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Netflix’s ‘jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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Netflix’s ‘jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Given its title (in case you didn’t get it, it’s pronounced gen-ius) and subject matter, you would think jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy would consist of nothing but hero worship, obliging audiences to exalt themselves before the almighty altar of Ye.

There’s definitely a fair amount of that in this three-part, 280-minute-long Netflix documentary, the first installment of which premiered online at the Sundance Film Festival. But there’s also, at least for half its running time, a fairly lucid and endearing portrait of the artist as a young Yeezy trying to make it as a rap superstar. That he didn’t do it easily, and nearly didn’t do it at all, is more of a testament to his perseverance and infallible ego than it is to his talent, which is there from the get-go.

jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy

The Bottom Line

More for Yeezy lovers than haters.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Release date: Friday, Feb. 16
Directors: Clarence “Coodie” Simmons, Chike Ozah
Screenwriters: Clarence “Coodie” Simmons, Chike Ozah, J. Ivy


4 hours 38 minutes

Directed by Chike Ozah and longtime West chronicler Clarence “Coodie” Simmons, who’s been filming the rapper on and off for the past two decades, jeen-yuhs offers a front row look at what it takes to thrive in the cutthroat climate of the hip-hop biz, and the burden it places on those at the top to stay relevant. If this were a Biblical parable (let’s call it The Gospel According to Saint Pablo) then it would be about a gifted young man whose drive for success was so prodigious that it eventually drove him mad — the madness taking the form of numerous onstage incursions at the Grammy Awards, online and televised rants, and a run for U.S. president in 2020.

This is not to mock Kanye’s legitimate mental health issues, which Simmons, who narrates his own footage as both a caring friend and admirer, doesn’t shy away from. But when you witness how hard West hustled to be taken seriously as a rapper in his early days, how many doors were slammed in his face and how, despite a car crash that left his jaw broken in three places, he managed to complete his knockout debut album, The College Dropout, you realize that all of this can take a toll on your soul.

Divided into three 90-minute “acts” modestly titled “VISION,” “PURPOSE” and “AWAKENING,” the film very much mimics Yeezy’s career in that it’s impressive, then nearly exhilarating, only to grow exhausting and a bit insufferable in its final sections. The best parts are clearly those, set roughly between 2001 and 2004, where Simmons was granted unlimited access to West, following the up-and-coming rap producer from Chicago to New York as he evolved into a serious player in the hip-hop game.

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By then, Kanye had already blown up as the virtuoso young beatmaker behind half of Jay-Z’s classic 2001 album The Blueprint, as well as tracks by East Coast stalwarts like Scarface, Cam’ron, Taleb Kweli, Beanie Sigel and Lil’ Kim. But he had bigger plans for himself than to sit in front of a mixing board: He wanted to be the next Jay-Z.

The problem is that nobody but Kanye — and his adoring, adorning mother Donda, whose presence in the film provides a breath of warmth and humor — believed in him. “You’re brilliant, but Jay-Z is a genius,” one friend tells him. “He really doesn’t fit in with the street image,” is another reproach we hear often, especially from the folks at Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella records label, where Kanye is desperate to get signed.

There’s perhaps no more telling scene in all of jeen-yuhs than the one in “VISION” where Simmons trails West, then aged 21, after he decides to crash the Roc-A-Fella headquarters in Manhattan, going from office to office to play his demos as a solo artist. It’s a stunt that fails miserably, the record company execs all but indifferent to his music, and Kanye has no choice but to take back his CD and walk out in defeat.

The scene is telling because it shows how he’d stop at nothing to be heard — how humiliation wasn’t a word in his rhyme book. Forcing his way through the front, back and side doors of Roc-A-Fella not as a producer but as a legit MC, he eventually managed to get signed. In the two years that followed, the label dilly-dallied in releasing his first album, pushing Kanye to try even more stunts, including cutting a track with his mouth in shambles after the car accident, and self-financing his first music video (“Through the Wire,” directed by Simmons and Ozah). In 2004, Roc-A-Fella finally released The College Dropout to universal acclaim (four-times platinum, Grammy for Best Rap Album), sealing Ye’s reputation by the time “PURPOSE” is over.

Afterwards, the documentary charts a rather steady and unfortunate course from hip-hop superstardom to donning a MAGA hat and raving about the evils of abortion. This is partially because West pretty much cut Simmons out of his life after his early successes, working with bigger-name directors for his videos and surrounding himself with what seems like an entourage of Ye-sayers, not to mention the Kardashians.

And so while the film’s first two acts give us ample time in the studio to watch the jeen-yuhs at work — a highlight is a recording session with Jay-Z for his The Blueprint 2 track “The Bounce,” which Kanye is given a verse on — we never get to see the making of breakthrough albums like 808s & Heartbreak or My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, where West took hip-hop to places it had never been before.

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The jump in the last act, “AWAKENING,” from rap phenomenon to music-and-fashion mogul bloated on meds is not always easy to sit through, and Simmons is genuinely concerned enough about his old Chi-town buddy to come running with his HD cam whenever he calls. Covering the period from 2005 to the present, the final installment charts Kanye’s various rises and falls via montage sequences that fill in all the gaps, making it less compelling than the years where Simmons captured things firsthand.

After watching Yeezy’s many antics, meltdowns and late embrace of Jesus as his savior, it’s hard to say what exactly drove him over the edge at some point, and the directors seems to grapple with this conundrum. The sudden death in 2007 of Donda, who was a major pillar in her son’s life, feels like one likely reason. Another may be the vast quantities of self-confidence and creative chutzpah he needed to keep taking his career further and higher: Not unlike the mythic phoenix, Kanye seems to be constantly engulfed by his own flames, only to be reborn over and over again.

This is certainly not the first time that’s happened in the history of music or art, and geniuses like Mozart or Michelangelo — men whom Ye has certainly compared himself to — hit plenty of highs and lows in their creative and private lives. The difference is there wasn’t someone around to record it all, and in that sense jeen-yuhs takes its place next to other recent bio-docs, such as Asif Kapadia’s Amy, that track an artist’s every move as they reach untold heights and then inevitably fall from grace.

Surely, not everyone will want to spend four and a half hours riding Ye’s rollercoaster, and if you don’t care about his musical acumen, which is on ample display here, then you probably shouldn’t tune in. But for hip-hop heads there’s a lot to embrace — the scene where West and Mos Def perform an impromptu duet is another high point — provided you’re willing to deal with all the ego-tripping.

It’s perhaps best to heed what Yeezy says early on in the film about one of his many ideas, in what feels like a fleeting moment of self-awareness: “It’s a little narcissistic or whatever, but fuck it.”

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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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