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‘Nanny’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Nanny’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

The horror of the immigrant experience is often portrayed quite literally in American cinema — realistic, shaky camera movements; stark, muted colors; sad, tired people with their eyes wide, speaking only sparingly as they take all the abuse capitalism has to offer. The directors who traffic in these stories often do so from a place of detachment, able to register the suffering of their subjects while ignoring the many layers of their humanity.

And then, once in a while, audiences get something that not only depicts the immigrant experience but also provides us with a lens for which to (at least partially) understand the emotional nuances of physically living in one place while one’s heart resides in another. Leaving your homeland is a series of small deaths, compounding into a general sense of mourning the life you could have had if you stayed. Nikyatu Jusu’s debut feature, Nanny, is about coping with that mourning in the hopes that a new life will lead to healing. 

Nanny

The Bottom Line

A deft and sensitive horror-inflected immigrant story.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Cast: Anna Diop, Michelle Monaghan, Morgan Spector, Sinqua Walls, Rose Decker, Leslie Uggams
Writer-director: Nikyatu Jusu


1 hour 37 minutes

The film tells the story of Aisha (Anna Diop), a Senegalese nanny for Rose (Rose Decker), the daughter of a wealthy white New York couple with a strained marriage. Amy (Michelle Monaghan) is the prototypical upper-crust working mom whose control issues and general anxiety make it difficult for Aisha to do her job. When Rose refuses to eat the bland, hermetically sealed health food her mother leaves for her, Aisha begins feeding her jollof rice on the sly, knowing that Amy would never allow it. Though her husband Adam (Morgan Spector) is around, it’s Amy who calls the shots, demanding every moment of Aisha’s time as well as emotional support. Adam lives up to her disdain, disappearing frequently and only showing interest in Rose when given the opportunity to flirt with Aisha. Worn out from her job and fed up with Adam, Amy can’t even seem to manage paying Aisha on time. 

There are moments early in the film where it seems as though the focus will be Aisha’s relationship with the white couple, but Jusu frames them as intruders in Aisha’s life, distracting her from her own needs and desires. Aisha needs to get paid on time, not just for rent, but mainly to save money in anticipation for her young son Lamine’s arrival to the country. In the meantime, he’s staying with her family, with only phone calls and video chats connecting them between continents. She’s a mother on a mission, and her job as nanny is only a means to an end.

It’s refreshing to see Aisha repeatedly establish boundaries between herself and the troubled couple, refusing to fall prey to the artificial trappings of their lifestyle. She can see their misery and the emptiness of their marriage very clearly, even in the midst of her own emotional turmoil. She only yearns for what is hers — her son, whom she refers to as her “greatest work.”

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Dripping in aquatic imagery, Nanny is a film that moves freely through life and dream space, favoring deep blue-tinged darkness. It’s the kind of film where the viewer loses sense of time itself, mesmerized by the beauty and melancholy of each shot. Jusu first honed this style in her debut short film, Suicide By Sunlight, a subtly beautiful tale of a struggling Black mother trying to regain custody of her children while hiding a violent secret. Nanny builds on the themes of motherhood, focusing on the pain of being separated from your child while having to take care of another one. As Aisha spends more time with her white employers and their daughter, her identity as a mother and connection to her child begin to slip away. 

With the company of other West African immigrants and a new love Malik (Sinqua Walls), Aisha tries to stay rooted in her culture and take steps toward the life she wants. As Malik, Walls is charming and easy-going; we see Aisha beginning to relax and enjoy her time in the city. Diop and Walls have lovely chemistry, but the film’s most impactful connection is between her and veteran actress Leslie Uggams, who plays Malik’s grandmother Kathleen. As Aisha begins to have visions, disrupting both her sleep and waking hours, Kathleen uses her spiritual intuition to help the protagonist understand what they mean. Two figures from West African folklore, the trickster Anansi and the water spirit Mami Wata, take over her mind, slowly eroding her sanity. Aisha begins to see spiders — Anansi’s most popular form — often accompanied by her mind playing tricks on her, distorting moments of her reality. Mami Wata is much more direct, pulling Aisha underwater and making her feel as if she’s drowning. But despite the violence of their methods, Kathleen asserts that they are simply trying to send a message — a message that will likely have a devastating effect on the young mother’s life.

With Nanny, Jusu crafts a contemplative, thematically rich story that deftly explores the emotional and spiritual costs of leaving your homeland behind for an uncertain future in a strange land. Diop is elegant and understated as Aisha, a loving mother with quiet strength, commanding presence and an unbreakable bond to Senegal and the conditions that made her. It’s a perfect marriage of director and star, with Jusu providing a worthy showcase for Diop’s talents as a leading lady.

The film’s skilled usage of folklore is an inspired breath of fresh air in a horror landscape so often uninterested in the African diaspora. Mami Wata is an especially dazzling image, regal, sensual and foreboding all at once. At its root, Nanny is a story about the otherworldly power of cultural connection and the ways it may guide you when you’ve lost your way.

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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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