Horror Film Review: Split (dir by M. Night Shyamalan)


There are a lot of negative things that you can say about 2017.  In the future, when historians look back of the second decade of the 21st century, I imagine that they will point to 2017 as being one of the worst years in American history.  The country is divided.  The world seems like a scary and dangerous place.  The outlook for the future feels bleak.  It’s not so much that people are angry.  Instead, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight for all the anger.  It’s difficult to imagine that the differences that currently divide the world are ever going to be resolved.

However, there is one thing that can be said about 2017.  It’s been a very good year for horror cinema.

Sure, there have been a few less-than-perfect films.  Rings left most people disappointed.  Does anyone remember The Bye Bye Man or have we said farewell to the memories of that unfortunate film?  While The Dark Tower was never specifically a horror movie, it’s still not easy to think of any other Stephen King adaptation that has been greeted with such indifference.  The less said about Tom Cruise’s The Mummy, the better.

But even with all that in mind, there have been some truly outstanding horror movies released this year.  Movies like Get Out, It, and The Belko Experiment will be well-remembered long after the more “traditional” films of 2017 have faded from the collective memory.  I would go as far as to argue that David Lynch’s revival of Twin Peaks should itself be considered an 18-hour horror movie.  Maybe it is because the world seems like such a dark place right now.  Maybe, at this point, horror movies are the only movies that accurately reflect the way many people are feeling about the present and the future.  For whatever reason, 2017 has been a great year for horror.

Really, we wouldn’t be surprised.  Way back in January, things got off to a good start with the release of Split.  Split was a film that not many people were expecting to be impressive.  Just consider: the film was coming out in January, which is when the worst films are usually released.  (The theory is that everyone’s too busy with the Oscars to notice that studios are desperately trying to write off all of the losers that they misguidedly greenlit for production the previous year.)  Split was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, a formerly respected director whose last few films had been disappointing.  Finally, the film’s plot just didn’t sound that good: James McAvoy plays a man with multiple personalities who kidnaps three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, and Jessica Sula) and holds them captive.  Throughout the film, McAvoy cycles through his different personalities and the girls try to find a way to escape before McAvoy turns into the Beast.

And yet somehow, Split works.  It’s a genuinely scary and unsettling film, one that left me feeling paranoid for days after I watched it.  From the minute that the film started, it grabbed hold of me and it did not let go for two hours.  I watched the movie and I wondered what would happen if I ever found myself in the same situation as the kidnapped girls.  Would I be able to survive?  Would I be able to escape?  Or would I just be another victim of the Beast?  It’s a deeply frightening film, one that feels like a waking nightmare at its most intense.

Obviously, a lot of credit has to go to James McAvoy, who is brilliant in a role that would have brought out the worst instincts in a lesser actor.  It’s a showy role and there had to be considerable temptation to go overboard.  And there are a few times when McAvoy embraces the more theatrical possibilities of the role.  However, in his best scenes, McAvoy is surprisingly subtle.  Yes, he does a lot of different voices.  Yes, his body language alters from personality to personality.  But McAvoy is at his best when he just allows his facial expression to subtly suggest that he has turned into someone else.  McAvoy is frightening but, at times, he’s also rather pathetic.  Whenever McAvoy shows up, you never know what he’s going to do.  He keeps you off-balance.

As good as McAvoy is, M. Night Shyamalan also deserves a lot of credit for Split.  For a film about a man with 23 warring personalities, Split is refreshingly direct and straight forward.  There’s none of the cloying cleverness that cheapened some of Shyamalan’s other films.  Instead, Split is simply a good, scary film for a really scary world.

Ted 2 Sucks!


Ted_2_posterWell, I think the title of this review pretty succinctly sums up my reaction to Seth McFarlane’s latest film, Ted 2.  Thanks for reading and have a good…

Oh, really?

Okay, I’ve been told that I have to try to think up at least 300 words to say about Ted 2.  Otherwise, in the eyes of Rotten Tomatoes, we’re not a legitimate film blog.

*sigh*

Okay.

Anyway, Ted 2 is the story of a talking teddy bear (voice by Seth McFarlane) who likes to smoke weed and … well, that’s about it.  He’s just gotten married to Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) and they’re having trouble because Tami-Lynn wants a baby but Ted, being a teddy bear, doesn’t have any reproductive organs.  So, he and his friend John (Mark Wahlberg) decide to give Tom Brady a handjob so they can still his sperm.  But, it turns out, none of that was important because the state of Massachusetts claims that Ted is not even a person.  Instead, he’s just “property.”  So, now, John and Ted and their lawyer, Sam (Amanda Seyfried), are fighting the courts to win Ted his civil rights.  And then Giovanni Ribisi wants to kidnap Ted and Morgan Freeman shows up and says a few words.  And the film is narrated by Patrick Stewart because it’s funny to hear Patrick Stewart curse and…

Oh!  And Liam Neeson shows up.  He’s a customer at the store where Ted works as a cashier.  Liam wants to know if Trix are only for kids.  The joke here is that it’s Liam Neeson and he’s asking about cereal.  Ha ha.

Oh!  And there’s two guys who shows up at New York Comic Con so that they can beat up “nerds.”  During every scene set at Comic Con, they’re in the background beating people up and insulting them.  And the two guys are gay!  See, they’re bullies and they’re gay!  And they’re beating up random people at Comic Con, just because they can!  Hilarious, right?

Ted 2 spends a lot of time trying to convince us that Ted’s struggle to be recognized as a person is actually meant to be a metaphor for the American civil rights movement.  But, honestly, I get the feeling that McFarlane relates more to the bullies than he does to any oppressed minority.  As he previously proved with his TV shows and A Million Ways To Die In The West, McFarlane is only interested in going after easy targets.  He’s your typical white male hipster who thinks that, because he voted for Obama, he can get away with telling racist jokes.

And, before anyone misunderstands, I wouldn’t mind McFarlane’s humor if it was at least funny or original.  But instead, it’s the same stupid jokes that he always tells.  Seth McFarlane’s comedic technique is to basically drag things out until viewers laugh from pure exhaustion.  Is it effective?  Well, there are people who continue to praise and defend him and Seth certainly has made a lot of money off of his act.  So, obviously, there are people who respond to this.  But to me, Seth McFarlane’s humor just feels lazy.

Ted 2 lasts 128 minutes.  That’s over two hours devoted to a concept that feels more appropriate for a five-minute skit.  Interesting enough, the first Ted was tolerable because it focused on Mark Wahlberg’s Johnny.  Ted was just a supporting character and he worked as a metaphor for Johnny’s struggle to choose between growing up or being a happy slacker.  (The first Ted was all about Johnny falling in love with Mila Kunis, whose character is rather cruelly dismissed at the start of Ted 2.)  In Ted 2, Ted is the central character and once you get over the fact that he’s a teddy bear who drops multiple F bombs, there’s really not much to the character.  It helps, of course, that we only have to listen to McFarlane.  We don’t have to look at his imminently punchable, oddly lineless face.  But, to be honest, even McFarlane’s voice has become grating.  It’s just so self-satisfied and smug.

I saw Ted 2 with the blogger also known as Jedadiah Leland.  Over the course of 128 hours minutes (it just felt like hours), we each laughed once.  Not surprisingly, both laughs were inspired by Wahlberg’s dumb-but-sweet performance.  Now, I will admit that the rest of the audience laughed a bit more than we did.  But still, there was a definite atmosphere of resignation in the theater.  You could literally hear the people thinking, “Oh, Ted just made a joke about black people.  Better laugh now so everyone knows that I get whatever the Hell this is supposed to be.  After all, those tickets weren’t free…”

What’s the word count now?

758?

Cool.

That’s enough words for me to say, “Ted 2 sucks!”

 

Talking About Love: The Best of Me (dir by Michael Hoffman) and The One I Love (dir by Charlie McDowell)


The_Best_of_Me_poster

When I wrote my review of The Theory of Everything, I mentioned that Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time made a brief, if important, appearance in another film released earlier this year.  That film, of course, was the latest Nicholas Sparks adaptation, The Best Of Me.  

Now, I have to admit that The Best Of Me was one of those forgettable films that I kind of suspected most of our readers would not mind me never getting around to reviewing.  It came out two months ago, it got terrible reviews, and it didn’t do much business at the box office.  I didn’t even enjoy it and I’m the girl who always ends up defending the Twilight films whenever the boys here at the Shattered Lens start to make fun of them.  You can tell the impression that the Rest Of Me made on me by the fact that I just got the name wrong and I didn’t even bother to correct my mistake.

But here’s the thing.  January is rapidly approaching and, with January, comes my annual 16 worst films of the year list.  And chances are that The Best Of Me will appear on that list and I’d like to be able to link to a review.

It’s probably not a shock to hear that The Best Of Me is not a good film.  With the exception of The Notebook, the novels of Nicholas Sparks are not known for inspiring good films.  Instead, they are known for inspiring films about achingly pretty people who meet on the beach, have a melodramatic secret in the past, and ultimately end up falling in love.  And dying, of course.  Somebody always has to die.  The familiar Nicholas Sparks formula actually works pretty well when you’re the one reading his prose and visualizing the story in your head.  That’s largely because you can always imagine yourself as the heroine and maybe James Franco, Bradley Cooper, or Ryan Gosling as the hero.  But, when it comes to making movies out of his books, the end results are often so predictable and uninspired that the Nicholas Sparks drinking game had to be legally banned after scores of single women fell ill with alcohol poisoning.

(Yes, that actually did happen!  Google it! …. or don’t.  Actually, don’t.)

The Best Of Me is, without a doubt, the most Nicholas Sparksian Nicholas Sparks adaptation ever made.  Seriously, it has everything that you would expect from a Nicholas Sparks film and it presents it all so predictably that watching the movie is a bit like watching a checklist.  We’ve got two former high school lovers who are reunited 20 years later.  We’ve got melodrama that comes out of nowhere.  We’ve got multiple flashbacks.  We’ve got soft focus cinematography.  And, of course, we’ve got an ending that is meant to be both tragic and inspiring but it’s neither because, since this is a Nicholas Sparks movie, we already knew that the ending was going to try to be both tragic and inspiring.

What we don’t have is much chemistry between the two lead actors.  James Marsden and Michelle Monaghan are both pretty in the way that people in Nicholas Sparks films often are but you never get the feeling that they have much affection for each other.  Even worse, in the flashbacks, their characters are played by two actors (Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato) who look absolutely nothing like James Marsden or Michelle Monaghan.  In particular, it’s impossible to believe that Luke Bracey could ever grow up to look like James Marsden.  I found myself half-expecting a huge twist where Marsden would reveal that he was an intruder.

And you know what?

That would have been a lot more interesting than what we got!  Somebody help me get in touch with Nicholas Sparks!  I’ve got some ideas for his next book!

The One I Love

For a far more memorable look at love and relationships, allow me to suggest The One I Love, a film that was obviously made for a lot less money than The Best of Me but which is also a lot more thought-provoking.

In The One I Love, Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss play a couple whose marriage is on the verge of breaking up.  At the suggestion of their friendly-yet-creepy marriage counselor (Ted Danson), they agree to spend a weekend at a beautiful but remote house.  Danson assures them that they will be the only couple at the house. Duplass and Moss agree and, at first, the weekend seems to be working.  However, soon both of them start having conversations and encounters that the other claims to not remember.  Duplass and Moss discover that they are not alone at the house…

And to tell you anything else about the plot would be unfair.  The One I Love is one of those films that works best when the viewer discovers its mysteries at the same time as the characters.  To spoil the film would be a crime.  Let’s just say that there is a twist that will leave you reconsidering everything that you’ve previously seen in the movie.

Beyond that twist, however, The One I Love works for the exact reason that The Best of Me does not.  Moss and Duplass have the chemistry that the leads in The Best Of Me lack.  You believe them both as individuals and as a couple.

So, when it comes time to consider what we talk about when we talk about love, check out The One I Love and leave The Best Of Me behind.