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Review: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, Faithful Adaptation Never Quite Soars

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Review: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, Faithful Adaptation Never Quite Soars

It’s rare for a first-time novelist to score an immediate bestseller. It’s even more rare when that same first-time novelist outpaces comparable writers in terms of sales. And it’s all the rarer when a publisher takes a chance on a first-time novelist in their late sixties.

It helped that Delia Owens, a writer whose first novel, Where the Crawdads Sing, broke publishing records, had already published a well-received, if controversial, 1986 memoir, Cry of the Kalahari. Owens’ memoir covered her life as a naturalist, zoologist, and elephant-centered conservationist with her then husband, Mark, in Africa during the 1970s. The still unresolved death of an alleged poacher in 1996 at a Zambian nature preserve while Delia, Mark, and her stepson were present, however, led to their eventual expulsion and permanent persona non grata status.

Competently, if often too reverently directed by Olivia Newman (First Match), Where the Crawdads Sing opens with the possibly accidental, possibly intentional death of Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson, Beach Rats), the onetime favored son and ex-high school athlete of Barkley Cove, North Carolina, in 1969 from a literal great height, an abandoned, rusty fire tower. Almost immediately, suspicion falls on Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones, Under the Banner of Heaven, Fresh, Normal People), a twenty-something outcast who’s lived her entire life, most of it alone, in the bordering marshland. Abandoned successively by her mother, siblings, and eventually abusive, alcoholic father, Kya has become mythologized by the small-minded, bigoted, classist locals as the “Marsh Girl.”

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In lyrical, poetic, sometimes redundant voiceover, Kya recounts her life story, from the unwashed, practically feral preteen girl (Jojo Regina), who learns to fend for herself without any help from the nearby community of Barkley Cove, with the exception of a kindly, generous African-American couple, Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer Jr.) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt), who own a waterside shop. Kya not only finds the occasional kind word from Jumpin’ and Mabel, but also barters mussels she gathers from the local marshland for the supplies she needs, including clothes, to survive on her own in the house left to her by default.

On its own, the central premise practically begs credulity, stretching logic well past the breaking point, and all but demanding audience goers simply suspend any questions about Kya’s survival out the proverbial window. (That general objection, however, obviously didn’t negatively impact the novel’s commercial success.)

Closely following the source material, Kya not only survives in the marsh, she positively thrives in it, inheriting her mother’s artistic impulse, and learning to draw and color on her own. Kya naturally focuses on the unique wildlife that surrounds her on a daily basis, but without any kind of education, Kya seems doomed to a lifetime of poverty and isolation.

That is until, of course, the first of two men enter Kya’s life, first Tate Walker (Taylor John Smith), a local and former friend of Kya’s older brother, Jodie, and later the aforementioned Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). From Tate, Kya learns how to read and write.

Eventually, she also learns the highs and lows of first love as Tate, pulled by the possibilities inherent in the outside world, leaves Kya behind for university life. (To be fair, Tate tries to convince Kya to leave the marsh, but she refuses.) With her heart broken, Kya accepts Chase’s openly romantic attentions on the rebound, eventually learning that men can be as self-interested and predatory as the wildlife she’s devoted her life to studying up close and personal.

Where the Crawdads Sings leaps and shifts, sometimes clumsily, sometimes awkwardly, from Chase’s ignominious death, Kya’s subsequent arrest, detention, and trial, and a travelogue of sorts across Kya’s life from the 1950s through the 1960s and in an extended epilogue, well beyond. As in Owens’ novel, Kya’s lawyer, Tom Milton (David Strathairn), turns her prosecution into an indictment of the town’s decades-long mistreatment and ostracism of Kya, though the trial itself, filled with revelations meant to shock or surprise the audiences on both sides of the screen, tend toward the non-shocking and the non-surprising, rushed through with a minimum of thoughtfulness to get to the next expository flashback.

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Pace Owens, Newman repeatedly underlines the lack of physical evidence against Kya and the town’s collectively willingness to convict Kya due to her outsider status and Chase’s insider one. Between Kya’s unwilling membership in Barkley Cove’s lowest possible class (i.e.. not dirt-poor, but marsh-poor) and her gender, given the less enlightened era of 1950s and 1960s North Carolina, the odds seem stacked against the preternaturally brilliant, sensitive Kya. Not even her artistic talent or what it could bring the town in terms of tourism and cash are enough to reverse the town’s inflexible perception of Kya as somehow less than.

The only two non-white characters, Jumpin’ and Mabel, exist primarily to serve Kya’s story. They might see some affinity in Kya’s position and theirs. They might sympathize and empathize with Kya’s precarious outsider status, but ultimately, they remain one-dimensional cut-outs, brought to life less by Newman and screenwriter Lucy Alibar’s (Beasts of the Southern Wild) lackluster efforts than Sterling Macer Jr. and Michael Hyatt’s individual and collective performances, respectively.

The turbulence of the Civil Rights Era is nowhere to be found in Barkley Cove or in Kya’s story. When it’s acknowledged at all, racism takes the form of the occasional insult or putdown, usually by Chase and his willfully ignorant, privileged friends.

Ultimately, of course, Where the Crawdads Sing remains Kya’s story of growth, adaptation, and eventually, acceptance. It’s a story structured to hit the novel’s major dramatic and emotional beats, but all too often at the cost of subtlety or nuance.

Where the Crawdads Sing feels like there’s both too much story and not enough story to keep audiences fully engaged, suggesting perhaps that an adaptation of Owens novel would have been better suited to a streaming series than a theatrical release and a limited running time.

Where the Crawdads Sings opens in movie theaters in wide release on Friday, July 15.

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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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