Monday, January 21

Glass Review


Dir: M. Night Shyamalan 

Starring: Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Sarah Paulson, Anya Taylor-Joy, Spencer Treat Clark, Charlayne Woodard, and Samuel L. Jackson

It doesn’t take long in M. Night Shyamalan’s new film “Glass” for the term “comic book” to morph from the physical literary pages, to a description for characters, and finally into a multifaceted medical diagnosis. Exploring the term “comic book” in today’s pop culture and cinematic world which is inundated with comic book movies almost every other month. The exploration of the mythos and responsibility involved in the creation of a person with super human abilities was a fresh topic when Shyamalan handled it in 2000 with “Unbreakable”. 17 years later, with numerous comic book cinematic universes in tow, and “Glass” feels like a film that doesn’t understand the world it’s trying to exist in. 

David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the lone survivor of a train crash 17 years ago, discovered the supernatural ability to sense the evil deeds of people he touches while also possessing tremendous strength that helps him bring justice to bad people. David, now a vigilante known as the Overseer, is hunting a man named Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) who suffers from multiple personality disorder, one of which is a personality known as The Beast. The two come face-to-face but are abruptly captured by a psychiatrist (Sarah Paulson) and sent to a mental hospital where an old nemesis (Samuel L. Jackson) has been patiently waiting for David.

“Split”, Mr. Shyamalan’s horror-thriller from 2016 that introduced the multiple personality villain Kevin Wendell Crumb, surprised audiences with a post-credit scene where the character David Dunn was reintroduced sitting in a coffee shop watching the news of Crumb’s carnage. It was a peculiar scene for an otherwise enjoyable excursion for the director who had seen an uneven succession of films after an impressive slate of movies in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. 

“Glass” starts with a wealth of interesting ideas, exploring the line that separates heroes and villains and the responsibility and madness associated with each. There is also an intriguing side note concerning the victims associated with these super human people that provides a different approach not typically found in the mainstream comic book film. We get to see how David has progressed the heroics with his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) into a family business but also a few other characters from the other associated films. And for the first half hour of the film Mr. Shyamalan does a nice job of tying everything together. 

Unfortunately, things take a turn and the momentum and intrigue of these characters is squandered by over explanation and unnecessary narrative twists. It leads to a finale that completely undermines everything developed early in the story but also needlessly manipulates comic book culture in an attempt to justify why these characters function the way they do. It’s such a letdown considering the potential of the actors and the stories that have laid the foundation before this film.

“Glass” has so many ideas, some of them thought-provoking and captivating and others lofty and ludicrous. Still, with more time and attention to the script those lofty ideas could have become ludicrously appealing in the same way that some Marvel and DC Comics films have succeeded. Instead we have a film that completely misses the heart of why comic book characters have come as far as they have.

Monte’s Rating

2.00 out of 5.00

Saturday, January 19

IO Review

Director: Jonathan Helpert
Starring: Margaret Qualley, Anthony Mackie & Danny Huston
Netflix Original – January 18, 2019

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” – Micah 5:2

IO is one of five “Netflix Originals” released this weekend. The title references one of Jupiter’s moons that is being colonized by humans in the near future due to the environmental contamination of Earth. Margaret Qualley plays Sam, a scientist attempting to stay behind to find a solution to the impending doom as the last launch is scheduled to the new colony. As she works, she comes into contact with Micah (Mackie), one of the last survivors, making his pilgrimage to the launch site. Together, they make a connection that calls into question their previous goals and the value of their work.

I was immediately struck by how well the scenes were shot and composed. Most of the exteriors were shot at the Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur Calern in Thiey, France. The Observatoire de Nice served as the character’s home base for the interiors. Both were picturesque locations that added an organic feel to further the plot. Part of the film’s premise is that the higher elevations still have breathable air. The oxygen gets worse, the closer you get to sea level. The scenes of the contaminated area were shot at Nu Boyana Film Studios, in Sofia, Bulgaria. The set dressing was done very well. I don’t know if I can overstate how important it is for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story to get this part right. The set must feel both lived in as well as destitute. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much was done with this set.

The performances here were adequate, maybe a bit better than that in the case of Qualley. Hers was the most demanding of the film and you only feel the emotional weight of the situation through her. Mackie has had much better performances recently. Danny Huston, who is probably the best actor of the three, is barely in this.

Unfortunately, it’s this film’s screenplay that falls flat. The plot moves along rather
predictably. There is at least one instance in which an early plot point regarding one of the three on-screen characters is treated as though it is supposed to be a surprising twist, but you can smell it a mile away. At least you can if you’ve ever seen a movie before. Most of its revelation had been easily telegraphed by some bits of poorly written dialogue.

The themes here are expressed heavily through metaphors that I found to exist somewhere in between pedantic and pretentious. Said metaphors come from a mixed bag of religious mythology. Mackie’s character is named Micah, the Biblical prophet that predicted the destruction and subsequent rise of Jerusalem, as well as the birth of a savior. If this wasn’t ‘on-the-nose’ enough, it seems that later in the film, his representation changes to the Greek God, Zeus. Both symbols end up serving the same purpose, which is to show the audience how well read the three credited screenwriters are. But neither of these bothered me nearly as much as the decision to refer to the contaminated area of the planet as “The Zone.” Fans of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, STALKER will instantly associate the two. This comparison is unavoidable and well…. This film certainly doesn’t benefit from any attempt to stack up against past science fiction masterpieces.

I ended up finding parts of this story to be problematic in other ways as well, in spite of obvious attempts to the contrary. The film, like many similar sci-fi works, appears to be making a statement about how important human connections are. This is a beautiful and true sentiment. However, we very quickly learn that the message was not meant to be applied to plutonic relationships. Sam’s long-distance, pen-pal romance has to end abruptly as soon as Micah shows up. Because, how can we as an audience assign any real value to Sam and Micah’s connection unless they’re sleeping together? This may just be me getting a bit too easily triggered but in recent years, it’s something that particularly annoys me. Cinema’s refusal to acknowledge the value or even possibility of plutonic relationships between men and women that has contributed to ridiculous male fantasies like “the friend zone” and Incel/MRA concepts like the “redistribution of sex.” But I digress… I may very well be reading too much into this. But their hook-up instantly reminded me of the incredibly stupid ending of Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR.

I’d like to mention a bit more about other issues that I found to be problematic, but it would be almost impossible for me to express this properly without spoiling most of the film. And I will admit, once a film like this loses me, I tend to nitpick it. The same issues that I found in the third act may very well have been far more forgivable in a different film. So, I’ll leave it alone. Ultimately, this was a disappointment. I am typically very precious about science fiction. The potential for philosophic or moral exploration and expression is too great to be squandered by lazy, clunky and pretentious screenwriting.

Emery’s Rating
2 out of 5 Stars

Tuesday, January 15

Fyre Fraud Review

Director: Jenner Furst & Julia Willoughby Nelson
Starring: Billy McFarland, Ja Rule & Seth Crossino
Hulu Original January 14, 2019

“You lost a box of keys to $2M worth of houses???”

The first shots of the year have been officially “fyred” by Hulu in the war of streaming superiority. And although I’m sure the giant, Netflix will survive, this particular shot hit its mark with perfect accuracy and force. In case you missed it, Netflix has been airing a trailer for their latest original documentary, FYRE: THE GREATEST PARTY THAT NEVER HAPPENED, set for release on Friday, the 18th. The film is about 2017’s failed exotic luxury music festival that eventually landed its founder, Billy McFarland a 6-year prison sentence for fraud. But yesterday, only 4 days before Netflix and without any fanfare or warning, in an act of beautiful disrespect to the streaming behemoth, Hulu dropped their own doc on the same subject matter. It’s very good.

The biggest thing that separates the Hulu doc from the Netflix film is the exclusive Billy McFarland interview. To be clear, this interview is not just a one-off tangential. It serves as the framing device for the entire story. He is a fascinating character and by the end of the film, you will likely be questioning your own judgement. He has a very specific charm. Early in the film, someone characterizes him as a “used car salesman”. I don’t find this to be a fair description at all. Used car salesmen don’t even come close to emoting the brand of apparent sincerity that McFarland seems to have mastered. 

The film seeks to marry today’s culture of social media “FOMO”, fake news and memes with the millennial generation’s susceptibility of con-artistry. The first 20 minutes or so are more or less dedicated to exploring the parallel journeys of Billy McFarland’s rising business ventures with the explosion of communication types and media. This new media age that we find ourselves in has created an entire new and lucrative industry out of little more than hype. Hype for hype’s sake that is created on the back of hype for the expressed purpose of
creating more hype…. And somehow, money falls out. The old man in me is screaming that this is not a sustainable business model. But then again, trendsetters, fashion icons and influencers like Kylie Jenner, Huda Kattan and Grumpy Cat don’t seem to be as concerned as I am with things like whether I have enough gas in my tank. Maybe I’m the one doing it wrong. And that’s it, this film seeks to explore how that insecurity can be exploited for grotesque monetary gains.

I’m marking down the film’s editing as a positive as well. Full of jump cuts to various memes and social media snapshots that do a great job capturing what was in reality, such a brief moment in time. It’s also full of pictures and video clips of McFarland and Ja Rule as they were planning the fated festival. Ja Rule decided not to be contribute to the documentary but unfortunately for him, that didn’t even come close to keeping him out of the film. He would have likely served himself much more by agreeing to be interviewed. At least he could have told his side of the story. In the age of instant, real-time documentation of a celebrity’s every move, it’s hard to claim any sort of plausible deniability after the dumpster “fyre” has already begun. It’s a bit of ironic poetic justice that the same mechanism that these people rely on for the majority of their wealth creation can so quickly be turned around to build an uncontrollable narrative about them.  

To be fair to Netflix, I don’t get screeners, so I have no idea how good their film is. It’s a great story and it’s in the hands of AMERICAN MOVIE and JIM & ANDY director, Chris Smith. I’m still a little interested in it but I think Hulu has sufficiently taken the wind out of its sails…. Don’t worry, they’ll be fine. It is one of 5 original films they are releasing on the same weekend.

Emery's Rating
4 out of 5 Stars