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Guest Column: After 94 Years, It’s Time for the Academy to Recognize the Art Form of Stunt Work

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Guest Column: After 94 Years, It’s Time for the Academy to Recognize the Art Form of Stunt Work

Why is it, in the Academy Awards’ 94-year history, an apparent prejudice is allowed to continue toward stunt professionals by not recognizing their extraordinary artistic and physical contribution to filmmaking?

Stunt performers are often denied the recognition of their peers in the cinematic world, beyond a slap on the back and an “atta boy.” The Emmys and SAG Awards each have two categories for stunts, but film’s highest honor is an Oscar (with BAFTA not far behind, also devoid of a stunt category). I always arrive at one conclusion, and I don’t suggest it lightly: The long-standing tradition of being seen but not heard — or more appropriately, unseen and unheard — is nothing short of discrimination.

I’m not a stunt performer myself. I’m a senior agent with Media Artists Group leading the action and specialties division, founder and president of stuntaccess.com (which connects stunt pros to jobs globally) and a lifelong advocate for those who create the most exciting footage onscreen. I’m also a member of the Television Academy (ATAS), the World Stunt Academy and Women in Film. My introduction to the stunt world came by running Gene LeBell’s business, which led to me becoming the only woman ever to hold an executive position at the Stuntmen’s Association of Motion Pictures. I went on to run Emmy winner Jim Vickers’ stunt offices for shows like CSI: Miami, Grey’s Anatomy and Curb Your Enthusiasm. I currently rep many performers with a physical background or prowess like Terry Leonard, THR’s first ever “Stuntperson of the Year” Tanoai Reed as well as Julie Michaels, Michael Papajohn, Anthony Molinari, Marty Klebba, James Lew, TJ Storm and Allan Graf, who round out a brilliant roster of Hollywood’s most well-known and elite stunt actors. Because of my 20-plus years in the business, I know that stunt pros are artists, actors and athletes all in one. They study, practice and perform just like actors — every stuntperson I know is constantly learning. Yet while actors get Oscars, stunt professionals do not. Besides casting directors, stunts are the only major contributors that don’t get the chance to receive this golden baby.

We’re not supposed to know stuntpeople exist — we’re supposed to think it’s our favorite actors doing those incredible stunts. The reality is, those stunt performers are the professional athletes of film and TV. And while actors may worry about a part killing their career, a stunt performer is worried about getting killed. Bad acting has never killed anyone, but bad stunts have. Why, then, are they not acknowledged by their peers as anyone else in the film business? Especially when stunt performers assume a risk of extreme injury or death every day they show up to set?

It’s not for a lack of trying. Stunt coordinator Jack Gill told Vulture in 2019 that he’s been lobbying for the Academy to give out such an award for nearly three decades, with sit-downs with the president and executive director. Steven Spielberg, James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger have publicly voiced their support for a stunt category at the Oscars. There are many actors who readily credit their stunt doubles. Tom Holland, after the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home, thanked Luke Scott and Greg Townley for their work. Dwayne Johnson gives his stunt double Tanoai Reed credit whenever he can. Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt and others are on record acknowledging those who really make them look good.

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Because of superstars like Johnson and John Cena, people are starting to see the viability of a pro athlete who makes a project more exciting and real for the audience. Actors who have an athletic background are twice as valuable as your average actor. It’s not a CGI cartoon doing the action — it’s really these actors.

The Academy’s latest position seems to be, “There is no time for stunts in the show.” [The Academy says the path toward an award category comes out of a branch, of which stuntpeople do not yet have their own.] The TV Academy added two extra nights to honor those deemed worthy in their respective fields. And because stunt pros are so experienced, humble and a joy to work with, it’s even more blatant how belittling this snub is. Sure, a couple of stuntmen have won special Oscars before, like Yakima Canutt (who doubled for John Wayne, winning an honorary Oscar in 1967) or Hal Needham (who won technical and honorary awards in 1978 and 2013). But lifelong stuntman Richard Farnsworth wasn’t nominated for his two Oscars (best supporting actor in 1979 and best actor in 2000) until he traded in his stunt bag for dialogue.

Stunt pros aren’t in it for the glory of a trophy, but that doesn’t change their right to receive recognition. They show up to do what they love, while protecting those you love to see onscreen. To quote my client, stunt legend Terry Leonard (the Fast & Furious franchise): “I believe that stunt coordinators whose work contributes to the overall success of an action film should be considered for an Academy Award. The excitement that quality stunt sequences generate in cinema should no longer be overlooked.”

This story first appeared in the Jan. 19 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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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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