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‘Sirens’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Sirens’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

More people need to watch Nida Manzoor’s Peacock comedy We Are Lady Parts so that it’s entirely clear that when I say that Rita Baghdadi’s Sundance documentary Sirens is basically a nonfiction version of We Are Lady Parts, it’s very high praise.

It means that Sirens is a likable crowdpleaser about the intersection of gender, sexuality and aggressively loud music in a culture that isn’t always open to deviations from the norm. And if my major complaint about We Are Lady Parts was that it was too short at only six half-hour episodes, I have similar reservations about Sirens, which runs only 78 minutes and feels a bit abrupt and choppy in places. But it’s a complaint born more of enjoyment than anything else.

Sirens

The Bottom Line

Too short and choppy, but utterly charming nonetheless.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Documentary Competition)

Director: Rita Baghdadi

 


1 hour and 18 minutes

Baghdadi’s film, in competition at Sundance, is set primarily in and around Beirut and centers on Lilas and Shery, co-founders and guitarists for the thrash metal band Slave to Sirens. Lilas and Shery have a fruitful creative partnership, but a volatile friendship complicated by a previous romance. The uniqueness of Slave to Sirens’ in-your-face style in a country with shifting views of in-your-face women has earned them some press attention and even an appearance at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK. Will Slave to Sirens be able to break out before they break up?

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All of this, of course, is set against the backdrop of a country in ongoing political and societal flux. Lilas and Shery met at a protest and at least one of their regular fights takes place as youths march in the street behind them. Plus, Baghdadi was filming in 2020 and the aftermath of the Port of Beirut explosion is woven into the second half of the documentary.

Oddly, COVID-19 isn’t mentioned at all — some people in the background of some shots are wearing masks, but… they might have been doing so anyway — and it would be my hunch that the pandemic was directly responsible for some of the gaps in Baghdadi’s filming and in the ebb and flow of the band’s journey. But I’m only surmising this based on contextual detective work — the lack of a Glastonbury Festival in 2020 and 2021 and then the Beirut explosion in Fall 2020 — rather than a textual explanation.

As it stands, Sirens is trying to be both a fairly linear and formally conventional documentary — zero criticism there — in which you may frequently find yourself asking, “But what about…” or “What happened to…” or “How did we get to…” questions before an ending that comes across more like a surrender than a conclusion.

These things mostly bothered me because Sirens is so generally entertaining and interesting.

Lilas, who lives with her mother and younger brother and teaches music by day (or did until it stops being mentioned, again possibly because of COVID), is intense and funny and talented. At some point, she has a new girlfriend, who has a not-coincidental resemblance to Shery.

Shery is less open about her personal and professional life, but she’s clearly a dynamite musician, and the scenes with the entire band together are a blast. In concert, they unapologetically rock, and the Glastonbury sequence, while brief, is a standout. And when the band is just casually noodling and working on songs together, there’s some of that same inventive energy that folks dug in Peter Jackson’s recent Beatles documentary.

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The documentary’s focus is more on the universal than the unique, which is probably progressive in its own way. Lebanon is a secular, Muslim-majority country, but religion is never really discussed in the documentary. It’s a country that’s more open to LGBTQ rights than many in the region — “Homophobia is a Crime” scrawled in graffiti is one of the first images in the documentary — which doesn’t mean that there aren’t laws that could make life difficult for our characters, though that’s referenced to a minimum.

Lilas and Shery both speak nearly flawless English and switch fluidly between that and Arabic. The goal, for both the documentary and for Slave to Sirens, is accessibility, offering a perspective that’s wildly different from what TV and movies produced in the West tend to depict when it comes to Lebanon.

Baghdadi, who serves as her own cinematographer, seeks out the beauty around Beirut, filming in the hills and among the not-proverbial cedars of Lebanon, capturing conversations that just happen to take place on the beach as the sun is hitting the Mediterranean just right. The city’s unique architecture is accentuated even when pillars of menacing smoke are rising in the background.

Sirens has the feeling of a festival audience favorite and, with big-name executive producers including Natasha Lyonne, Maya Rudolph and former Netflix bigwig Cindy Holland, it has the feeling of a movie that could get some real visibility. And it deserves to. Wanting more is a criticism, but it’s a luxury criticism. This documentary builds a world you want to explore further.

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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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