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‘Harry Potter’ Actor Harry Melling on Starring Role in Gender- and Genre-Bending ‘Please Baby Please’: “It’s ‘West Side Story’ Meets David Lynch”

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‘Harry Potter’ Actor Harry Melling on Starring Role in Gender- and Genre-Bending ‘Please Baby Please’: “It’s ‘West Side Story’ Meets David Lynch”

Harry Melling could have been trapped being Dudley Dursley all his life.

The British actor was 10 when he was cast to play Harry Potter’s portly, bullying muggle cousin in the fantasy film franchise. Short cameos in five Potter films could have condemned Melling to a lifetime of C-list celebrity “Where Are They Now?” features.

Instead, Melling, quietly and without much fuss — he is English after all — has become a bit of a thing. He’s followed up scene-stealing performances in a string of Netflix hits —The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, The Old Guard, The Queen’s Gambit — with a supporting turn as Malcolm alongside Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in Joel Coen’s awards-season favorite The Tragedy of Macbeth. These days, Shakespeare nerds are as likely to recognize Melling as Potterheads.

“I’ve avoided the stigma of the child actor; I don’t know how I managed it,” Melling told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of his first major leading role, opposite Andrea Riseborough and Demi Moore in Please Baby Please. The experimental drama from director Amanda Kramer, which sees Melling play Arthur, a ’50s-era married man questioning his gender identity, kicked off the 2022 International Film Festival Rotterdam on Wednesday night.

I just finished a Harry Melling double bill. I watched Please Baby Please and caught Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of Macbeth.

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Oh, I’m sorry, that’s too much Melling for one day.

Both are very theatrical, very deliberately staged. What’s that the appeal for you? You have a background in theater.

To be honest, it’s a coincidence, not a calculated thing. But I love theater. I went to drama school when I was 18 and spent the five years prior to that just doing theater. Theater, hopefully, will be always something I will come back to and will remain a huge part of my artistic life because I love it so much. Obviously, I’m a huge Shakespeare nerd. So that’s why Macbeth was such an appealing project, alongside the cast and of course, Joel [Coen]. I was very lucky to be a part of that.

With [Please Baby Please], director Amanda [Kramer]’s project, I loved the theatricality of it. I think both films straddle a very cinematic world, but also very theatrical worlds. I don’t think cinema does very often, actually. It’s quite unusual that I’ve managed to do two projects back to back that have both straddled both of those worlds.

What does that “straddling” allow you to do as an actor that you couldn’t do in, say, a film more grounded in realism?

I think it invites you to take risks. As a performer, I like to lean towards performances that are risky, that are bold. I’ve always found that to be the most exciting way of engaging. What Coen is doing stylistically [with Macbeth] is different, as is Please Baby Please. It allows you to sort of reinvent how you’re going to engage with their worlds and with the audience. Potentially, you’re in new territory, which is always the most exciting place to be. I think both of those directors have unique visions that allow you as a performer to really take risks and jump.

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What was the riskiest thing about your performance as Arthur in Please Baby Please?

What I find fascinating about Arthur is, very early on in the film, there’s something that shakes him up completely. And he’s very withdrawn, just receiving the world, through [Andrea Riseborough’s character] Sue and the other characters. And yet the dialog, what he says, it’s like this very witty, strange poetry. When I first read the script, I thought: how can I marry these two elements? Because Arthur has a lot of very quiet moments. He’s often in the background, taking in the craziness around him, all the wild antics that Amanda is putting on in the film. And then he performs this very full, very poetic language. It’s a balance between both being receptive and this frustration he feels, with expectations, the frustration he feels with gender roles, which is addressed in a very direct way.

The issues addressed in the film, about gender roles, about gender-switching, seem quite radical for cinema, but they’re actually quite common on stage, at least in Europe. You were in the Old Vic Theatre’s production of King Lear, which had  Glenda Jackson as a female Lear.

I completely agree. I think there’s something about Amanda’s writing, which does read like theater. In theater, you can be way more direct than film usually is. Film usually lives in the subtext. Here Amanda is saying it how it is. These characters say what they are feeling. There’s a level in this world that is operating in a very direct way. When I first read the script, it felt like a long-form poem. These characters are spilling out their insights as opposed to trying to cover them up. It has a very European flavor to it. I love going to Germany and watching theater there because it’s in the same kind of key, where you have characters that just go for it. They’re not being weighed down by the subtext, they are just fully alive, vivid, and colorful.

Several of the scenes, and your last scene, could have been taken directly from a 1950s musical.

Please Baby Please is probably the closest thing that I’ve ever come to doing a musical professionally. That dance at the end was a lot of fun to do. I know this expression gets bandied about a lot, but when I read Amanda’s script, I just thought: I’ve never read anything like this. It’s like West Side Story-meets-David Lynch.

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How do you feel about where you are now in your career? You’re one of the few actors who made the shift from child performer to adult actors smoothly without being typecast.

I can’t really tell you how that happened. I don’t really know. One thing, maybe, was [after the Harry Potter films] going to drama school at age 18, because I knew I wanted to do theater. And I just felt I needed it. Maybe that helped. I’ve always been very forward-thinking, I haven’t really sort of dwelled in, in the past too much.

For me, it’s always been about the work, about trying to find good and interesting and unique work. And I’ve always loved the magic that happens when you see actors transform into the different people who you don’t recognize. It’s like a magic trick. I’ve always wanted to be that kind of actor, one that can shift between genres, between theater and film, and maybe even musicals, who knows?

Maybe that goes a way to explaining why I haven’t gotten so stuck with the stigma of being a child actor, which really can happen.

Please Baby Please is a lead role, and you’re in Pittsburgh now shooting The Pale Blue Eye, where you’re also the lead, playing a young Edgar Allen Poe. Are you ready to be a leading man?

You know, I was saying to a friend the other day: I’m quite glad that this transition into having more responsibility on my films has happened now. I’ve been in this environment, this film environment, since I was 10. I know the stamina it requires when you are the lead. So I’m glad it’s happening now because I feel I’m ready for it, you know? I don’t feel overwhelmed by these amazing opportunities that are coming my way, which might have happened if they came straight off the back of Harry Potter. So I’m enjoying it. I’m having a great time.

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Interview edited for space and clarity.

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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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