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Review: EMILY THE CRIMINAL, Smooth Operator Begins Spiraling

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Review: EMILY THE CRIMINAL, Smooth Operator Begins Spiraling

More than a decade after becoming a regular onscreen presence on both TV and film, Aubrey Plaza somehow remains one of the most underestimated, underappreciated performers of her generation, the likely result of Plaza’s determined focus on character-driven, challenging indie roles as opposed to big-budget Hollywood blockbusters (of the spandexed or cape-and-cowl variety).

In role (Safety Not Guaranteed) after role (Ingrid Goes West), from conventional network TV (Parks & Recreation) to the outer reaches of cable (Legion), Plaza has been positively fearless, delivering boundary-pushing and career redefining performances, some odd, some bizarre, all not just watchable, but memorable as well.

In writer-director John Patton Ford’s feature-length debut, Emily the Criminal, Plaza plays the title role, an LA-based, marginalized ex-art student without personal or professional prospects who is repeatedly faced with no-good, terrible, bad choices (some less no-good, terrible, and bad than others) that turn the film’s title into a prediction rather than an observation. More than 10 years out of college, Emily faces a seemingly unpayable mountain of student debt ($70K), a day job at a restaurant without a future, and an obvious lack of friends or acquintances.

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Only an upwardly mobile high-school/college friend, Lucy (Megalyn Echikunwoke), seems to care about Emily’s well-being. Even there, though, it’s primarily out of a sense of obligation and loyalty rather than genuine, guilt-free friendship.

Everything changes for Emily when one of her co-workers, Javier (Bernardo Badillo), clues her into “dummy shopping,” purchasing goods, usually high-end electronics, from big-box stores with stolen credit card information and reselling them to eager buyers at too-good-to-be-true discounts, keeping a cut of the proceeds in exchange for participating in the scam.

It’s a not-uncommon scam, but Emily, less by intent than desperation, becomes all but addicted to the low-risk, low-reward scam. It doesn’t hurt that one the operators of the credit card scam, the Lebanon-born Youcef (Theo Rossi, Sons of Anarchy), takes an immediate liking to Emily, becoming her mentor in criminal matters and later, a potential romantic partner. Outside of Youcef’s potentially duplicitous partner/cousin, Khalil (Jonathan Avigdori), Ford keeps the uglier side of the criminal underworld, including the usual assortment of thugs, hangers-on, and brutal crime bosses, offscreen.

Ford follows the general thesis that criminals are made, not born, and in Emily, she’s “made” by an increasingly dire, constricting set of circumstances, up to and including capitalistic exploitation (student lands, the low-paying, benefits-free restaurant gig,  non-paying internships) and a pre-film criminal record (DUI, assault) that counters every non-criminal attempt Emily makes to improve her life personally and financially.

Maybe that’s an easy, simplistic, reductive answer to the complexities of the real world, but Ford avoids didacticism or sermonizing, letting Emily herself and Emily’s story dictate what’s said, what’s done, and when. It’s clear, however, that Ford sympathizes with Emily and expects the audience to sympathize with her. That we do is a function both of Ford’s taut, thriller-oriented script and Plaza’s typically enthralling performance as the downwardly spiraling Emily. 

Every decision logically follows the other, each time taking Emily further and further into criminality. By the final, self-serving moments, Emily should be entirely unsympathetic, but given the journey Ford has taken Emily and the audience on, she’s the opposite. 

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Review originally published during the Sundance Film Festival in January 2022. The film opens in theaters Friday, August 12. Visit the official site for more information.

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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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