Welcome to Above the Line Newsflash, a new column from veteran entertainment reporter Jeff Sneider that will run weekly on Below the Line.
Say It Ain’t So, Emilio!
One of the year’s most pleasant streaming surprises was The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers on Disney+. Against all odds, the show turned out to be an absolute delight, and I loved the entire cast from top to bottom. So, I was rather shocked and saddened to learn this past week that Emilio Estevez‘s beloved Gordon Bombay would not be returning for Season 2, which seems almost unfathomable. Days later, the reason behind his departure remains unclear despite a follow-up article in which Estevez tried his best to explain his side of things, though his statement only served to further confuse the issue.
But let’s back up. On Nov. 5, Deadline reported that Disney’s ABC Signature label, which produces Game Changers, made the decision not to pick up Estevez’s option for Season 2 after the actor’s representatives declined to provide assurances that he would comply with the show’s new policy requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for the cast and crew in Zone A. This followed weeks of complicated discussions between the two sides due to the fact that Estevez claims to have suffered the effects of long-haul COVID, which he contracted in March 2020 after shooting the pilot in Vancouver. The initial Deadline story also mentioned that creative differences may have played a factor, but the message it left readers was that Estevez refused to get vaccinated.
“I am not anti-vaxx,” Estevez wrote before adding, “Simply put, I am anti-bully.” Shots fired!
In a lengthy statement, Estevez clarified that “my exit from the show was due to a myriad of creative differences – any other narrative is false.” But come on, what kind of creative differences could Estevez have possibly had with Season 2 of a Mighty Ducks TV series, beyond simply believing that the show shouldn’t be made at all given that the world remains in the throes of a pandemic?
After all, Estevez noted that he “questioned the wisdom of returning to make a TV show in the middle of a pandemic and how actors could be considered ‘essential workers,'” adding that he “reluctantly soldiered on” after being warned of possible legal consequences if he didn’t return to work in August 2020.
“I did not complain,” wrote Estevez. “The legacy of the franchise was more important to me than my own health.” That is a noble sacrifice, truly.” But with regards to Season 2, if it was simply a case of Estevez not wishing to return to work, that would be one thing, but it’s clear that Estevez DID want to return, as evidenced by the “weeks of back-and-forth” between his reps and ABC Signature.
As a longtime trade reporter, I know that “creative differences” really do happen, but I also know how easy that phrase can be used as a fallback to conceal the truth. If we read between the lines in Estevez’s mushy-mouthed statement, it’s clear that, though he may not be an anti-vaxxer, Estevez is unlikely to have been vaccinated himself. If he was, there would literally be no dispute regarding assurances of compliance with the show’s new COVID-19 policy.
Even if Estevez and ABC Signature found a way to get past their creative differences, would Estevez have gotten vaccinated for the greater good? Or is he simply saying, “Well, we couldn’t get past those differences, so there’s no point in me being vaccinated since I don’t have to be on set”? The whole unfortunate situation is tantamount to saying, “I wasn’t fired, I quit!”
I happen to be a big fan of Emilio Estevez, both as an actor and as a filmmaker. I think he’s a storyteller with a conscience. And though I already got my booster and this may prove unpopular, I personally respect his decision not to get vaccinated. But you don’t get to take a stand, if you will, and avoid consequences. The consequence of his decision is that he cannot work on the show. I know he’s disappointed, and I know the fans are disappointed because I’m one of them. But let’s not hide behind the “creative differences” card.
If not getting vaccinated is the right decision for Estevez, so be it. Pardon the pun, but he can listen to all the quack science he wants. I don’t get to have a say in that. But if you’re going to work on a set with hundreds of people and a bunch of kids, you have to be willing to take one for the team. After all, ducks fly together, right? As a fan, I’m glad Estevez was around to help launch Game Changers, which may not have worked as well as it did without him, but now the show will have to stand on its own legs. Or in this case, its own skates.
Why the New Home Alone Movie Should Be Left Alone
Speaking of classic movies from my childhood… If you asked me which movie I’ve seen more than any other, Home Alone would be my answer. The original 1990 holiday classic is an absolutely perfect movie, and I’m still a big fan of its New York-set sequel as well.
I don’t consider the three subsequent films in the franchise to be real Home Alone movies without Macaulay Culkin, but I was still willing to give the new Disney+ movie Home Sweet Home Alone a shot seeing as it hailed from SNL scribes Mikey Day and Streeter Seidell, along with director Dan Mazer, whose work with Sacha Baron Cohen dates back to the Ali G days. The streamer also assembled a likable cast led by Rob Delaney, Ellie Kemper and Archie Yates, who previously appeared in Jojo Rabbit.
I kept my expectations in check, but even I was ill-prepared for the embarrassing lump of coal this movie turned out to be. This lazy sequel is content to repeat the same beats and physical gags as the OG Home Alone, and even trots out some of the same lines and songs, which only serve to remind you that you’re watching a pale imitation. I fully understand why Disney+ felt like it had to exploit this Fox IP and introduce Home Alone to a new generation, but this movie deserves to be tarred and feathered like the Wet Bandits. I realize it’s just a kids movie designed to entertain families over the holidays, but if you have kids who have never seen the original Home Alone, I beg you, for the love of God, to show them that version rather than this new movie, which is simply grist for the content mill.
On one hand, this is my franchise, and I have to defend it, but on the other, you can be too old for a lot of things, and it seems I am too old for this. Home Sweet Home Alone is what the French call “les incompetents.” Remember the whole “you guys give up? Or are you thirsty for more?” thing? Well, it appears that the team behind this movie gave up, and as a result, I can’t imagine who would be thirsty for more. Woof, indeed!
You Haven’t Heard the Last of CODA This Awards Season
With MGM screening House of Gucci and Licorice Pizza to the media elite this past week, it’s safe to say that awards season is now officially upon us. Critics remain under embargo on both films, but it sounds as though Paul Thomas Anderson‘s coming-of-age movie will fare better than Ridley Scott‘s uneven crime film. I haven’t seen either movie yet, let alone Best Picture frontrunners Belfast and King Richard, but that won’t stop me from weighing in prematurely on this year’s Oscars race.
For starters, why isn’t CODA being taken more seriously? Is it because it’s on Apple TV+? Is it because it doesn’t feature any major stars? Is it because it’s about a deaf family? Or is it a combination of all of the above? Whatever the answer may be, it’s discouraging to see this movie being written off by several notable Oscar pundits, as CODA is easily the best movie I’ve seen over the past 11 months. Whether it will end the year of my #1 remains to be seen, but as of now, there’s no contest, and I don’t think I’m alone on that island.
Yes, there is a dismissive sentiment out there that CODA is simply a conventional family dramedy that wears its progressive heart on its sleeve, but I think the film has much more to offer beyond being a sweet-hearted crowdpleaser. This movie has real heart and a unique sense of humor and the performances are excellent across the board. Marlee Matlin probably has the most Oscar buzz of anyone in the cast, largely by virtue of her past Oscar win, but to me, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant and scene-stealer Eugenio Derbez are all worthy of nominations, as is star Emilia Jones, who absolutely shines in this film.
But if CODA is going to go anywhere this season, it’ll need support from craftspeople, and I say that fully acknowledging that it’s not a “below-the-line kind of movie.” It doesn’t have the grand sets or costumes of Dune, or the black-and-white cinematography of Belfast, but what it does have is a really moving, human story about family that also does a lot for disability representation. If you haven’t seen it yet, I urge you to give it a shot. At a time when one major release after another has left me disappointed, this movie may be “all that you need to get by.”
Saluting Admiral Al
And finally, we bid a fond farewell to Dean Stockwell, who passed away this week at the age of 85. Best known for co-starring on the early ’90s series Quantum Leap as well as more recent TV shows such as Battlestar Galactica and JAG, Stockwell worked with David Lynch on Blue Velvet and Dune (1984), and collaborated multiple times with directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme and Dennis Hopper. He also appeared in a pair of classic Los Angeles movies — William Friedkin‘s To Live and Die in L.A. and Robert Altman‘s The Player — and worked with legends like Sidney Lumet and Elia Kazan, among others. Stockwell grew up a child actor in the ’40s and later blossomed into a notable character actor, and he’ll be missed on both the big and small screens. R.I.P.
Jeff Sneider is a veteran entertainment reporter who has spent the past 15 years writing for Variety, The Wrap, Mashable, and Collider, in addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief of The Tracking Board. Jeff currently serves as a weekly columnist for LAMag.com and he has also written for MTV Movies Blog, Hollywood Life, AICN, Washington Square News, and the Colorado Springs Independent. He is the host of The Sneider Cut podcast as well as the awards-themed show For Your Consideration, and the former host of Meet the Movie Press. Jeff is a 2006 graduate of New York University‘s Tisch School of the Arts, where he studied screenwriting.
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