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Sunday, January 22, 2017

Quick Take: SPLIT is Ultimately As Ridicuous As You Thought It Would Be

Are we really surprised? A filmmaker who has a track record of luring us into a movie with a great premise, keeping our attention for a while, then whacking us on the head with a foam hammer, made yet another film that is unnecessarily bad. For what it's worth, SPLIT starts off as an engrossing thriller that places James McAvoy at the center as a man with disassociate personality disorder (24 of them, to be exact) who has an affinity toward abducting teenage girls. That in itself is creepy enough to build a whole narrative around. Trouble is, M. Night Shyalaman, as perennially over zealous as he is, doesn't stop there.

Adding to the already stuffed premise are the gratuitous subplots -- child molestation, cutting, carnivorous beasts-- all of which take away from what could have been an interesting psychological thriller (albeit, generic) that delved into the mind of a predator. Sure, McAvoy is a dream to watch, and his performance is a reminder of his enormous talent. But Shyalaman decides to also give one of his three most recent abductees, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), a backstory -- told intermittently in flashbacks --  that neither enhances the plot nor ultimately makes any sense. Then, one of McAvoy's alter egos turns into a literal beast (and sadly not in the X-Men kind of way). Shyalaman just continues to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, to the point that all you can do is roll your eyes and shake your head by the end of the film.

And it didn't even have to go down that way. SPLIT could have been a decent movie (for Shyalaman standards anyway). It's shot well. Its ominous setting, nestled deep in the pit of a dark, multi-layered, multi-doored complex puts you on edge. But the narrative -- LORD, this narrative -- becomes a steaming hot mess. It's clear that not even Shyalaman knows what he wants to achieve with all these competing narratives. The film becomes completely muddled, and ends in a way that is supposed to be clever but by then I was so frustrated by everything I'd just watched that I didn't even care about it. That's that Shyalaman effect that we know all too well. Le sigh.

Rating: D (** out of *****)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Here's That Anti-Valentine's Day Movie You Ordered

I kinda love that in its flurry to win the Guinness record for producing the most original content in the shortest amount of time, Netflix found a way to squeeze out an anti-Valentine film when they likely could have had their pick of any cheesy romantic comedy. Take that, traditional Hollywood.

GIRLFRIEND'S DAY, starring Bob Odenkirk, Natasha Lyonne, and Amy Tamblyn, looks like a strangely dark narrative that could actually work. Synopsis:

In the Netflix original film, Girlfriend's Day, director Michael Paul Stephenson (The American Scream) invites you to experience a clever and quirky story about love, loss and the worst place to get a paper cut. Meet Ray Wentworth (Bob Odenkirk), once a king of the wordsmith world, and now a down-on-his-luck romance card writer. In an effort to recapture the feelings that once made him the greatest, he gets entangled in a web of murder and deceit as writers vie to create the perfect card for a newly crowned holiday: Girlfriend's Day.

Which reminds me, I'm surprised Odenkirk has never been in a Coen brothers film, He's got the right amount of quirk, drama, and well intentions that goes well with their universe. Just watch this trailer:

See? GIRLFRIEND'S DAY premieres on Netflix February 14. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

THE BYE BYE MAN Makes the 2017 Horror Forecast Look Really Bleak

I was really kinda hoping to kick off the new year with a great horror movie, or even a decent one. Last winter 10 Cloverfield Lane was a pleasant surprise in the first quarter of 2016, coming to theaters at a time when we're usually shivering from the dearth of quality films. Then came THE BYE BYE MAN, a horror helmed by a woman director (Stacy Title) that, despite its Candyman knockoff premise, could have fooled us all and been a smart, shocking, layered film. But, it was none of those things (and Candyman has nothing to worry about).

So, here we are; starting 2017 with a movie about a trio of college students in Wisconsin (played by actors whose names really don't matter here) who gets spooked by a phantom villain that only they can see, The Bye Bye Man. The premise expands like this: The Bye Bye Man is a boogeyman (of sorts) whose strength is determined by your belief in him. Their fear in him only makes him bigger, closer, and more dangerous. Further, he comes whenever they say his name (which, like Ouija boards, kinda kills the element of surprise). And coincidentally, he looks like The Reaper, because his presence will be the last thing they see. Get it? It's supposed to be scary.

And it would be, if it wasn't so ridiculous. We've seen terrifying boogeymen and Ouija boards in classic horror like Halloween, The Exorcist, etc. That's not the problem. The actual look of the Reaper is also appropriately ominous, and the fact that he can disguise himself as any one of these friends can be creepy. But here's the issue: it's basic. A group of millenials are plucked off one by a boogeyman who they learn responds to the mention of his name, and...they keep calling on him. Despite repeating the chant, "Don't think it. Don't say it," they for some reason still find it impossible to neither think or say his name (I can see not being able to think of him when strange things are happening around you, but they should really have no problem with avoiding saying his name. It's a dumb name anyway). And of course, each of these lead characters do a lot of nonsensical things (THE BYE BYE MAN is riddled with about one hundred eyeroll-inducing horror movie cliches, including the airhead blonde whose contribution seems to be as hollow, useless, and scantily clad as possible. Not to mention, there's a love triangle storyline that seems to only serve as a way to sexualize the one woman among the trio. Ugh).

It gets more frustrating as the film progresses, because both the audience and the characters know what's going on (well, only one of them seems truly convinced). So really, we're all just waiting around for what we expect to happen. And it does. So what's the point? There's not even an allegory to which we could cling. It's just...empty.

P.S. Not even the great Faye Dunaway (who makes a thankless appearance in the film) can save this.

Rating: F (no stars)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Trailer Watch: Indie Drama DARK NIGHT, Based on the 2012 Colorado Movie Theater Shooting

It's bad when so many random acts of violence happen in seemingly such a short amount of time, consecutively, that they begin to run together. That's kind of what happened with me when I heard about director Tim Sutton's DARK NIGHT, loosely based on the horrific shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, killing 10 people and injuring 70. It reminded me of, my god, so many lives lost at the hands of a maniac for no reason, people who were hanging out with their friends in a movie theater enjoying the eagerly awaited final installment in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. And all the conversations it sparked, about the prevalence of guns, violence in the media, and more--conversations we're still having today.

More on the film:

A haunting, artfully understated critique of American gun culture, Tim Sutton's third feature is loosely based around the 2012 massacre in Aurora, Colorado that took place during a multiplex screening of "The Dark Knight Rises." Employing a mesmerizing documentary-style technique and a cast of non-professional actors, DARK NIGHT follows the activities of six strangers over the course of one day, from sunrise to midnight, the shooter among them. And, in looking at the trailer below, it does look like a documentary--a frightening one. It seems almost too uncomfortable to watch, especially just less than 5 years since the actual tragedy.

DARK NIGHT opens at the Alamo Drafthouse in New York on February 3, and will open in Los Angeles at a later date.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Diversity Was a Recurring Theme Throughout Sunday's Golden Globes Ceremony

What it must have been like to be in the room at Sunday night's Golden Globes ceremony, which honored the great Viola Davis for her extraordinary work in Fences, earning the film's only trophy (Denzel Washington's equally powerful performance and direction of the film was disappointingly unawarded--more on that later). We saw Tracee Ellis Ross take home the Golden Globe for best actress in a TV comedy (Black-ish), becoming the first black actress to win in the category since Debbie Allen won in 1982 for Fame. We saw Donald Glover celebrated for telling his own story in his rookie series, Atlanta, taking home awards for best actor in a TV comedy as well as creating the show. We saw Moonlight take home the evening's top honor for best dramatic movie (after watching them lose in not one, not two, not three, but four categories before that--more on that later as well). And we saw an animated film, Zootopia, win, for reminding us that it's never too early to teach our youngest generation (and the rest of us) the importance of acceptance, No, the call for diversity among award committees is not obsolete (not by a long shot). But we just got one step closer to demanding visibility in a year in which talent of color on TV and in film could not be ignored.

Then, a hoarse yet delighted Meryl Streep graced the stage to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award, punctuating the mood of the evening with a speech calling for inclusivity and foreign empathy, highlighting the many areas of the world from which the nominated women in the room have come: "If you kick us all out, you'll have nothing to watch except for football and mixed martial arts, which are not arts."

Watch the full clip here:

But of course, the night wasn't complete without its share of disappoints: Casey Affleck winning for the aggressively stale Manchester by the Sea, over the far superior Washington (I really fear they're going to take this campaign all the way to the Oscars and my, what an abomination that would be). Same goes for La La Land, which was the clear darling of the evening--confirming that mediocrity is okay as long as it's amiable. And that's all I will say about those two in this post. Oh wait, I do want to add that it's ridiculous that Emma Stone won over Annette Bening, who embodies everything that makes 20th Century Women special (though it's neither a comedy or a musical like La La Land, so maybe the Foreign Press was confused about their own category--again). Okay, now I'm done.

And you know how I feel about Elle. Not even the inimitable Isabelle Huppert, and the film's confounding claims of feminism, can validate it being in the race at all. Not when Ruth Negga's performance in Loving is still right there.

But in other news, I am clearly in the minority here, but I was pleasantly surprised by Aaron Taylor-Johnson's win for his absolutely insane performance in Nocturnal Animals--though conflicted by the loss of Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), whose performance in the first third of the film lingered until the closing credits. I always say that I am fine as long as someone deserving wins (though I know folks are feeling a kind of way about this one).

We'll have to see how the rest of the season unfolds. See the complete list of Golden Globe winners:


Best picture, drama: “Moonlight”
Best picture, comedy or musical: “La La Land”
Actress, drama: Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Actor, drama: Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Actress, comedy or musical: Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Actor, comedy or musical: Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Supporting actress: Viola Davis, “Fences”
Supporting actor: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, “Nocturnal Animals”
Director: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Screenplay: Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Animated film: “Zootopia”
Foreign language film: “Elle” (France)
Original score: Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
Original song: “City of Stars,” “La La Land”


Best series, drama: “The Crown,” Netflix
Best series, comedy or musical: “Atlanta,” FX
Best television movie or mini-series: “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” FX
Actress, mini-series or television movie: Sarah Paulson, “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”
Actor, mini-series or television movie: Tom Hiddleston, “The Night Manager”
Actress, drama: Claire Foy, “The Crown”
Actor, drama: Billy Bob Thornton, “Goliath”
Actress, comedy or musical: Tracee Ellis Ross, “black-ish”
Actor, comedy or musical: Donald Glover, “Atlanta”
Supporting actress: Olivia Colman, “The Night Manager”
Supporting actor: Hugh Laurie, “The Night Manager”

Friday, January 6, 2017

Here are Two Films Debuting at SXSW that Need to be On Your Radar

As always, filmmaker Terrence Malick's new film debuting at this year's SXSW Festival (which I am excited to be attending) has all Hollywood flapping their gums. But can we talk about two films that we need to pay strict attention to instead of what will likely be yet another meandering romantic drama from Malick (Song to Song)? Take a look at what else is on the roster:

Signature Move (World Premiere)
Director: Jennifer Reeder, Screenwriters: Fawzia Mirza, Lisa Donato
A secret new romance with Alma forces Zaynab to confront her complicated relationship with her recently widowed mother. In this coming-of-age Muslim melodrama, Zaynab copes by taking up Lucha-style wrestling.
Cast: Fawzia Mirza, Shabana Azmi, Sari Sanchez, Audrey Francis, Charin Alvarez, Mark Hood, Molly Brennan

Small Town Crime (World Premiere)
Directors/Screenwriters: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
Ex-cop, Mike Kendall, finds the body of a young woman and, in an act of self-redemption, becomes hellbent on finding the killer. While his uncouth, quirky detective style helps break the case, his dogged determination puts his family in danger.
Cast: John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Clifton Collins, Jr.

SXSW Festival will be held in Austin, Texas March 10-19. For more information, visit their website. More of their slate will be revealed late this month. Stay tuned.

'Chucky' is Back to Terrorize Us Yet Again

I often wonder whether kids coming up today are as frightened of a homicidal redheaded doll in overalls, as we were in Chucky's heyday. Okay, I admit; this doll still freaks me out. And now he's back to terrorize us once more in a new installment in the series, exclusively coming to home entertainment, THE CULT OF CHUCKY. Gah!


Confined to an asylum for the criminally insane for the past four years, Nica Pierce (Fiona Dourif) is erroneously convinced that she, not Chucky, murdered her entire family. But when her psychiatrist introduces a new therapeutic “tool” to facilitate his patients’ group sessions — an all-too-familiar “Good Guy” doll with an innocently smiling face — a string of grisly deaths begins to plague the asylum, and Nica starts to wonder if maybe she isn’t crazy after all. Andy Barclay (Alex Vincent), Chucky’s now-grown-up nemesis from the original Child’s Play, races to Nica’s aid. But to save her he’ll have to get past Tiffany (Oscar®-nominee Jennifer Tilly), Chucky’s long-ago bride, who will do anything, no matter how deadly or depraved, to help her beloved devil doll.

Oh gawd...and he's brought his cuckoo bride along too. I don't know why we need another of these films. But, as one of my twitter followers recently stated, "no one can beat a dead horse better than Hollywood." 'Nuff said. 

THE CULT OF CHUCKY begins filming on January 9 in Winnipeg. Take a look at the teaser trailer above. It will be released on Blu-ray™, DVD and Digital HD in the fall.

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