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‘Downfall: The Case Against Boeing’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Downfall: The Case Against Boeing’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

It’s easy to tell from watching Downfall: The Case Against Boeing that director Rory Kennedy sees her documentary as an urgent piece of consumer advocacy, a 21st-century version of Ralph Nader’s industry-shaking Unsafe at Any Speed.

Headed for Netflix after a Sundance premiere, Downfall — not to be confused with the 2004 German film that launched a million Hitler memes — doesn’t get much deeper than the most superficial of headlines about the pair of Boeing MAX 737 crashes in 2018 and 2019 that left 346 people dead. Though Downfall does some things extremely well, in the balance it’s not very good cinematic journalism and it’s only persuasive to a very limited extent — one that is almost impossible to dispute but doesn’t really take a vital conversation anywhere interesting.

Downfall: The Case Against Boeing

The Bottom Line

Occasionally illuminating, but mostly poorly sourced and lacking in urgency.

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Airdate: Friday, February 18 (Netflix)

Director: Rory Kennedy


1 hour 29 minutes

As a refresher, in October of 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed soon after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 passengers. The plane was a new Boeing MAX 737 and Boeing immediately attempted to deflect blame onto the local flight crew. In March of 2019, though, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed as it was leaving Addis Ababa, killing 157 people. This was another Boeing MAX 737 and, eventually, the aircraft was grounded worldwide.

Both crashes were found to be caused by a malfunction to the same flight system — the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System, or MCAS — which had been added to the updated 737 without actually notifying airlines or training pilots.

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How did this happen? Why did it happen? And what could have been done to prevent these tragedies? That’s the meat of Kennedy’s film and it was the meat of a completed 18-month congressional investigation led by Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

DeFazio appears in Downfall and he summarizes the findings thusly: “The safety culture at Boeing fell apart. It was corrupted from the top down by pressure from Wall Street. Plain and simple.”

Honestly, you don’t need to watch the documentary now. That’s a damning enough statement. As Kennedy sketches it out, in 1997, Boeing merged with McDonnell Douglas. From that point, a company that had previously operated as something of a vast family headquartered in Seattle transformed into another moneymaking enterprise willing to cut corners in the name of profits.

It’s a reasonable and doubtlessly correct point, but it’s a reductive point. Countless small companies that once operated like families get purchased by bigger corporations and become machines driven by the bottom line and no doubt leave their employees feeling devalued and dehumanized, but do so without killing hundreds of people in the process. Kennedy’s “post hoc ergo propter hoc” argument is bad rhetoric and makes it almost impossible for Downfall to have a meaningful takeaway, since the guilty party here is “Capitalism” — again, not an unreasonable point — and an 89-minute documentary isn’t going to take down “Capitalism.”

Nobody with any current executive or engineering ties to Boeing is featured in Downfall, nor is anybody who had any tangible connections to the development or construction of the MAX 737, to the decisions not to train pilots on the MCAS system or… anything. The documentary wants to kick Boeing in its bottom-line groin, but there’s nothing new enough here to impact the price of Boeing stock.

Ultimately, Kennedy’s film does such a superficial job of placing blame that Boeing issued only a pair of minimal statements disagreeing with the most minor of characterizations. The tragedies surrounding the MAX 737 were specific — both the failures and the coverup — but Kennedy doesn’t have sourcing to get to the bottom of anything specific. Talking to a couple of Boeing engineers who complain that McDonnell Douglas came in and the culture changed is an indictment of the culture. But there are so many missing and unconnected dots from there to a failing MCAS system, and then Boeing’s desperate efforts to deflect, that our villains are exclusively nebulous institutions. Nobody has taken direct responsibility and no direct responsibility is assigned here.

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The frustration at the film’s vagueness is only amplified by how sometimes Downfall does very well with specifics. Using pilots and aviation experts — Sully! — Downfall illustrates and explains what the MCAS system was and what went wrong on these two flights in a way that, for two hours, I was actually convinced that I understood. With computer reenactments and examples as amusingly primitive as talking heads basically going “Vroom vroom!” with tiny airplane models, Downfall conveys a real sense of at least rudimentary aviation mechanics. This is actually a real achievement, but I don’t think it’s the documentary’s primary intention.

General anger is closer to the intention, and with several still-grieving family members on-hand, that’s a sentiment that the documentary dredges up. But again… to what end?

There’s no call to action at the end of Downfall because there’s no specific fix that the documentary has been steering us toward, no specific change that would make any difference. There’s no reason the lack of regulation that led to these tragedies at Boeing couldn’t happen just as easily at AirBus — or if there is, Downfall isn’t interested in explaining why.

Unsafe at Any Speed changed the auto industry because of the specificity of its research and its shaming and its advocacy. Downfall maybe arrives at a realization of, “Regulate more and better.” It’s barely a start, but if you needed convincing, I guess this is a documentary for you.

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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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