Tuesday, January 2, 2018

My Fave Movies of 2017

Ah, 2017. To be perfectly honest, most of the things that I watched last year involved old ladies (my beloved Golden Girls, and Grace and Frankie) or murder (whaddup Columbo and Poirot).

However, I did manage to make it out to the theater a few times and I liked a lot of what I chose to see. Colorful kids' movies, smart action movies, heartfelt indie dramas, and some seriously impressive horror.

That being said, here are some of my favorites of 2017, in no particular order.

Coco


Oh. My. God. Bless. This movie didn't get nearly the amount of attention it deserved. When little Miguel is forbidden to play music by his family, he takes matters into his own hands and accidentally ends up in the land of the dead. Seeking the approval of his ancestors, Miguel embarks on a journey to find his grandfather and win his blessing to pursue music. Far from scary (for those leery of a Corpse Bride, Burton-y feel), the movie is warm, bright, and colorful, with a heartfelt message and an incredibly overdue cultural perspective. Go for the songs, stay for the animation.

Lady Bird



Greta Gerwig's directorial debut Lady Bird is so relatable it almost hurts your heart. Young Lady Bird (nee Christine) is a senior in high school navigating her relationship with her mom, her dad, boys, and her best friend, and trying to decide where to go with her life. The beauty of it is its simplicity in finding humor in the normal. Lady Bird is a slightly overdramatic, hugely empathetic character who thinks she has it all figured out, only to realize time and time again that she doesn't. Saoirse Ronin and Laurie Metcalf are captivating as Lady Bird and her mother, respectively -- spending equal screen time pissing each other off and wordlessly falling into unconditional mother-daughter love when they need each other. Ugh. Worth the hype. Achingly nostalgic for anyone who was a teenager in 2003.

The Shape of Water


Another visually stunning feat from Guillermo del Toro. As always, the plot is a little unorthodox: it's the 1960s and a mute cleaning lady has fallen in love with a reptilian man from the science lab where she works. Resolving to rescue him from the hands of her evil boss, she implicates herself in a scheme that could mean the death of both her and the creature. Characters with heart and an unusual plot steer the narrative, but it's the cinematography and the coloring of each scene that really make it worthwhile.

I Don't Feel At Home in This World Anymore.


This is such a cathartic film to watch for anyone at their wit's end with shitty people. Ruth is an ordinary woman trying to live her life. She lives in an unimpressive neighborhood, and doesn't have many friends. When her house gets robbed, that's the last straw. Enlisting the help of her neighbor, she tracks down the thieves, and ends up getting mixed up with some seriously bad people. The ending absolutely makes this.

Baby Driver


Baby is a professional driver who listens to music to drive with laser-like focus. Who's he driving? Bank robbers. When things start to go south, Baby has to assess how far he's willing to go for his life of crime--or figure out how the hell he can drive out of it. You HAVE to see this for the TUNES. Barring musicals, I feel like it's hard to find a movie that so gracefully integrates music into plot. And they don't even have to break the fourth wall!??! The synchronization of the music with the action sequences is...immaculate. Highly recommend.

Thor: Ragnarok


I've gotta say, I've loved Taika Waititi since his hilarious vampire reality What We Do in the Shadows, and that sense of humor is even more present in Thor: Ragnarok. Creating a surprisingly graceful bridge between the more serious Avenger movies and the more playful Guardians of the Galaxy series, Ragnarok is one of the movies that I recommended the most this year just because it's so much fun. Balancing a very current sense of comedic timing with a touch of 80s nostalgia (LOVE that synth music!), it's a bright, fantastical romp. It was nice to see a movie that can be funny without being dumb. (Side note: Cait Blanchett as the villain. Yas.)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi


I haven't wasted time seeing why the nerds didn't like this, and I don't really care -- more movies should be as fun, thoughtful, and entertaining as Star Wars: The Last Jedi. For the people knee-deep in cannon, or for those expecting something more like the originals, I'm sure that there were a lot of things that didn't line up. But as someone who appreciates the Star Wars movies as fun, sci-fi trips,  The Last Jedi provides a much-needed escape from reality, and a super satisfying peek into the upcoming capabilities of our two main characters. Party on, Luke.

Wonder Woman


I'm not usually a big super hero movie junkie, but I really enjoyed Wonder Woman. For a studio film, I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the movie stepped out of the usual formula. Or maybe it was just amazing to see a self-empowered, confident woman on screen kicking some major ass. Either way, I loved it.

The Big Sick


Just when you thought romcoms were dead, this movie comes out. Kumail is a standup comedian and first-generation Pakistani American who is dating a white girl. As things between he and his girlfriend get more serious, things reach a breaking point when she learns that he has no intention of introducing her to his strict, Pakistani parents. Things reach even more of a breaking point when she goes into a coma and he is the sole person available to take care of her -- until her parents show up. His point of view as a conflicted son and boyfriend is very plainly aired with a crisp sense of humor that's smart and understanding at the same time.

Get Out


And on the more sinister side of interracial dating, the groundbreaking Get Out. Damn. Chris is a black man going to visit his white girlfriend's parents at their country home. But when he arrives, he gets more than he bargained for -- the servants act strange, the parents throw a mysterious party, and Chris can't seem to get out of there. Smart, biting, terrifying, innovative, and pulpy. Jordan Peele's directorial debut finds an incredibly unique perspective to talk about race relations in America. Think Django: Unchained meets The Twilight Zone. Everyone should see this movie.

It


Oh man, do I loooooove me some Stephen King. The kids of Derry, Maine keep going missing and no one knows why. When a particular group of "losers" starts seeing their worst, most terrifying nightmares play out in broad daylight, the experience draws them together and they decide to confront the monster at the root of all their fears. I was pleasantly surprised at how character-driven the final product ends up being -- something that the original mini-series lacks. This version, too, goes deeper in depth to give the kids their own narrative, letting you see what scares them personally. All-around good adaptation, and props to Bill Skarsgard for making us forget Tim Curry's Pennywise in favor of something a little different.

Alien: Covenant 


After the disappointment that was Prometheus, Ridley Scott pulls it back together for Alien: Covenant. After arriving on a strange planet, a group of colonists are trying to figure out the reason for the planet's lack of wildlife. While plants thrive, animals are noticeably absent from the landscape, and when they find out the reason, they wish they'd never come. This one is not for the squeamish--in a horror-genre triumph the movie is full of every kind of scare, from jumps to core-chilling realizations about human nature and morality.

Honorable Mentions:

Ingrid Goes West
Ingrid becomes a bit too attached to a specific Instagram celebrity, and decides to move to California to become her friend. Fascinating commentary on social media stars -- and their stalkers. Examines both the superficiality of social media and the psychological problems that they can encourage.

1922
A man decides to murder his wife, enlisting his son to help him. I thought this was a fantastic atmospheric thriller and old-timey creep-fest. Available on Netflix!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Stupid Movie Sunday: Geostorm

This may very well end up being a one-time thing, but I'm a sucker for stupid movies and it's Sunday so here we are.

Typical that everyone's like "BLADERUNNER IS AWESOME" and I'm silently moonwalking into Geostorm under cover of night.


Am I ashamed? A bit.

Geostorm is basically what happens when someone who really loved Armageddon tries to recreate it in our modern reality. To its credit, Geostorm does its best to address both politics and (obviously) climate change in one fell swoop that might've worked with a better writer. But let's dive into plot, shall we?

GEOSTORM (somehow it feels more appropriate in all-caps, doesn't it?) follows two brothers: one, Jake (Gerard Butler), a scientist that has masterminded an entire satellite system to control the weather; the other, Max (Jim Sturgess), his political counterpart. When Max takes over the management of the satellite system via political orders, Jake is understandably pissed, leaving them with some bad blood. But when the satellites start acting up and targeting horrific natural disasters, it's time for the brothers to MAKE AMENDS (cue music swell) and to find the nefarious people responsible for programming the rogue satellites.

I love watching movies like this because they are so clearly churned out to serve the larger public, and so they reflect the kind of story that (the studios think) appeals to most people.

Geostorm, for all its laughable disaster effect shots, is fascinating in how different it is from movies like Armageddon, The Day After Tomorrow, and even more political-minded ones like Independence Day. A key driver of the plot is the fact that the government is responsible for the satellite web, and whether we should trust them with something that affects the entire world.

Probably worth it to just keep recycling.

The plot of the movie had more twists than I would've counted on, to be honest. For something as formulaic as a disaster movie, the political plot twists keep it interesting and modern. And the technology/coding aspects serve the plot structure well--I mean, who hasn't had a buggy gadget go rogue?

To match our current distrust of government at large, unease at increasing technologies, and anxiety at global climate change, Geostorm is surprisingly topical.

Obviously the problems here lie in execution.

If you're looking for the thrilling visuals that dominate most disaster movies, you're gonna have a bad time. Geostorm's intrigue lies between both politics and space, and so the visuals that we are so accustomed to in disaster movies are a bit far and few between. There's simply too much going on to give the disasters themselves that equal screen-time.

There's also a lot of old-school tropes that are just super hokey. One of my favorite parts is when we find Jake, years after constructing a giant, global satellite to control the world's weather, living in a trailer in the middle of Florida.

...Like, sure sweetie. I'm sure your salary was peanuts. Glad to see you're still an every-man.

Jake plays like a poor man's Mel Gibson, the "tough American" trope that doesn't play as well as it used to, if we're being honest. I would love to see one of these cheapy movies where people are just smart and don't have to be assholes that are always punching people in the face. Like why are we always punching people in the face?


I digress.

There's also a hilarious amount of product placement in this thing. I counted: Coors Light, Chipotle, Chromebook, and more. Make dat money, 'Merica!

Anyway, GEOSTORM is a fun time if you're bored and looking for something with a little more substance than disaster movie counterparts from the 1990s.

4 outa 10.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

What the Hell, Hollywood?

I haven't been to the movies in a while.

And I'm annoyed, because I've been in the mood to go to the movies several times, but the only things playing are one of two things:

1. A giant, obnoxious blockbuster -- possibly/probably a sequel -- that has been shoved in my face for the past several months but offers nothing beyond big, bloated effects, limited character development, and poor plot structure.

OR

2. An indie film with an unlikeable protagonist, that explores uncomfortable or painful realities of either everyday life or an incredibly niche period in time.

That and a few awful-looking horror movies. (Though I may just go see ANOTHER Annabelle movie because...I am the worst.)

Maybe I'm being pessimistic. Maybe these movies are not THAT BAD and I'm just bummed out because I've been watching too many 90s movies. Mid-range movies that hit the gap that is so clearly separating Hollywood movies from the indies.

But this is something that I've been slowly noticing over the past several years.

In a lot of ways, I think that the current gap between blockbusters and indie flicks is super reflective of our pop culture as a whole. In a world where everything you do is catered to you every preference, it's natural that more people are opting to stay inside and check out their latest Netflix recommendations rather than go out and spend a chunk of change on something that may very well prove to be more of the same.

You bastard.

Especially when it comes down to the VOLUME of shows that are at your disposal on average. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, OnDemand, and countless other services that cater to a certain taste preference are coming up with shows faster than Hollywood can keep up. So it's logical that they spend their money on the things that viewers can't get at home: 1. a giant screen, insane special effects, the draw of the spectacle; or 2. an intimate theater experience watching emotional movies that have meaning.

But even so, there's so much exasperation in looking at current movie offerings. You either need to sit in an art theater watching a bleak period piece or you need to get your ears blasted by whatever action movie looks decent enough to give a try.

Even rarer, movies with happy endings are hard to find these days, and even when they are found can feel a little thin, because we're so conditioned to expect movies to be REAL.

"Thor wouldn't have been able to fight Loki because they're brothers
and since Thor is an ENFJ it's clear that sexism has a role in his ability..."

Maybe that's our problem. Nothing can really get away with being half-real anymore -- you're either totally entrenched in fantasy or you're totally entrenched in what real life is like.

If you watch movies from the 1940s, their flavor is almost comically theatrical. Movements are exaggerated and accents are overly clipped, and everything has an air of being more dramatic. They're even scored that way.

And this isn't necessarily something that's limited to super old movies. Think about movies like The Patriot or Armageddon, that defied common sense (LET'S SEND OIL DRILLERS TO SAVE THE PLANET). Everything is soooo overdone -- they spend so much time playing on your heartstrings that by the end of the film they've got blisters. Can you imagine making movies like those today?

I DONWANNA CLOOOSE MY EEEYYYYEESSS

In a way, actually, this cheesy factor has almost come full circle. Think about avant garde comedy like Tim and Eric, or satire news sites like The Onion. And while movies, given their time frames, have a trickier time pulling these kinds of full-circle comedy pieces, they have discovered the next best thing: nostalgia.

Our culture is so entrenched in nostalgia that you have runaway successes like Disney's easy-out method of making live-action remakes of their beloved cartoons, or churned-out super hero movies based on age-old comics. We are so overwhelmed by choices that we end up reverting back to what we loved as kids. It's easy! We've already seen it! We're BOUND to love it!

And especially at a time where we're used to bingeing shows and continuing narratives, it makes sense that we would want to see more of our favorite characters. It's like we've been waiting for years for our favorite series to get revamped (which is also happening at breakneck speeds).

Don't even get me started on this bullshit.

Alright, this has been a long and complainy post. But I had to get it out of my system. I promise next one will be less grouchy.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Best of the Worst: RomComs of Yesteryear

I've been bingeing on terrible romcoms from the late 90s/early 00s, and I need to talk about how terrible-wonderful they are.

Remember those days? When you were given a heroine and a love interest and they HATED each other and then they LOVED each other and then they HATED each other again and then they MADE UP and there were some funny things that happened in between? They really don't make 'em like that anymore. The formula doesn't really work anymore. The closest thing that we've gotten in recent memory are things like Trainwreck and The Other Woman, neither of which did incredibly well. So let's go back in time to when things were formulaic and the world was a little bit simpler.

Kate and Leopold
 

The powers that be decided to take two of their ole romcom staples and shove them into another formulaic masterpiece. Said shoved actors in this case are Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman. Watching this through the lens of current movies -- in which we see the romcom becoming a dying breed because audiences now thirst for authenticity -- this movie is a riot. When Kate (Meg Ryan) discovers that her ex-boyfriend/neighbor has found a portal into 1876 and that a duke has followed him back, she doesn't believe him. But Leopold (Hugh Jackman) is a breath of fresh air in the terribly rushed, tech-obsessed (Kate can't find her Palm Pilot!!), and cigarette-fueled year of 2001. Will Kate decide to take Leopold as he is (a duke from 1876) or will she choose her demanding career as an ad exec. I'll give you one guess.

What Women Want
 

Oh, Mel. What happened? Charming-if-misogynistic Nick (Mel Gibson) is New York's hottest ad exec, but is becoming wary of the fact that he is only ever assigned ad content for men (hot women, hot cars, hot things in general). When his new boss, Darcy (Helen Hunt), not only steals his promotion but turns out to be a woman, Nick is eager to make her look like a fool. One night, in a twist of fate, he electrocutes himself and is given the gift of hearing women's thoughts. Using this talent for his own means, he invades the thoughts of his new boss to create an ad campaign that will speak to women -- and accidentally ends up falling in love with her. An interesting study in work ethics and dating policies, it is also a hilarious study in the dated polarity of perceived men's vs. women's thoughts. I mean, how could any man POSSIBLY know what a woman is thinking without having to read her thoughts!?

The Wedding Planner
 

JLo plays a career-driven wedding planner named Mary who simply does not have time for men. But all that changes when she has a brush with death and is saved by hot, young pediatrician Steve (Matthew McConaughey). Only one problem -- he's the groom in her client's wedding. As Mary and Steve's chemistry becomes more and more undeniable, will he still go through with his wedding? I think my favorite part of the Wedding Planner these days is how caught up I get in A) how incredibly horrendous JLo is as an actress and B) the color palette of this movie. I bet you think I'm kidding about the latter thing, but I dare you to find another movie where the color lavender should have its own casting credit. Seriously. Look at the trailer even. It could be a drinking game.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
 

Nobody likes a Mr. Sniffles! This film follows Andie (Kate Hudson) a journalist trying to write a piece about how to (you guessed it) lose a guy in ten days. How fortuitous, then, that her prey happens to be Ben (Matthew McConaughey), who ALSO happens to be a journalist trying to write a piece about how to make a woman fall in love with him in ten days (why they didn't land on that as the title, the world may never know). As Ben tries harder to make Andie stick around, Andie's crazy gets out of control. It's actually a pretty fun movie to be honest, if totally cringe-worthy. (You're not helping the women-aren't-crazy movement, Andie.)

He's Just Not That Into You
 

Oh my god. This is a cringe-fest of a movie that I can never turn off once I've turned it on. I don't even know why. It's like watching a car accident. Every time I watch this, I'm literally just shouting at the screen. "GIGI. WHAT ARE YOU DOING. JUST CHILL. OMG." It's like watching everyone on screen willfully make the worst relationship decisions in the book. And somehow, bafflingly, everyone ends up happy. I'm not even going to bother trying to explain the plot of this ensemble nightmare. Just watch the trailer.

Serendipity
 

Jonathon (John Cusack) and Sarah (Kate Beckinsale) meet one fated Christmas Eve when they're both shopping for gloves. After having an evening so romantic they could've hopped a plane to Vegas and gotten married, they decide, instead, to let Fate take it from there, and part ways waiting for a sign that they should see each other again. Fast forward ten years to the weekend of Jonathon's wedding, and Sarah's engagement. Both of them can't stop thinking of each other, and the film turns into their frenzied attempts to get closure before taking a lifelong plunge of commitment with other people. Because that is exactly the right time to pursue someone that you had a pretty good time with this one day, ten years ago, for eight hours.

My Best Friend's Wedding



Julianne Potter (Julia Roberts) has just received the news that her ex (Dermot Mulroney), who has been her best friend for 9 years, is marrying a 20-year-old that he met a few months before (Cameron Diaz). Trying to make every woman's nightmare into a fun romp where you're supposed to side with the "other woman" is a little...strained in this flick. And you can bet your ass that in real life things wouldn't be okay by the reception. Lawd.

Coyote Ugly


Ugh, Piper Perabo always seemed to me like a poor man's Julia Roberts. In this fun and trashy flick, Perabo plays Violet, a girl from Jersey who moves to New York City to pursue a career in songwriting. The only problem is that Violet has crippling stage fright, which she apparently hasn't considered might be a stumbling block. After getting a job at a trashy bar called Coyote Ugly, Violet meets Kevin, who gives her the confidence she needs to perform her songs in public. I just gave away the entire movie. Sorry not sorry.

Notting Hill


To be fair, I watched this after two glasses of whiskey and that made it reeeeally fun to make fun of. In a world where Hollywood actresses walk around without security and travel book stores still existed, we meet our heroes: Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) and William Something (Hugh Grant). When Anna meets William at his travel book store, it's an almost instant attraction. Making sure the audience knows that each of them are totally down to earth despite Anna's ritzy background and William's humble one, they quickly fall in love. But fate doesn't seem to be on their side at first, throwing obstacles in their way. Will Anna and William make it work? Tbh, Anna and William have like 0 chemistry and when (spoiler alert! or is it..) they end up together at the end there's a resounding question: "Why?" The story also features William's spectacularly depressing troupe of friends, his zany roommate, and his sister, who is so uncomfortably quirky that she's bordering on insane.

Someone Like You


Okay, this one isn't as terrible as it is a little bewildering. Jane (Ashley Judd) falls in love with Ray (Greg Kinear) but he soon leaves her to go back to his girlfriend. Seeking revenge for her broken heart, Jane moves in with her platonic coworker Eddie (Hugh Jackman) and dives into a harebrained scientific theory about cows and why guys have trouble being monogamous (yes, really). I will say that while the plot is kind of weird, Judd and Jackman are cute, and the movie is half light-hearted romcom and half dealing-with-heartbreak in a way that you don't typically find anymore. Good old-fashioned fluff right here kids, step right up.

Head Over Heels
 

Amanda (Monica Potter) works in art restoration, and moves in with four fashion models after discovering her fiance cheating on her. After meeting a handsome neighbor (Freddie Prinze Jr.), she's convinced that she can move on. But after spotting what looks like foul play, she's determined to get to the bottom of his life before another man can sweep her off her feet in a web of lies. You can imagine her relief when said neighbor is just a CIA agent (where are these people getting these jobs???). Serious points for creativity on this one. Also the high fashion of the early 00s is a riot.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Cure for Wellness: A Lesson in Amazing Thrillers

Oh. My God. Okay, at the risk of over-hyping this movie, I was not expecting it to be as good as it was. Especially for a movie that clocks in at 2.5 hours (a fact that I was blissfully unaware of until I was seated in the theater), I was bracing myself for the worst. But the pacing and the intrigue and the mystery of A Cure for Wellness will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Image result for a cure for wellness
AND LOOK AT THAT POSTER ART.

Our story begins when a young, overly ambitious businessman named Lockhart (first name irrelevant) is sent on a mission by his cutthroat corporation to fetch back their CEO, who has spirited away to a Swiss sanatorium. The only clue that the CEO leaves behind is a grim letter that decries the corporate greed and ambition that his company and the world at large so value. When Lockhart arrives at the sanatorium, he's indirectly barred from speaking to his boss, and so he leaves. Or at least he tries to. After getting into a serious car accident on the way back to civilization, Lockhart is held at the sanatorium until his health "improves." But the longer he's held there, the more questions Lockhart has about the unorthodox methods with which the director, Volmer (Jason Isaacs), treats his patients, the vitamins that everyone takes so religiously, and the ultimate "cure."

Wow wow wow. It's very hard to find a film as trippy and mysterious as A Cure for Wellness that doesn't make you completely impatient for the ending. Cerebral, style-heavy movies like this don't often work for me. I get impatient at the visuals dominating the plot and leave the theater rolling my eyes at art getting in the way of a good story. But it's rare to find a movie as beautifully trippy as A Cure for Wellness, too, that is so well constructed and clean. Throughout the movie the stark, bright antisceptic nature of the sanatorium clearly conceals a bigger secret, especially in contrast with the realism of the village below it. And figuring out what that secret is makes the film so interesting.

Image result for a cure for wellness
(Not an infinity pool.)

Generally, poorly constructed mysteries make the mistake of asking a singular question, hoping that they'll hold the audience's attention long enough for a flash-bang finish that takes their breath away. But they are rarely so lucky. The best mysteries are multilayered, peeling back clues and revealing truths, and giving way to the answer of a larger question that you didn't even realize was being asked.

This movie easily could've turned into an existential sort of crisis plot, where the "cure" is mere symbolism and the action driving the plot is purely mental. But in creating a tangible mystery based on legend and history as well as medicine, this movie can be interpreted in all kinds of ways. It touches on corporate greed, family lineage, mental health, the hypochondriacal wealthy, and SO MANY OTHER THINGS.

Look at the creepy symmetry of those colors.

A word of warning to the squeamish: like any good horror-thriller there is a bit of gore in this that might gross you out. It had to be said. But as a squeamish person myself, I hope this doesn't keep you from going out and seeing it.

9 outa 10. It's so refreshing to see this much creativity, structure, and beauty in a psychological thriller. So many indie films these days get too wrapped up in themselves, but the ending to Cure ends up being straightforward while still managing to be amazingly pulpy.




Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Split: Classic M. Night Original

I've always had somewhat of a loyalty problem with M. Night Shyamalan. As in, I tend to like most of the things that he creates, even if the reason I like them is simply for their original plots.

Also I bumped into him at a bar once so we're bffs.

With Split, Shyamalan sets a scene that is super unusual, and even if it's not super scary, I have to respect him for setting up a story that few people could pull off.

Split begins with three high school girls at the end of a birthday party. The birthday girl and her friend are in the process of begrudgingly giving their estranged classmate, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a ride home when a stranger (James McAvoy) gets in their car. Drugging them and taking them to an undisclosed location, the man refuses to tell them anything about where they are or why they're there. But something is wrong with this man beyond his abductive tendencies. The next time they see him, the original tough guy that they dealt with has the mannerisms, high heels and clipped British accent of a middle-aged English woman. We soon learn through his sessions with therapist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley, who you might recognize from Carrie!) that this man, Kevin, has 24 separate personalities. In interacting with the girls, we are shown three of the personalities who aren't typically allowed to shine. The girls therefore need to do their best to use this to their advantage, and see if they can escape before the 24th personality, "The Beast," emerges.

Nbd.

I've gotta give Shyamalan credit for being a true auteur. Shyamalan's style is always 100% his own: that blend of human realism that borders on comedy, coupled with unsettling truths that are revealed to the characters until a final plot twist. He stays true to form with Split, though you might not expect the final flourish to his twist at the end.

What works: I think that the acting in this was pretty impressive. McAvoy does a splendid job as the multifaceted Kevin, bringing a convincing performance as each character, down to 9-year-old Hedwig (who is, for some reason, a boy and not a girl despite the name?). Anya Taylor-Joy did a good job as Casey as well, a character who has dark secrets that explain her quiet, isolated nature. Cinematography, as always, is lovely, and Philadelphia gets a nice little shout-out as each of its notable locations from the Art Museum to 30th St. Station are highlighted with loving care.

And of course this random street.

I think the story, too, is an interesting one, though it reminded me of all the objections that came up against the movie Lucy when that one came out. The film science argues that someone with Disassociative Identity Disorder (and THANK YOU M. Night for finally differentiating between this and schizophrenia) can mentally create conditions and traits that can manifest themselves physically. We revisit that whole argument, once again, that humans only access a portion of their brains, blah blah blah. But still, it taps into the suspicion that we're all stronger than we think we are, and the powers of belief and of trauma. What can your brain do to ensure your body's survival?

What doesn't work: as I mentioned earlier, Shyamalan has this amazing ability to bring humor to thriller, but it's almost to a fault with this movie. I'm not sure if the creep factor was lowered because I'd seen the trailers so many times or because the audience I saw it in kept laughing, but scenes that were supposed to make your hair stand on end had most people near me giggling. An unfortunate side effect of showcasing someone with DID is that sometimes the performance reads as a caricature, which tends to toe the line between creeptacular and just plain funny.

Though sometimes it is spectacularly creepy.

I also had a bit of impatience with this film (I know, act surprised). The present action is intersected with bits of Casey's brutal past, which are drug out presumably to explain why she reacts the way she does to certain situations. In some circumstances though it just drags the movie out. There are about six scenes that feature her childhood when there really only need to be three -- four, tops.

Another lost opportunity is the fact that this guy has 24 personalities -- 24 PERSONALITIES. And we only get to see four of them!? Talk about a wasted opportunity.

For fans of Shyamalan's previous movies, the ending might be an especial treat, but for this critic it mostly left me confused.

All in all, it's not a bad movie, and again I give Split points for originality. However, I walked into the theater thinking I was going to be scared and I wasn't, really. The film reads almost more as a mystery, as so many of his others do, but lacked a lot of the visceral fear that I was hoping to feel.

6 outa 10. No nightmares here, kids.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Rogue One: We're Going Rogue!

Full disclosure: I love the Star Wars series and I think that they're great movies (with the exceptions of stories I-III because Hayden Christianson cannot act, I don't care who you are). But I have only seen them each once or twice. That being said, from where I'm standing Rogue One is an incredible addition to the Star Wars canon.

This. Chick.

Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has had a troubled life. Witnessing the death of her mother and the capture of her father by Imperial forces; getting raised and trained as a soldier by a half-crazy rebel; getting captured and sent to a work camp. It hasn't been great. But when she's rescued by the Alliance, she learns that she's of use to them. Jyn's father, Galen Erso, is an engineer working for the Empire on a new super-weapon called the Death Star. Hoping to leverage Jyn's parentage, the Alliance sends her out too meet with Saw Gerrera, her father's old friend and the man who raised her, with the ultimate goal of gaining intelligence about the new weapon. The film then follows Jyn as she joins Cassian Andor (the beautiful Diego Luna) and the rest of the Alliance to capture knowledge of the Death Star and defeat the Empire.

Wow. It's been a minute since I saw a two-hour movie that kept me captivated. What a great standalone. Rogue One does a fantastic job of bridging the gap between introducing us to a new storyline and new characters while keeping the original world of the films intact. Everything fits spectacularly well. We're able to follow a new story with new characters that perfectly fits the vein of the entire series without compromising quality. It somehow manages to keep itself current while also paying due homage to the films from the 70s and 80s.

And some familiar faces. And breathing patterns.

The movie also does a fantastic job of balancing humanity, humor, and the realities of rebellion. While the charismatic characters and post-rebellion context of The Force Awakens kept its mood a little lighter (in general), the mood of Rogue One is far more heavy, showing the human impact of the Empire's efforts to snuff the Alliance. Children being raised in politically tumultuous times, and the violent instability as the two sides fought, are really clearly portrayed by the two mains Jyn and Cassian. And the things that we're witness to in the original series gain new context as we get a closer look at the people that made them possible.

This stone-cold pack of weirdos.

It's also interesting to see such an objective-driven storyline. They need to get the Death Star plans. That's the goal. And their will to complete that goal encapsulates the whole rebellion. The themes of hope when all is lost make it truly memorable. "Rebellions are built on hope." Hell yeah.

SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!

I also really liked how neatly this film wraps itself up. Despite the possibility that there is for these heroes' stories to continue, there's a reality in the ending that I wasn't expecting. Sometimes greatness has to occur at the cost of great sacrifice, and the idea of serving a greater good is something that really resounds at the end of Rogue One.

OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY! OKAY!

All in all, Rogue One is a fantastic addition to the Star Wars canon that pays homage to its predecessor films while remaining currently relevant. Great characters, great story, great cinematography, great film.

9.5 outa 10. Must-see.