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‘Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power is an expansive documentary essay on the gendered nature of film language, presented, written, directed and produced by filmmaker and CalArts professor Nina Menkes (Phantom Love). Using 175 snippets of footage from scores of films, as well as interviews with filmmakers such as Joey Soloway, Julie Dash, Catherine Hardwicke and Eliza Hittman, among others, it represents a slickly assembled bricolage of imagery and rhetoric, neatly edited by Cecily Rhett, that seeks to illustrate Menkes’ “understandings about shot design and the established cinematic canon,” to quote her director’s statement.

Clearly made with the best of didactic intentions, and especially affecting when paying tribute to “original gangster” film theorist Laura Mulvey, interviewed all too briefly here, the film is founded on a simplistic, poorly argued thesis that is way out to sea, many waves of feminist film theory behind from what’s going on these days in academic circles and feminist discourse. In essence, Menkes proposes here a watered-down version of Mulvey’s ideas about the “male gaze,” a term Mulvey coined in her foundational 1975 essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Mind you, Menkes dispenses with all the juicy psychoanalytic language about phallocentrism and scopophilia Mulvey retconned from Freud, a foundation much debated in the last few decades but which at least provided a solid theoretical framework at the time.

Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power

The Bottom Line

Well-intentioned, but dated and reductive.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
With: Nina Menkes, Laura Mulvey, Rhiannon Aarons, Rosanna Arquette, Raja Bhattar, Lara Dale, Julie Dash, Sandra de Castro Buffington, Maria Giese, May Hong HaDuong, Catherine Hardwicke, Eliza Hittman, Iyabo Kwayana, Jodi Lampert, Ita O’Brien, Freddy D. Ramsey Jr, Maya Montanez Smukler, Joey Soloway, Penelope Spheeris, Sachiko Taki-Reece, Kathleen Tarr, Savannah Weymouth, Charlyne Yi, Amy Ziering
Director/screenwriter: Nina Menkes, based on the talk ‘Sex and Power: The Visual Language of Cinema’ by Nina Menkes


1 hour 47 minutes

Brainwashed has many endearing qualities, such as interesting interviewees and pretty shots of Menkes strolling down the Croisette at the Cannes Film Festival, but the presence of a solid theoretical framework is not one of its virtues. Menkes takes that central, so-basic-it’s-banal notion about who does the looking in film, and who is looked at, in order to mount a critique of the quintessentially patriarchal nature of film language. Which is fine, if ultimately so reductive and lacking in nuance that the model can’t really cope with films made by women directors who don’t fit Menkes’ strictures. Cheryl Dunye’s extreme close-ups of two women making love in The Watermelon Woman (1996) gets a pass of course, but Sofia Coppola’s long held shot of Scarlett Johansson’s derriere in the opening minutes of Lost in Translation (2003) is somehow too much like the male gaze for some reason. Kathryn Bigelow earns recognition for being the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Director for The Hurt Locker (2008) but gets dinged for hiring all men to supervise the key craft contributions for that film.

The film finds its feet on more persuasive ground when it engages with the realpolitik of the film industry, addressing the innate and persistent sexism in Hollywood specifically that’s challenged and humiliated filmmakers from Rosanna Arquette to Penelope Spheeris. Fellow director and activist Maria Giese talks informatively about efforts to use Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to find a legal path to reducing discrimination against women in the industry, a topic that deserves a documentary all its own. Intimacy coordinator Ita Obrien, who worked on TV’s I May Destroy You and Normal People, also helps to move the discussion into the 21st century given how filmmakers now can make films that express a female or even non-binary gaze, the latter a particular concern of Soloway’s.

It’s frustrating that these lines of inquiry aren’t pursued fully instead of offering up yet more clips from canonical male voyeuristic fare like The Lady From Shanghai (1947) and Blow-Up (1966) so as to make the viewer ashamed of enjoying them. Brainwashed seems very concerned with policing viewer pleasure and has no time to explore the complexity of desire the way, for instance, Mulvey herself did in one of her other seminal essays, “Afterthoughts on ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ inspired by King Vidor’s Duel in the Sun (1946),” which explored female spectatorship. As that iconic musical theorist of female desire Cyndi Lauper once sang, sometimes “girls just wanna have fun.”

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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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