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Sundance: Amy Poehler on What She Learned About Lucille Ball Directing Doc ‘Lucy and Desi’

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Sundance: Amy Poehler on What She Learned About Lucille Ball Directing Doc ‘Lucy and Desi’

The documentary Lucy and Desi chronicles the rise of comedy icon Lucille Ball and her relationship with Desi Arnaz. The film, which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 22 before heading to Amazon on March 4, also marks Amy Poehler’s first foray into the documentary directing space.

Poehler has directed features before, including Netflix’s Wine Country, as well as episodes of her TV show Parks and Recreation. But when speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, the actress-writer-producer-director says she’s always had respect for the documentary as a separate art form. Digging into the life and relationship of Ball and Arnaz proved to be the perfect segue way into that space.

Lucy and Desi features never-before-seen footage and photos, as well as first-person narratives from Ball and Arnaz themselves. Additionally, Poehler interviews many who knew the duo and those who were impacted by them: their daughter Lucie Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr., Carol Burnett, Bette Midler and Norman Lear. And there’s still a treasure trove of material about Ball and Arnaz, I Love Lucy, and their relationships with costars and mentors that Poehler discovered. Some much so, Poehler says, that she even explored doing a docuseries instead of a feature. But with Lucy and Desi, Poehler ultimately wanted to focus on “one relationship and how it transformed through time.”

The director talks to THR about some challenges she faced while directing the doc about the power couple and the most surprising thing she learned about Ball and Arnaz.

What made you want to do a documentary about Lucy and Desi? Were you a fan of the show?

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Imagine Entertainment approached me with the idea. I’m such a fan of Ron Howard and his work. He’s a huge inspiration to me. I think at the beginning of this project, I represented a lot of people. I knew a good amount about Lucy and Desi but it was really just the tip of the iceberg. Of course, I always was incredibly impressed by their talent and their innovation. I don’t think I really understood what they were like as real flesh and blood people. So it was very, very cool to dig into it.

You’ve directed films before, but this is your documentary directorial debut. Did you look at any documentaries for inspiration?

It’s such a hardy art form. I have such respect for it and reverence for it. It is one of, I think, the most interesting ways to tell a story. So I did and I am influenced certainly by other documentarians and moved by them. But I think that what I really tried to do was remember what I enjoyed the most out of the stuff that I watch about real people in their lives, which is anytime I can feel connected emotionally to the story. If it becomes something that’s about what people did, rather than what people felt, then sometimes I’m not as interested. Even if they climbed Mount Everest, you know? I have to feel something and Desi and Lucy were such big, emotional, incredible feelers. I came at it from that aspect. It is not the history of I Love Lucy, and it is not a list of their accomplishments.

Would you say directing a documentary is different than directing a feature film? 

It’s very busy, you do a ton of preparation. You really go very wide before you get small, and it’s really a completely different animal. In some ways, you have more control than ever, because you’re deciding what’s in and what’s out. But you also don’t have the same amount of control that you do in a scripted film, because you really do have to let the story tell you what it wants to be too.

What would you say is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the couple?

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Why we were so excited to present the film in their words is [because] we got this kind of trove of material where they were speaking about their lives. Not enough is spoken about Desi’s early trauma and the way that he turned that into an incredible success [and] how expensive that was for him, personally. I also was really moved by the way, in Lucy’s later years, she not only continued to work, but she also mentored a lot of young women, especially in comedy. Everything from getting to know exactly what they were dealing with in the television studio system at the time to realizing that Desi brought the conga line to the U.S. You know that dance that your aunts do at your cousin’s wedding? It’s because of Desi.

I didn’t know that Lucy was the last person Desi spoke to, and that they had a phone call. I started tearing up because it makes you think about time wasted, and how short and fleeting life is.

I think that those are [important] themes: what do you want to do with your time? What does a successful relationship look like? I was blown away by the way in which Lucy and Desi adapted their relationship to each other throughout their lives, and remained friends and partners until the end. And it’s so symbolic because here you have this couple that represented safety and security, rupture and repair. That is a thing that we, as Americans, had for the past 60 and 70 years looked for in our television. Then to see that they also worked on that in real life is very cool.

Did you face any challenges in getting someone to participate in the documentary?

Who would I like to have spoken to? Just purely from a production standpoint, I would have loved to have talked to Madelyn Pugh Davis, the writer of I Love Lucy. [And] I really want to talk to Lucy. And even though people are not usually the most reliable narrators [of their own lives], what I found amazing with both Desi and Lucy is their ability to be pretty clear about their wants and intentions of things and their respect and love for each other. And so Lucy’s voice is the voice that I heard a lot and I thought about a lot.

After researching it so heavily, how do you feel about the industry nowadays compared to then?

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I think that sometimes, there’s a disproportionate focus on the way women are different, don’t get along, are fighting and scratching and crawling their way up to some position. In my experience, the talented women that came before me have been incredible resources in which to depend on and to learn from. I would like to think I count myself in this group [and] I also see it among my peers. The women that I know that are my peers are using their currency to promote and amplify young female voices. I see a lot of that happening from the generation above me and the generation below me. And what is interesting about that perspective of being in the middle is that you get to see you’re in this Matrix-style straddle of future and past. I find the support of women in this industry and the mentoring, especially with women in comedy, to be the norm, not the exception.

Lucy and Desi both were outsiders. He was a Cuban immigrant and people didn’t let Cuban men run a lot of things and they certainly didn’t let Latin men play sophisticated men of power on TV. We have a beautiful Cuban playwright Eduardo Machado in the film who speaks to what it was like coming to America as a young child and seeing the character of Ricky on TV— a man who was not a fool, who nobody made fun of his accent, who was in charge, beautifully dressed, and had a wife who adored him. That really meant something, especially when he, like a lot of people in the 50s who came to the country, [were] not speaking the language.

Was there one aspect of the documentary that was more challenging to put together?

They just did so many things. They’re the reason why we have reruns. A lot of I Love Lucy audiences are on other people’s laugh tracks, they created the way that we shoot, they’re like straight-up innovation. It was hard to not explain all of those.

Was there ever any thought for you to make a docuseries instead of making just a documentary film about Lucy and Desi?

It’s so interesting you say that because it just feels like I could stay in this world for a really long time for a couple of reasons. I really respect Lucy and Desi. His work ethic— and this is purely personal— I like being around it because it’s very inspiring. Lucy studied with Buster Keaton, and I was like, I would love to see an entire episode of what it means to work in a physical way with props in comedy. I think one of the things that surprised people is Lucy in real life was not a zany, wacky comedian, cracking jokes. She’s a very serious person who approached her comedy very seriously. She was an actress first, who played things very grounded and real. I would recommend this for all your readers and for people that haven’t seen it, Stagedoor is an amazing film. It’s with Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball, and I was like, “What is the making of this film?” If you are into any process, Get Back, the documentary about the Beatles, is a great example of it and proved that so many people were interested in the process of watching a song being written. So process is really interesting to watch, especially when it’s done by people whose work you really admire.

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Interview edited for length and clarity.

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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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