Monthly Archives: January 2019

In Pieces

M. Night Shyamalan’s star-packed superhero saga is more letdown than showdown

Film Title: Glass

Glass
Starring Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, Samuel L. Jackson & Sarah Paulson
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan
Rated PG-13

What if comic book superheroes are real?

That’s the question director M. Night Shyamalan poses in Glass, which brings together characters from two of his previous movies.

Bruce Willis is David Dunn from Unbreakable (2000), the lone survivor of a train crash who emerged virtually indestructible and with the ability to see bad guys’ hidden evil deeds. James McAvoy starred in the horror-thriller Split (2016) as the psycho Kevin Crumb, whose “horde” of multiple personalities included the murderous, feral-like Beast.

And the movie takes its title from the character of wheelchair-bound Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), whose brittle bones break, like glass, with the slightest pressure.

If you’re a fan of Shyamalan movies, you’ll likely know how all these characters connect. You’ll know that, and know why, Price caused the wreck of the train on which Dunn was traveling. You’ll remember that McAvoy’s character(s) in Split kidnapped three girls, killing and partially devouring two of them. And you’ll understand why Dunn—now a hooded vigilante dishing out justice to street thugs—wants to find Crumb before he can harm any more young women.

Glass gets off to a rousing start but stalls when the drama settles in at the psych ward of a Philadelphia mental hospital, where Dunn and Crumb are brought when they’re apprehended. Guess who’s already there? That’s right, Mr. Brittle Bones himself.

“First name: Mister, last name: Glass,” Price later says. Well, excuse me.

Film Title: Glass

Sarah Paulson

At the hospital, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) tries to convince all three men that they are suffering from a very specific mental disorder. “I specialize in a particular kind of delusion of grandeur,” she says. “Individuals who believe they are superheroes.”

The core of the film is a long, windy counter-argument for superheroes, comic books and how gods have always walked among us. Of course, Dr. Staple tries to shatter and smother this idea, particularly in the movie’s centerpiece, a gaudy “group therapy” session with all three characters lined up in a pink room. She dismisses Price as crazy but brilliant, Crumb as an anarchist with dissociative identity disorder, and Dunn as “the reluctant hero.”

“She even has explanations for Dunn’s super-strength and his second-sight mental abilities, and how Crumb’s “Beast” can climb vertical walls and not be harmed by shotgun blasts. She hasn’t got Price quite figured out yet; he’s kept so heavily sedated and confined to his wheelchair, no one knows what’s going on inside his head, behind his blank stare. Is he totally out of it, or just biding his time, waiting until he can hatch a mastermind plan?

What do you think?

Film Title: Glass

Ana Taylor-Joy with McAvoy

Anya Taylor-Joy, whose character was the only one of the girls who didn’t get killed and cannibalized in Split, returns to help Dr. Staple. As a sexually abused child, she can connect with the adolescent trauma—the “brokenness”—that caused Kevin Crumb to split into a multitude of some two dozen distinct personalities, many of which come out to “play” in the course of the movie.

Glass is Shyamalan’s Avengers, his Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, his ultimate, geeky intersection of comic book culture, superhero backstories and pop mythology. It all builds to a showdown, but it’s more of a letdown—a shoving, heaving smashing-bashing match on a lawn that, well, dents a cargo van, pins a SWAT cop underneath his shield and busts a portable water tank. Yawn.

Shyamalan, whose other films include The Sixth Sense, The Village, Signs and The Visit, obviously knows how to make a solid movie, and this one certainly has some nice touches. He’s still a master of ratcheting up the tension and scaring you more by showing you less. The atmospheric soundtrack, which sometimes sounds like an animal screeching or growling, adds to a building sense of dread.

Film Title: GlassAnd I loved a quick shot of a magazine cover about the world’s tallest new building, which becomes a plot point. The headline reads, “A True Marvel,” a nod to the name of the iconic comic-book company that gave the world Spider-Man, Daredevil, Iron Man, Thor and dozens of other famous superheroes and villains.

But this Glass is only half full, a tumbler stocked with misfit characters, capable actors and innovative ideas, but lacking the juice and seasoning to make a blockbuster cocktail. The pacing is often dull, the dialog is hopelessly clunky, and fans waiting for Shyamalan’s “gotcha” twist ending—his trademark—will likely come away feeling a bit underserved, if not cheated.

“If superheroes exist, why are there only three of you?” Dr. Staple asks her three patients. Glass asks us to consider if there are more. Hollywood certainly has an answer—Captain Marvel opens March 8, Shazam! and the next Avengers arrive in April, and there’ll be a new X-Men adventure in June.

Looks like Dr. Staple could have her hands full.

In theaters Jan. 18, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Con Job

The chemistry of Hart & Cranston can’t warm up the sentimental sap of this predictable, recycled comedy

the upside 6 (72)
Starring Bryan Cranston & Kevin Hart
Directed by Neil Burger
PG-13

What do the Statue of Liberty, croissants and Kevin Hart’s new movie have in common? They all came from France.

The Upside, a remake of a hit 2011 French film, stars Bryan Cranston as Phillip, a rich white paraplegic, immobilized from the neck down, who hires black ex-con Dell (Hart) as his personal caretaker, or “life auxiliary.”

“White people got a name for anything,” says Dell, who thinks he’s being interviewed for a janitorial position when he shows up at Phillip’s luxury Manhattan penthouse apartment. Much to his surprise, as completely unqualified as he is, Dell lucks into the job.

THE UPSIDEThere’s not a lot of other surprises in The Upside, however, which follows a pretty standard Hollywood buddy-movie template and clicks off many character stereotypes with which audiences are very familiar. Phil is white, successful, super-rich, buttoned-up and bitter. Street-smart Dell is a quippy, zippy, quick-witted sprite from the opposite end of the socio-economic spectrum.

They’ve both got problems and issues and holes in their souls. But guess what? They help each other fill them, at least superficially. Phil introduces Dell to kumquats and opera, gives him some hefty paychecks and lets him drive his garage full of sweet sports cars; Dell turns Phil on to weed, buys him a hooker (!) and introduces him to the soul-sister grooves of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Nicole Kidman plays Phil’s Harvard-educated business manager, Yvonne, whose long-sublimated affection for her boss remains at a low simmer for most of the film. Dell’s ex (Aja Naomi King, who plays Michaela Pratt on How to Get Away With Murder) has given up on him and his missing child-support payments. Julianna Margulies (star of TV’s Dietland and The Good Wife) has one scene as the mystery woman Phil decides to meet in person after a long courtship by mail.

the upside 7

Nicole Kidman

It’s no coincidence that a subplot revolves around a rare copy of the book Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain’s classic 1885 tale, about a runaway slave and his young traveling companion floating away to freedom down the Mississippi River, is today heralded as a scathing confrontation of American racism and slavery.

The Upside doesn’t come near any issues like that, but it certainly suggests that it’s built on same foundation—one in which a white businessman, such as Phil, can build a towering financial empire, but a black man, like Dell, can’t get out of the projects (or break the cycle of crime and prison) unless he’s rescued…by someone like Phil.

The movie is much more interested in the low-hanging fruit of easy jokes and the quick splash of sappy sentiment. Dell thrashes and squawks as a high-tech, computerized shower in Phil’s apartment blasts him with gushing jets of water and talks to him in German. Phil drools to fake an epileptic fit to get Dell out of speeding ticket. A scene in which Dell tries to get the all-business Yvonne to laugh seems tailor-made for Hart to cut loose on his comedy skills.

Another scene, in which Dell has to change Phil’s catheter, is played strictly for laughs at Dell’s unease. It’s all routine for Phil, but for Dell, it’s extremely uncomfortable—to not only pull down another man’s pants and touch his private parts, but to even say the word “penis.” The scene is uncomfortable for other reasons—because of Hart being back in the news recently about his homophobic tweets and comments and how he wasn’t going to host the Academy Awards, after all.

THE UPSIDE

Hart, of course, is best known for his laugh-out-loud roles in ribald comedies including Ride Along, Night School, Get Hard and The Wedding Ringer. He provides plenty of laughs in The Upside, but the movie also shows he can hold his own in something other than a wall-to-wall yuk-fest. It would be interesting to see him in a straight-out drama.

Cranston, the former TV star of Breaking Bad, has done a variety of later movie work, but this had to be one of his most challenging parts. For a character who can only work the screen with his face, and his voice, he holds his own with Hart, who splays all over the place. They make a good yin and yang.

Good, but not quite great. The Upside offers a pleasant, warm thaw from the January cold. But it can’t quite overcome the downside of stereotyping, clichés and an overlay of hokey, jokey sap that coats it in a veneer of gloppy, predictable Hollywood goo.

At least it ends on an up note—a soaring tune by Aretha Franklin. “The Queen,” notes Dell, “makes everything better.”

As they say in France, Oui, indeed.

In theaters Jan. 11, 2019