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Armagan Ballantyne: NZ Style | FilmInk

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Armagan Ballantyne: NZ Style | FilmInk

Only a few years ago, New Zealanders, director Armagan Ballantyne and actor Jackie van Beek, had never met. But when they spoke to discuss the possibility of working together, both knew they had to team up. That meeting sparked the beginning of what would become their first collaboration, Nude Tuesday.

Starring van Beek (The Breaker Upperers) and Australian Damon Herriman, the film follows a frustrated couple who attend a retreat run by a shaman (comedy powerhouse Jemaine Clement).

We caught up with Ballantyne to find out where it all began.

How did Nude Tuesday come about?

Jackie and I met, we just really enjoyed each other’s company, we creatively sparked off each other and thought ‘let’s make something together’. We came up with several ideas for films, sometimes we’d write them together or the idea that she’d direct one or I’d direct; different ways of collaborating. We looked at our ideas and Nude Tuesday was the one that actually felt like it was kind of calling to go now. So, in that one, it just made sense for Jackie to play Laura and me to direct it. And Jackie and I worked on a story together.

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The film relies heavily on improv. Did you have that in mind at that stage? 

We worked for a couple of years on the story, but the gibberish idea that Jackie had didn’t exist. That came later. We had quite a lot of the story in place, and it was coming together, and we were enjoying it, it was film festival time in New Zealand… We were seeing all these foreign films with subtitles and that just stimulated Jackie’s imagination. She woke up one morning and rang me up and said, ‘Come here, I’ve gotta talk to you about this thing, it’s just mad’. She told me this concept that she had, which was that we’d invite comedians to interpret the film and write the dialogue. And my immediate feeling was like, ‘this is just brilliant’, and it opened this Pandora’s box of ideas of like, ‘we could do gibberish songs’. The world is now suddenly absurd, which allows us a lot of freedom to be playful in the way that we do it, but it also deeply connects with the theme of the film.

How difficult was it shooting during the pandemic? New Zealand was one of the only countries able to film at the time.

We were probably the only filming country in the world. Quite mad, isn’t that? (laughs). We didn’t feel like that because we were just this tiny little independent film where it’s a small crew and cast. And, so it was a bit like a family. We all stayed at that camp, and there was this one big lovely, bar room that we’d all congregate in and play bar games and pool and talk about what we were gonna shoot the next day. The community were all involved. That would’ve happened potentially with or without the pandemic, it’s just that it was heightened because of the pandemic; there was no one else really coming through, and there was this sense of ‘this could all stop at any moment’.

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Everything was so kind of upside down. (The town we were shooting in), they embraced us and we embraced them and we became this bubble. And all the actors hadn’t been able to work and, so everyone had this intense time. We all just came together in this tiny little place.

How was working with Damon Herriman, and how did that happen?

He’s so brilliant. Jackie and I had been thinking who could play that role. And because it’s an Australian-New Zealand co-production, we were encouraged to have an Australian actor, which we were very open to, we’d been looking at his work and thinking, ‘Gosh, this guy is so great, and he’s just so capable of  comedy and drama’.

I came to The Breaker Upperers screening at the Sydney Film Festival and Damon approached Jackie and said ‘Hi’ and that he enjoyed the film and she dragged me over and said, ‘Meet Damon’. And so, then we all like chatted and he was like, ‘It’d be great to do something together’. And Jackie and I were thinking, ‘Yes, we know what that should be’. And then we got in contact with him not long after that and said, ‘Look, we do have this project, but at that stage, it was still in a very rough draft form, but we had the gibberish idea that we’re working with. And, he very generously committed to the film before he had much of a script.

He took a leap of faith and was like, ‘yeah, I’m in’. He’s got such range, some artists like working in a similar playing field and others really like to stretch themselves into different places. And he’s very much someone who is totally capable of comic timing and, drama acting.

What was working with Jemaine Clement like and how did that come about?

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Jemaine’s so brilliant and funny. We were so happy when he agreed to do it. Jackie and him have been friends for like 25 years. They’ve known each other for a long time. That thrilled me as a director, because we’ve already got this trust and this relationship here. So, it meant that we were already jumping into something that we could just push, like that whole lake scene, we could push the potential of what that could do. Also, I’d worked with him on a commercial like a million years ago. We made this short with Damon in Sydney, just to try out the language and, to see if it worked and how it would work and so we cut that together and we showed Jemaine that, and he was like, ‘Oh, okay. Now I get what you’re trying to create’.

Did Jemaine bring a lot of his own contributions to the film?

Totally. He’s a brilliant improviser. So, several times in the movie, there are things, he would just riff and go on tangents, like that whole toast where he accuses Bruno, I mean, that just wasn’t there. And, when he runs into the water and he is like kicking the water. Andy the cinematographer and I were chasing him down to the water, and I just really encourage that because it’s a wonderful thing to have all of that spontaneity and ideas and playfulness, and because he’s been doing it for so many years, he can bring brilliant stuff.

What was the biggest challenge of making the movie?

Going up the mountain and shooting in the cold, where everyone has to be nude, even though, we had this amazing intimacy coordinator and we worked hard to make sure that all the cast felt comfortable and knew what was happening. We checked in with everyone. But then on top of that, it was really cold. It was as cold as it feels when you’re looking at it.

And it was planned like a military operation. We did rehearsals down below with everyone. We worked it out with the safety people. Everything was absolutely down to a tee, and we had to helicopter up to that spot, and the weather was shocking. We hadn’t even got to the dialogue of that scene. And the safety officer came up to me and said, ‘We’ve got an unexpected storm coming in and we are gonna need to get you off the mountain’. And I knew we’d never get back up there again because it’s so expensive. It was the most expensive day. And, (cinematographer) Andy, and I just talked to each other and we were like, ‘We’ve gotta just go for it’. We said to the safety guy, ‘Give us as much time as you can’ and then we just shot like crazy. And we were still shooting as they were choppering people off the mountain. We were shooting that final scene and a lot of it, we got once the final person got off that mountain, and then we all went to the pub and sat around a giant fire and celebrated, and everyone was zingy because the production, the crew, and the cast had done this amazing feat.

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Nude Tuesday is in cinemas and on Stan now.

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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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