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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

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

 

Film Brief: Elle

I though Elle was going to be about a woman who was sexually assaulted, and then took that experience and instead of feeling victimized by it, turned it around, flipped the script and used it to her empowerment.

Instead, we get a muddled take on Basic Instinct-cum-pseudo Hitchcock psychological crime drama.  Operative word is muddled.  The movie held me well enough through the first half or so, but lost its way later on.  A disappointed, marginal no.  5/10

Film Brief: Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-text-blockHidden Figures is quite formulaic, but nonetheless entertaining, and, as it depicts real lives and history, somewhat edifying.  My own experience causes me to question the accuracy of events within the NASA centers.  The math and operations often seemed more Hollywood than scientific.  A scant few viewers will notice this glitch.

To put it another way, the Rotten Tomatoes (yes, still useful) summary:

In heartwarming, crowd-pleasing fashion, Hidden Figures celebrates overlooked — and crucial — contributions from a pivotal moment in American history.

The timing on this movie is good too, given the politics of the clown administration.  7/10

Film Brief: Jackie

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I am hardly a Jackie Kennedy scholar, but there seemed something a bit odd in Natalie Portman’s performance, something where I wasn’t sure if it was dead-on or off in a bizarre direction — one of my initial thoughts was, of all people, Marilyn Monroe.  And there was a certain detachment.  However, a brief look at Mrs. Kennedy’s White House tour (highlighted in the film) makes me think Natalie Portman might well have nailed it.

Jackie raises the obvious comparison to Sofia Coppola’s much superior Marie Antoinette.  Tragedy, we know, is in the offing.  I was severely disappointed by Jackie, but I admit the film held me, and that goes a long way.  I kept waiting for the film to reveal itself, to show me a door I had not previously known.  By the end of the film, that door was yet to be found.  6/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Frost/Nixon