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Review: WATCHER, Slow-Burning Psychological Thriller

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Review: WATCHER, Slow-Burning Psychological Thriller

Almost 70 years after Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window debuted in movie theaters, it remains the ur-text, the template or formula for practically every premise-borrowing film that’s followed in its wake.

Any film, like writer-director Chloe Okuno’s (Slut) feature-length debut, Watcher, can’t escape comparisons to Hitchcock’s masterpiece (to be fair, no film released since has or will), but elevated by a creepily effective performance by long-time character actor Burn Gorman as the title character, Okuno offers enough mood, atmosphere, and subtext to match the usual twists, turns, and switchbacks to make the Bucharest-set Watcher a modestly rewarding viewing experience for enthusiasts of methodical, slow-burning psychological-thrillers.

When we first meet Julia (Maika Monroe, Independence Day: Resurgence, It Follows), an American ex-pat who has joined her partner, Francis (Karl Glusman), in Bucharest to help advance his professional career, she’s riding along in a cab while the male driver makes unwanted comments about her physical appearance.

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It’s the first, but not the last time, Julia will encounter the unwanted attention of or attention from men in Bucharest. While the half-Romanian Francis weakly jumps to her defense, he deliberately sidesteps any confrontation with the driver, a sign of Francis’s conflict-avoiding, get-along-to-go-along personality that ultimately threatens the long-term health and security of his relationship with Julia.

Leaning heavily into Julia’s unfolding experience as a typical ‘stranger in a strange land,’ made all the stranger because Julia doesn’t speak Romanian beyond a handful of words, Okuno explores Julia’s increasing malaise and growing despondency via the latter’s loosely structured daily sojourns into a semi-desolate Bucharest (Okuno shot Watcher on location during the pandemic).

Without any kind of plan for her days, Julia wanders around and through Bucharest, ever mindful of her isolation as a mono-lingual American in a foreign country, only returning in the early evenings to welcome Francis home after a busy, if ill-defined, day at his new job. All but ignoring Julia and her needs and feelings, Francis complains vaguely about a difficult, demanding new boss. Not surprisingly, Julia in turn feigns interest.

All that free, unstructured time means Julia can engage any train of thought, any fantasy, regardless of its connection to reality, when she’s not with Francis in their apartment, hosting get-togethers for his co-workers, or functioning as a well-dressed prop at a company event. The first hint of existential dread enters Julia’s life though a silhouetted figure, the “watcher” of the title, she repeatedly spots from her window.

Unmoving and shrouded in darkness, the presence of the figure offers the first real hint not just of a potential danger in Julia’s life, but that viewers have entered different genre territory. Eventually, the watcher stops watching and Julia begins encountering him in seemingly innocuous locations, from a movie theater playing Stanley Donen’s Charade to a local supermarket where he appears around every corner.  

Character-wise, Francis represents the kind of well-meaning, earnest man almost pathologically obsessed with observing social niceties and norms, regardless if observing those niceties or norms mean ignoring potential danger. With Francis all but useless, Julia naturally turns to an English-speaking neighbor, Irina (Madalina Anea), for comfort and eventually assistance.

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Julia encounters repeated resistance and/or gaslighting from the men around her just as the watcher hovers at the edges of her life. Unsurprisingly, sensationalistic news reports of a serial killer stalking and murdering women in and around Bucharest don’t help Julia’s increasingly unstable state-of-mind.

Watcher certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of ideas, including Julia’s isolation, dislocation, and alienation as stands-in for a cautionary tale about women moving through a hostile, predatory, male-run world. Julia’s senses, raised to heightened situational awareness, function as a not particularly subtle metaphor for the real world.

Those concerns, of course, eventually fall away as Watcher embraces its long-delayed thriller promise in the final moments. There, at least, Okuno delivers a modicum of thrills, chills, and even a dollop of blood-stained gore. For some viewers with slightly higher horror-related expectations, though, that may be too little too late.  

Review previously published during the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020. An IFC Midnight release, the film opens exclusively in U.S. movie theaters Friday, June 3.

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Watcher

Cast
  • Maika Monroe
  • Karl Glusman
  • Burn Gorman

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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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