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‘Navalny’ : Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Navalny’ : Film Review | Sundance 2022

Storytellers spent decades populating Cold War dramas with cold-hearted Russian dictators and the shady spies and assassins in their employ only to have Vladimir Putin rise to power and render all those fictionalized archetypes redundant, if not obsolete.

If Tom Clancy or John le Carré fabricated the events depicted in Daniel Roher’s documentary Navalny, you’d think it was too on-the-nose. As it stands, Roher’s unsettling film is at least as sad as it is pulse-pounding; 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union this is what democracy looks like in Russia (all with the backdrop that the United States isn’t doing so spectacularly when it comes to democracy either). It’s like the entertainment industry’s love for remakes and reboots has extended to reviving schlocky conspiracy thrillers as real-life.

Navalny

The Bottom Line

Jaw-dropping and tense, though without room for depth.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Director: Daniel Roher

 


1 hour 38 minutes

It’s a burgeoning documentary genre that has included Oscar winners Citizenfour and Icarus, and you know Roher doesn’t mind having Navalny put in that conversation. It’s a genre that I sometimes think prioritizes plot mechanics over the context and depth that documentaries are supposed to offer, but when a film is as tense as Navalny, that becomes a quibble.

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More than his politics, which border on irrelevant, Alexei Navalny’s precarious perspective is what makes him fascinating.

The documentary, targeted for an HBO Max release, begins with Roher asking Navalny, “If you are killed, if this does happen, what message do you leave behind to the Russian people?”

Navalny squirms in amusement and replies, with English that ranges from near-perfect to spotty depending on the moment, “Oh come on, Daniel. No way. It’s like you’re making a movie for the case of my death.”

It’s unquestionably true that Roher is making a movie for the case of Navalny’s death, so to speak. And how could he not be? The filmmaker, whose previous feature credit was Once Were Brothers about The Band, met with the Russian opposition leader as he was still recovering from an August 2020 poisoning. Roher was in Germany for Navalny’s rehab with wife Yulia and then the incredibly fast turnaround of data journalist Christo Grozev’s investigation into upper-level Russian involvement in the assassination plot, followed by his return to Moscow.

It’s a very small window of time, and despite the all-encompassing title, Roher isn’t interested in giving Navalny the full biographical treatment — nor is Navalny himself interested in offering that sort of overview. This is an incredibly charismatic man with a finely honed sense of his public image, but Roher is also able to capture how prickly he is. Navalny admits to his irritation at some of Roher’s questions both in English to the filmmaker and in Russian to one of his aides in a moment the director captures by just letting the camera run.

This, to me, is probably the documentary’s key saving grace, because unfettered hero-worship directed toward a man who seems to have no issues with including rather scary nationalists as part of his coalition-building shouldn’t be anybody’s goal. Roher doesn’t do that. He tries asking Navalny difficult questions, and weathers his circuitous answers to basics like “How would Russia be different under your presidency?” One can admire Navalny for his cleverness with social media, for his gifts at mobilizing volunteers, for his simply not being Vladimir Putin without engaging in hagiography. Alexei Navalny appears basically to be a politician, first and foremost, but if the alternative is whatever Putin is, it’s easy to find him appealing.

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Working with editors Langdon Page and Maya Daisy Hawke and assisted by the propulsive score by Marius de Vries and Matt Robertson, Roher contracts several exceptional set-pieces that could just as easily have involved Jack Ryan or George Smiley in supporting roles. A scene with Navalny calling his suspected poisoners and attempting to improv his way into getting a confession plays out with jaw-dropping suspense. His flight back to Russia, with the prospect of immediate arrest — Roher ignores the trumped-up charges Navalny knew he was facing — is a breath-holding slow burn. Even stuff that Roher wasn’t there to film first-hand, like airplane cell phone footage of a near-death Navalny moaning in agony, gets a tightly constructed presentation.

Without being excessively adulatory, the quiet beats have value as well, like Navalny and wife Yulia’s hike through their German retreat, stopping to feed a miniature pony and a donkey along the way. Flashing out the documentary’s world are supporting players like Grozev, rather hilarious when he admits that his wife doesn’t know how much money he’s spent on black market data and that she won’t watch this documentary, or Navalny’s daughter Dasha, a Stanford undergrad whose reflection on her father’s potential death adds emotion to a film that might otherwise tend toward the methodical.

The story of Alexei Navalny hasn’t ended, but Roher’s access concluded in January 2021. A repressive, media-hostile regime tends to have that effect. That means that Navalny ends with a near-fizzle, almost 10 minutes of news footage and title cards, where you can sense a filmmaker practically holding his breath waiting for a tragic ending. Roher finds a more inspiring alternative, but his film remains a pervasively ominous snapshot of a scary ongoing global moment.

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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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