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Thandiwe Newton in ‘God’s Country’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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Thandiwe Newton in ‘God’s Country’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

A solitary woman’s grief lures us into God’s Country, Julian Higgins’ slow-burn drama. Crisp, steady shots of snow-powdered mountainous terrain sustain us. And a brash, violent feud traps us, making it impossible to look away from this often exhilarating, if occasionally overcooked, film.

Based on mystery writer James Lee Burke’s short story, “Winter Light,” God’s Country follows university professor Sandra Guidry (an arresting Thandiwe Newton) navigating the rocky, unpredictable landscape of mourning. Death haunts the film’s opening sequences, as a solemn Sandra oversees her mother’s cremation and later buries the ashes. Upon returning home from the makeshift funeral, she spots an unfamiliar red pick-up truck in her driveway. Annoyed, she leaves a note for the trespassers: This is private property, and they need to find another parking spot. The next day, she sees the truck again and finds her crumpled note buried in the snow.

God’s Country

The Bottom Line

A tense drama that shines in its quieter moments.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Cast: Thandiwe Newton, Jeremy Bobb, Joris Jarsky, Jefferson White, Kai Lennox, Tanaya Beatty
Director: Julian Higgins
Screenwriters: Shaye Ogbonna, Julian Higgins


1 hour 42 minutes

So begins a quiet and vicious week-long feud between Sandra and these strangers. As in Burke’s short story, the conflict is a war of attrition, with each party’s move escalating the stakes of the dispute. On day 2, Sandra confronts the two men, Nathan (a riveting Joris Jarsky) and Samuel (Yellowstone’s Jefferson White), who feign ignorance about her note. They came to hunt, and cutting through her property offers the easiest route to the forest. Sandra, polite and firm, urges them to find another way.

After Nathan and Samuel shoot an arrow into Sandra’s door in retaliation for her towing their car, she calls the police — or, in this case, Gus Wolf (Jeremy Bobb), the acting local sheriff. He sympathetically listens to her case before suggesting that she handle the dispute with the men herself. The particular politics of this rural town, composed of white and Indigenous people — many of whom hate the police — make the sheriff as much of an outsider as Sandra. But the professor insists they act, so the duo drive to confront the hunters, initiating the next level of their war.

Higgins and Shaye Ogbonna’s screenplay amplifies the thematic undercurrents of “Winter Lights” by making its central character a New Orleans-born middle-aged Black woman. While the short story’s narrative wrestled with its retired college professor protagonist’s masculinity, the film ambitiously injects racial, gender and geographical tensions into the mix, to uneven, but nonetheless exciting effect.

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Sandra sees the hunters’ provocations as an extension of a familiar transgression — the world’s disrespect for Black women — and has no problem taking matters into her own hands. Newton renders Sandra’s rage delicately, intimately. A few overacted moments don’t dampen the performance’s general restraint as Sandra relishes one-upping her opponents and grieves her mother, with whom she had a complicated relationship.

It’s disappointing, then, when the screenplay doesn’t always reflect that same level of trust or subtlety. Higgins and Ogbonna stuff the narrative with a well-intentioned but unwieldy backstory that registers as misaligned with the direction of Sandra’s character: She used to be a police officer in New Orleans but left the city after Hurricane Katrina, which made her realize the ease with which the city could abandon its Black residents and the futility of her role in the force. She moved north with her mother, a woman of the church who abhorred cold weather, to take this tenure-track position at a university staffed with mostly white people. Their already fractured relationship barely survived the move.

The purpose, I suppose, is to make Sandra more three-dimensional. But the backstory, revealed all at once, coupled with her sporadically shown fight to diversify her department (much to the chagrin of her colleague Arthur, played by Kai Lennox), makes Sandra seem more like a symbol than a person.

When the writing moves away from these blunter tendencies and settles into peeling back layers of Sandra’s personality and relationship to this town, God’s Country is much more effective. Sandra decides to follow the two men after another day of hunting, learning more about their lives and community. An initially poignant conversation about God with Nathan, whose mother Sandra learns is an organist like hers, abruptly turns sour — a twist that’s revealing of the role race has in guiding their interactions. And Sandra’s burgeoning maternal relationship with her student, Gretchen (Tanaya Beatty), along with a distressing interaction with Samuel, highlight the undercurrent of gender violence coursing through the story more forcefully than any one speech.

Quieter moments mesh beautifully with God’s Country’s lush score by DeAndre James Allen-Toole and cinematography by DP Andrew Wheeler (Small Crimes). The film makes excellent use of Montana’s vast landscape (though the actual setting remains unspecified), which viewers absorb through establishing shots as well as Sandra’s regular runs through the woods, accompanied by her dog. The snowy peaks and canyons overwhelm the senses, their beauty adding a sinister layer to this dangerous game.

As the film moves to the seventh day, a creeping sense of catastrophe settles. Sandra becomes increasingly incensed with the hunters and feels more alone in her fight against them. Although astute viewers may easily predict God’s Country’s final moments, the journey there is still a wild and satisfying one.

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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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