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Elizabeth Banks in Phyllis Nagy’s ‘Call Jane’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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Elizabeth Banks in Phyllis Nagy’s ‘Call Jane’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

A bracing and intimate view of a historical moment that’s less distant than we might think, Call Jane opens with a brilliant sequence that begins in a posh Chicago hotel, where an elegantly dressed woman drifts away from her husband’s business shindig. As the camera follows her through the lobby, her blond updo calls to mind another movie character, Kim Novak’s in Vertigo — a woman under the thumb of men if ever there was one. By contrast, Joy (Elizabeth Banks) is a sturdy, cheerful suburbanite who keeps a household humming and helps her husband with his legal briefs, and she would never describe herself as being under the thumb of anybody. Then a medical emergency makes it brutally clear that, according to the laws of the United States, her life is not entirely her own.

Call Jane is the story of a fictional character’s life-changing involvement in the Jane Collective, an underground service that provided safe abortions for women when they were still illegal. It takes its title from the message printed on flyers posted in Chicago in the late ’60s and early ’70s, sheets of paper that announced an open secret and offered salvation to women with no other options. The group’s courage and compassion are explored in another Sundance selection, the documentary The Janes. (One of the figures profiled in the doc, Judith Arcana, is credited here as a research consultant.) The two films would make an inspiring double feature — and, should the Supreme Court overturn the 1973 ruling that rendered the Janes unnecessary, they could also serve as primers in reproductive justice.

Call Jane

The Bottom Line

A beautifully wrought portrait of ladies on fire.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)

Cast: Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Chris Messina, Kate Mara, Wunmi Mosaku, Cory Michael Smith, Grace Edwards, John Magaro

Director: Phyllis Nagy

Screenwriters: Hayley Schore, Roshan Sethi


2 hours 1 minute

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The Janes tells a communal story, and certainly the power of collaboration and a shared sense of urgency drive Call Jane. But drama usually requires a protagonist, and the screenplay by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi gives us a compelling one in Joy, with Banks delivering her most complex and stirring feature-film performance in years.

Though the screenplay might hit a point or two rather neatly on the head, Carol screenwriter Nagy, at the helm of her first theatrical film (she directed a starry cast in the 2005 true-crime TV movie Mrs. Harris), builds a subtle and affecting sense of time and place, with nods to ’70s indie filmmaking. The character-driven design contributions from Jona Tochet and Julie Weiss are steeped in a lived-in period palette, pops of vibrancy included. A soundtrack of refreshingly unobvious ’60s rock and funk weds well to the action, and Isabella Summers’ eloquent score offers keens of alarm and suspenseful percussive riffs, emphasizing the sense of upheaval, life-or-death danger and galvanic optimism that we experience through Joy’s eyes.

Banks, who memorably played Laura Bush in W., has a knack for getting beneath the carefully coiffed surface of characters that some people would write off based on their politics or appearance. She embodies the restless intelligence and the paradox of Joy, who becomes a key member of a revolutionary enterprise while keeping up appearances in well-heeled Republican suburbia.

In the scenes that open the movie, Joy’s husband, Will (Chris Messina), is celebrating having been made a partner at his law firm. Elsewhere in the city the Democratic National Convention is underway, unmentioned but signaled by the “August 1968” title that appears onscreen, and by the Yippie demonstration outside the hotel. We hear the protesters but don’t see them; it’s Joy’s reaction that Nagy cares about. She’s shaken by the commotion, but also drawn to the energy and passion of it, to the idea of a world in flux. On the ride home, the words “shifting” and “current” flicker through her comments to Will.

When he pulls their sedan into the driveway at the end of their night out, Joy waits for him to open her car door; for a woman of her generation and upbringing, that’s how things are done. And yet something is pulling at the edges of this conformity. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique hit the cultural conversation a few years before this story begins, and a couple of years later a women’s collective in Boston will publish Our Bodies, Ourselves. Joy’s widowed neighbor, Lana (Kate Mara, superb), is reading Diary of a Mad Housewife, albeit through a veil of doctor-prescribed pills and afternoon cocktails. (In another echo of Vertigo, Lana’s daughter asks Joy if she “went blond” for her husband.)

Perhaps Joy is thinking about shifting currents because she’s pregnant with her second child. The way she grooves to a Velvet Underground album from the collection of her 15-year-old daughter, Charlotte (Grace Edwards), signals that she’s poised for an awakening. It arrives with a devastating blow: Medical complications put her life at risk if she proceeds with the pregnancy, but the law forbids her to terminate it. She’s required to seek the hospital board’s permission for a therapeutic abortion. Unsurprising fact number one: The board members are all men. Number two: They say no.

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Will is the kind of straight-arrow guy who doesn’t want to pull strings with the medical establishment, afraid that this would compromise his credibility and his career. After trying a few unsatisfactory options that lead her to an abortionist’s grungy apartment, which she flees, Joy happens upon a bus-stop flyer that beckons the pregnant and anxious to “call Jane.”

And yes, this is a story that focuses its outrage over social injustice through the lens of a privileged character and the “it can happen to anyone, even the white wife of an attorney” angle. But Nagy, Schore and Sethi acknowledge this, and the fact that the ban on abortion disproportionately affected women who are poor, Black or brown. Matters of race and class burst to the surface of the film in a brief but charged debate between Gwen (Wunmi Mosaku), the Janes’ sole Black member, and Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), the group’s imperious and passionately dedicated leader.

Virginia and Joy could go toe-to-toe in terms of competence and resolve. But the former, a dyed-in-the-wool grassroots activist, knows how to navigate life on the other side of the law, as outlined in an exposition drop that’s jarring amid the otherwise nuanced dialogue. The two women meet right after Joy’s abortion, in one of the collective’s apartments, where Joy is offered a blanket and a comforting bowl of spaghetti along with friendly, irreverent banter and her first taste of 1960s bohemia.

Played without an ounce of sentimentality by Weaver, Virginia has a way of getting what she wants, and once she’s assured that Joy has healed, she ropes her into helping another client. One such favor leads to another, and then to full-on commitment, with Joy’s increasingly frequent evening absences, attributed to “art class,” understandably raising the suspicions of Will, and of Charlotte especially. Played with a deadpan sensibility that’s reminiscent of Alia Shawkat, Charlotte doesn’t always track as a character, until you recognize that she’s a conflicted teenager who may have a defiant streak but is still largely sheltered from, and confused by, the turbulent times in which she’s coming of age.

Unlike many people in her circumstances, Joy is curious about the political mood rather than repelled by it. And she finds purpose with the Janes, eventually becoming de facto assistant to Dean (Cory Michael Smith), the man who performs abortions for the group’s clients. An unlikely combination of boyish bowl cut and outsize swagger, he’s an unsettling and fascinating character, committed more to the money he makes than he is to the women’s cause. Smith is one of three relatively unfamiliar actors in the cast, the others being Edwards and a terrific Mosaku, who make an impact in key supporting roles. The director steps away from Joy’s POV for a beautifully played scene between Smith and Weaver, their characters negotiating a business deal over vodka shots.

As for the abortions themselves, Nagy and cinematographer Greta Zozula focus on the vulnerability, not to mention the metal instruments involved. There’s a breathtaking moment when Joy, mid-procedure, having finally found a safe solution to her life-threatening predicament, blurts out to Dean, “I’m scared!” Keeping the film grounded in character, Nagy eloquently reminds us at every turn that what has been labeled a crime is a medical procedure, and underscores how personal all this is for the women.

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Along the way, and not without humor, Joy learns to discard her moralistic assumptions about Jane’s clients. The devoted Virginia is her guide on that front, and like Virginia the film refrains from casting judgment. Dean, for all his flaws, is also a life-saver, and never dismissed as a villain. Will is a good guy, however blinkered and old-school. “Did something happen today?” he asks a fired-up Joy over the dinner table. If he only knew. Messina taps into his character’s sensitivity as well as his cluelessness, and a couple of scenes between him and Mara’s sad-eyed Lana are heart-stopping portrayals of messy, fumbling decency and grace. Even an undercover detective (John Magaro) who confronts Joy toward the end of the film defies stereotype.

We know the achievements and victories of the era Nagy depicts, and yet, because she and her fine cast bring the story to such vivid, immediate life, the final moments of Call Jane are powerful with unanticipated joy. They sting too, because we know where we are now, and the trajectory of the intervening years.

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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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