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Woody Allen’s ‘Rifkin’s Festival’: Film Review

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Woody Allen’s ‘Rifkin’s Festival’: Film Review

Easing his way back into U.S. theatres after a two-year hiatus and an explosively accusatory four-part documentary, Allen v. Farrow, that aired on HBO in 2021, Woody Allen returns with Rifkin’s Festival, an airy, lazy, though rather likeable overseas rom-com served with a dose of melancholia and several large portions of cinematic nostalgia.

Shot in picturesque San Sebastián and based around the city’s annual international film festival, Rifkin rehashes bits of earlier Allen efforts, including the artist character from Vicky Cristina Barcelona — does he think all Spanish men are strapping, sexed-up figurative painters? — while revisiting some of his favorite movies in a new light.

Rifkin’s Festival

The Bottom Line

A woeful ode to lost love and lost movies that has its charms.

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Release date: Friday, Jan. 28
Cast: Wallace Shawn, Gina Gershon, Christoph Waltz, Louis Garrel, Elena Anaya, Sergi López,
Director, screenwriter: Woody Allen


Rated PG-13,
1 hour 32 minutes

The result seems to be primarily aimed at the director’s own age group — a demographic that hasn’t exactly been leading the box office charge these days and that could render this release from MPI Media Group (who briefly put out A Rainy Day in New York in 2020) DOA at home. Outside of the U.S., it’s already grossed close to $2 million.

Allen regular Wallace Shawn (Manhattan) stars as Mort Rifkin, “a walking smorgasbord of neurosis,” as someone describes him, who’s arrived for a week in the beautiful seaside Basque city to accompany his publicist wife, Sue (Gina Gershon), on a press tour for a new film directed by hotshot French cineaste Philippe (Louis Garrel).

“Why are we here?” is the big question Mort throws out from the very start, voicing his predicament as a piece of battered old baggage that Sue brought along for the trip and would very much like to swap out for the hunky and pretentious Philippe. But it’s also a larger existential question he believes every great movie should be asking us as well.

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Rifkin’s Festival deserves points for at least attempting to ponder such things, and it does so in a way so wistful and universally dissatisfied that’s it’s almost touching: Instead of making a great film himself, Allen has created his own festival of film favorites (Citizen Kane, 8 ½, Jules and Jim, The Seventh Seal), restaging and reshooting them as parodies in which Mort’s life and marital woes play out in pristine black-and-white clips.

Beyond serving as a guessing game for movie buffs, the scenes offer up a few easy laughs. A Fellini spoof filled with kvetching New Yorkers is fun, as is a riff on Breathless where Shawn and Gershon discuss their ideal threesome partners (Mort mentions his sister-in-law). But they’re mostly tired pieces of cinema lore that make one yearn for the works themselves, or else for some of Woody Allen’s own movies (Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors) that belong in the canon, if they’re still allowed to be in there.

Even more tired is the budding relationship between Mort and local cardiologist Jo (Elena Anaya, Sex and Lucia), which kicks off when Mort has a bout of hypochondria and falls head over heals for the significantly younger, easy-on-the-eyes doctor. The hitch is that Jo is caught in a rocky open marriage with the painter Paco (Sergi López) and only wants to use Mort as a sounding board to complain about her own sad life, leaving him little hope of finding new love.

There’s a weary, forlorn ambiance that pervades most of Rifkin’s Festival, which, even with its gorgeous setting — the film tours through lots of great San Sebastián sites, but sadly never ventures into one of its excellent pintxos bars — and its semblance of a romantic comedy scenario, makes this one of Woody’s more dour recent efforts.

Shawn walks around with a perpetual hangdog expression (someone refers to Mort as a Grinch, though he’s sort of a cross between that and the Lorax), and, perhaps more than any previous actor, he seems like the perfect surrogate for Allen himself. It’s to the film’s credit that it never gives Mort a faux happy ending, such as the one Owen Wilson got in Midnight in Paris, leaving him to more or less wallow in his misery until the last scene.

The rest of the cast — ostensibly all actors willing to work with Allen even after Dylan Farrow’s allegations of sexual abuse — keep things light and silly, with kudos to Garrel for being convincingly ridiculous as a self-serious auteur who, as Sue mentions, “happens to be a fabulous bongo player.” The short scene where he lets it rip in a jazz club is one of the movie’s funniest, while a few good lines early on garner chuckles.

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But despite some decent zingers and lots of eye-candy, the overall tone of Rifkin’s Festival is bleak indeed — except, that is, for its constant praise of all the great movies gone by. Mort is a failed writer who once had a much better career as a film teacher, and one can’t help but think this is meant to be a form of self-flagellation on Allen’s part, wallowing in the fact that he’ll never be as brilliant as his idols Bergman or Fellini.

The fact that Mort dismisses the lauded Philippe as a “bullshit movie director” and scoffs at the whole festival program — the only screening he attends is for a revival of Breathless — is telling, especially when you consider that Rifkin’s Festival had its world premiere in San Sebastián last year. It’s as if Woody Allen has gotten to the point where he keeps on making movies while knowing full well they’ll never be the ones he loves.

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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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