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Review: THE MIDDLE MAN, Tiny Universe, Personal Effects

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Review: THE MIDDLE MAN, Tiny Universe, Personal Effects

The small midwestern town of Karmack is dying.

 

Figuratively, as its principal industry, a rail-yard, has been lost to the vagaries of globalization. Also, quite literally, as there has been a lengthy string of fatal accidents that prompts the town council to hire a ‘Middle Man’ to handle the communications aspects to the bereaved families.

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The two candidates for the job consist of Bob, the town’s belligerent drinker (also the ex-boyfriend of the municipal secretary), or Frank, the quiet ex-railroad worker who still lives with his mother at 30. Frank, who has the tall skinny frame of an undertaker and a wisp of leading-man good looks, is the clear choice to deliver bad news to his neighbours.

 

This morbidly humorous scenario comes from the mind and direction of deeply underrated filmmaker Bent Hamer, who has a penchant for quirkily essaying weird jobs as a form soul searching and expression of human universality. His previous film, 1001 Grams, was a droll relationship drama that followed the travails and romance of the woman in charge of having the calibration of Norway’s ‘national kilogram’ verified at a conference in Paris. It was a film of witty visual detail that elicited a constant string of sly smiles from yours truly. Hamer has not made a film for almost a decade.

 

The Middle Man is a curious Norwegian-Canadian-German co-production that builds an American Rustbelt town, whole cloth, using Canada’s northern blue collar town of Sault Ste. Marie, as well as several Northern European locations along with a commensurate collection of actors to play the townspeople in various shades of curious subtlety.  

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The town council consists of: the pastor, played by Denmark’s Nicolas Bro; the doctor, Canada’s Don McKellar in age-make-up and mannered body language; and the gruff, but resigned, sheriff, a silver-fox, deadpan Paul Gross. The film has a visual field-day in how it frames and stages the town elders’ training, and chaperoning of Frank, played soulfully, but vaguely sinister, by Norway’s Pål Sverre Hagen (Kon Tiki). Maybe it is the tightly cropped moustache.

 

Aksel Hennie makes an appearance as the crime-scene cleaner and entrepreneur. Canuck mainstay, Kenneth Welsh, gives a surprisingly emotional performance as a grieving father. Nina Andresen Borud makes an impression as Frank’s chary, suspicious mother. There are enough top-shelf character actors in The Middle Man to give a season of Deadwood a run for its money.

 

Perhaps my favourite detail, in a film that thrives on detail as much as it does on plot, is the rundown local cinema. It has been shuttered for some time, but lacking enough marquee letters to announce its closure, an upside down number 5 was substituted for the letter S in word “Closed.”

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No two people’s grief is the same, but the film aims to highlight some similarities in the mourning process. The town itself is a pictorial realization of this. Abandoned pleasure-boats float aimlessly in the harbour, as past residents did not want to finish the payment, lost reminders of the former middle-class affluence of places like Karmack.

 

The town’s damp asphalt is more filled-cracks than functional roadway. And the principle home decor seems to consist of wood panelling and that kind of robins-egg blue colour popular in the 1950s. It was not until a character pulled out an iPhone more than half way through the picture that I realized this film was not set in the late Reagan period of which Franks Chevrolet Caprice belongs.

 

“There is stuff to do, even when there is nothing to do,” Frank laments about his new job, as he starts delivering bad news, in fits and starts, to the town folk. He begins to court Blenda, his secretary (Tuva Novotny, charming) alienating her ex-boyfriend who did not get the middle man job. Frank and Blenda begin to deal with the various conflicts of interest that this new position, and their tryst, draws like moths to a flame.

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What I adore about The Middle Man is the tiny universe that Hamer has crafted in such an efficient span of runtime, a tangled web of unspoken issues in a town where everyone is connected in some way to everyone else. Void of the political anger that has manifested, recently, in the ‘opportunity vacuums’ of the working class towns of America, Hamer is far more interested in the personal effects of dealing with a constant trickle of bad news – the point in ‘history’ where it transform from tragedy to farce.

 

His best, or perhaps cruellest, observation might just be that there is no reason, only chaos. And everyone is their own unmoored boat.

 

Review originally published during the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2021. The film opens May 27 in select Canadian theaters via LevelFilm. Visit their official site for locations and more information.

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The Middle Man

Writer(s)
  • Lars Saabye Christensen
  • Bent Hamer
Cast
  • Don McKellar
  • Kenneth Welsh
  • Nina Andresen Borud

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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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