Monday, February 27, 2017

Observant "I don't feel at home" is rich with unpredictability

Ruth Kimke (Melanie Lynskey, convincingly portraying a lonely woman who wishes people had more respect towards one another) lives a mundane life in the American Pacific Northwest, one in which people constantly cut in line in front of her at the grocery store, spoil the upcoming secrets of a book she's reading, or have their dogs shit on her lawn.  When her home is burglarized one day, and Ruth realizes that police won't do much to find her stolen belongings, she takes matters into her own hands, and with the help of her neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood, as quirky and odd as ever), decides to find and confront the perpetrator (Devon Graye) herself.

Writer/director Macon Blair has made a very original movie in which observant comedy, civilian vigilante justice and dumb criminals (David Yow and Jane Levy, both who give new meaning to "white trash thugs") all come together to produce a cinematic equivalent of Tarantino-esque "lite" feature - which is no small feat, mind you.  The movie paces itself accordingly, until it explodes in a stylishly-bloody third act shoot-out that may leave you breathless (unfortunately, it follows that terrific scene with a superfluous chase-across-a-river-and-through-the-forest sequence, whose resolution just feels redundant and anti-climactic as a result).

Nevertheless, I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Netflix) is terrific entertainment of a new hybrid-kind of modern filmmaking, where several genres successfully morph into one, satisfying our multiple movie needs all at once.

Friday, February 24, 2017

"The Crown" rules all the current series

Netflix's recent original series, The Crown, is the kind of wise, mature entertainment that David Lean would have made, if he had focused on episodic shows rather than feature films during his prime.  This great looking drama by writer/creator Peter Morgan evokes memories of Shakespeare's greatest plays had they been merged with George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire saga - but without the nudity, bloodshed or vulgarity.  In other words, it is the PG version of the war for Westeros, the writing which is just as bold and audacious as anything in the mythical Seven Kingdoms.

Each episode of The Crown is a historical account of the early days of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, who comes to power abruptly (and perhaps before her time) after the unexpected death of her father, King George VI (Jared Harris).  The storylines effectively shift from social, political and international themes, all the while keeping the point of view of the Monarchal heroine, played gracefully by Claire Foy.  Her husband,  Prince Phillip (Matt Smith), is the kind of easy going womanizer who hates it when his wife "commands" him, and who spends his free-wheeling days learning to fly airplanes.  But the series, for the most part, belongs to John Lithgow, who plays the legendary British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, spitting out the perfect amount of noble growling and barking whenever his universally acclaimed leadership is considered to be past his prime by his contemporaries.

Highlights of Season 1 take place in Episode 4, titled Act of God, in which a thick, heavy smog envelopes London, causing land-wide deaths and accidents due to the toxins in the air and the poor visibility.  Churchill is faced with a great dilemma, and the episode's climax, in which an important character's death finally shakes the Prime Minister's soul, is deeply powerful and emotional.  Similarly, Episode 9, Assassins, incorporates high art and thoroughbred horses, and how each impacts vital periods in the lives of both English rulers.  Churchill, observing his own portrait by a great English artist, is at long last faced with his own fading mortality; the Monarch, coincidentally, will call out her husband's extra-marital affairs to his face with just the right amount of honesty and mandating.  The episode is a masterpiece of style and substance, superb in every single definition.

The Crown may not have the sexy brutality of Game of Thrones, but its drama and superb characterizations give every single current series a run for their money.  I imagine HBO is envious that they didn't think of it first.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Creepy "The Belfry" a homage to gothic frights

Borrowing elements from Jeepers Creepers and Lost, Gabriel Hardman's new one-shot The Belfry explores the crash-landing of a plane on an isolated island that may as well be run by Lucifer himself.      The place is occupied by strange, demonic creatures with large, flappy wings, and their objective, it would seem, is to bite the remaining survivors and convert them to their type of vampirism.  If I should ever happen to find myself in such a conundrum, I imagine my first reaction would be absolute terror, followed by the thought, "Now that I've soiled my pants involuntarily, where the fuck can I get a fresh pair on this godforsaken place?!?"

Doubling as a writer and illustrator, Hardman creates a world that is dark, ghastly and just plain old gothic.  His artwork is dirty, and in some cases confusing and unclear; perhaps that is his intention, to murk the line between reality and nightmare.  The ghoulish nature and appearance of the monsters reminded me of Scott Snyder and JOCK's Wytches, but with an ability to fly, which makes them that much more devastating.  The narrative is of rather bleak nature, and by the time we get to the final page (the story ends rather abruptly), we realize that there is simply no other way a horror story of this ilk could've concluded.

The Belfry is an effective horror comic, and considering that it'll have no follow-ups or sequels, it's even more admirable that Hardman was able to incorporate so much dread and fright in so few pages.  I may not necessarily want to read it again, but I'll surely remember its vision of hell-on-Earth for a long time.

Series 2 of "Sherlock" expands the emotional depth of Doyle's sleuth

Steven Moffat's creative genius and Benedict Cumberbatch's dorky charm are a match in TV show heaven, a collaboration that would, I'm sure, impress even Arthur Conan Doyle himself.  Sherlock Series 2 delivers more of the exciting mysteries and murder cases for our favorite London detective to solve, but this time around, he's humanized more thoroughly.  Mr. Holmes (ahem, not the hero's older brother, Mycroft, but the younger, quick witted genius) will finally meet The Woman, and perhaps even have his heart challenged at a previously unfamiliar level.

The first episode of Series 2, A Scandal in Belgravia, introduces Sherlock to Irene Adler (Laura Pulver), a dominatrix-for-hire who has incriminating photos of a member of the British Royal family. Mycroft, as a member of the government intelligence, brings in his younger brother to look into the matter; meanwhile, Dr. John Watson (Martin Freeman) will wonder if Sherlock has ever had a girlfriend before, or even been in love.  Irene will even go so far to tell the good doctor that although he doesn't yet realize it, he is Sherlock's "other half", a theory Watson rejects.  However, it's clear that Moffat is also expanding the relationship between the two roommates, who are slowly becoming very dependent on one another.

The Hounds of Baskerville injects the first dose of horror into this otherwise non-horrific TV series.  Henry (Russell Tovey) was traumatized as a young boy when he witnessed a vicious beast maul his father to death, and those nightmarish visions are still present in his psyche some 20 years later.  After he hires Holmes and Watson to help him get to the bottom of, the duo take a trip into the English countryside, where they discover a military laboratory experimenting on various animals.  Baskerville may not possess the charm of the previous episodes, nor does it present us with a worthy adversary for Holmes (I already miss Laura Pulver's Irene Adler, and was disappointed to find she does not make a cameo here).  Overall, the episode is mostly bark, with some very cleverly placed bite.

The best episode of the entire series so far is The Reichenbach Fall.  At long last, we witness a complete and thorough confrontation between Sherlock and his nemesis, the criminal mastermind Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott).  The scenes in which they try to outwit and one-up each other sizzle with tension, their intellect practically on the same level, with very little between them.  Moriarty reveals that his goal is not to murder Sherlock - that would simply be too easy - but to ruin him in the eyes of the public, and to force him to commit suicide, an act that would eventually strip away any credibility that young sleuth has built over the years.  Scott turns Reichenbach Fall into his own personal one-man show, and by the time we reach the nerve-wracking climax, we may (or may not) believe what we had just seen and heard.

Sherlock Series 2 is simply superb entertainment, a show that should appeal to both young and old, cool and lame, rich or poor.  It's as good as anything currently airing on television.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

"Salesman" another example of Farhadi's boldness

The Iranian cinema in the 21st century, as far as I'm concerned, can only be attributed to one man: Asghar Farhadi.  In only the past decade, he's brought us About Elly, A Separation and (the overlooked) The Past.  Farhadi's new movie, The Salesman (Forushande), incorporates elements of Arthur Miller and marital tension that arises between a couple after the wife, Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) is brutally assaulted in her apartment late one night.  Her husband, Emad (Shahab Hosseini), a high school teacher appearing in a stage version of Death of a Salesman, is devastated by the events, and vows to find the perpetrator and bring him to justice.  The movie takes a similar, methodical approach to examining the physical, but mostly emotional, wounds that such an incident can have on a married couple, and those close to them.   The film's climax boldly examines an issue that's prevalent in Iranian society: is a violent, criminal act against a woman less of a stain on society than the guilty party losing face in front of his family and friends by being exposed as a violent rapist that he is?  The characters in The Salesman have difficult choices to make, and just like in real life, there are no easy solutions or just outcomes.  Only burdens of the soul.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"Big Little Lies" evokes Housewives of old

Structured like Marc Cherry's Desperate Housewives from about 13 years ago (but without the insufferable voice over from "heaven"), creator David E. Kelley's Big Little Lies (HBO) graces us with several female protagonists in a small coastal community where a careless lie can quickly turn into a scandal of devastating proportions.  When Renata Klein's (Laura Dern) young daughter accuses the son of Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley) of physical abuse after the first day of school, the boy clearly denies any wrongdoings, and the tension and gossip already begin to rise.  Even the oversexed husband (Alexander Skarsgard) of Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman) begins to show violent symptoms as a result of feeling threatened for his two sons' safety.  The center of the narrative is Madeline Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon), a friendly mother of two girls who fears that her daughters may be outgrowing her unconditional and overbearing love.

There is also a murder that sparks the entire narrative into motion, but we're not privy as to "who" or "why".  Witnesses give their testimonies in similar fashion as in True Detective, and the storyline shifts back-and-forth to pre- and post-homicide, leaving us scratching our heads, but also wanting more.  Big Little Lies is a mystery wrapped in a suburban layer of drama and hearsay, but with an added touch of profound insight into human nature not often seen in genre of its kind.

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Savage" is a rousing trip into prehistoric carnage

Like a hybrid of Jurassic Park and ABC's Lost, Savage (4-part series from Valiant Comics) opens with a bloody bang and never lets our attention go.  The savage boy, KJ, who ends up on this mysterious island full of prehistoric reptiles after he survives a plane crash that leaves him stranded, jumps on a velociraptor and beats him to death, clawing the animal's insides with a long, curvy claw that he uses in lieu of a knife.  This isn't your ordinary teenager, nor is it an ordinary island.

Writers B. Clay Moore and illustrators Lewis LarosaClayton Henry create a fantastically exciting setting that immediately engage the reader.  The mysterious island KJ finds himself on is also populated by a strange group of vicious and violent people (who are responsible for murdering someone very near and dear to him years ago), and these men also control some sort of a time portal door (once again, Moore pays homage to Lost in more ways than one).  The bloodthirsty dinosaurs aren't the only danger, apparently.

The artwork by Larosa and Henry (colors by Brian Reber & Andrew Dalhouse: cover art by Jared Fletcher Felipe Massafera) is sharp, clear and filled with imaginative creatures and characters.  The battle scenes are properly staged with the right amount of carnage and ferocity.  Because this comic book is mostly a visual experience, the spoken word is limited to a minimum, as it should be with any predominantly visual medium.  Savage is a tour de force book whose elements, although familiar, feel like new all over again.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Great looking "Billy Lynn's Walk" too long by half

Based on Ben Fountain's 2012 novel of the same name, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a great looking movie that is sharper on style than it is on substance.  Director Ang Lee, choosing to adapt it for the big screen by filming it at an unprecedented 120 frames per second (at 4K resolution), has made an effective looking movie about a young man's (Joe Alwyn) welcome-back celebration at a nationally televised NFL game in his home state of Texas after he's proclaimed a national hero as a result of rescuing one of his superiors amidst battle in Iraq.  When the video goes viral, Billy's life takes a dramatic turn, and he's met with fame and open arms by everyone at home, including a sexy cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh) who takes a rather accelerated interest in him.

The movie juxtaposes the hellish world that American soldiers face in the middle East with the polished American celebration of the soldiers as a cosmetic representation that US is doing the right thing by meddling in affairs of other nations by means of warfare.  Naturally, the only person who comes across as a human, and not as a written creation, is Billy's sister Kathryn (Kristen Stewart, looking scarred both physically and emotionally); the other characters are pretty much tools whose purpose is to justify our need to fight, at any cost, and for whatever reason.  Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a masterfully photographed film - its shots and scenes appear as dream sequences in a world constructed out of nightmarish ideals - but its story is too unfocused to really convey a memorable narrative.  As such, it's only half-successful.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Beatty's "Rules" an absolute waste of time

What do you get when you combine a young Hollywood dreamer (Lily Collins), an ambitious chauffeur (Alden Ehreinech) for the rich and famous, and a reclusive Los Angeles billionaire (Warren Beaty, playing the iconic Howard Hughes)?  Apparently you get Rules Don't Apply, a movie that's marketed as a comedy (without laughs) and a drama (without any ... anything, really), and a new low for Beatty, who here triples as the writer, director and star.  The movie packs in standard Hollywood wide-eyed-starlets wanting to make it big, continuation of Hughes' fascination with airplanes story (it picks up more or less where Scorsese's The Aviator left off), and it features the oddest love triangle in a while (that sex scene between Beatty and Collins' characters is way out of place, both narratively and logically).  I realize I haven't told you much about the movie's plot, but that's because - and take my word for it - it is either incomprehensible or too awful to summarize; why in the world did Beatty wait more than a decade and a half to come out of reclusion only to deliver this turkey is beyond me.  Rules Don't Apply is proof that a Hollywood legend's touch is nowhere near where it once was, and that movies, as much as they can create wonder and awe, can also double as mentally and spiritually torturous experiences.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"Daniel Blake" is a masterful ode to the struggling class

The trials and tribulations of the lower middle class on the English shores are at front and center in Ken Loach's brilliant film, I, Daniel Blake.  Playing an elderly blue collared worker with a weak heart, Dave Johns gives a subtle, powerful performance full of inner anguish and frustration as the titular protagonist who keeps getting denied his unemployment and disability benefits until he pulls a subdued, British style Howard Beale protest, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not gonna take it anymore!" in form of a graffiti demonstration, spray painted on the side of the very building that's been rejecting him and countless others on a daily basis.

There is also a struggling single mother, Katie (Hayley Squires), who looks like a British Mila Kunis, and whose desperation and misery are mirrored appropriately by Blake's own deteriorating existence and impending poverty.  As Daniel befriends Katie and her two children, he finds a newfound purpose, a beacon of salvation and hope he hasn't felt since his late wife's passing.  I, Daniel Blake is a gut-wrenching ballad about the lost souls barely holding on to the remaining shreds of decency in an establishment that is clearly not interested in their salvation.  It's a rare masterpiece that everyone should see, regardless of their geographical location or their monetary status.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Drama in "Young Pope" is too soapy, its lead a bore

Is Jude Law really the right actor to play the iconic Pope?  The British star is simply too handsome and recognizable to portray such an exemplary leader of Catholicism, and I suppose none of that would matter if his character, Pope Pius XIII (Lenny Belardo), was actually compelling, but alas, he isn't.  He makes it clear from the get-go that he "doesn't eat much, and needs a Cherry Coke Zero on a daily basis".  Stand back, everyone: this man is BOLD!

Smoking a cigarette throughout and speaking in slow, methodical American accent in a manner that is supposed to resemble quotable rather than spoken speech, Pius XIII battles the different ideology of his Cardinal staff, and challenges abortion, pedophilia within Churches, and even the advances of a sexual vixen (Ludivine Sagnier), a woman intent on seducing him by request of Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando, spewing every line of dialogue as if he was reading it coldly for the first time).

There is also Sister Mary (Diane Keaton), Lenny's maternal figure, who raised him in an orphanage after his (supposedly) hedonistic parents abandoned him when he was a boy.  Keaton, sadly, does not have much to say or do of any relevance in The Young Pope; her role seems to be primarily a superficial one.  Perhaps creator Paolo Sorrentino believed that an iconic American actress' face would be enough to embody a certain wisdom that his protagonist simply couldn't.   Imagine Cersei Lannister, but without the charisma, fiery speeches, contempt for everyone who doesn't share her bloodline, and her killer instincts.  Instead, all we know about Sister Mary is that she likes to play basketball in her downtime at the Vatican (whoo-hoo!).  The show's cinematography is also surprisingly lifeless and flat; as a result, its saving grace falls squarely on the shoulders of its exotic Italian setting.

The Young Pope (HBO, Canal+, Sky Atlantic), ultimately, is a failure, but at least it's an ambitious failure.  Its pilot episode, which includes a strangely deranged dream in which Lenny crawls out of a mountain of baby fetuses, only to proceed by giving a very lewd and provocative speech in front Vatican's faithful, was bold and promising.  However, it didn't take long for this inexperienced pontiff, whose idea of a effective papacy is extreme reclusion, to come across as a dull, boring young man whose flaws are simply not interesting enough for an effective drama.  Walter White he surely isn't, but I had hoped he would at least have something - anything - fascinating to do or say.  There are several references peppered throughout about him being an atheist, a theory that the series' finale leaves open to debate.  Ultimately, what we're left with, more or less, is Pope Pius XIII pleading, "My parents! My parents! My papacy for my parents!" for the majority of the TV series' 10 episode run.

The show also suffers from a cohesive and tense storyline, which is evident in its underwhelming finale, where, instead of building to an explosive climax, it simply whimpers and stumbles across the finish line, its weak and uninspired writing having lead it to a dead end.  The Crown (Netflix), a thematically similar series involving another inexperienced person coming to power of great influence before her time, manages to present the drama and tension of such a thankless - but unquestionably very demanding - public role in a much more provoking and captivating manner.  Perhaps Sorrentino can take a page out of its book if he should ever consider continuing The Young Pope with a second season.  That, of course, is a big if.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It takes a "20th Century" village to raise a young man

Is there an actress more deserving of an Oscar than Annette Bening?  Not on American shores, anyway.  In 20th Century Women, Bening plays Dorothea Fields, a woman who had her son, Jamie, at the age of 40, and is now raising an intelligent teenage boy on her own, but not without difficulty.  Enter Abbie Porter (Greta Gerwig), a young woman with a penchant for photography and pink hair dye, and Julie Hamlin (Elle Fanning), a rebellious, oversexed teenager who likes to sleep in the same bed as Jamie, but without the hanky-panky.  The mother asks Abbie and Julie to help raise her son in all the right ways, and the result is, of course, not without complications, but with the right amount of clever and honest humor, as well as acute insight into human nature.

The movie may as well be the unofficial sequel to Bening's 2010 film, The Kids are All Right; the southern California setting and the strong motherly love is present in both films, and Bening delivers an Academy Award worthy performance in each.  Billy Crudup, who plays the handyman William (and unsuccessfully tries to romance both Abbie and Dorothea), looks as if he stepped into this movie straight from Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (both films are set in the 1970s), and his shaggy, long hair and retro mustache indicate a strong resemblance between the two characters.  20th Century Women is that rare, honest movie about the difficulties of raising a child in a vastly changing world that is more about its characters than plot.  There is movie talk and then there's real talk; writer/director Mike Mills writes the latter kind.

Monday, February 13, 2017

McConaughey is saving grace in insignificant "Gold"

Playing out like Oliver Stone's Wall Street lite - or even the more recent Wolf of Wolf Street, but with a  less attractive looking leading man - Gold is a golden (pun very much intended) opportunity for Matthew McConaughey to shine brightly in a movie that somehow drags everywhere its charismatic star doesn't.  McConaughey, his shiny good looks and chiseled body completely stripped of their elegance, here gains plenty of weight and smokes shitloads (there isn't a seen in the movie where he's not drinking a whiskey or inhaling a cigarette) as Kenny Wells, a 1980s Nevada prospector who strikes it big with his business partner Michael Acosta (Edgar Ramirez) when both discover a rich gold mine in Indonesia.  Now, other than his sincere love and affection for his girlfriend Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), there really isn't much depth to Kenny, who remains just a fat man with dreams larger than his businessman talents, and who is a constant drunk, first and foremost.  Had director Stephen Gaghan focused more on Kenny's friendship with Michael, then perhaps the final shot would've had more of an impact on its viewers, and the movie might've actually been about something.  As constructed, Gold is pretty much two hours of a disgusting, slimy, bald man drinking himself to death, with a lot of jumping-for-joy and disappointed-expression-frowns by its characters sprinkled throughout.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Bus driver's life unfolds randomly in "Paterson"

Jim Jarmusch's Paterson glides along methodically, its protagonist's poetic prose and mundane life as a New Jersey bus driver playing out like scenes from a theatrical production heavy on metaphors and allegory, and not much on plot.  Adam Driver plays the titular character (the title also refers to the movie's setting as well as the protagonist) as a man whose virtue is his ability to write numerous poems during the downtime moments of his very uneventful job - despite the fact that he's clearly not very talented at such a task (if I'm somehow mistaken, and if Paterson's poetry is actually supposed to be good, than I've missed the point completely).  Paterson's wife, played by the charming Golshifteh Farahani, is the kind of upbeat and adventurous woman who seems to be the complete opposite of her husband (one does wonder what in the world these two share in common), and their relationship is basically more realistic than dramatic; or in other words, it's just... boring.  If a movie is supposed to resemble real life, it should at least have some drama, and a scenario capable of engaging its audience in order to compensate for the absence of tension.  As structured, Paterson plays out more like one of Paterson's poems: without rhyme or reason, it simply exists, yet it never justifies that existence.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

"Under Sandet" gives new meaning to POW hardships

The young German men (boys is more like it, but anyway) in Martin Zandvliet's Danish-German film, Under Sandet (English title: Land of Mine), look to be too young to drive a car or even see an R rated movie, much less to disarm millions of explosive and dangerous mines along the Western coast of Europe immediately after World War II.  The Danish Sergeant in charge of the fourteen POW youths is Carl Leopold Rasmussen (Roland Møller), and although he barks and yells and even starves them by depriving them of food, he eventually grows a soft spot for these unfortunate teenagers.  The scene where he gives them a day off and plays soccer with them on the shore of a forlorn beach is as melancholy as it is moving.

The story is a very unique coming-of-age tale for both the boys and the Sergeant, and its narrative will see many of the poor POWs blown up to smithereens by the countless mines they are forced to dig and clean up, without much experience nor expertise of this ever-fatal craft.  Under Sandet is the kind of honest, poignant movie about the pointlessness of war - especially its aftermath - that Hollywood is, for the most part, too chicken-shit to make themselves.  Thankfully there are brave men and women across the pond willing to tackle such politically sensitive - and brutally honest - post-war themes instead.

Friday, February 3, 2017

"Hidden Figures" elevates ordinary tale to new heights

The three women at the forefront of Hidden Figures are, indeed, extraordinary.  Geniuses of different sorts, they happened to live during an unfair time when their qualities were shunned because of the color of their skin, instead of being appreciated for what they really were: wizards of complex math that I can't even begin to fathom.  Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) is a widow with three daughters trying to prove her worth to her superiors (Kevin Costner, sporting a rather appropriate haircut for the early 1960s) by figuring out upcoming US astronauts' launch into orbit and landing calculations; Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) badly wants to enter an all-white school in order to earn an engineering degree, but her efforts are hampered by the segregation of the time period; and Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) simply isn't appreciated enough at work while doing the job of a supervisor, but without the supervisor's salary.

The movie is definitely a crowd pleaser, and had it been produced by Disney, it surely would've evoked memories of Remember the Titans and Glory Road, similar fare about the segregation era in which the unfair racism was put aside by the oppressed protagonists' white superiors in order to achieve a greater good together (I'm sure the real story featured a lot more hardships for the three heroines than the movie ever acknowledges, but that's Hollywood for you).  Hidden Figures may not reinvent the wheel about the changing times of the early 60s Americana, but as a drama about overcoming adversity as a minority in an unfair environment, it delivers exactly what it promises.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Ray Kroc's American Dream is at front center of "The Founder"

Some film adaptations about the formations of major companies/corporations are clearly better than others (The Social Network, The Company Men), and The Founder falls somewhere in the middle of the Great to Forgettable spectrum.  Michael Keaton plays the legendary Ray Kroc, a kitchen appliance salesman who started the McDonald's Corporation by buying off the McDonald brothers' (Dick and Mac) restaurant and name for merely nothing, and by screwing them out of hundreds of millions of dollars in promised royalties.  Director John Lee Hancock first shows us Kroc as an ambitious, persistent businessman, only to reveal the shark that lives deep underneath all that "gee-golly" wholesome American persona, and Keaton clearly has fun with the role.  The Founder isn't really about Ray Kroc or McDonald's hamburgers, for that matter: it's about a birth of a major company and how its development was nothing more than a dream from a mostly talentless businessman whose only virtue was his perseverance and ability to see the big picture at a time when others didn't dare dream so big.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Poor pacing drags the overwritten "Split"

Don't be fooled by the trailers and TV spots for M. Night Shyamalan's Split: it's hardly the movie it would have you believe it is.  To put it bluntly, this movie about a DID (dissosiative personality disorder) weirdo who abducts three teenage girls only to keep them locked up in his basement while slowly introducing them to his different personas is actually quite a bore.

Shyamalan, who hasn't made a good movie since 2002's Signs, here comes close to making something special; it's just too bad that he's lost the touch for staging a scene or even creating any sort of pacing worthy of note.  James McAvoy plays the personality chameleon quite well, actually; and the young Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), who plays the tormented teen unable to catch a break from perverted adults in her life (starting with her uncle) is even better.  The fault is clearly not in the performances (hint, hint).

Nothing worthy of note happens in Split for a looong, long time; then, in a flash, a "beast" emerges, people die, and we don't even get to see some of it happen (one of the three abducted girls is seen laying bloody and ravaged late in the movie, but her death strangely took place off-screen).  Also unnecessary is the character of Dr. Karen Fletcher (played by Betty Buckley), whose purpose is to serve the audience superfluous exposition that we would've had more fun trying to figure out on our own instead (the movie could've also used at least 25 minutes of editing).

The last scene suggests that a potential sequel to Split may feature a character from Shyamalan's 2000 film, Unbreakable.  I suppose as long as it's paced properly and filled with suspense, it should succeed where Split has failed.

"Dante" incorporates Stephen King & John Woo elements

The protagonist in Image Comics' new One-shot, Dante, is sort of a hybrid between the leads in Stephen King's Thinner and John Woo's The Killer.  He's a murderous assassin who, by accidentally shooting an innocent Chinese boy, becomes cursed by the child's grandmother to carry all his sins tattooed permanently throughout his body, as a reminder for all the ways he's interfered with people's lifelines.  Little does he know just how difficult it's going to be to remove all those blue-and-black skin stains from his once unmarked flesh.

Illustrated by Darick Robertson and written by (creator) Jason Ning and Matt Hawkins, Dante does indeed grab the reader's attention at once, even though its plot is hardly revolutionary or groundbreaking from an originality standpoint.  As Dante tries to leave his murdering life behind, he finds that abandoning his sinful past isn't as easy as he initially believed, because the syndicate that employed him has other plans for his wife and daughter, both of whom go mysteriously missing.  Soon bodies of gangsters and pimps and Dante's old adversaries begin to pile up, all the while he tries to right the wrongs of his past.

Dante delivers what its intriguing cover promises: plenty of shoot-outs, a blaze of blown-up brains, and a newly inked "hero" whose new plight is to kill out of anger and a new sense of self-redemption, instead of for monetary gain.  He's kind of like a Punisher re-born, but with a much sweeter set of tattoos.