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‘Summering’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘Summering’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

At a glance, there doesn’t seem to be any reason Summering shouldn’t work. The coming-of-age drama boasts a sensitive director in James Ponsoldt (The Spectacular Now, The End of the Tour), and a likable (if not terribly high-profile) cast including Megan Mullally and Lake Bell. Its premise is essentially an updated spin on Stand By Me, touching on timeless themes about friendship and growing up. But alas, its potential for magic is dulled by uneven performances, unconvincing chemistry and an uninspiring script. Summering ends up a movie that’s easier to appreciate for what it’s trying to do than love for what it’s actually doing.

The film opens with what appears to be a classic slasher scenario — trembling bodies in a bathtub, an ominous shadow lunging from behind the shower curtain — only to reveal itself as an elaborate game of make-believe, played by four 11-year-old girls relishing the last golden weekend of summer before the first day of middle school.

Summering

The Bottom Line

A shallower spin on the ‘Stand By Me’ template.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Kids)
Cast: Lia Barnett, Lake Bell, Sarah Cooper, Ashley Madekwe, Madalen Mills, Megan Mullally, Eden Grace Redfield, Sanai Victoria
Director: James Ponsoldt
Screenwriters: James Ponsoldt and Benjamin Percy


1 hour 27 minutes

But their elaborate performances of fear turn out to be a precursor for a more grounded expression of the real thing. First, the girls discover a dead body, and set out to solve the mystery of who the man was and how he got there by traipsing all over town in search of clues. Along the way, they let slip the deeper, truer anxieties weighing on their young hearts.

Daisy (Lia Barnett) grieves the father who recently disappeared, but can barely bring herself to acknowledge that her mother (Bell) probably knows more about his whereabouts than she lets on. Mari (Eden Grace Redfield) frets about transferring to Catholic school, away from the friends she’s known all her life. Spiritual Lola (Sanai Victoria) and pragmatic Dina (Madalen Mills) seem to be growing apart, because ot their contradictory outlooks on life. And all four are generally wary about the future, trying to brace for what’s coming without knowing exactly what to expect.

While not a fantasy per se — consider its explicit references to Bridge to Terabithia and We Have Always Lived in the Castle a tipoff as to the film’s balance between fanciful and realistic — Summering sporadically employs dreamlike flourishes to capture both the idyll and the dread of the girls’ last summer weekend. A shot of the girls’ shoes makes them appear to be flying. A mural of a tree sheds its leaves before our eyes. Apparitions peer at the kids through windows. (Parents be warned there are a few brief but effective jump scares, and at least one rather grotesque shot of a ghostly face.)

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But it’s at its best capturing the more ordinary joys of late childhood, like the meandering conversations about nothing that unspool between friends rich in time, imagination and shared history. The bond between the four girls is never more winning than when they’re just wandering around at the start of the movie, idly wondering if they should change their names (suggestions include Switchblade, Medusa and Tangerine — all incredible ideas, frankly) or debating the merits and faults of school uniform skirts.

The problem is that as the plot picks up, the screenplay by Ponsoldt and Benjamin Percy sputters. The relaxed camaraderie between the girls stiffens as the dialogue alternates between advancing the narrative and announcing its themes. “In case you haven’t noticed, growing up isn’t great,” one declares to the others midway through, as if worried the viewers have yet to understand that the girls are reluctant to leave childhood behind. (Their moms don’t get much better; not even the likes of Bell, Mullally, Sarah Cooper or Ashley Madekwe can sells lines as plain and blunt as “We were like them once.”)

By the end of the film, what struck me most about the characters was how little I still knew about them. A line of dialogue firmly establishes Dina’s role in the clique (“If you look at your friend group and there’s no mean girl, the mean girl is probably you,” her sister teases), but Dina is given few opportunities to show us how she found herself in that position, or how she feels about it. The same goes for Mari, the kid so uptight her own mother (Mullally) laughs that she’s kind of a prude; and Lola, a hippy-dippy type with an even hippy-dippier mother (Cooper). Even Daisy, who gets the meatiest arc by far, feels defined more by the challenges of her home life than some innate sense of personality.

At just 87 minutes, Summering is a wisp of a movie — appropriate, maybe, for a story about how quickly time flies, whether or not you’re prepared to confront your future. What makes it feel slight, however, is not its brevity but its shallowness. The gap between childhood daydreams and grown-up truths can be a fruitful one, yielding wonder and heartbreak and terror all at once. Summering roots around and comes up with thin archetypes and underdeveloped storylines. Turns out its characters aren’t the only ones who could do with a bit more grown-up wisdom.

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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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