M. Night Shyam-A-Lam-A-Split-Bam

M. Night Shyamalan burst onto the film scene in 1999 with The Sixth Sense; his results since then have been, to put it nicely, mixed.  I did like last year’s The Visit, a campy minor romp.  But it’s clear he’s no creative genius, no Quentin Tarantino or P.T. Anderson — nor anything close.  As evidence we have Split, a movie more ambitious than Shyamalan’s ken.  A lot of elements he grasps at sour into hackneyed nonsense.

split-text-blockOn top of that, Split wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it had every right to be.  Given the premise, there were a million more interesting ways it could have gone.  But instead, it went the I-am-out-of-my-depth-with-storywriting way.  There are obvious comparisons to 10 Cloverfield Lane.  We weren’t dealing with multiple personalities there, but the psychosis was much more effective.  Split delivered a little transient entertainment value — James McAvoy turns in a fun game with the lead.  But the effort is squandered by Shyamalan, and I cannot recommend.  5/10

Comparison Notes (all recommended): Don’t Breathe, Saw, The Human Centipede, The Silence of the Lambs, Dead Calm, Riveting Rentals

The Founder Makes It Big Time

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The Founder is not a movie about hamburgers.  It’s a movie about business, and a good one: solid, compelling, and more than you expect.  One thing we learn: Ray Kroc was a jerk.  And when you think of it, a lot of big companies have been built by jerks.  But what makes this movie good — beyond the journey itself — is that he’s a complicated, interesting character — if ultimately still a jerk.

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone:

How is Michael Keaton’s performance as McDonald’s self-proclaimed founder Ray Kroc? I gotta say, I’m lovin’ it. Keaton is firing on all cylinders in The Founder and he makes this electrifying film something to see.

Like Apple founder Steve Jobs, Kroc – who died in 1984 – had a genius for marketing the talent of others. Is that a lesser gift? Not in these United States. Not then. And not in the age of Trump. Set more than a half century ago, The Founder proves to be a movie for a divisive here and now. Step right up. You might just learn something. God help us.

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Times article on the movie’s production makes an interesting point:

…the film’s portrayal of Kroc comes with a notable irony: Unauthorized by the company, “The Founder” uses McDonald’s zealously guarded iconography to provide a bold visual tour through Kroc’s supposed hijacking of those same, mostly trademarked, images.

The Founder qualified for 2016 awards — I had thought it a Hail, Caesar!-type 2017 release which would not.  As typical, the Academy is blind to the best (Variety discusses this).  I hate to do it, but I must revise my 2016 list: The Founder knocks Sully out of the Top Five.  8/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): Big Eyes comes to mind – a good juxtaposition on the male businessman-jerk theme; Citizen Kane

Seasons of Spring 3 by 3

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“She’s dead.  Wrapped in plastic…wrap.”

Three television series will see a Season 3 premiere this Spring: the Showtime redux of Twin Peaks — god I hope it’s good, Fargo on FX, and Better Call Saul on AMC.  Dates:

Twin Peaks: Sunday, May 21

Fargo: “sometime in mid-April”

Better Call Saul: Monday, April 10

Fargo will feature Ewan McGregor and be the most modern Fargo yet, set in 2010.  I hope it’s good in spite of McGregor’s presence.  Same goes for the Trainspotting sequel set to release next month (egad!).

Season 2 was entertaining, though not up to Season 1 form.  There was so much violence that the National Guard would have been called in by about episode 5, so my incredulity will be alleviated if they dial it back a bit.

If previous patterns hold, AMC will air the first two seasons of Better Call Saul in marathon style leading up to the premiere.  That same pattern dictates availability of Season 2 on Netflix one week prior to the premiere; Season 1 is available now.  Certainly hoping it continues to be (among) the most entertaining shows ever aired.  Gus Fring will be part of the story, and I’d be surprised if we don’t at some point see Walter White, as the inevitable crossover into the Breaking Bad era takes place.

As for Twin Peaks.  Without going into it, let’s just say that Twin Peaks was a revelation when it first aired.  Not only did I think it was an incredibly great, ground-breaking show, but it made a significant cultural impact on my life ever since.  The cast list is 200 miles long, including Kyle MacLachlan and a number of other original cast members, and newcomers Michael Cera, longtime Lynchite Laura Dern, Ashley Judd, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Matthew Lillard, rock frontmen Trent Reznor and Eddie Vedder, Naomi Watts, and A-Lister Amanda Seyfried.

Such a massive cast is a lot to juggle, so I hope this doesn’t become another Dune.  David Lynch and Mark Frost are producing and writing, as they did originally, and Lynch will be directing.  My concern is that Lynch hasn’t made a film since Inland Empire, and was seemingly retired from dramatic presentation, content to make damn fine coffee and avant-garde music.

Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul and Fargo have set a new standard in television.  I hope Twin Peaks can live up to that standard while capturing the spirit, and the spirits, of the original series.

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Film Brief: 20th Century Women

There’s a form of contrivance in film which may be termed amalgamation.  The idea that a perfectly good movie can be made by an assembly process, putting a bunch of different elements together in a box.  It’s not a good thing.  Much better is to let your film develop organically.

Nonetheless, I liked the performances and bit of fun in 20th Century Women, so a marginal thumbs-up; 6/10, and one step behind The Accountant on the 2016 List.

Comparison Notes (recommended): The Diary of a Teenage Girl

 

The Best and Worst of 2016 [u]

Updated on 20 Feb. 2017 to include three films viewed post-post.

Last year about this time, I bluntly stated “2015 was a terrible year for movies.”  Hence I named my end-of-year post “The Best and Mostly Worst of 2015.”  For some time I had thought that compared to the last, thankfully expired year of 2016, 2015 was practically a golden age of cinema.  That maybe 2016 in movies was analogous to the awful year it was in politics.  Actually compiling this list, however, makes me realize that 2016 wasn’t that much worse than 2015.  No film last year passed beyond an 8/10 rating; there were lots of so-so 6’s and ho-hum 7’s.  A fair number of good films, but the shining standouts went AWOL.   Just a kind of middling year.

So on to the list.  No need my normal note on home streaming; I saw all these films in the theater.  As usual, worst to first…

The Girl on the Train — 2/10 and Honours for Worst Movie of the Year

Suicide Squad — 2/10

Midnight Special — 2/10

The Meddler — 2/10

Lights Out — 2/10

Arrival — 3/10

Love and Friendship — 4/10

Everybody Wants Some!! — 4/10

Captain Fantastic — 4/10

Fences — 4/10

Deepwater Horizon — 4/10

Don’t Think Twice — 4/10

The Shallows — 4/10

The Witch — 5/10nerve-poster

Embrace of the Serpent — 5/10

Deadpool — 5/10

Elle — 5/10

Silence — 5/10

Moonlight — 5/10

Jackie — 6/10

20th Century Women — 6/10

The Accountant — 6/10

Ouija: Origin of Evil — 6/10swiss-army-man-poster

Hacksaw Ridge — 6/10

Lion — 6/10

The Lobster — 6/10

Swiss Army Man — 6/10

Nerve — 6/10

American Honey — 6/10.  This year’s Tangerine

A Bigger Splash — 7/10

Don’t Breathe — 7/10

Manchester by the Sea — 7/10

City of Gold — 7/10

The Nice Guys — 7/10

Hidden Figures — 7/10

Hunt for the Wilderpeople — 7/10

Café Society — 7/10

In Order of Disappearance — 7/10

10 Cloverfield Lane — 7/10

Hell or High Water — 7/10

Certain Women — 7/10

The Neon Demon — 7/10.  More on this one later.

Passengers — 7/10

Sully — 8/10

== TOP FIVE ==

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5. Nocturnal Animals — 8/10

4. The Founder — 8/10

3. Where to Invade Next — 8/10

2. La La Land — 8/10

1. Hail, Caesar! — 8/10 and Clearly the Best Movie of the Year.  Another grand victory for the Coens, yet swept under the rug.  Watch in a darkened theater, close to the big screen — or the nearest approximation thereof that you can muster.

* * *

That’s right, Top Five.  As I said, a middling movie year.  I just couldn’t see highlighting movies that would have been at Number 30 on the 2014 list as a Top Ten pick here, putting them on some sort of equal footing as the magnificent films of that year.

END NOTE on OSCAR CONTENTION.

1) Not long ago (to the best of my recollection), films had to be released for at least two weeks in any given year to be eligible for Oscar consideration for that year; that time period has now been squeezed down to one week.  This means the trend of Oscar-contending films being released later in the following year at a theater near you has only gotten worse.  Foreign and independent films are the worst hit by this phenomenon.  Leviathan, for example, wasn’t available to watch locally until March 2015 — after the Oscars.  This is done to boost ticket sales for award-winning movies, but it’s annoying.

I mention this not because I want to go off on a rant, but to point out that I can’t wait until March or April to put out my yearly list.  There’s a good chance that I’ll be seeing more 2016 pictures in the months ahead; if so I’ll make a note of where they place on this list, and/or make an update.

2) As a corollary to point 1), it is widely accepted that any studio who wants a film to compete in awards season must release its movie in the final quarter of the year.  A summer release is iffy, though not ruled out entirely — but it would have to be a film that captured the year’s zeitgeist.  And anytime in the first half, no way.

Again, my main objective here is not to rant, though the release-date blues do get me down.  I mention it because Hail, Caesar!’s February release — and its studio’s opinion of it as reflected by that release — has more to do with its Oscar non-contention than anything to do with the quality of the picture.  As the best of the year, that’s a shame.  But then shame and the Oscars go hand in hand.