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‘Alice’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Alice’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

An awkwardly structured adventure that stumbles pretty badly in what should be its most exciting scenes, Krystin Ver Linden’s Alice builds a Blaxploitation revenge fantasy out of unspecified accounts of actual Americans who remained enslaved long after the Civil War.

In a Shyamalan-like twist, the title character escapes from a remote plantation to find it’s 1973 in the rest of post-slavery Georgia, then sets out to force her exploiters violently into the future. The queasy mix of realism and wish-fulfillment will set many viewers’ heads spinning, or at least shaking with disappointment, in this well-intentioned but unpromising debut.

Alice

The Bottom Line

An intriguing premise in need of a more experienced filmmaker.

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Since that twist is part of promotional materials, viewers may be surprised at how late it occurs. Over a third of the film takes place in what might as well be the 1840s, telling an affecting but very familiar story. Alice (Keke Palmer), who has secretly married Joseph (Gaius Charles), must work in the home of plantation owner Paul Bennett (a visually and aurally unrecognizable Jonny Lee Miller), where her duties aren’t limited to cleaning up.

Though the script hints a bit at strange wonders beyond this property’s borders, this part is a movie you’ve seen many times before, replete with brutal punishments, escape attempts and an owner so vociferous about the care and respect he shows his “domestics” you wonder if he might actually believe his nonsense. Joseph has convinced Alice to escape with him, but circumstances force him to flee without her. That ends very badly, and Alice, after a failed attempt or two, manages to outrun her keepers — emerging from moss-draped trees just in time to nearly get squashed on a multi-lane highway.

She’s picked up by Frank (Common), who understandably thinks her bafflement at his truck results from a traumatic head injury. He takes her to a hospital, but when he realizes they’re going to put the presumed amnesiac in a sanatorium, he sneaks her out and brings her home instead. He makes her as comfortable as he can, leaving out things he hopes will jog her memory, but doesn’t manage to figure out the bizarre truth of her predicament. (Almost as bizarrely, the movie will never offer a scene in which that truth is made clear to him.)

He has to go to work the next day, leaving her alone with an encyclopedia and a phone book. And it takes this shell-shocked woman roughly 24 hours to teach herself all she needs to know about the Civil War and civil rights movement, phones and TVs, and all the other details you’d need in order to hunt down the ex-wife of your slave master and arrange to meet her at a diner. While she’s at it, she gives herself a makeover.

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She also finds some mementoes that reveal Frank’s own past with the Black Panthers, making her sure that he’ll join in her plan to free her friends and family. But Frank wants none of it. He’s seen the price agitators pay, and he’s afraid. (Common’s performance here is not nearly as convincing as some he has given for more experienced directors.)

Which is more difficult to believe: That this clearly decent man would hesitate to help scores of imprisoned people, or that he believes no government entity would want to put an end to latter-day slavery? Even in an era of political assassinations and open demonization of activists, such a thing would be guaranteed to outrage at least a few people wearing a badge.

At any rate, having just attended a screening of Coffy, Alice sets out alone with leather pants and cans of gasoline to do her best Pam Grier impression.

As gratifying as it is to watch this beaten-down woman first encounter images of celebrated Black women, then wreak glammed-up havoc on those who stole her life, the second half of Alice offers nowhere near what’s required to allow us to believe. Maybe if it took Alice a week instead of a day to master the modern world? Maybe if Frank first took her to a police station, where nobody believed her story, requiring the pair to make their own plan? The Blaxploitation hits of the ’70s tended to value badass posturing over verisimilitude, but even some of those laid more careful groundwork for their action than Alice does.

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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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