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Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown in ‘Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown in ‘Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

Lee-Curtis Childs and “First Lady” Trinitie Childs, megachurch leaders with matching thrones and a predilection for luxury goods, are delusional in different ways, and to different degrees. As Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul begins, they’re trying to rebuild their congregation after a sexual misconduct scandal emptied the pews. With off-the-charts hubris, he deflects blame, even though he’s responsible. Her tightly wound stand-by-your-man allegiance is unraveling, stitch by stitch. They’re played by Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall, virtuosos of the forced smile and performative laugh. Their portrayals skirt caricature as they navigate widening hairline fractures between the Childses’ self-glorifying theatricality and their glimmers of self-awareness. If only the film around them were as finely tuned.

Expanding upon a 2018 short of the same name, the sibling filmmakers known as the Ebo twins — writer-director-producer Adamma Ebo and producer Adanne Ebo — use a mix of mockumentary and conventional narrative to lampoon the prosperity gospel, à la the Bakkers, but from a distinctly Southern Black perspective. There are suggestions that the helmer isn’t just skewering the idea of a personality-cult money machine, but also grappling with questions about religion as a community’s vital connective tissue, although those questions feel half-formed. As the strutting central duo “favor the Lord” with their mansion and haute couture, the overlong movie often feels all dressed up with nowhere to go, devolving into a repetitive collection of spoofy bits. A handful of sharply written moments stand out, suggesting the satire that might have been.

Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul

The Bottom Line

Two vivid characters in search of a story.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)

Cast: Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Austin Crute, Conphidance, Nicole Beharie

Director-screenwriter: Adamma Ebo


1 hour 42 minutes

Brown’s egomaniac extraordinaire has asked filmmaker Anita (Andrea Laing), unseen but heard from briefly near the movie’s end, to “chronicle the ultimate comeback”: He and Trinitie plan an Easter Sunday reboot of their Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church. All but five of the 25,000 congregants have fled, which has been a, well, godsend for another Baptist church in Atlanta, Heaven’s House, to which many of them defected. Thanks to the influx from the mega-flock, married ministers Shakura and Keon Sumpter (a spot-on Nicole Beharie and Conphidance) are preparing to unveil their new, larger church, aka Heaven’s House 2.0. Their big event is also scheduled for Easter.

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The matter of the dueling reopenings serves as a plot engine of sorts, but the main trajectory of the movie is Trinitie’s awakening, superbly played by Hall but all too obviously telegraphed by the director. While her spouse expects the doc to serve the all-important project of his reputation rehabilitation, First Lady Childs’ misgivings about it are clear from the get-go, diluting the intended zing of the feature’s later stretches. Lee-Curtis’ hypocrisy also comes as no surprise, although a glimpse of the couple’s sex life offers a bolder insight than the clip of him preaching against homosexuality or the phone conversations with the lawyer who’s negotiating settlements with the young men who are the pastor’s accusers.

Writer-director Ebo has an eye for character types, but doesn’t always know what to do with them. An early sequence involving the so-called Devout Five, the worshippers who chose not to wander away from Wander to Greater Paths (they’re played by Robert Yatta, Greta Marable Glenn, Crystal Alicia Garrett, Selah Kimbro Jones and Perris Drew), goes nowhere. The same can be said of a number of the film’s interactions, including Trinitie’s conversation with her mother (Avis-Marie Barnes), however well played. Honk for Jesus could have used more exchanges that contradict, complicate and enhance the characterizations rather than hitting a well-worn groove.

The film’s only true tension arrives when a cellphone-recording observer stands in silent, gum-chewing disdain by the side of the road where the Childses are making a last-ditch effort at drumming up support. Otherwise the final sequences feel more ludicrous and wan than effective. Elsewhere, the movie is most involving when the screenplay lets a grounded strangeness seep in. The way the central duo reach for rat and roach analogies to make their points has a terrific deadpan edge, and Brown puts a fever-pitch spin on the eureka moment when the preacher proclaims that “Jesus was all about the shock factor.” Trinitie’s encounter with former congregant Sister Denetta (a memorable Olivia D. Dawson) is brimming with passive-aggressive chatter, finding just the right degree of over-the-top.

Hall and Brown are a glorious kick to watch, their physicality at times bordering on slapstick. For the most part, she’s tight-lipped and contained. And he’s wordlessly extravagant in expressing Lee-Curtis’ impatience with the whole damn world and his belief that it should be at his disposal, whether he’s flirting with a new acquaintance or trying to shut down an anguished accuser (Austin Crute). A car scene when the couple sing along — with fervor, if not joy — to some homegrown Atlanta hip-hop (Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck”) feels like the movie’s most revealing moment.

Ebo makes effective use of faux TV news clips and especially of a Greek chorus in the form of fictional callers to a Black talk radio show. These voices weigh in on the megachurch scandal, one of their questions being why Trinitie stays with her disgraced husband. Along with the screenplay, Hall’s performance veers between an earnest commitment to the spiritual and social relevance of church (and of church hats, just one facet of Lorraine Coppin’s vibrant costume design) and a bit of Lady Macbeth-style ambition. “Get me back on that stage,” she hisses in an unguarded moment, making clear that this is no less important than her husband’s return to the pulpit.

Ultimately, though, the fate of Trinitie might matter less than that of the Sumpters. Spotlighting the show business aspect of for-profit religion, Ebo may not maintain her satiric edge, but she does leave us to ponder the younger couple’s sincerity, a question with wider implications. Shakura and Keon are mirror images of the Childses — does that mean they’re inescapably headed down a similar road?

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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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