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

Film Brief: 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane - poster

My central issue with 10 Cloverfield Lane isn’t popping up in a cursory review of reviews: the implausibility of a couple smallish but important plot points.  And as good as it was, it could have done with a little added zest.  But I quibble: this film is engaging, fun, tense: a success.  A solid recommendation.  7/10

Comparison Notes: Recommended: The Mist, Misery, Room, Oldboy, Take Shelter, Breakdown (1997); Not recommended: Skyline

Under the Spell of Martha Marcy May Marlene

Martha Marcy May Marlene - poster large

Every once in a while we are blessed with a phenomenally great indie.  Martha Marcy May Marlene is a gripping, brilliant fresh take on one of the most compelling genres when done right: life in a cult.  One cannot help but thinking of the Manson clan while watching.  Peter Travers:

After you see Martha Marcy May Marlene, you’ll know [Elizabeth Olsen] as an actress of uncommon subtlety and feeling. It’s a sensational performance in a gripping psychological thriller, from gifted first-time writer-director Sean Durkin, that reveals its secrets in the silence between words.

…it’s Olsen, as a damaged soul clinging to shifting ground, who makes this spellbinder impossible to shake.

Highly recommended: put this on your short list.  Rental available on iTunes.

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Sound of My Voice, Electrick Children, The East

The Shining Meets New Yankee Workshop

From the ridiculous to the sublime.  This 24-minute video is infinitely more satisfying and insightful than Room 237.  I had the opportunity to view LACMA’s Kubrick exhibit, and it was utterly fascinating.  Now I hope to see the traveling exhibit again, this time with Adam Savage’s hi-fi maze model.  He stated that the exhibit would be in San Francisco in 2016… so there you go.

Credit to Daring Fireball.

Film Brief: The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January - poster smallAnother lame movie title, but it seems to fit this anachronistic piece.  The Two Faces of January was a novel written by Patricia Highsmith in 1964.  She wrote Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, which was turned into the brilliant French and Italian thriller Purple Noon (1960).   But this production is not brilliant, the direction not adept enough to flesh out the potential of the source material into a great psychological thriller.

The story kept me engaged well enough, but its development began to feel amateurish in the second half, and the ending was exceptionally weak, even goofy.  Not where this movie was trying to head.  And sadly, the Greek sites were not played up or presented at all well.  5/10

Great Perfomances: The Machinist

machinistairport

Christian Bale as Trevor Reznik, in his hopeful place

To understand what a great actor Christian Bale is, forget about Batman and watch American Psycho.  Then watch a comedy to reset your mood, and then go right back to the dark spaces with The Machinist (2004).  It is a great movie with an extraordinary performance by Bale.  I can’t add much to the review by Stephen Holden of The Times:

Christian Bale’s 63-pound weight loss for his role in “The Machinist” may take the cake (or is it a diet wafer?) as an example of an actor’s starving for his art. To play Trevor Reznik, the skeletal insomniac who stalks through this bleak psychological thriller, this buff star of “American Psycho” reduced himself to a walking 120-pound cadaver.

“The Machinist” may be an expertly manipulated exercise in psychological horror, but that’s all it is. Don’t look for the kind of metaphoric weight you’d find in a movie by David Lynch or David Fincher. As Trevor’s world fragments and closes in, and friends turn into enemies, the pieces of his decomposing mind slowly come together to finish the story. Not until the very last moment do they snap into a completed puzzle that’s as tight as a steel trap.

Before watching this movie, I was unaware that Bale had slimmed down to do the role, and was unsure what I was seeing — it was such an almost otherworldly, Holocaust-like look I thought it might be special effects.  Bale received no recognition from the Academy for his work in The Machinist, and that’s a shame.  This is a worthwhile and memorable film which deserves some accolades.

* * *

Comparison Notes: Recommended: Raging Bull, Synecdoche, New York, Secret Window, Mulholland Dr., Being John Malkovich, Inland Empire, Fight Club; Not Recommended: Memento; Unknown: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind