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‘The Exiles’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

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‘The Exiles’: Film Review | Sundance 2022

In a debut doc that is really the completion of another filmmaker’s work, codirectors Ben Klein and Violet Columbus follow documentarian/NYU professor Christine Choy to reboot a project she started right after 1989’s Tiananmen Square massacre: Though she spent time with some key figures from that event once they arrived in New York City, and got a good look at the price they were paying for their beliefs, she soon put that footage on the shelf and moved on to other work. Though a mixed bag as a piece of storytelling, the film’s greatest value for American viewers in 2022 is the truth it conveys to those hoping to preserve (or, let’s dare to dream, improve) a democracy facing immediate and very grave threats: Right now is the time to do everything you can think of. Once it’s gone, those hoping to rebuild American democracy may well lose their lives, literally or figuratively.

The film starts problematically, by seeming to suggest its main focus will be on Choy herself, who is called a “loudmouth” “diva” who is “very confrontational” even by her admirers. Asked to describe herself, she says “fuck you.” Todd Phillips, who survived making films about frat boys and punk-rock filthmongers (and who met Choy as a student), looks almost cowed in her presence. However amusing some may find her posturing, her personality has little to do with the lives of the three activists the movie is named for. Happily, it gradually begins to focus more intently on them.

The Exiles

The Bottom Line

An uneven but timely look at the cost of political principles.

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Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Documentary Competition)

Directors: Ben Klein, Violet Columbus


1 hour 36 minutes

Though this would be a poor starting place for youngsters who don’t know the story, Exiles provides a brief look back at June of 1989, when the Chinese government violently attacked peaceful pro-democracy protesters at Tiananmen Square. Even today, it’s impossible to say how many were killed there, because the government claimed nobody died and then set out to scrub the events from public records. On-the-ground footage and firsthand accounts tell a very different story, calling to mind the horrors of more recent protests against Chinese oppression in Hong Kong, captured vividly in docs like Ai Weiwei’s Cockroach.

Some of the most visible members and supporters of that protest movement had to leave China immediately for fear of being imprisoned. Along with a swarm of American journalists, Chow met them in a Battery Park press conference, held outdoors so the Statue of Liberty could stand hopefully in the background.

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As a native speaker of their language (half Chinese and half Korean, she emigrated to the U.S. at 14), Chow was well positioned to get closer to these men than other journalists. She wound up joining them when, shell-shocked from nonstop media attention, they took refuge at a seaside house on Long Island. Footage from that getaway has a home-movie appeal that makes us more conscious of what they’ve given up, even if they hope (wrongly, we know) the sacrifice is temporary.

Soon, we’ll watch that footage through the eyes of the subjects, three decades older and having made homes in Taipei, Maryland and Paris. The film gives chunks of time to three in particular: Wu’er Kaixi, a student who made a photogenic representative of the most youthful activists; Yan Jiaqi, a political scientist who had at one time been a government advisor; and odd man out Wan Runnan, a capitalist who founded the largest private company China had seen at that point. Throwing his weight behind protesters in ’89, Runnan urged reporters not to confuse that eruption of activism with earlier movements. This was nothing like them, he said, declaring confidently that it was “sure to succeed.”

He was wrong, of course. The film sees what has become of each man before traveling to a 30th anniversary event in Washington. There, American lawmakers celebrate activists’ bravery, but few can admit the extent to which, as Wu’er Kaixi bluntly puts it, “you betrayed us.” For three decades, American presidents and corporations have walked on eggshells with Beijing, terrified of not being able to use China to make money. The Exiles shows how much its subjects gave up and how little they won. Americans who hope to still have a democracy 20, 10, or even two years from now should take note.

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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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