Split

James McAvoy

Anya Taylor-Joy

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarhalf star

We had just about given up on M. Night Shyamalan. He started strong with The Sixth Sense which, while an imperfect film, had strong performances by Haley Joel Osment, Bruce Willis, and Donnie Wahlberg. I didn’t really like Unbreakable much thinking the twist contrived and implausible, even for a Shyamalan movie. The direction seemed clunky with the family drama scenes almost unbearable to watch despite then collaborator James Newton Howard’s beautiful score. Later it was hit (Signs) or miss (Lady in the Water) until, like director Robert Rodriguez, he entered the “making movies for the kids in my life” phase of his career with the panned The Last Airbender, and After Earth rankling in the memory of the those who didn’t hate the films for being bad but because of the lost chances, the casting choices of Airbender, and not making good enough use of the Smith family in Earth. Suddenly with The Visit, Shyamalan returned to his low-budget roots not exactly reinventing the shaky camera footage genre but giving the audience a few new refreshing scares and a really nice twist for once. If only his child actors were up to the Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin standard as in Signs but low budget is low budget. Now, with Split, M. Night Shyamalan is back and he has talented actors, the cinematographer from It Follows, and even a different composer for the soundtrack. I have to say, it’s a nice fit.

The opening credits themselves are creepy in their bare, generic, presentation. A name is presented and then split into 16, 32 small square copies within the background like some power point effect between slides from the 90’s. The bare bones feel is supported by a percussive score like a slightly upbeat version of Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta which Stanley Kubrick used to great effect in The Shining. This version has the same random crashing of cymbals, anyway. I’m only a casual viewer of movies, but I have to say, the editing in Shyamalan films has gotten better as well as the general direction. Even in his best films, the awkward reactions of characters, the overlong footage of them turning around to notice something on the wall, and then saying there is something on the wall took away from the suspense or the drama of the moments. There was little of that in The Visit (the amateur rapper scenes were a bit awkward), and very little of that here in Split. Editing, direction, and the performances are all smooth. Even the always notorious director cameo goes off without much of a hitch. You can tell it’s a good cameo if you don’t notice him, if he doesn’t stick out in the scene the way he did in The Village despite not even showing his face so much.

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Hacksaw Ridge

Andrew Garfield

Vince Vaughn

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarstar

The problem with most faith-based movies, speaking as a fellow believer, is that they don’t add up to a real experience in the real world. Afraid to offend its narrow target viewers, e.g. frequenters of places of worship, those who don’t use vulgar language, at least on their respective Sabbath, and those who squirm at said bad language, violence, or sex scenes, the filmmakers give a rose-colored depiction of a ever-so-slightly flawed world easily surmounted by simple adherence to faith-based principles. Once detractors easily fall into line at the efforts of the sinless main characters to appeal to their shared humanity, it all usually ends in an “Awww, shucks, you’re right, man” contrived conclusion. Folks who aren’t particularly religious find the whole rose-colored plot implausible and this stokes the flames of their believers=weirdos/idiots idea further. Certain political parties and attempts at “educational” reform further stoke the flames. In 2004, Director Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ and the faithful finally got to see their Savior whipped, beaten, crowned with a thorny crown, staked through hands and feet, and hung up high to suffer a long painful death by asphyxiation and blood loss to be finally impaled by a spear. This was a major breakthrough in faith-based movies which always considered the delicate sensibilities of the faithful.

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Ghostbusters (2016)

Kristen Wiig

Melissa McCarthy

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstar

 

The hype for the new Ghostbusters film was epic. There were leaked pictures of Chris Hemsworth, set footage. And let’s not forget the preemptive haters and lovers who argued furiously online about everything from the casting to what may or not happen. Remakes seem the coin of the realm these days with great ones, weird ones, and horrible cringe-inducing ones. Let’s step back and remember the original film for a moment. It was great. A perfect mix of comedy, horror, weirdness, and fun scientific speeches by Dan Aykroyd and the late Harold Ramis which was balanced by the pseudo-scientist Bill Murray who was just in it for the girls and cash. His everyman stance put us in the screen powered up by Eddie Hudson’s even more practical and pure everyman “I have seen shit which would turn you white!” Let’s not forget Annie Potts as the underworked (at first) and overworked secretary with the most memorable accent ever and Rick Moranis as the overbearing neighbor with an obvious crush on Sigourney Weaver. Somehow it all worked. I remember when HBO was free and it showed this movie over and over again. Even me, the crybaby of the family could handle its scares eventually except for the skeletal taxi driver. That dude still freaks me out.

The newest Ghostbusters film opens interestingly enough, not a library this time but a supposedly haunted home of an old rich New York family with an insane murderess among its colorful history. It passes on the tradition of not jumping the shark but instead showing us the terror in the face of the witness of the supernatural. The scene changes to Kristen Wiig’s character Erin Gilbert attempting to impress Charles Dance, who makes as convincing a University Dean as a Lannister in his quietly intimidating way. Events lead her to seek out Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon playing Abby Yates and Jillian Holtzmann respectively. Unfortunately this is where the film takes a tip for the worst. I keep imagining some idiotic brainstorming session in which writers, worried about the naysaying stupid white males of the world, decide in a burst of inspiration, “Hey let’s put in some fart jokes and make fun of a guy by saying he pooped his pants. Yeah, that’ll appease the masses.” It takes amazing writing skills to reinvent the fart and poop joke and unfortunately, it ain’t here, folks. It’s a shame, really. McKinnon is super great as Jillian with her off-beat comments and googly eyes through big round glasses. She at least has her character down. Wiig and McCarthy are all over the place with no discernible pattern of their characters other than a past friendship which isn’t really well fleshed out.

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Birdman

Michael Keaton

Edward Norton

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstar

With every passing year, I wonder what really is behind the choosing of movies as Best Picture. Films like Birdman, The Artist, Chicago, and La La Land (which “won” for all of 4 minutes before the fallacy was explained) make me feel as if it is “the movie that speaks to the voters” rather than actual cinematic quality of the movies themselves that clinches the win. The struggle of actors and actresses who make it big will never ever be a foil for the American dream for me. Making travel plans to California doesn’t ensure anything will go well and the starlet/star waiting to be born is a tired tale told way too often and too poorly especially considering how close the makers are to the source material.

      Swingers executed it well without the glamour or glitz but rather with down and out actors commiserating with one another for getting turned down to play even Goofy at Disneyland. The doubt and self questioning there were universal to any job and not the main point of the movie. It’s a testament to our age of perceived entitlement in which films star people who expect to arrive fresh off the bus and then to be sent to the head of the line at auditions and lauded as the best actor ever, much, interestingly enough as the gullible ginger chump in the Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Red-Headed League. The inevitable whining and navel gazing afterwards always gets my blood up. “I’m the main character in this movie, everyone should do what I want.” Continue reading

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2

Chris Pratt

Kurt Russell

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstar

 

In August 2014, something beautiful happened. A Marvel film starring characters most or all of whom no one (no regular movie goers, anyway) had ever heard of came out. They weren’t righteous, moral good doers which is what the pedestrian view of hero used to be but wisecracking anti-heroes, a band of Mad Maxes each out to score, to get money, or to avenge their slain family with ruthless bloodlust. Did I mention that one of them is a talking raccoon and another a talking tree albeit with a severely limited vocabulary? Despite these oddities or in spite of them, really, Guardians of the Galaxy was a huge hit refreshing the tired space opera genre with a perfect balance of humor, eclectic tunes, and a real heart behind it all. However beloved new characters are, the challenge lies in the sequel. Most of the success of films like Shrek, Transformers, and Pirates of the Caribbean lies in the love of meeting the memorable characters for the first time. With the increasingly deteriorating sequels offering nothing much more than a deceptive promise, the promise of drug dealers, politicians running for second terms, and cheating lovers everywhere, that things will continue on/return to their original greatness, and that you will fall in love with the old feeling all over again.

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KONG: Skull Island

Tom Hiddleston

Samuel L. Jackson

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarhalf star

 

In 2004, Peter Jackson rebooted King Kong. It was a top heavy double feature with half (2/3?) the exploits happening on the mysterious island of Kong’s origin and the latter portion in 1931 New York. The CGI were state of the art for the time but the film had the feel of having bitten off more than it could chew. Skull Island takes a different approach and keeps us on the island which is Kong’s residence/battleground. He is no complacent sovereign, however, but a badass ape in almost constant defense of his rule. It is nice to see another big monster movie after the 2014 Godzilla and while Skull Island takes place in the same world, its timeframe is just at the close of the War in Vietnam. While other reviewers have criticised the foil American military in Vietnam and the mercenary group of American soldiers who enter Skull Island with bombs bursting in air, I applaud it. Godzilla since the very first 1954 film has criticized the use of weapons of mass destruction and Godzilla’s creation and indeed destruction were both due to said weapons. This was revamped in the existence of MUTO’s in the 2014 film who preyed on Nuclear Power and weapons going on a worldwide atomic feeding frenzy pursued by Godzilla. Similarly, I feel the King Kong franchise goes after colonialism and imperialism outlining the fallacy of rushing in where angels fear to tread. The organization Ken Watanabe was associated with in Godzilla MONARCH makes an appearance in this film as well giving the world another possible multi-billion dollar franchise with which to tempt a willing public.

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Doctor Strange

Benedict Cumberbatch

Chiwetel Ejiofor

reviewed by Tom-Tom

starstarstarhalf star

The MCU continues. Back in 2008, the brilliant Jon Favreau introduced Tony Stark as Iron Man. It was a brilliant piece of comics brought to life. The charismatic Robert Downey Jr. brought the rather mild mannered and somewhat two dimensional character of the comics to a new level. All great adaptations combine the best of the original and suitable if limited license to their place on the big screen. Iron Man was a textbook example of everything going right. In Doctor Strange, there is a sort of an attempt to replicate the success of Iron Man. In its slightly awkward scenes, the arrogant extremely skilled Doctor Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) conducts intensive open surgery to a playlist of classic rock esoteric enough to please Star Lord of Guardians of the Galaxy and probably intended to be Vol. 3 when everyone meets up for Avengers: Infinity War next year. For those us whom have seen Strange in the comics, he is sagely, philosophical, and rarely raises his voice not to mention cracking a joke. His arc here is similar somewhat to Thor’s in his “origin” story film: A fall from grace followed by a humble crawl back to heroism of a different kind.

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