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‘A House Made of Splinters’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘A House Made of Splinters’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Simon Lereng Wilmont’s A House Made of Splinters begins with a title card situating the action in the Ukrainian city of Lysychansk, described as “20 kilometers from the frontline.”

It’s the last time that “the frontline,” which has Ukraine back in headlines again this week, is mentioned in the documentary, premiering in competition at Sundance. A House Made of Splinters assumes that you have some awareness of the years of unrest in Ukraine — some sense of the source of the movie’s bleakness.

A House Made of Splinters

The Bottom Line

The fly-on-the-wall style captures moments of heartbreaking openness.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Documentary Competition)

Director: Simon Lereng Wilmont

 


1 hour 27 minutes

Without context — Wilmont’s earlier The Distant Barking of Dogs lays some groundwork for this doc, even if they’re not directly connected — viewers are dropped into a children’s shelter in Eastern Ukraine and left to decide whether to focus on the somber surface or the fleeting rays of light after an 87-minute snapshot of the youngest victims in a teetering country. I found A House Made of Splinters to be more heartbreaking than hopeful, but I admired the moments of beauty that Wilmont delivers in a film that isn’t quite consistent enough in its storytelling approach.

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The Lysychansk Center for The Social and Psychological Rehabilitation of Children is designed to be temporary. Children can only stay there for nine months before they have to either find guardianship or be sent off to orphanages. Thanks to a small team of social workers — it’s truly hard to tell if there are two or three or more — the center isn’t a depressing place, though its Eastern European-standard external architecture might lead you to expect that. Inside, the walls are colorful. The rooms are overpacked, but also littered with well-loved toys. The kids celebrate holidays and even get the occasional visitor in a unicorn or Elsa costume. They can watch Peppa Pig. The orphanages, we’re led to suspect, would be far worse.

But the center is part of a cycle. The kids who leave with a relative or a foster parent or even an actual parent promising newfound sobriety often return months later. In some cases, they return years later to visit their own children, confiscated by the State.

Most of what I just explained is told to us in voiceovers from the social workers — both a cheat in terms of the movie’s general vérité aesthetic and proof that at some point the social workers had conversations with Wilmont, presumably addressed directly to the camera, but mostly were cut out of the film. It’s vestigial artificial structuring in a movie that does better when it’s more purely fly-on-the-wall.

There’s enough structure that comes from Wilmont’s focus on three of the shelter’s juvenile wards. As one reaches the end of their tenure, the next moves into a central role.

Eva, a repeat resident, knows her mother is an alcoholic, but phones home regularly despite fully expecting not to get an answer. She wants to go home with her grandmother, but the system isn’t designed to make anything that easy.

Sasha, with a Ramona Quimby bob, has even less expectation of returning home, since her own alcoholic mother basically abandoned her to fend for herself. Distressingly resigned to her fate, Sasha finds friendship first with a doll she received as a Christmas present and then with Alina, an equally sad-eyed girl.

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Finally there’s Kolya, whose rebellious streak — he hangs out with the older boys who smoke and give themselves rudimentary prison-style tattoos — covers for a fierce devotion to his younger siblings. Their mother at least visits, but Kolya can recognize the smell of alcohol on her breath.

Wilmont served as his own cinematographer on A House Made of Splinters and one can only assume that his ability to work with a skeleton crew contributed to the film’s intimacy. It’s fair to wonder if these kids are simply too broken down from their pre-shelter experiences to be self-conscious in front of the camera, as if PTSD and naturalism go hand-in-miserable-hand. Whether the credit goes to Wilmont or trauma, the result is astonishing.

The camera just lingers on Eva, Sasha and Kolya, and they exist, projecting the weight of the world for much of the time and then bursts of jubilation that pretty much tore me to pieces. A moment like Sasha and Alina deciding to be best friends and pretending to be ghosts wrapped in a translucent curtain — or the unfettered and tearful ebullience when a child trained to expect only bad news hears something good — will either fill you with relief at the resilience of youth or cause you to flash back to our being told about the cycles of recidivism at the shelter.

It was mostly an off-hand, questionably phrased comment from a politician that put Ukraine back above the fold in this week’s news. The situation that’s the unmentioned backdrop in A House Made of Splinters has been ongoing whether the American media chooses to mention it or not, and Wilmont understands the value of putting a face on tragedy, especially the face of an innocent. Even if A House Made of Splinters can’t completely decide if it wants to tell a story or the repetition of devastation and ephemeral uplift is enough, the faces here linger long after the movie ends.

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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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