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‘Aftershock’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Aftershock’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

A pregnant Black woman walks into a hospital prepared to give birth. She is excited and, maybe, a bit nervous. The doctors on call successfully deliver her baby. She leaves the maternity ward with her new child. A few weeks later, she dies.

A pregnant Black woman walks into a hospital prepared to give birth. She is thrilled, glowing and a bit nervous. Her previous doctor’s appointments didn’t leave her confident about the kind of care she would receive. Bad feelings persist, but she tries to shake them off. The doctors on call deliver her baby. Hours later, the woman dies.

Aftershock

The Bottom Line

Revelatory.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary Competition)
Directors: Paula Eiselt, Tonya Lewis Lee


1 hour 29 minutes

A pregnant Black woman walks into a hospital… These stories begin and end the same way: Delivery followed by death. When examined together, as they are in the gripping documentary Aftershock, they paint a distressing portrait of Black maternal mortality in the United States.

Directed by Paula Eiselt and Tonya Lewis Lee, Aftershock chronicles how two American families cope in the wake of preventable maternal deaths. It’s a clear-eyed, but by no means exhaustive, documentary that investigates this underreported crisis without losing sight of the people processing the depths of their loss.

The legacies of two women — Shamony Gibson and Amber Rose Isaac, who died less than a year apart after giving birth — anchor Aftershock. The film opens with a portrait of Gibson, lovingly rendered through a montage of home videos. Her laughter rings, she teases her partner Omari Maynard and spends time with her mother, Shawnee Benton. Through these small moments, Eiselt and Lee successfully capture Gibson’s optimistic personality and her excitement about being a mother.

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The next scene interrupts the reverie with reality: The footage, we realize, is the same being shown, four months after Gibson’s death, to an emotional audience of Black people gathering in honor of her would-be 31st birthday. Although beautiful, the vigil frustrates Gibson’s family because they know that Gibson did not have to die. After being discharged from the hospital, the Brooklyn mother — who vigilantly recorded and reported her symptoms — had complained of shortness of breath and fatigue. Doctors repeatedly encouraged her to relax. Two weeks after giving birth, she died from a pulmonary embolism.

Isaac suffered a similar fate. Her partner Bruce McIntyre, who is feeding their child, opens the next scene. Footage of a fresh-faced Isaac making a tutorial video about potting plants follows, and then an interview in which McIntyre shares how her doctors in the Bronx failed to notice low platelet counts that should have classified her as a high-risk pregnancy. They induced her labor, performed a C-section and neglected her until it was too late.

When Maynard heard about Isaac’s death, which was publicized in both local and national news outlets, he reached out to McIntyre and a friendship was born. Eiselt and Lee, with the help of the film’s editors, Flavia de Souza and Sunita Prasad, adeptly stitch together the two men’s respective journeys. Galvanized by their partners’ deaths, they decided to join the movement for Black maternal health justice and bring awareness to the issue. Maynard and Gibson’s mother, Shawnee, started a group to help other Black men who lost their partners to maternal death grieve and find strength. McIntyre tried to bring as much attention to Isaac’s case, to get accountability from the hospital where she died and to initiate alternative birthing options for women in the Bronx.

Aftershock doesn’t stop at these two fathers. Eiselt and Lee periodically zoom out to contextualize and highlight the urgency of their efforts. Interview subjects include Neel Shah, professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Harvard School of Medicine, and Helena Grant, director of midwifery at the Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn. Their frank testimonies offer the clearest picture of the crisis: Shah explains the correlation between the increased hospital preference for C-sections (more dangerous for patients, but faster and cheaper for hospitals) and America’s maternal mortality rate; Grant provides a potent history lesson, efficiently explaining how racism influenced and continues to impact modern gynecology. It doesn’t take long to realize that the dual forces of racism and capitalism are to blame for these deaths.

One might ask: What next? And perhaps Aftershock’s greatest achievement is its refusal to peddle in hopelessness. Solutions do exist. After trekking through history and national statistics, the film returns to the people at the heart of the crisis. We meet Felicia Ellis, a mother to be who lives in Oklahoma, a state whose maternal mortality rate is double that of the nation. A new reality dawns on Ellis after reading about tennis champion Serena Williams’ own harrowing pregnancy. “She is like the best athlete in the world,” Ellis says to the camera about Williams’ experience with resistant doctors, “and she had to make them listen to her about her blood clots.”

Ellis internalizes this fact and does research. She learns of alternative options and decides to give birth in a birthing center. The benefits of that choice are numerous: She can choose between a C-section and natural birth, take her time through labor and overall have less cause to fear for her survival. Options like these aren’t covered by insurance, and so she is faced with a $3,000 bill to pay out of pocket. With the support of her partner, she can fortunately, make it happen. 

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But that’s not the case for everyone, and Aftershock understands the prohibitive costs of these alternatives. Via montage, the film’s final minutes depict a movement gaining momentum. It returns to Gibson’s family, who take the time to speak to a crowd of hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Washington D.C. Following that are news clips of Illinois congresswoman Lauren Underwood introducing and drumming up support for a bill that will address maternal mortality. The film ends with a powerful reminder that if Black lives matter then Black wombs must matter, too.

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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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