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“I Can’t Afford to Let Cliches Live in the Cinema I Make”: Leilah Weinraub on Shakedown | Filmmaker Magazine

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“I Can’t Afford to Let Cliches Live in the Cinema I Make”: Leilah Weinraub on Shakedown | Filmmaker Magazine

Shakedown

Leilah Weinraub’s 2018 Shakedown, which began playing Metrograph on June 17th (and has been held over through June 30th due to high demand), has been touted by Variety as the “the first-ever non-adult film” to be picked up by Pornhub. Yet it could also be called the sex site’s first-ever Berlinale-premiering and Tate/ICA/MoMA PS1/Whitney Biennial-screened acquisition. And likely the smut streamer’s first-ever labor of love release as well.

Indeed, Shakedown is a film that defies any easy categorization. Ostensibly a longform cinematic exploration (crafted over 15 years starting in 2002) of the titular, mid-city, Los Angeles, Black lesbian strip club, the doc is likewise a study in the invention of identity, family and community — especially for those marginalized by both blood relatives and society. It’s also a heck of a risk-taking endeavor: Neither a feminist film nor an easily digestible depiction of Black women for that matter, the true (and unapologetically self-proclaimed) stars of the doc are just as comfortable expressing sexual fluidity (the legendary dancer Egypt reminisces about the time before she was gay) as they are popping a bare booty for the lens.

In other words, Shakedown is that rare sexually-explicit film that digs many layers below the skin-deep surface, revealing a whole host of questions about racial and economic justice in the process. Images of white cops conducting raids at the club, cuffing Black strippers in the middle of a performance (and subsequently ticketing them for solicitation), are charged with unsettling echoes of history. Footage from the gay hood clubs of the ’90s seamlessly melds with Weinraub’s own (culled from over 400 hours) footage, none of which looks anything like the squeaky clean (i.e., white upper-middle-class) LGBTQ+ spaces safe for the corporate screen. Not to mention, since so much of our dominant queer culture has been appropriated from Black culture (the fight for gay liberation notably influenced by the civl rights movement), what does a “Black lesbian subculture” even mean?

So to find out more about the doc and its broader implications Filmmaker reached out to the intersectional industry vet, a NYC-based native of LA whose unconventional career has taken her from being mentored by Tony Kaye, to working with Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, to serving as CEO of the street-wear fashion brand Hood By Air.

Filmmaker: So as someone who’s white and not a lesbian I found myself riveted by the characters, even if I wasn’t relating to or turned on by them. Which made me think the film has much broader appeal than a first glance at the marketing might suggest. (That said, I’ve worked in the BDSM industry and long-identified as queer so my view could also very well be skewed.) Did you ever worry that the “Black lesbian strip club” description might be limiting Shakedown to a niche audience? Do you even care?

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Weinraub: I’ve always focused on the economics depicted in the film, which I describe as a “Black owned and operated cash economy.” I think there’s been lots of different interpretations of my synopsis, depending on where the interpreter is at emotionally. I actually haven’t heard that the film is niche. Personally, I don’t really think I made a niche film.

Filmmaker: You have said that “the point of the film is labor,” and that you wanted to follow the dollar as it made its way through this specific underground economy. So where did that particular idea originate? What were you hoping to learn?

Weinraub: Thanks for asking about that. When I was in my 20s I worked for Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert, whose filmmaking I’m still very inspired by. When they received the Oscar in 2020 for American Factory, Julia stressed in the acceptance speech, “Things will get better when workers of the world unite.” I very much wanted to approach Shakedown as a project that documents the reality of labor and discusses how in America work forms identity.

Filmmaker: The film also struck me as more timeless capsule than time capsule, with the intimate, handcrafted aesthetic allowing for the ’90s footage to flow seamlessly into your own more recently shot footage. How exactly did you approach the editing?

Weinraub: I worked with editor Matt Hollis on Shakedown. The process was hard and time-consuming. But we had the luxury of spending the needed time on the project.

The editing was really the most present thing in the film. I had many insecurities surrounding the question of time: How we do contend with the passing of time? What’s the strategy for acknowledging it and to allow history to live in the present? I was so lucky to be able to work with Matt and refine those ideas completely. He can really speak more on this.

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Hollis: Yes, our strategy was basically anti-analogical; there are no match cuts to be found in Shakedown. Rather we searched out a certain spirit, a common form of life, and traced its dead ends and digressions across the ages.

In practice this meant that, one, we invented nothing; and two, selected only those shots where some specific thing happens – a different hand gesture, a gaze that strays, changes to the rhythm of the body, a play of affects. We looked for states, not processes. We placed distant realities together.

When it came to the image itself, irrespective of its origin, we applied that magical means called tenderness. Which personalizes everything, gives it a voice, allows it to come into existence and to be expressed. (Mark Leckey, Yervant Giankian and Angela Ricci, Bruce Baillie and others were of great help in this area.)

Time isn’t simply a line stretching from past to future. It’s also a habitat; a place where new ways of seeing, thinking and acting become possible. So when it came down to the edit, coming face to face with hundreds of hours of footage spanning decades, we started at any point and extended in all directions by inventing our own connections.

Filmmaker: Leilah, I’m also hoping you can let us in on your outside-the-box distribution strategy. Since 2018 you’ve gone from screening prestigious festivals and art museums, to streaming at Pornhub, and now to the arthouse circuit and eventually iTunes. What’s the process been like? What was your thinking behind this strategy?

Weinraub: Honestly, at one point I got linked with a mediocre producer who said there was no audience for the film, and I came quite close to being in danger of listening to him. The business of filmmaking is creative, so it’s super important to me to partner with people that see the world as open and possible.

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Overall it’s been pretty cool, though, this coalition-building. For me it was important that the successes of the film funnel back to the people in it. And I’m still working on realizing that goal.

Filmmaker: I also read that Shakedown actually influenced your time as CEO of the street-wear fashion brand Hood By Air, so I’m hoping you can talk a bit about how you connect fashion to film. In general, how does intersectionality play a role not only in your identity but in your artistry?

Weinraub: The experience of filming at Shakedown convinced me that the ideas being generated in nightlife needed to have an outlet in “day life.” With Hood By Air I felt an urgency to put my full energy towards that; and also at the same time look to create some financial security for myself and my friends.

Looking back, it was post economic collapse, post Bush-era art — but still inside the social conservativeness of the Obama era, where people were recreating cliche Black narratives. We were riffing on new identities and personas, both on the runway and for ourselves as artists and as a collective. My “CEO persona” was an exciting opportunity for me.

I also realized that I can’t afford to let cliches live in the cinema I make; but I’m also aware of that danger in my personal life too. So as my identity evolves I’m battling with that. With making the kind of life for myself that I actually want to live.

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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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