Screen Rant

Really, though: Is there anything Awkwafina can’t do? It doesn’t sound like she’s planning on slowing down anytime soon. With several films and TV shows in post-production, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Awkwafina’s brilliant range of talent in 2019 and 2020. Jumanji: The Next Level, Breaking News in Yuba County, and The Spongebob Movie: It’s a Wonderful Sponge are just a few of her next sure-to-be-hits.

First Images from Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women” Released

We have our first look at Greta Gerwig‘s upcoming star-studded take on the Louisa May Alcott classic Little Women, and if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be lush.

The images showcase the incredible cast, including Saoirse Ronan as Jo March, Emma Watson as Meg March, Florence Pugh as Amy March, Eliza Scanlen as Beth March, Laura Dern as the matriarch of the March family, Meryl Streep as the overbearing Aunt March, and Timothée Chalamet as Theodore Laurence.

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Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan & Eliza Scanlen in Little Women; Photo from Screen Rant

One notable absence is Emma Stone, who was forced to drop out of the film in August of last year due to scheduling conflicts with promoting The FavouriteShe was quickly replaced with another Emma, this time of the Watson variety.

A couple cast members are already familiar with Gerwig’s style of filmmaking; Saoirse Ronan and Timothée Chalamet both starred in her acclaimed 2017 solo directorial debut, Lady Bird, which is currently the second-highest-rated film on Rotten Tomatoes, right behind Black Panther and just ahead of the 1939 timeless classic The Wizard of Oz. Gerwig also wrote the screenplay for the film.

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Greta Gerwig & Meryl Streep on the set of Little Women; Photo from Screen Rant

At the 90th Academy AwardsLady Bird was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Saoirse Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf), and Best Original Screenplay, but it failed to win in any of the categories for which it was nominated.

In Little Women, Ronan will once again be stepping into the role of leading lady, and Chalamet will again be playing a kind of “love interest” for Ronan as he did in Lady Bird. However, unlike Lady Bird’s 2002 Sacramento setting, Gerwig’s newest film will be set in Civil War-era Massachusetts.

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Saoirse Ronan & Timothée Chalamet in Little Women; Photo from Screen Rant

In an interview with Vanity Fair regarding the first images, Gerwig said Little Women feels personal to her.

“This feels like autobiography,” she said. “When you live through a book, it almost becomes the landscape of your inner life … It becomes part of you, in a profound way.”

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Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Saoirse Ronan & Eliza Scanlen in Little Women; Photo from Screen Rant

Gerwig has committed to making her version of the film as close to the source material as possible, shooting on location in Massachusetts and drawing inspiration from era-appropriate works of art.

“It gives gravity to what you’re doing,” Ronan told Vanity Fair. “The physical place really reminds you of the story you’re trying to tell.”

“Avengers: Endgame” has a Powerful Performance at the Box Office

It appears as though Marvel has done the impossible: In the grand finale of their epic Avengers saga, they’ve managed to please critics and audiences, all while making an unbelievable amount of money.

The film currently sits at a rating of nearly nine out of ten on IMDB, while its Tomatometer and audience scores on Rotten Tomatoes are both over 90 percent.

As Oliver Jones writes in the Observor, “What you will be getting when you walk into an inevitably overstuffed movie theater is something singular that reflects our age in a way that none of the MCU films that preceded it have-indeed, very few Hollywood spectacles ever have.”

The cast of Avengers: Endgame; Photo from Observor

Matthew Norman also sang the film’s praises in his review for the London Evening Standard entitled “Avengers: Endgame review – The first truly great superhero movie,” writing, “The only complaint about Avengers: Endgame is that it raises the bar so high that there may well never be a superhero movie to match it.”

While glowing reviews are certainly a good thing, another measurement of equal importance, if not more, nowadays, is its performance at the box office. Fortunately, the Avengers had nothing to worry about there either. In fact, its explosive $1.2 billion opening week is hurtling toward overtaking James Cameron‘s all-time highest-grossing record, which he broke in 2009 with Avatar.

As it stands, Endgame has already broken several records. Along with the record for highest-grossing opening weekend, it also took the prize for biggest domestic opening with $350 million in the United States, pulling ahead of the previous Avengers installment, Infinity War, as well as 2015’s Star Wars: Episode VII –  The Force AwakensEndgame also smashed the record for biggest foreign opening weekend with $859 million, finally beating out The Fate of the Furious‘s $443 million 2017 opening overseas. In China alone, Endgame racked up an astounding $330 million opening weekend.

Paul Rudd in Avengers: Endgame; Photo from Deadline

It’s truly the end of an era for Marvel fans, who have now followed the journey of this Avengers team for more than 20 films. The cast has repeatedly spoken of the emotional atmosphere on set as they prepared to pass the mantle on to the next great union of superheroes.

In the words of Captain America himself, Chris Evans, “Man, this one’s really good. I choked up like three times.”


Trailer Released for “Joker” Featuring Joaquin Phoenix

Warner Brothers has released the teaser trailer for their upcoming film Joker, based on the eponymous Batman villain, and the Internet is abuzz with excitement.

Anticipation for the film has been enormous, as fans of The Dark Knight and the late Heath Ledger have been eager to see how Joaquin Phoenix’s interpretation of the Joker stacks up against Ledger’s Oscar-winning performance. But so far, reactions to the new trailer from fans and critics alike seems to be mostly positive.

Joaquin Phoenix in Joker; Photo from IndieWire

Although Phoenix is aware of the pressure surrounding his performance, he appears to be wholly unfazed by it.

“I could care less,” he said in an interview with IndieWire. “I don’t really think that much about what people think. Who cares, who cares? My approach to every movie is the same. What I’m interested in is the filmmaker and the idea of the character.”

In regards to the number of different takes on the villain there have been to date, Phoenix said, “Maybe it’s like doing a play, like you always hear about people doing something, ‘You should have seen this actor in this performance,’ but then other actors do it and it’s a different kind of film. I think that genre, comic books, kind of lends itself to having different people play the same character and interpret it in a different way. It’s kind of built into the source material in some ways. I think it’s cool when people do that.”

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker; Photo from IndieWire

The trailer, eerily juxtaposed with Jimmy Durante‘s “Smile,” is chock-full of alarming and memorable imagery, from the Joker giving his mother a bath and twirling her around the living room, to an unknown patient violently thrashing around on a gurney, to Phoenix’s disturbingly contorting his emaciated torso. There’s a preview of Phoenix’s take on the legendary Joker laugh as well as a dramatic reveal of the iconic costume. Some think one scene where the Joker dances down a flight of stairs may even be a potential tribute to Heath Ledger’s character in the 1999 teen film 10 Things I Hate About You.

“I used to think that my life was a tragedy,” mutters Phoenix’s Joker in a voice-over, “but now I realize it’s a comedy.”

The film is set to be released on October 4, 2019, and it looks to be a suitably creepy movie for Halloween.