Split Review

Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley, Sebastian Arcelus, Brad William Henke


What does success look like for M. Night Shyamalan in 2017? With The Visit, the excessively maligned director seemed to acknowledge a need to scale back the lofty ambition that tanked his two highest budget, least interesting efforts (namely The Last Airbender and After Earth) but Split fails to further that momentum. Despite an ace performance by James McAvoy, the film fizzles just when M. Night seemed poised to rekindle a spark of his early genius. At this point, another smash on the scale of The Sixth Sense might be too much to hope for. Heck, I’d settle for a Signs.

Split, despite its PG-13 rating, ventures into darker territory than previous Shyamalan fare, and the director struggles to balance the emotional maturity the premise deserves with the endearing, lighthearted humor he’s made his hallmark. The plot revolves around the kidnapping of three teenage girls by Kevin Wendell Crumb, a psychopath with multiple personality disorder (a committedly unhinged McAvoy). His victims include birthday-girl Claire (Haley Lu Richardson, The Edge of Seventeen), best friend Marcia (Jessica Sula, TV’s Recovery Road), and cool-headed outcast Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch).

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The Revenant Review

The Revenant
Directed by: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Written by: Mark L. Smith and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (screenplay), Michael Punke (novel)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck, Paul Anderson, Kristoffer Joner, Lukas Haas


What a year for westerns! From Fury Road‘s post-apocalyptic riff on Stagecoach to Tarantino’s close-quarters talk-‘em-up The Hateful Eight and the wide-eyed austerity of Slow West, the genre has had its best year in… maybe ever. And that conversation gets a whole lot more interesting with the arrival of The Revenant, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s ambitious follow-up to 2015 Best Picture winner Birdman.

Based on Michael Punke’s 2002 book bearing the subtitle “A Novel of Revenge,” The Revenant casts Leonardo DiCaprio as frontiersman and father Hugh Glass, whose brutal encounter with a grizzly leaves him bloodied, broken, and — worst of all — in the care of nefarious fur trader John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). Fitzgerald shirks his promise of a proper burial, leaving Glass with a parting mouthful of dirt in a shallow grave, alive and alone in the American wilderness.

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The Visit Review

The Visit
Written and Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn


Bring on the Shyamalanaissance! Seriously, I’ve been pulling for my boy M. Night since before he let fly the string of stinkers that turned the whole wide web against him, and The Visit is (hopefully) his first shaky step toward a complete career recovery. Arriving unfashionably late to the found-footage party, Shy Guy’s latest might easily be written off as a “me too” effort; a final, sad admission that the besmirched auteur—infamously hailed as a successor to Hitchcock—has at last resigned to life as a studio shill (the presence of producer Jason Blum here doesn’t exactly inspire confidence). It would be easy to write all that… if his new movie weren’t so much damn fun.

Even as a Shyamalan apologist, I write that last bit with something of an asterisk. Here’s the thing—I don’t think The Visit is an especially great film by any objective academic standard. It isn’t as brilliant as The Babadook or as creative as It Follows. It’s not even on par with Night in his prime. But those are probably the wrong comparison points. His scrappy comeback feels closer in spirit to a Sam Raimi gagfest than any of the above. There will be blood. There will be puke. There will be shit.

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Gone Girl Review

Gone Girl
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: Gillian Flynn
Starring: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Patrick Fugit


David Fincher seems at something of an impasse. Three long years have elapsed since he made The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and a number of potential follow-ups have fizzled in the interim. Sony wouldn’t commit to a sequel, and the director came to loggerheads with Disney over a planned blockbuster adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He entered talks to direct Aaron Sorkin’s Steve Jobs biopic, but that fell through too. The only concrete credit to Fincher’s name since 2011 is Netflix’s House of Cards. And then along comes Gone Girl.

Based on the bestselling novel by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl pitches a familiar premise: a woman disappears under suspicious circumstances, and a trickle of evidence begins to mount implicating her husband. The woman is Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike), daughter of two celebrated children’s authors who reluctantly trades her New York City apartment for a flyover-state McMansion at the behest of her husband Nick (Ben Affleck), the kind of guy who plays Call of Duty and watches Adam Sandler movies. After five years their marriage has cooled, and on the morning of their anniversary, Amy vanishes.

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Boyhood Review

Written and Directed by: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelei Linklater


Two moments in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood seemed absolutely real to me. It’s night, and in the skeleton of a half-finished home, a circle of teenage boys drink and butt egos. Amid angst and awkwardness, I feel a pang to reach for a beer can that isn’t there. Later, at a family birthday party, everyone claps as the flames of sixteen candles are blown out. For a split-second I feel I should be clapping too.

Boyhood pushes naturalism to its natural conclusion. The cast, including Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, and Linklater’s daughter Lorelei, ages twelve years over 164 minutes. The narrative experiment rarely feels written, with conflict evolving subtly from character rather than arbitrary plot. As such, Boyhood can feel unsatisfying in a strictly narrative sense. Like life, the series of scenes is no greater than the sum of its parts; better to enjoy it while it lasts than parse it for meaning that isn’t there.

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The Wolf of Wall Street Review

The Wolf of Wall Street
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie, Matthew McConaughey, Kyle Chandler, Rob Reiner, Jon Bernthal, Jon Favreau, Jean Dujardin


Who’d have guessed that at 71, Martin Scorsese would be making more vivacious films than most directors half his age? The Wolf of Wall Street is one of his best, a simmering 180-minute bacchanal of depravity that will be hard to best for exuberance and audacity for years to come. Scorsese doesn’t moralistically vilify real-life stock swindler Jordan Belfort, but his reduction of the man to a colossal onscreen clown is sweeter vindication still.

Convicted in 1998 for fraud and money laundering, Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) built his empire atop a foundation laid in the late ’80s, shilling penny stocks at a two bit Long Island brokerage. Scorsese chronicles his meteoric rise to Wall Street deity and his subsequent downward spiral into drug addiction and persecution by FBI agent Gregory Coleman (renamed Patrick Denham and played by Kyle Chandler) with an urgency he hasn’t exhibited in years.

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Star Wars: Episode VII Now Has a Release Date… But Can J.J. Abrams Make Star Wars Cool Again?


The best (and maybe worst) thing Star Wars: Episode VII has going for it is potential. Now officially dated for December 18th, 2015, the J.J. Abrams-led addendum to the beleaguered Star Wars franchise arrives a decade after Darth Vader deadpanned “NOOO!” and the world crossed its legs in collective embarrassment. Not just any franchise could survive that — but Star Wars is strong. A long time ago, seemingly in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas had a great idea. The scrappy masterpiece he unleashed in 1977 exploded off the screen and into our imaginations. Like weak-willed stormtroopers, we’re still under the spell of the force.

Even against our better judgment. Five movies and 36 years later, Abrams is saddled not with the role of director, but of necromancer. Financially, Star Wars may be as virile as ever — with enough books, discs, and merch to fill a sarlacc pit — but creatively, it’s dead and ripe. Last March, Disney spent a fortune on the corpse and is playing Dr. Frankenstein to the tune of 4.05 billion, but what’s so tantalizing about that news is not that more Star Wars is coming, but that it might not suck.

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The Dark Knight Rises Review

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman

You’re gonna love the new Batman. Comparably untouched by studio meddling, Christopher Nolan’s ambitious follow-up to The Dark Knight breaks the precedent set by X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3 that all comic book threequels have to suck. “Breaks” isn’t even the right word. With the brute force and visual muscle of its immersive large-format IMAX action sequences, “eviscerates” is better.

Eight years after Batman took the fall for Harvey Dent, the posthumous Dent Act has all but stomped out organized crime in Gotham City. Bruce Wayne has hung up cape and cowl, skulking about his neglected manor with the shades drawn. It takes the catastrophic threat posed by terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy) to draw Wayne out of his self-imposed exile. Everything is at stake, and Batman depends upon the aid of Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman, who spends most of the movie in a hospital bed), a hotheaded rookie cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and (just maybe) cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway). 

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The Hunger Games Review

The Hunger Games
Directed by: Gary Ross
Written by: Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland

Superfans be easy. If your barometer for measuring the success of Hollywood’s The Hunger Games adaptation begins and ends with faithfulness to the source material, by all accounts it is one. If you can swing a bit of emotional transference, all the better — I suspect few who enter without a preexisting love for Katniss and Peeta will be moved by their exploits. This $78 million companion piece to Suzanne Collins’ young adult novel isn’t especially concerned with converting the uninitiated; it’s about cashing in on a fertile franchise. Cha-ching!

For the rest of you: Katniss Everdeen is a girl from District 12. In the future, America is divided into 12 districts under a totalitarian government. Once a year, at a grim lottery known as a “reaping,” two adolescents’ names are drawn to represent each district in a televised battle to the death known as The Hunger Games. Katniss, 16, has survived several reapings, but when her younger sister’s name is called, she volunteers to fight in her stead.

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The Woman in Black Review

The Woman in Black
Directed by: James Watkins
Written by: Jane Goldman (screenplay), Susan Hill (novel)
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Janet McTeer, Ciarán Hinds

Recipe for a Hollywood horror flick: pick a screenplay with a vaguely creepy-sounding title like The Woman in Black. Be sure the writer included one or all of the following: portraits with the eyes scratched out, little kids’ drawings, antique toys, etc. Next, shoot everything at half exposure. Then pick a quiet weekend to release and collect your fifty million dollars. Repeat. It’s a racket that works like a charm, and isn’t going away until the audience does.

The Woman in Black stars ‘Arry Potter ‘imself — Daniel Radcliffe — as Arthur Kipps, an adolescent English estate lawyer bound unluckily for a haunted house in the boondocks. Kipps’ job is on the line, which accounts for his eager beaver attitude upon arrival, and dogged insistence on seeing the property, even against the behest of, oh, everyone in town. You know where this is going.

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The Grey Review (Colin’s Take)

The Grey
Directed by: Joe Carnahan
Written by: Joe Carnahan & Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Starring: Liam Neeson, Durmont Mulroney, Frank Grillo

So it’s come to this: Liam Neeson, a pack of wolves, and a filmmaker with delusions of grandeur. The Grey might have passed as merely a second-rate survival flick had it laid off the pseudo-intellectual grandstanding and quickened the glacial pace. Unfortunately, its shepherd, Joe Carnahan, knows no such restraint. Bloated, juvenile, and absurd, the movie attempts to pass off a few cheap thrills as an ode to humanity. Oh, and according to Carnahan, it may return to theaters to make an Oscar run in October. Give me a break.

Neeson plays Ottway, a professional wolf hunter with a penchant for internally reciting corny poems written by his deceased daddy. “Once more into the fray/ Into the last good fight I’ll ever know/ To live and die on this day,” he rasps. Hey, how that’s poetry elective going? It might seem profound as a beer hall anthem to rally spirits in the fourth quarter, but it’s embarrassingly maudlin as the emotional crux of a movie. But enough about poetry — let’s talk about wolves.

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Haywire Review

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Written by: Lem Dobbs
Starring: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas, Bill Paxton, Antonio Banderas, Channing Tatum, Michael Angarano

Haywire is a lot like last year’s Drive. What both lack in substance, they make up for in style. Likewise, both could be dismissed as pulp dreck if their respective directors hadn’t classed up the material. Haywire isn’t as riveting as last year’s sleeper hit, but the way Steven Soderbergh stages and choreographs the action elevates it from generic genre fare; especially apparent in contrast to its opening weekend competition: Underworld Awakening.

Punctuated by terse life-or-death scuffles between a badass black ops agent and her would-be assassins, it’s no wonder Soderbergh hired martial artist slash actress Gina Carano (not to be confused with Carla Gugino). Of her handful of big screen credits, Haywire is by far the biggest deal; her casting is a move reminiscent of another recent Soderbergh flick — The Girlfriend Experience, which marked the dramatic debut of porn star Sasha Grey.

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