This Week's Film Reviews (Jan 18, 2019)

18 Jan 2019

M. Night Shyamalan’s GLASS is the big one opening this week.

BEST FILMS PLAYING:

 

Best Family:

Mary Poppins  Returns

 

Best Documentary:
They Shall not Grow Old

 

Best Foreign: 

Burning

Roma

Capernaum

 

Best Drama:

Ben is Back

 

Bets Horror/Sci-fi:

Bird Book

 

Best Doc:

They Shall Never Grow Old

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEWS:

GLASS (USA 2018) **
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

GLASS is a superhero thriller written, produced and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. The film is a sequel to Shyamalan's previous films UNBREAKABLE (2000) and SPLIT(2016), cumulatively forming the Eastrail 177 Trilogy.  All the main stars are present - Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Spencer Treat Clark, and Charlayne Woodard who reprise their Unbreakable roles, while James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy return as their Split characters.

The premise is the fight between good and evil, the good being the super hero David Dunn (Willis) and the bad the McAvoy split characters.

The film opens two years after the events of SPLIT.   David Dunn (Willis) works with his now adult son Joseph (Clark) in using his superhuman abilities to protect people from criminals under a new alias known as "The Overseer".   This part is incredibly silly and unbelievable.  David learns from Joseph that Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, has a group of cheerleaders held up in a warehouse.  David goes to free them after discovering the fact out of pure coincidence but encounters one of Kevin's personalities known as "The Beast," and the ensuing fight spills out into the streets.  The Philadelphia police department are called leading to the eventual capture of both David and Kevin.  Why David is brought in is never really explained as he has done no harm. The two are sent to a mental institution where Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), David’s sworn enemy, in another wild coincidence, is being held.

Shyamalan introduces a new character into the story.  Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) is the head doctor of the mental institution and works with patients who claim to have special powers. In order to have them suppress those thoughts, she tries to persuade them that there is no such thing as superhuman powers and that they actually have a mental illness. Meanwhile, Elijah (Jackson) is secretly working with Kevin to unleash "The Beast" and expose the world to the existence of superheroes. With the help of "The Beast," Elijah escapes but he is soon pursued by David, who again battles Kevin on the institution’s grounds.  The Dr. Staple character is the silliest of all the characters - coming off as a  pompous dumb bitch know-it-all who will obviously be roved wrong, cliche-wise at the end of the story.

At this point, the film appears to have gone through full circle with nothing at all accomplished.

GLASS is a trilogy of two UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT and this one.  A word of warning that one must be familiar with the other two films or end up completely lost in following the plot or characters in GLASS.  Director Shyamalan makes no attempt to update his audience to the current proceedings of GLASS. 

One point of observation.  This is the rare film where the actor Samuel L. Jackson’s character does not utter the ‘mf’ word.

Shyamalan make a guest cameo at a store in the film.  He sees David Dunn and mentions that he recognizes the man from the stadium where Dunn used to work security, stating that he used to do shady things when younger.  Those familiar with UNBREAKABLE will recall that Shyamalan gave himself a cameo in UNBREAKABLE selling drugs at the stadium.

There are many reasons that the word ‘split’ would apply to GLASS.  One is the main character from SPLIT portrayed by Jame McAvoy who is also one of the lead characters in GLASS.  Second, the film splits between the thriller and super action hero genres though unfortunately not blending well.  The fight scenes are minimal and the thrills and suspense are also unimpressive.  As GLASS contains two main characters, one from SPLIT and the other, the Bruce Willis superhero from UNBREAKABLE, there was debate regarding the film’s distribution.  Distribution is now split.  Universal now distributes the film in North American while Buena Vista (UNBREAKABLE was from Touchtone Pictures) internationally.  Willis’ performance is stoic while McAvoy’s is downright crazy as he switches from one personality to another instantly.  Director Shyamalan films often splits between the excellent (SIGNS, THE SIXTH SENSE, UNBREAKABLE, SPLIT, THE VISIT) and the duds (LADY IN THE WATER, THE LAST AIRBENDER, AFTER EARTH).  Unfortunately, GLASS belongs to the latter category.  Audiences will undoubtedly be split on whether liking or hating GLASS.  But GLASS is long, boring, too dead serious on its subjects despite the general silliness overall.

At the promo screening, a fair portion of the audience stayed to the end of the closing credits as in SPLIT there a was a surprise appearance of Bruce Willis at the end of that film signalling the sequel GLASS.  No such luck in GLASS.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7ztHi9ejp4

 

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING (USA 2018) ***

Directed by RaMell Ross 

This nonfiction documentary debut and  U.S. Documentary Sundance Award winner by RaMell Ross is a minimalist doc about the lives of black people in Hale County, Alabama.  Running just about an hour and a quarter, Ross picks a few people to focus his points on.

The film shows the limited opportunities available to the citizens of Hale.  The film opens with the first subject who specializes in psychology and basketball.  There are extended scenes with subjects practice basketball giving the film the feel of an art movie.  It is for this reason that the film could have got the rave reviews but the capsuled film is lacking in many areas.

For one only the blacks are centred.  Very little is heard or revealed on the white pollution - even whether they are a minority, as if they did not matter one bit.  The film is pessimistic in outlook.  Nothing is mentioned of the decrease in unemployment or the increase in voter turnout in the years following the film being made  The film generalizes from just the few subjects chosen on camera.

There are two main subjects on show.  The other is a black kid called Daniel.  He is shown to be a kind of anti-social wild person that one would stay clear away from.  The film attributes the cause to be his upbringing where his grandmother prevented his mother from raising him.  Daniel is a very angry teen.  Daniel blames his mother, who on camera confesses that it was not her fault.  On one occasion, she tried to get her son back but with little success.  The grandmother called the cops on her.  This intimate section brings some life into the doc.

Having a background in photography, director Ross’s simple film is beautiful to look at, in a simple way, without glamour or special effects.  This suits the mood of the lives of the simple Hale County citizens on display.

It is hard to fault small well-intentioned films like HALE COUNTY which aims low and needs little research, contains no whistleblowing and ruffles few feathers.  It is easier to find faults with larger docs which have more chance of making errors.  HALE COUNTY also provides no answers to the problems of poverty and racial image brought up.  But the film offers a rare look at the African American in small towns in the black belt region of the U.S. instead of big or inner cities.

Narration is minimal and replaced by interwoven images, a few of which are long takes.  One shows Daniel, all sweaty practicing basketball on his own.  This is one long take of a practice that could have lasted hours.

HALE COUNTY THIS MORNING, THIS EVENING is a film the many have not heard of - then suddenly appears out of nowhere for a limited engagement at the TIFF Bell Lightbox.  It is also thanks to Bell Lightbox that small films like this one have a chance at being seen.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlOeSyl-zZk

 

INVENTING TOMORROW (USA 2018) ***
Directed by Laura Nix

INVENTING TOMORROW follows 6 youth groups that enter their science projects for ISEF (the International Science and Engineering Fair)n- right up tot he winning announcement.  The robe with docs like this is that the director choses her groups.  It would be fortunate that the group the director choses wins, but often than not, it is hit and miss and intros one.  Not all the 6 group come off as winners.  A few do of course.  But audience might learn a thing or tow about competitive - fair or unfair the process.

The 6 young groups of scientists hail from Indonesia, Hawaii, India and Mexico as they tackle some of the most complex environmental issues facing humanity today – right in their own backyards.  Each student is preparing original scientific research that he or she will defend at ISEF.  Framed against the backdrop of the severe environmental threats humans  now face,the audience is immersed in a global view of the planetary crisis, through the eyes of the generation that will be affected by it most.

Considered the Olympics of high school science fairs, ISEF is the largest gathering of high school scientists in the world, attracting approximately 1,800 finalists from over 75 countries, regions and territories.  All the finalists want to do a good job, but the heart of the story isn’t about whether they go home with an award.  As they take water samples from contaminated lakes (Hawaii), dig up the dirt in public parks (Hawaii), board illegal pirate mining ships (Indonesia), and test their experiments in a lab, we see each student display a tenacious curiosity, and a determination to build a better future.  Motivated by the desire to protect their homes, these young people are asking questions about the issues they observe in their communities, and proposing innovative solutions to fix them.

The students spend close to 600 hours each on their projects, guided in their scientific quest by dedicated university mentors.   At home with their parents, grandparents, and siblings, they compare the world their elders knew with the stark reality of the one they’re inheriting.

Director Nix brings the personal issues into the equation.  The audience sees, in an emotional moment the proud tears of a grandmother as her grandson wins the prize.

One must admire the young contestants for their diligence and brilliance.   Most of the terms they use are newt many.  The film should spend more time explaining each project to the audience so that the audience can connect more with the characters.  At bets, these projects appear difficult to understand.

The judges judge hard too.  The Mexicans likely did not win as they have difficulties explaining their project to the judges.  The Indian also has difficulty having the audience understand her project, as she speaks a little too fast.

The film shows that it is not the winning that counts.  It is the beauty of competition and meeting other contemporaries in the field.  The film soars when the camera shows young strangers from different countries making friends, hugging each other for the purpose of saving the environment.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7bdRgf1BAY

STAN & OLLIE (USA/UK/Canada 2018) ***1/2

Directed by Jon S. Baird

STAN & OLLIE (or perhaps alternatively called LAUREL & HARDY) is a capsule biographical film of the two of the world’s most famous comedians and a tale of undying friendship.

The film is a biographical comedy-drama film directed by Jon S. Baird (from TV films and a few obscure theatrical films) from a screenplay by Jeff Pope.   The comedy is derived mainly from their acts on stage and Laurel’s s often smart mouths remarks while the drama is the story of their friendship and  Oliver’s illness). Based on the lives of the comedy double act Laurel and Hardy, the film stars Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly as Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. It already premiered in October 2018 at the BFI London Film Festival.  The film had a limited release in the United States on 28 December 2018 and will be released widely in the United Kingdom, the United States and in Canada in January 2019.

The film is boosted by two outstanding performances.  Besides being impressionists, the actors have to act as well.  Both Coogan and Reilly enable audiences to forget who they really are but for their characters of Stan & Ollie.  It is a tough decision to see who does the better job.  Being American, Reilly earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor (the Golden Globe is more American than foreign press) while Brit Coogan got snubbed.  The other way around for the BFTA (British awards) where Coogan was nominated for the Best Actor award with Reilly up for nothing.

The film is a U.K.co-prodcution as most of the film is set in the U.K.  The film begins with the duo embarking on a gruelling music hall tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland during 1953, and struggle to get another film made - their own (comedy) version of Robin Hood.  There is stop during the tour in Newcastle, though no-one during those segments speak with any Geordie accent.

The film’s narrative is choppy (the script picks up a few incidents in the duo’s lives that mostly affected their bonding) punctuated by the duo’s acts on stage with the dramatic set-pieces.  These acts are at least well performed.  The audience get to see their best acts performed by the impressionists, which shows both how good the acts are and how good the impressionists are as were the original performers. 

The film gets a bit sentimental at times, especially in the last scenes where Ollie is ill from poor health.  But the film’s two best segments are the dramatic confrontation where their friendship is tested and the comedy act where the two are supposed to meet by a change room but fail to see each other.

The shooting of the last performance on stage - the dance number routine by Stan & Ollie must also be commended.  The use of shadows, camera angles and editing to emphasize the talent of the duo is expertly done and watching the sequence is well worth the price of the admission ticket.

The film ends appropriately with the epilogue that Ollie’s health deteriorated after the tour, leading to his death in 1957 and Stan’s eight years later in 1965. Stan continued to write sketches for Laurel and Hardy in the last eight years of his life.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlTTsN4JGnU

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