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Green New Deal Doc ‘To the End’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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Green New Deal Doc ‘To the End’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Rachel Lears’ breakout Netflix documentary feature Knock Down the House, which premiered at Sundance in 2019, followed four aspiring progressive U.S. politicians, all women, who had just been running for office in the 2018 election cycle. Thanks to either sheer luck or very canny documentary casting on Lears’ part, one of the four was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), the only one to win her race, a blissful moment Lear caught on camera that soon went viral.

From there, AOC went from being an activist/part-time bartender to arguably the most recognizable first-term congresswoman in the country. Chock full of intimate, compelling moments of candor from its subjects, House made for inspirational viewing. A lot of its success was tied to the specific time it came out, just after the left’s successes in the 2018 midterms jimmied open a chink of light in the darkness that was the Trump administration. For left-wing viewers, watching House was like seeing a political-documentary version of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope except with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in one white pants-suited package.

To the End

The Bottom Line

Look left in anger.

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A few years have passed and now Lears delivers, again with a Sundance premiere, To the End, a sequel of sorts to Knock Down the House in that it once again features heroine Ocasio-Cortez plus a whole new trio of activists hoping to make a difference on the political landscape. This time the focus is the climate crisis, and each of the activists featured — AOC, Varshini Prakash from the youth-driven Sunrise Movement, Alexandra Rojas from action group Justice Democrats, and Rhiana Gunn-Wright of the Roosevelt Institute and co-author of the Green New Deal policy document — are trying to pass legislation that will combat that crisis. But the right is fighting back, and the alliance on the left is riven with squabbling factions even though time is running out and the stakes have never seemed higher.

The doc ends roughly toward the end of 2021, with President Biden’s Build Back Better Act passing by a squeak through the House, destined to fail in the Senate. If House was A New Hope, this is The Empire Strikes Back, a well-made but ambivalent bridging narrative that leaves the viewer feeling even more worried about the future of the planet, let alone democracy.

The film’s opening quote from Antonio Gramsci, “The crisis consists of just this: The old world is dying and the new world cannot quite be born. In the meantime, all kinds of dreadful things are happening,” is apt indeed — especially that last bit about “dreadful things.” One of those very things features here in the shape of Joe Manchin, the senator from West Virginia whom Paula Jean Swearengin tried unsuccessfully to unseat in Knock Down the House. Here he’s seen on a clip from Fox News refusing to support the Build Back Better Act, with its raft of green legislation, and insisting that, why no, it has nothing to do with his personal ties to the coal industry. The women featured in the film, along with us, the audience, can only look on in despair.

Due to the fact that the canvas is broader this time around — and the subjects Lears has chosen to focus on don’t have four discreet, parallel narratives that we can see through to the end — there’s inevitably less coherence to this film strictly in terms of storytelling. Instead, each of these women is trying to make a difference in the climate crisis in very specific ways, but for all of them history keeps interfering. Each of the women is a person of color, and while at first that’s not really in the foreground, the issue of race inflects their stories as the murder of George Floyd sparks protests across the country, right at the same time that a pandemic is raging. Inevitably, there’s a lot of footage here of our subjects watching and reacting to the news.

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That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when the subjects we’re watching have interesting things to say about what they’re watching. For example, there’s a sequence where the ferociously astute and articulate Gunn-Wright dissects an oil industry lobbyist’s lies and obfuscations in a video clip. The scene immediately brings to mind AOC’s similar semiotics-savvy dissection of her opponent’s campaign pamphlet in House.

Elsewhere, we see Rojas bridling at the way then-still-running-for-president Elizabeth Warren talks about climate policy (Rojas is a fervent Bernie Sanders supporter), a moment that underscores the fissures on the left. Also, given Rojas is seen frequently appearing as a commentator on CNN, there’s a slight sense that this risks becoming a bit inside baseball with so much footage of media figures and politicians sniping about other media figures and politicians. Indeed, there’s a bit of irritation expressed with “the mainstream media” and its handling of the Green New Deal, as if this film isn’t itself part of that larger media-mediated conversation.

The scenes that follow Sunrise Movement protestor Prakash and her friends at least point the camera at the grassroots of the fight for the planet’s future. Barely more than kids, full of ideals and plenty of moxie, many of them are willing to risk their health with hunger strikes and other sacrifices to get their point across.

It seems so unfair that they keep trying when the media landscape is so hideously crowded with other news. Still, one can’t help but admire their willingness to keep going and not give up. After all, there’s an even younger generation coming up behind them, represented by Gunn-Wright’s own adorable newborn, even more at risk of inheriting an uninhabitable earth.

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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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