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How ‘The Power of the Dog’ Subverts Western Stereotypes of Masculine Strength

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How ‘The Power of the Dog’ Subverts Western Stereotypes of Masculine Strength

Phil Burbank is a man, and Phil Burbank is a cowboy. As far as he’s concerned, those two words might as well mean the same thing. According to Phil, the malevolent rancher played by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog, to be a man is to work long hours doing manual labor, steering herds, and castrating bulls. Men don’t wear suits. Men don’t wear gloves when working. Men don’t bathe indoors or show affection towards women. Men don’t show affection towards anybody, except for Bronco Henry (Phil’s beloved, deceased mentor in the ways of the cowboy.) Above all else, men are stoic: they completely reject all things emotional, feminine, or soft.

Phil regards anyone who doesn’t meet his rigid criteria for manhood with withering scorn. His brother George (Jesse Plemons) isn’t a man, despite being a fellow rancher; Phil thinks of him as a soft-hearted “fatso” who wears a suit while riding horses. George’s new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst) obviously isn’t a man, and her tender sensitivity makes her a prime target for Phil’s cruelty. Rose’s son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) especially isn’t a man: he’s a willowy, lisping teenager who Phil dubs “Miss Nancy”. Peter loves his mother and makes paper flowers, which means he might as well be a woman as far as Phil is concerned.

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RELATED: 7 Best Movies Like ‘The Power of the Dog’ for More Gorgeous Outsider Stories

In short, Phil’s definition of a man is not just a cowboy, but The Cowboy: the archetypal symbol of rugged individualism and American masculinity. Marlboro used The Cowboy to sell cigarettes back when cigarettes were seen as too feminine. Failed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore dressed up as The Cowboy to paint himself as a rock-ribbed authority figure rather than a bigoted sexual predator. It’s an archetype that wouldn’t exist without the influence of film, and although The Power of the Dog takes place before the most famous movies of the genre were released, Phil ends up evoking Western giants anyway. His voice is a self-conscious approximation of a laconic John Wayne drawl, and his beady-eyed glower brings to mind a man who can’t quite squint like Clint Eastwood.


It’s no surprise that Phil fails to maintain this impossible masculine ideal. What’s surprising is just how thoroughly Phil fails. It’s all but stated that his roughneck image is a front to cover his repressed homosexuality, but even if Phil were as straight as an arrow, he would still fall well short of his own standards. For a man who fashions himself as a stoic, Phil is petty, insecure, and temperamental. He takes a high school bully’s delight in tormenting those weaker than him, mocking Peter’s lisp and gloating over Rose’s humiliation in front of her in-laws. He tries to make his refusal to bathe indoors an act of defiance (“I stink, and I like it!”), but anyone who believes their masculinity can be shattered by a bar of soap isn’t as secure as they claim. And when he’s angry about something, such as George’s engagement to Rose or Rose’s decision to sell his animal hides, he lashes out in impotent tantrums. As fearsome and cruel as Phil can be, he’s also kind of pathetic.


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Director Jane Campion understands that a gay cowboy is no longer as shocking as it was when Thomas Savage’s source novel was published in 1967. That’s why she foregrounds The Power of the Dog’s grand irony: one of its characters actually is the stoic, steady figure Phil longs to be. And it’s Miss Nancy himself.

At first, Peter Gordon appears to be as stereotypically effeminate as Phil is stereotypically masculine. He’s a pale, timid young man preparing to become a doctor. He’s a bit of a mama’s boy, with artistic talent and a sensitive disposition. But it soon becomes clear that he’s much deeper – and stranger – than any stereotype. In one of Peter’s first scenes, serving as a waiter at his mother’s restaurant, Phil taunts him and burns the paper flower Peter had set out as a table decoration. The audience watches him grow steadily more angered and humiliated, appearing on the verge of tears … and then he storms out into the night, picks up a hula-hoop, and furiously twirls it around his hips. It feels like a bizarre ritual, some private dance to keep his emotions in check. It works: the audience never sees him that upset again.


When Peter returns from medical school later in the movie, he has almost complete control over his emotions. He tenderly plays with a rabbit in one scene, then dissects its cadaver for his studies in the next. When he walks through a gauntlet of Burbank’s men shouting homophobic slurs at him, he keeps his composure and moves steadily forward. The only hint at discomfort comes when talking to his alcoholic mother, where he runs his thumb along the teeth of a comb as an act of “stimming” or self-soothing. He’s so good at keeping his emotions close to his chest that, when Phil decides to take Peter under his wing, even his mother doesn’t know why Peter goes along with it. She assumes that the crafty, wicked Phil managed to pull her beloved son away from her. Maybe that’s what Phil thinks he did, too – and he’ll keep thinking it until he dies of anthrax poisoning.

Phil Burbank, despite his attempts at stoicism, was a weak, emotional man ruled by his insecurities and self-loathing. No number of mud baths or horseback rides could ever change that. Peter Gordon understood that and understood how to exploit it. A cut on Phil’s hand, a rotting cowhide for anthrax, and Rose’s impulsive decision to sell the hides provided an opportunity, and Peter took it as soon as he could. He shared a cigarette and some smoldering looks with Phil, knowing he had just signed his death warrant – and betrayed nothing. Phil went to his grave having no idea what Peter could do. Peter’s machinations required more stoicism, strength, and ruthlessness than Phil was ever capable of.

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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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