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Blu-ray Review: Criterion Tracks Down MR. KLEIN

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Blu-ray Review: Criterion Tracks Down MR. KLEIN

It’s 1942 in Vichy, France, and you are one Robert Klein.  One of two Robert Kleins, that is.  

You’re reaping rich benefits as a dealer of fine art, as many Jewish citizens are eager to sell.    And you, being a moderately unscrupulous piece of work, are all too happy to take advantage of their desperation with insultingly low offers.  

Life is quite good, until you find yourself mistaken for another Robert Klein… a Robert Klein of Jewish heritage.  And lest we fail to make it clear, this is a particularly horrible time to be Jewish.  There’s only one thing for you to do- scramble to sort this out before you find yourself being rounded up.

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It’s 1976 in Movieland, and you’re Alain Delon.  Life has been quite good, starring in all manner of films for all manner of filmmakers opposite all the finest leading ladies.  While no one would ever mistake your internationally famous face for anyone else’s, many are quick to shortchange your acting skills.  Lest we fail to make it clear, they think of you as a pretty boy of limited-to-no range.  There’s only one thing for you do- put on a producer’s hat to make a great film that will prove them all wrong.  That film is Mr. Klein.

Dark like ink but with “reality” to spare, American director Joseph Losey’s Mr. Klein trades heavily in film noir trappings without ever getting trapped.  Themes of duality and doppelgängers intermingle with those of manhunts, racism, and authoritarian tyranny.  

Losey himself knows a thing or two about authoritarian overreach, having been targeted for his communist beliefs and party membership dating back to the 1930s.  By the time he made Mr. Klein, widely touted as one of very few “masterpieces” in his admittedly uneven filmography, the filmmaker was decades into a bold if checkered career that spans the globe.  

Ever an intellectual and stylistic risk-taker, Losey (to loosely quote critic Michel Ciment, as featured on the disc) opted to utilize at least two unconventional writers’ storytelling boldness while switching freely between the artistic modes of surrealism, abstraction, and realism.  The result is a film that, while uniquely absorbing, is also not at all inherently accessible.  

Considering that the two authors Losey emulates are (again, according to Ciment) Bertold Brecht and Franz Kafka, this cannot be surprising.  Except, of course, for those of us who approach Mr. Klein cold and free of contextualization.  

That approach — that of most “ordinary” moviegoers who might’ve taken a casual interest in the latest Alain Delon picture — can and likely would result in an experience that ranges from unexpectedly challenging to seeing an altogether different story unfold within the same material.  Mr. Klein isn’t one to explain himself.  

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Like the character, once we embark, we’re caught up in whatever it is we think we’re caught up in.  The question is, who’s really out to get him.  And why?  The film’s central alienation is cultivated in the key of Brecht, maintaining intentional distancing of the character’s story from “reality”.  Kafka is evoked in the lack of stylistic singularity that is made to be a core aspect of the storytelling.

So… who is Mr. Klein, anyway?  We can only answer about the one played by Delon.  He is the unscrupulous art (and apparently not Jewish) dealer who finds himself pursued by a persecutionary system as he pursues the Klein he’s become mixed up with.  

It all starts when he receives the other guy’s Jewish newsletter by mistake.  That kind of mail can bring the wrong kind of attention to his door; best to get off that mailing list ASAP.  Nothing here is that easy, though.  A veritable blank slate of a man, there’s simply little to relate to in Delon’s character or his portrayal.  This, though, is by design.  

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Criterion has wrangled the film as part of its canonical collection, spine number 1123.  Longtime Criterion devotees know that Mr. Klein’s standing as a Studiocanal title means that up until not long ago, this release wouldn’t have been possible.  In the shifting landscape of film rights holdings and whatnot, however, here it is.  

Almost completely devoid of music and coldly muted in tone, this movie won’t pass muster with everyone.  Not initially, anyhow.  Without question, it’s the kind of film that demands multiple viewings.  Such extra examination potential makes it that much more of an ideal candidate for ownership.

The extra features here are concise and diverse but not at all slight.  Losey expert critic Michel Ciment turns up twice, most prominently in a new on-camera interview in which he gets into the rough meat of the film’s oblique mystery, and how the filmmaker goes about delivering it.  The interview more than doubles Criterion’s tendency as of late to keep these segments around twenty minutes.  But then, what’s to cut here?  Also, Ciment provides a nearly-thirty-minute audio interview with Losey from the 1970s.

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Delon and Losey are featured in other vintage interviews as well, both of which reveal the sincerity and intelligence behind the film.  On the contemporary side, we also hear at length from Mr. Klein’s editor, Henri Lanoë.  While not the most engaging chat, it’s important to gather the memories and perspectives of these key participants while we can.  Already, the Criterion Collection has become an academic repository of vital voices of global cinema’s past.  

Unique in the mix is one of the stranger pieces to turn up as a Criterion bonus feature, though nevertheless welcome.  1986’s feature-length documentary Story of a Day covers the real-life Vél d’Hiv (short for the landmark Rafle du Vélodrome d’HiverRoundup, wherein the French police colluded with the Nazi SS to capture and deport at least 13,152 French Jewish citizens.  Though the similar incident that is depicted in Mr. Klein is fictious, it is nonetheless based upon the real-life atrocity covered here, in depth.  

What makes Story of a Day seem so strange is merely its late-1980s made-for-television aesthetic, complete with a bizarre set and a performative host who is blow-dried, posed, and adorned in big-shouldered Euro-wear of the time.  Weird camera angles and deer-in-the-headlights guests add to the off-kilterness of it all.  While the intent of Story of a Day is noble and even vital regarding this then-swept-away bit of French history, the “hip” execution plays as particularly wrong-headed.

Rounding things out on this Blu-ray edition are newly translated English subtitles, as well as a terrific essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau.  Finally, central to it all is Criterion’s new 4K digital restoration of the picture, accompanied with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack.  The result is a beautifully shot and hauntingly uneasy immersive experience of a recreated era gone by of not so long ago.  

Shining a figurative light on Paris law enforcement’s shameful eagerness to not only comply with the desires of the Third Reich, but to cooperate in a way that went above and beyond is a dark prospect for a French film.  (Delon, being the producer, rightly convinced Losey to keep Mr. Klein as French as possible).  

Mr. Klein, like the character himself, refuses to turn away from the hate-driven reality of what went on.  Though appreciated in the context of its key creative figures (Losey and Delon) as among their best work, Criterion’s new release of this otherwise lesser-known historic fiction gives the rest of Movieland a chance to catch up.  That said, don’t ever expect much literal light in this darkness.

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Mr. Klein

Writer(s)
  • Franco Solinas
  • Fernando Morandi
  • Costa-Gavras
Cast
  • Alain Delon
  • Jeanne Moreau
  • Francine Bergé

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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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