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‘Cinderella’: Idina Menzel and Laura Veltz “Take a Sledgehammer to the Patriarchy” With Their Song “Dream Girl”

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‘Cinderella’: Idina Menzel and Laura Veltz “Take a Sledgehammer to the Patriarchy” With Their Song “Dream Girl”

Idina Menzel is no stranger to the Academy Awards, having performed two Oscar-winning songs — Frozen‘s “Let It Go” and Frozen 2‘s “Into the Unknown” — at the ceremony. But this year, she may have the chance to showcase her own songwriting during the live broadcast as her song “Dream Girl,” from Amazon’s Cinderella, has landed on the shortlist for best original song.

“Dream Girl,” co-written with Nashville-based two-time Grammy nominee Laura Veltz, is the standout number for Menzel’s Vivian, the stepmother to Camila Cabello’s Cinderella. In writer-director Kay Cannon’s version of the fairy tale, Vivian isn’t just the canonical wicked stepmother — she is a product of her time, a woman who was forced to give up her dreams in order to marry and find security in a patriarchal society. “Dream Girl” is a feminist anthem, born out of anger and rage, that perfectly encapsulates Vivian’s inner life and contempt for Cinderella, who prioritizes her creative pursuits over romance.

Menzel and Veltz spoke with THR about their collaborative process and how Menzel’s acting experiences have empowered her as a songwriter.

Idina, what were your initial thoughts on your character, and how did they make their way into “Dream Girl”?

IDINA MENZEL Kay wrote the role with humanity, humor and complexity. It wasn’t the stereotypical, cliched version of the stepmother that we’ve seen a million times. I would have taken the role whether I was able to write a song or not, but Kay was always supportive of me having the opportunity to be artistically involved. I knew I couldn’t do it on my own — I needed someone like Laura, who helped find this cool edge. We wanted [Vivian] to have a vulnerability deep down, but have a rage and frustration with the world that she was given. People always assume that I’m going to sing this empowering song, but this was going to be empowering in a different way. We weren’t going to be like, “Come on, everybody, rise up!” This was like, “Come on, everybody, let’s get pissed. Let’s take a sledgehammer to the patriarchy. Let’s fucking get real.”

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What were your initial conversations like?

LAURA VELTZ Super fast and furious to begin with. This song had an opportunity to illustrate something important — the efficacy and absurdity of systemic oppression. The parent feels oppressed, they pass it down to their child, the child feels oppressed, they pass it down … I mean, it’s extremely effective. [For Vivian,] this is the moment to say, “You must get in your place, you must fall into line. Society says you can’t, so you can’t.” Idina, you said you’re used to singing these empowering songs, but I find this to fall in that same spot. The lyrics are all written from this perspective of the voice in our heads. And if we don’t dig around [to figure out] what’s wrong with the world, then how are we ever going to fix it?

MENZEL The actor in me was also focusing on the pain of this woman. Kay wasn’t afraid to go there. And the day when she said, “You know what, you guys wrote the song. I think we need to add to it,” every female character in the movie got to join in. And it was amazing. Like Laura said, [it’s] been planted in us what we can or cannot do. Sometimes we can be our own worst enemy. We don’t always have to blame the patriarchy. When I was shooting the film and thinking about the character, [I thought of] those moments when I let all the shit that people have said to me in the past contribute to me not being my best, greatest, kick-ass self. When all is said and done, [that’s what] I was singing about.

For me, it was the next natural progression in my career. [I’ve been involved in] originating so many roles in musicals, but to actually get to write the lyrics and the melody … Melody is even more important to me sometimes because, as a singer, that’s how I communicate with the world. When the melody doesn’t feel like it’s coming from the right place, emotionally, then as the actor it doesn’t feel like it all comes together. When you have someone that can reach inside you like Laura and help manifest [that], it’s just the greatest feeling in the world. And to have people recognize the song and to be a writer on it … this is one of those milestones for me.

From left: Camila Cabello, Charlotte Spencer, Menzel and Maddie Baillio in Amazon’s Cinderella.
Kerry Brown/Amazon
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Was it empowering to write this big showstopping number yourself, rather than singing someone else’s lyrics?

MENZEL It’s my job to take anyone’s words and melody and find a way to sing them literally. That’s what I love. I’m an interpreter, but I am a songwriter deep down. I haven’t had the chance to show what I can do — or at least people haven’t seen it as much. My acting experience [enables me] to get at what feels right cosmically, spiritually and musically for a moment. It’s an intangible thing. Having stood at the piano with amazing composers and watching them work, I’ve started to build up my confidence as to what I have to offer. Laura is the craftsman. I hear all these melodies, and then she’s like, “That’s the hook!” She picks up the guitar and finds this amazing groove.

VELTZ When someone understands what they want something to feel like, now we’re cooking with gas. Idina is so freakin’ fantastic at that. She came in with so many ideas, so many delicious emotional details — she thought through who Vivian was. She’s a songwriter at the core. [To Menzel:] And I hope that continues in your career. I’m biased because I’m a songwriter, but it’s such a beautiful thing to write something and know that your thoughts, your words turn to melodies, and now someone is singing along. Idina surely has a future in that if she wants to just do that — she’s so skilled.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

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Review: SAMARITAN, A Sly Stallone Superhero Stumble

Hitting the three-quarter-century mark usually means a retirement home, a nursing facility, or if you’re lucky to be blessed with relatively good health and savings to match, living in a gated community in Arizona or Florida.

For Sylvester Stallone, however, it means something else entirely: starring in the first superhero-centered film of his decades-long career in the much-delayed Samaritan. Unfortunately for Stallone and the audience on the other side of the screen, the derivative, turgid, forgettable results won’t get mentioned in a career retrospective, let alone among the ever-expanding list of must-see entries in a genre already well past its peak.

For Stallone, however, it’s better late than never when it involves the superhero genre. Maybe in getting a taste of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) with his walk-on role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel several years ago, Stallone thought anything Marvel can do, I can do even better (or just as good in the nebulous definition of the word).

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The property Stallone and his team found for him, Samaritan, a little-known graphic novel released by a small, almost negligible, publisher, certainly takes advantage of Stallone’s brute-force physicality and his often underrated talent for near-monosyllabic brooding (e.g., the Rambo series), but too often gives him to little do or say as the lone super-powered survivor, the so-called “Samaritan” of the title, of a lifelong rivalry with his brother, “Nemesis.” Two brothers entered a fire-ravaged building and while both were presumed dead, one brother did survive (Stallone’s Joe Smith, a garbageman by day, an appliance repairman by night).

In the Granite City of screenwriter Bragi F. Schut (Escape Room, Season of the Witch), the United States, and presumably the rest of the world, teeters on economic and political collapse, with a recession spiraling into a depression, steady gigs difficult, if not impossible, to obtain, and the city’s neighborhoods rocked by crime and violence. No one’s safe, not even 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walker), Joe’s neighbor.

When he’s not dodging bullies connected to a gang, he’s falling under the undue influence of Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk), a low-rent gang leader with an outsized ego and the conviction that he and only he can take on Nemesis’s mantle and along with that mantle, a hammer “forged in hate,” to orchestrate a Bane-like plan to plunge the city into chaos and become a wealthy power-broker in the process.

Schut’s woefully underwritten script takes a clumsy, haphazard approach to world-building, relying on a two-minute animated sequence to open Samaritan while a naive, worshipful Sam narrates Samaritan and Nemesis’s supposedly tragic, Cain and Abel-inspired backstory. Schut and director Julius Avery (Overlord) clumsily attempt to contrast Sam’s childish belief in messiah-like, superheroic saviors stepping in to save humanity from itself and its own worst excesses, but following that path leads to authoritarianism and fascism (ideas better, more thoroughly explored in Watchmen and The Boys).

While Sam continues to think otherwise, Stallone’s superhero, 25 years past his last, fatal encounter with his presumably deceased brother, obviously believes superheroes are the problem and not the solution (a somewhat reasonable position), but as Samaritan tracks Joe and Sam’s friendship, Sam giving Joe the son he never had, Joe giving Sam the father he lost to street violence well before the film’s opening scene, it gets closer and closer to embracing, if not outright endorsing Sam’s power fantasies, right through a literally and figuratively explosive ending. Might, as always, wins regardless of how righteous or justified the underlying action.

It’s what superhero audiences want, apparently, and what Samaritan uncritically delivers via a woefully under-rendered finale involving not just unconvincing CGI fire effects, but a videogame cut-scene quality Stallone in a late-film flashback sequence that’s meant to be subversively revelatory, but will instead lead to unintentional laughter for anyone who’s managed to sit the entirety of Samaritan’s one-hour and 40-minute running time.

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Samaritan is now streaming worldwide on Prime Video.

Samaritan

Cast
  • Sylvester Stallone
  • Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton
  • Pilou Asbæk

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Matt Shakman Is In Talks To Direct ‘Fantastic Four’

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According to a new report, Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct the upcoming MCU project, Fantastic Four. Marvel Studios has been very hush-hush regarding Fantastic Four to the point where no official announcements have been made other than the film’s release date. No casting news or literally anything other than rumors has been released regarding the project. We know that Fantastic Four is slated for release on November 8th, 2024, and will be a part of Marvel’s Phase 6. There are also rumors that the cast of the new Fantastic Four will be announced at the D23 Expo on September 9th.

Fantastic Four is still over two years from release, and we assume we will hear more news about the project in the coming months. However, the idea of the Fantastic Four has already been introduced into the MCU. John Krasinski played Reed Richards aka Mr. Fantastic in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. The cameo was a huge deal for fans who have been waiting a long time for the Fantastic Four to enter the MCU. When Disney acquired Twenty Century Fox in 2019 we assumed that the Fox Marvel characters would eventually make their way into the MCU. It’s been 3 years and we already have had an X-Men and Fantastic Four cameo – even if they were from another universe.

Deadline is reporting that Wandavision’s Matt Shakman is in talks to direct Fantastic Four. Shakman served as the director for Wandavision and has had an extensive career. He directed two episodes of Game of Thrones and an episode of The Boys, and he had a long stint on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. There is nothing official yet, but Deadline’s sources say that Shakman is currently in talks for the job and things are headed in the right direction.

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To be honest, I was a bit more excited when Jon Watts was set to direct. I’m sure Shakman is a good director, but Watts proved he could handle a tentpole superhero film with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Wandavision was good, but Watts’ style would have been perfect for Fantastic Four. The film is probably one of the most anticipated films in Marvel’s upcoming slate films and they need to find the best person they can to direct. Is that Matt Shakman? It could be, but whoever takes the job must realize that Marvel has a lot riding on this movie. The other Fantastic Four films were awful and fans deserve better. Hopefully, Marvel knocks it out of the park as they usually do. You can see for yourself when Fantastic Four hits theaters on November 8th, 2024.

Film Synopsis: One of Marvel’s most iconic families makes it to the big screen: the Fantastic Four.

Source: Deadline

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Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase Star in ‘Zombie Town’ Mystery Teen Romancer (Exclusive)

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Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase have entered Zombie Town, a mystery teen romancer based on author R.L. Stine’s book of the same name.

The indie, now shooting in Ontario, also stars Henry Czerny and co-teen leads Marlon Kazadi and Madi Monroe. The ensemble cast includes Scott Thompson and Bruce McCulloch of the Canadian comedy show Kids in the Hall.

Canadian animator Peter Lepeniotis will direct Zombie Town. Stine’s kid’s book sees a quiet town upended when 12-year-old Mike and his friend, Karen, see a horror movie called Zombie Town and unexpectedly see the title characters leap off the screen and chase them through the theater.

Zombie Town will premiere in U.S. theaters before streaming on Hulu and then ABC Australia in 2023.

“We are delighted to bring the pages of R.L. Stine’s Zombie Town to the screen and equally thrilled to be working with such an exceptional cast and crew on this production. A three-time Nickelodeon Kids Choice Award winner with book sales of over $500 million, R.L. Stine has a phenomenal track record of crafting stories that engage and entertain audiences,” John Gillespie, Trimuse Entertainment founder and executive producer, said in a statement.

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Executive producers are Trimuse Entertainment, Toonz Media Group, Lookout Entertainment, Viva Pictures and Sons of Anarchy actor Kim Coates.  

Paco Alvarez and Mark Holdom of Trimuse negotiated the deal to acquire the rights to Stine’s Zombie Town book.

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