Split

James McAvoy gives a remarkable multi-personality performance in M. Night Shyamalan’s tightest horror/thriller movie in years.

In “Split,” James McAvoy embodies seven different personalities within one character, he develops new mannerisms and accents for each one of them, and he even flails wildly in a possessed, near perverse dance to a Madonna song. He’s acting a lot.

But in one scene of talking to his therapist, M. Night Shyamalan drills in tight on McAvoy’s calm face and the miniscule, wavering expression in his gaze. You look into his eyes and you see fear and a whole different person trying to get out.

In “Split,” Shyamalan’s horror premise of a man who suffers from experiencing multiple personalities, 23 in all, may be a gimmick, but McAvoy’s performance isn’t. There are a few costume changes, and he makes a big swing between accents, but McAvoy never has to spaz out, and Shyamalan never has to cut for McAvoy to suggest the fascinating, dangerous tug of war going on inside his head.

In fact the mad nature of McAvoy’s character’s disorder subsumes Shyamalan’s typical need to tantalize us with a big twist. Shyamalan has gone nuts with style and psychological parables, but “Split” brings the director back to fundamental genre roots of the horror/thriller. Continue reading “Split”

The Commune

Thomas Vinterberg’s broad, histrionic, blackly comedic social satire doesn’t work on any level

The Commune PosterIn what universe does Thomas Vinterberg’s “The Commune” make sense? The thinly drawn characters in this stagey, maudlin, histrionic dreck seem driven by pages that must’ve vanished from the script. They leap from broad character types to wild hippies in no time flat, act completely out of line and ultimately enable the film’s dirtbag protagonist to carry on an affair. Chalk it up to the lifestyles of those crazy Danes, I guess.

A nuclear family of a middle-aged couple, Erik and Anna, and their teenage daughter Freja, inherits a massive home too large for them to live in and maintain on their own, so they invite some old friends as roommates but agree to a communal arrangement. In preliminary interviews they reveal themselves as a square, a drifter, a burnout, a hippie and a strict mother with a dying toddler son, but before long they’re all laughing drunkenly and jumping into the ocean naked. Good times. Continue reading “The Commune”

Wonder Woman

Patty Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” doesn’t reinvent the superhero genre, but it demonstrates what a bit of diversity in front of the camera can do for it.

Wonder Woman PosterIt’s amazing the fun you can have with a superhero movie when the heroine isn’t grossly oversexualized, when the director isn’t obsessed with exposition and fan service, or when the humor isn’t all snarky, Joss Whedon-esque dialogue.

Such is the woman’s touch that Patty Jenkins brings to “Wonder Woman.” Just to be clear, there have been other superhero and action movies that have featured women and been directed by women. Not many, obviously. But “Wonder Woman” in particular has been saddled with the burden of saving the world from the patriarchy this week.

That’s asking a lot of this popcorn movie. Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” doesn’t reinvent the genre, but it demonstrates what a bit of diversity in front of and behind the camera can do for it. Continue reading “Wonder Woman”

Colossal

Nacho Vigalondo’s quirky indie has a neat premise but a BIG, monster-sized problem and a weak Anne Hathaway performance.

Colossal PosterThere’s a big problem with “Colossal.” Anne Hathaway plays a woman who discovers she’s in control of a giant, kaiju monster attacking Seoul, Korea. Of course, the monster is merely a metaphor, and it finds a way of ruining both Seoul and the movie.

Nacho Vigalondo’s film gets undermined at every turn specifically because of that monster-sized metaphor that makes its story unique. “Colossal” wants to be about taking control of your life and not allowing abusive relationships to get in the way, but like any monster movie, the monster is there to ruin everything.

Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, a woman who has been depressed and mooching off her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) for a full year without a job. When he kicks her out of their apartment, she returns home and finds little better to do than sleep on an air mattress in an empty room of her parents’ old, rundown house.

She’s moving through her life as if nothing matters and that she has no impact on the rest of the world. But the metaphor couldn’t be louder when Gloria finds out there’s a gigantic monster attacking Seoul, and her every movement causes the monster to mimic her and wreak havoc.

When Gloria returns home and bumps into her grade school friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who never left, she doesn’t realize that her first world problems and moping are opening up old wounds. When she expresses her astonishment that a monster is attacking Korea, her boyfriend responds, “That happened nine hours ago. What have you been doing all day?” She’s so out of it that she doesn’t realize the world has quickly moved on around her. Continue reading “Colossal”

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

James Gunn and Marvel are telling us everything we’re seeing in this sequel to “Guardians of the Galaxy” is remarkably cool, but it’s trying too hard.

The opening set piece to Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a battle for the ages with a giant octopod, slug thing. But distracting our attention is Baby Groot plugging in an amplifier to blare “Mr. Blue Sky” by Electric Light Orchestra.

Now, if you need a reminder of who Groot is, in the last “Guardians of the Galaxy,” he was a sentient tree being that only ever spoke three words, “I Am Groot.” Now he’s a baby. Clear?

But fear not: age differences aside, he and the Guardians still have the same taste in ‘70s AM radio. And apparently more interesting than another CGI battle is watching this four-inch-high Chia pet shimmy its hips. Director James Gunn seems to know we’ve grown desensitized to whatever mayhem is going on behind Baby Groot, and at this point American audiences would still pay hundreds of millions of dollars even if it meant we were placated for something mindless and cute for just a few moments.

That’s what “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” has come to. It’s ridiculous there are people honestly writing about this with any degree of seriousness, let alone even calling it a movie. It’s explosively colorful, filled with endless inane chatter, heavy on catchy pop songs used as superhero music videos, and littered with enough made up space words to convince someone there’s a plot, characters and stakes here.

Gunn jams “Guardians 2” with gigantic space opera moments and activity, but at every turn he shoe horns in a joke to lighten the mood and remind everyone this is all just mindless entertainment. The details don’t matter, because we’re just moments away from another shot of Baby Groot eating M&Ms as the world explodes around him. Continue reading “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

The Circle

Emma Watson is great in James Ponsoldt’s “The Circle,” which thoughtfully shows how good intentions through technology can still corrupt.

As Emma Watson drives up to the campus of The Circle, the fictional, Google-like, Silicon Valley tech giant in James Ponsoldt’s film of the same name, the exterior is a massive, circular stone wall stretching to infinity on an island unto itself. It looks like a fascist fortress straight out of “The Hunger Games.” Even though the interior is a sort of millennial utopia, it’s not a stretch to ask, “I wonder if these guys turn out to be evil?”

“The Circle,” based on Dave Eggers’s novel, takes aim at the consequences of an overly connected, internet-obsessed digital culture. And like any movie warning of the dangers of technology, it can’t help but be cheesy. When every Bourne and Bond and HBO sitcom has taken on Big Brother, “The Circle” already looks a bit outdated.

Watson however has the idealism and innocent demeanor in her performance that actually makes you believe and embrace the Silicon Valley ideology. In Watson’s real life, she’s grown to resist taking photographs with fans and values her privacy. So she’s interesting casting as Mae, a girl who starts out as a “guppy” in a massive pond, only to become someone who broadcasts her every waking moment to the world. Continue reading “The Circle”

Sleight

J.D. Dillard’s “Sleight” takes its most unique selling point and buries it beneath a generic gangbanger and drug dealer story.

Sleight_film_posterHere’s a magic trick: let’s show you what’s interesting about “Sleight,” and make it disappear.

J.D. Dillard’s “Sleight” takes its most unique selling point and buries it beneath a generic gangbanger and drug dealer story. It’s a film about a kid with promise and potential whose bad choices cause him to squander it, and the movie can’t avoid making his same mistakes.

Bo (Jacob Latimore) is an honor student turned drug dealer and street performer who specializes in magic tricks. He levitates rings, makes playing cards appear in purses and even hides contraband from the cops.

His secret though is that he has a little assistance. In one scene he’s nursing an infected metallic coil embedded just below his shoulder. He levitates some batteries into a trash can that’s supposed to explain his trick, but it would honestly make more sense if Bo actually had superpowers instead of this science project he’s cooked up. Continue reading “Sleight”

Beauty and the Beast

Bill Condon’s live action remake of Disney’s animated classic is recreated with true loving care

BeautyandtheBeastPosterBravo Disney! Take a bow. If you’re going to make a shameless, expensive remake of one of your all time classic animated films, do it as well as this new “Beauty and the Beast.” Make it as explosively colorful, graceful and charming as Bill Condon’s film.

The new “Beauty and the Beast” lovingly and painstakingly recreates the original as though it were a shot for shot fan video. That may sound like a step down from the animated film’s originality, but Condon devotes such loving care that it’s not hard to get caught up in the magic. Continue reading “Beauty and the Beast”

13th

Ava DuVernay’s “13th” plays like a filmed think piece about racial injustice we’ve heard far too many times.

13th PosterI only barely watched Ava DuVernay’s film “13th,” just shy of 15 minutes to be exact, because it’s only barely a documentary. It’s more like a filmed think piece stretched to feature length. That’s not to say I don’t agree with DuVernay’s facts or assertions. I also agree there’s an urgent need to address the criminal justice flaws and the systemic racism that African Americans are faced with every day. It’s just, thanks but no thanks; I’ve already read this piece.

DuVernay doesn’t open “13th” with a personal anecdote but a fact recited by Barack Obama. “Think about that,” he says. Just imagine the staggering nature of this statistic on its face without much context. He’s explained that 25 percent of the world’s prison population is in America. Then some talking heads start unpacking that statement and rapidly spin it into a revisionist history of everything you thought you knew about America. They then explain the 13th Amendment contains a semantic loophole that effectively makes slavery legal, and in no time flat, they arrive at the conclusion that “The Birth of a Nation” single handedly shaped Americans’ perception of black people as criminals for generations to come. All in under 15 minutes! Continue reading “13th”

John Wick: Chapter 2

Chad Stahelski and Keanu Reeves are helping to usher in a new era of action movies with the incredible sequel to “John Wick”

john-wick-2-posterJohn Wick has a new dog, and he’s going to murder everyone. What more could you want?

That could honestly be the premise for many action movies, but “John Wick: Chapter 2” sets the pace for a generation of action movies to come. It’s slick, stylized and profound, embracing more thoughtful and polished gun-fu excitement than just raw adrenaline or machismo. Chad Stahelski has doubled down on the sheer surprise and success of the original “John Wick” that seemed to revive Keanu Reeves from the action hero graveyard. Both films will likely live on as action movie classics.

When we last left John Wick (Reeves), he had murdered everyone. Some thugs broke into his home, stole his car and killed his dog. Not smart. The sequel opens with a more conventional Bond movie spree, with Wick tying up the loose ends of the original film. Now he’s back in his home with a new dog, thinking he’s finally retired and out of the game. But news of his return leads an old partner, Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) to claim payment on a marker John once gave him. John is to kill Santino’s crime lord sister, and when he does, John seeks to prevent Santino from rising to power. Continue reading “John Wick: Chapter 2”