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Amy Poehler’s ‘Lucy and Desi’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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Amy Poehler’s ‘Lucy and Desi’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Among the rich selection of stills and footage in the unexpectedly affecting Lucy and Desi, there’s an image that might strike you with its likeness to the film’s director, Amy Poehler. The photo captures Lucille Ball, in one of her daffier getups, beaming at the camera: a wide-eyed, beautiful clown. More than 70 years after I Love Lucy transformed the airwaves, many people working in television can trace their inspiration to that trailblazing sitcom and its beloved stars. But Poehler brings a particularly powerful sense of connection and understanding to her debut documentary. Like Ball, she’s a funny woman with serious clout in the TV business. And she knows a thing or two about being part of a famous comedy couple whose marriage ended in divorce.

The considerable emotional impact of Poehler’s film is unexpected because the story of Ball and Desi Arnaz has been told many times before, most recently in a TCM podcast and Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos. Though they make many of the same points, Poehler’s doc and the Sorkin feature (both Amazon releases) land very differently. The drama toplined by Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem feels like a research project in the guise of a feature film, whereas Poehler’s telling is energized by a personal edge, searing and sympathetic, as it traces career struggles, creative breakthroughs and formative sorrows.

Lucy and Desi

The Bottom Line

A bright and piercing take on the belly laughs and the heartbreak.

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Release date: March 4

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)

Director: Amy Poehler

Screenwriter: Mark Monroe


1 hour 43 minutes

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With an insider’s perspective and access to Ball and Arnaz’s archives, Poehler zeros in on a showbiz love story. Beyond the pair’s romantic bond, there’s a postwar nation’s infatuation with them. Like a recent documentary about Dean Martin, a fellow megastar of the same generation, the film celebrates outsize talent while taking stock of something much quieter, an ache that isn’t necessarily remedied or even calmed by professional accomplishment. And like the Martin doc, which relies on the insights of one of his daughters, Lucy and Desi spends quality time with Arnaz and Ball’s firstborn, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill. She offers searching and incisive testimony about her parents’ marriage and intertwined careers, citing “a cost to the success.” Her description of their final conversation, decades after they were each remarried, is wrenching in its simplicity.

Her brother, Desi Arnaz Jr. — whose 1953 birth was front-page news, paralleled by the precedent-setting pregnancy storyline on the second season of I Love Lucy — is heard from briefly, and there are sit-down interviews with Carol Burnett and Bette Midler, both of them not just ardent admirers of Ball’s but protégées. TV maestro Norman Lear offers a few discerning observations, and Havana-born playwright Eduardo Machado weighs in on Arnaz’s experience as a Cuban refugee, his aristocratic family forced out by the revolution.

Within its straightforward format, the doc can be charmingly unpredictable in a six-degrees-of-separation way. Cue the inimitable Charo, widow of Xavier Cugat and as unlikely a talking head as you might imagine. The singer comments on Arnaz’s mentorship by bandleader Cugat, her signature exuberance and nearly impenetrable Castilian accent unchanged in the decades since she was a talk-show fixture.

The cross-section of talking heads also includes the offspring of key creative collaborators on I Love Lucy, head writer Jess Oppenheimer’s son Gregg and director Marc Daniels’ son David, as well as the executive director and the lead archivist of the National Comedy Center — aptly located in Ball’s upstate New York hometown, blocks from the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. Does that make Jamestown the center of the comedy universe? For people of a certain age, probably.

With a dynamic sense of propulsion, but never losing sight of the sentiments at the story’s core, Poehler, screenwriter Mark Monroe and editor Robert A. Martinez (the latter two both worked on The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart and Ron Howard’s Pavarotti) choreograph a deft mix of the new interviews, home movies, behind-the-scenes footage and other rarities. Behold the beauty of Ball and Arnaz in a studio makeup test, delighting each other and dazzling the camera.

As to those core sentiments, the notion of family responsibility, informed by early trauma, united Ball and Arnaz from the get-go, however different their backgrounds. A terrible event laid low the working-class grandfather who raised her and her brother, and it set on her on the breadwinner path while she was still a teen. “I was eager to make enough to take the burden off their shoulders,” she tells an interviewer. The teenage Arnaz felt a similar weight after he and his mother fled their island country and started from scratch in Miami.

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Their parallel tales are handled with concision and potency, leading to their meeting on the set of RKO’s 1940 musical comedy Too Many Girls and their marriage six months later. “Lucille Ball Weds Actor,” a headline blared, perhaps signaling the “Mr. Lucy” shadow that Arnaz would never quite escape, however accomplished he was as a charismatic performer, innovative producer and visionary businessman.

By the time they met, they’d each achieved a certain level of fame, Arnaz carving out a musical profile with the conga as “my dance of desperation” and Ball hailed as the so-called Queen of the Bs. It’s moving to hear her describe the thrill of seeing a character in a script described as a “Lucille Ball type.” But whoever wrote those words was undoubtedly talking about her looks, not her chops; as Midler succinctly puts it, it was “one of the great artistic crimes” that Ball’s comedic talents went untapped for so many years in those B pictures.

When TV came calling, she was a popular radio star, and she had sway. Creating their perfect showcase with I Love Lucy, she and Arnaz shattered preconceptions, proving that Americans could indeed embrace the idea of love between a white woman and a Latino (it would be a few years still before West Side Story put its high-profile tragic spin on such a “mixed” romance). Shooting on film before a studio audience, using multiple cameras, Arnaz rewrote the technological rules of TV, and the show became part of the cultural DNA with its sharp-as-a-whip slapstick and banter. In scene excerpts and spirited montages, Poehler pays homage to its finely honed delirium. To watch Arnaz and Ball at their height is to see the word “icon,” one of the most overused in the English language, restored to its meaning.

As the film interweaves scripted performance and unscripted commentary, David Schwartz’s score moves seamlessly between snazzy and poignant. But the key aural component belongs to Arnaz and Ball, thanks in part to audiotapes they made for themselves — perhaps not entirely unguarded, but far enough away from the spotlight to counter the polished cheer that fame required. Poehler uses this (not always identified) material to eloquent effect. In Ball’s case, there are also undated interviews with Betty Hannah Hoffman for Ladies Home Journal that became the basis for an autobiography, one that wouldn’t be published until years after the star’s 1989 death.

Perhaps most striking is the way Poehler lets a couple of discomforting questions to Ball, and her uneasy answers, play out. Hoffman poses an intrusive query about the star’s miscarriage; David Frost requests nothing less than the definition of love. In each instance, the question hangs in the air for a heavy moment before Ball replies. Then, her cigarette-roughened voice shorn of the Lucy character’s giddy vitality, she says, “I don’t know.”

Lucy and Desi covers a lot of ground, but Poehler’s aim isn’t a comprehensive career roundup. (One notable omission is Vincente Minnelli’s The Long, Long Trailer, the 1954 big-screen hit in which the couple played a variation on their TV characters.) Above all, the filmmaker is interested in the connection between them. It’s not just the spark that ignited small-screen magic but the affection and respect that outlived the sitcom, the marriage and the mighty business partnership, Desilu Studios. For a while it was the world’s largest independent TV production company. It ultimately played a role in pulling them apart, and they built it on the old RKO lot where they first met.

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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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