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‘Glass’ is All Empty, but Half Entertaining

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The surprise ending of M. Night Shyamalan’s Split teased a good deal of interesting potential in the crossover opportunities with the director’s own Unbreakable, an artful (if at times plodding) story about the possibility that superheroes may actually roam among us. Between Bruce Willis’ mopey strong man, Samuel L. Jackson’s maniacal mastermind, and James McAvoy’s cavalcade of cartoonish personalities, the possibility for some dynamite dynamics had been established; so how would this super-powered relationship triangle of good, bad, and ugly function when thrown into an all-new plot together? Unfortunately, Glass never really takes the opportunity to find out. Though a compelling atmosphere suggests that meaningful moments are always right on the verge of happening, a fractured script gets too mired in rehashing old themes, resulting in a mild-mannered diversion that dreams of former superpowers.

Tying together threads separated by nearly twenty years was never going to be easy, but Shyamalan does a remarkable job with the setup. David Dunn has apparently been operating a private security business with his son, Joseph (a grown-up Spencer Treat Clark), as a front for his vigilante tendencies. Now on the trail of The Horde after the recently depicted events of Split, Dunn trudges through the industrial neighborhoods of Philadelphia, brushing against passersby in hopes of sensing the evil within. The hoped-for confrontation is a bit of a let-down — grunting and pushing isn’t exactly the most exciting way for superhumans to fight — but after the two are taken into custody by the local police, it seems like the real games can finally begin. The pair is handed over to an obviously mysterious psychiatrist, who brings them to the same mental institution where Dunn’s nemeses, Mr. Glass, has resided for the past two decades. Separated and contained in rooms constructed to exploit their perceived weaknesses, the good doctor embarks on a form of therapy designed to dissuade these weirdos that maybe their uniqueness is all in their heads.

Of course, those having seen the previous films in this trilogy will know that isn’t true — Unbreakable dealt with the subject of doubt quite thoroughly — but for some curious reason, Glass goes back to this well. A lot. In fact, the entire film seems based around thematic material that has already been covered, only now it’s complicated by having to juggle extra characters and strange subplots. Shyamalan acts like we haven’t been through this before, as if we’ll feel the same unearned uncertainty his characters have. Writing has never been the filmmaker’s strong suit, and while audiences shouldn’t find themselves cringing at dialogue outside the occasional comic book sermon, this time it’s the structuring that lacks refinement. Shyamalan puts three interesting and distinct characters in the same building together, but seems to have no idea of where to go next. Isolated in their rooms, the trio hardly gets to interact, sapping the strength of the premise as time goes on.

That’s a real shame because the principal actors have brought their A-games, clearly delighting in playing these fellows again. Willis brings a much-needed twinkle of life to the eyes of his stoic warrior, and Jackson finds a way of betraying Glass’ scarily devious intelligence even behind a near-comatose stare (he’s criminally underused in his own movie). McAvoy naturally has the showiest role, and comes off even more confident here alternating between The Horde’s myriad of personae, deftly changing identities as if he has them on a switch. These three manage not to fall prey to the melodramatic seriousness that normally works its way into Shyamalan’s work, but Sarah Paulson (as the doctor specializing in comic book-itis) and Anna Taylor-Joy (reprising her role from Split, only without the edge) aren’t quite so lucky. Unfortunately not given much to do besides deliver exposition or pretend that a sudden, bizarre relationship is now somehow a thing (I’ll let you figure that one out), their gravity seems to come more from the director’s chair rather than organically.

Still, the actors are eminently watchable, and bringing characters like Joseph and Mrs. Price back in substantial roles really connects Glass to its predecessors in a way that only furthers the aura, creates mystique. It’s the kind of film fans of the others will surely want to like, simply because on the surface it seems to be doing things right. Outside those superficial elements, however, Glass feels rushed, not thought out properly — a product born out of opportunity rather than passion. The visuals are the most drab of Shyamalan’s career; he found more variety in the claustrophobic corridors beneath the Philadelphia zoo than he does in the sprawling psychiatric hospital, never really exploring a space ripe for twisted compositions. Instead, he settles for repetitive close-ups that place the burden on his capable stars’ faces.

He has to; there really isn’t much else going on in Glass other than a thematic retread and some oomph-less action scenes. The enjoyment is smoke and mirrors, pleasant by association — there’s nothing behind the curtain. After refreshingly narrowing his focus for The Visit and Split, Shyamalan here has reverted back to wannabe prophet, trying to deliver an important message to a world he believes is still thirsty for his wisdom.  He tries hard to convince us that he has something important to say, but curiously does so with a climax that is mistaken in the belief that it’s important to see. What is supposed to inspire awe is barely meme-worthy. He has misjudged significance yet again.

The emptiness doesn’t make Glass unwatchable — merely disappointing. The air of mystery is just enough to engage, but while professing his superior knowledge of the historical magnitude of comic books, Shyamalan forgot to tell a story worthy of his premise; his Holy Grail is an empty cup. Too bad, and many will view the perfectly mediocre Glass as the filmmaker himself is sometimes perceived: brimming with potential that once more isn’t realized.

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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Sam Mendes Creates a Rare Cinematic Experience with ‘1917’

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1917 Review

War movies have been a constant trend in cinema since the beginning of film. From black and white propaganda pieces during World War I and II to grand, ultra-realistic, modern dramas like Saving Private Ryan, war films have intrigued filmmakers and audiences alike for over 100 years. There’s a long list of films that have succeeded in recreating the horrors of fighting on the frontlines while telling a captivating story of heroism. Telling an emotionally gripping tale combined with some visually stunning filmmaking, 1917 can now be added to that list, and is nothing short of an incredible achievement.

Directed and co-written by Sam Mendes, and starring Dean-Charles Chapman and George MacKay, 1917 tells the story of two British soldiers during World War I that are given orders to personally deliver a message to a battalion off in the far distance. The message: to call off an attack that will result in the death of thousands, including one of the soldier’s brothers, should they fail to make it in time. Early on the two soldiers walk swiftly through crowded trenches; one of them, dragging behind yells, “Shouldn’t we think about this?” The other doesn’t reply. There’s no time to think about it. He carries on forward without looking back. The two had just been given orders, and time is now their worst enemy.

It’s this sense of urgency and persistence that drives 1917. Every minute is critical, and every moment feels dire. The two soldiers constantly push forward despite the overwhelming odds, as the life of thousands are in the lone hands of these two young men. The threat of failure is real, and 1917 never allows the audience to forget that.

Chapman and MacKay give wonderfully human performances as the main protagonists, Lance Corporal Blake and Lance Corporal Schofield. The audience gets to know the two men through little bits of conversation amid all the tension of getting closer to enemy lines. Their deepest and darkest secrets are never revealed, yet their actions provide reasons to care about them. The two men have their differences, but it’s clear that they want to help each other see the mission to its end. Their loyalty to one another and to the mission relentlessly drives them forward, and ultimately makes it easy for the audience to hope these characters succeed.

What really sets 1917 apart from other war epics is the masterful directing by Sam Mendes. The film creates the illusion throughout that the audience is watching a single continuous shot. From the first shot until the last, the focus never strays from its protagonists, allowing the audience to experience every step as it’s taken. Aside from the characters moving into a dark trench or behind a tall structure, it can be really tough to tell just how long each take is; where the director says “action” and “cut” is blurred to a point of fascination here, and though audiences have seen prolonged shots of war in past films, this is on another level. Combined with some brilliant pacing and jaw-dropping action sequences, 1917 never loses grip of its audience, as everything is seen without pause.

It’s also worth noting that every shot is elevated by a phenomenal score by Thomas Newman (who has worked with Mendes before on Skyfall). It seems that the goal here was not only to increase the intensity and drama of each scene, but also to allow the audience to feel exactly what the characters are feeling at all times. Whether the soldiers are walking through crowded trenches, cautiously cornering buildings, or taking a brief moment to catch their breath, every bit of what they’re feeling and just how their fast their hearts are pumping is translated. The music always feels natural, even in its most dramatic moments, and it deserves high praise for complimenting Mendes’ story so well.

1917 is one of the most unique movie-going experiences in recent memory. It takes the war movie genre and does something no one has ever seen before, which is extremely difficult with so many memorable war films in cinematic history. With 1917 Sam Mendes has created an unforgettable experience that needs to be seen on the biggest screen, and it deserves to be ranked among the greatest war films of all time.

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With ‘Road to Perdition,’ Sam Mendes showed another side of Tom Hanks

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In his long, distinguished career, one thing Tom Hanks hasn’t done a lot of on screen is dispassionately shoot people. Sure, in Bonfire of the Vanities he hit a kid with his car, and in Cloud Atlas he threw someone off the roof of the building. And yes, he played a soldier in both Saving Private Ryan and the Vietnam part of Forrest Gump, and there was a third-act gunfight in his 1989 cop/dog comedy Turner & Hooch. But the one and only time Hanks has played a full-on murderer was in Road to Perdition, director Sam Mendes’ 2002 meditation on fathers, sons, crime, and the legacies of violence.

Naturally, Hanks being Hanks, Mendes’ film positions his Michael Sullivan not as an irredeemable monster, but rather a humanized character who may not be beyond redemption (the film’s poster tagline was “Pray for Michael Sullivan.”) 

Set in the 1930s and adapted from a first-rate screenplay by David Self, Road to Perdition tells the story of Sullivan, a mob enforcer in Rock Island, Ill., who works for local crime boss Rooney (Paul Newman), the man who raised him. Frequently dispatched to bump off Rooney’s rivals, Michael is committed to not allow his young son, Michael Jr. (future Arrowverse actor Tyler Hoechlin), to go down the same path in life he did. 

Road to Perdition

When the young Michael witnesses his father committing a murder, it leads to a chain of tragic events that has the two Michaels on the road to Chicago to make a deal with Al Capone’s crew (in the person of his henchman, played in one scene by Stanley Tucci), and eventually on the run from a rival hitman (Jude Law.) Meanwhile, Rooney’s jealous son, Connor (a pre-Bond Daniel Craig), schemes against him. 

Road to Perdition attaches a violent crime plot to considerations of sin and specific references to Catholicism, which is something that directors from Martin Scorsese to Abel Ferrera have done for decades. But Mendes’ film finds a new way to tell that particular story by focusing it on the gangster’s young son. 

Road to Perdition, which came out in the summer of 2003, was Mendes’ second film, and his first after 1999’s Best Picture-winning American Beauty. It’s the better film, thanks to a strong script and the work of a great cast, but more than that, it’s absolutely visually stunning in a counter-intuitive 1:33 to 1 aspect ratio. The film’s final sequences, of both the rain-drenched gunfight and the denouement on the beach, are among the most beautiful cinema of the 2000s. 

The film won the Best Cinematography Oscar for Conrad L. Hall, the third of his career, although sadly Hall passed away before the Oscar was awarded; it was accepted on his behalf by his son, Conrad W. Hall.  Hall’s Oscar was the only one the film won after it was nominated for six, although not including Best Picture or Best Actor. 

Road to Perdition came at the front end of Hanks’ nearly 20-year Oscar nomination drought, between Cast Away and this year’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor. But Road to Perdition is an underrated Hanks performance. Even beyond all the murder, it’s very understated, and much more strong/silent than is typical of Hanks’ work. He also wears a hat most of the time, which Hanks doesn’t often do. 

Road to Perdition

Paul Newman was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for what would be his final on-screen role, although his voice continued to be used in Pixar’s Cars movies, even after his death. As for Daniel Craig as Connor, he’s playing a character who in today’s parlance would be called a “failson,” and it’s a role that he undoubtedly has been too big a star for just a few years later. 

Sam Mendes has had something of an uneven career. His first film, American Beauty, won Best Picture, but its reputation has somewhat suffered over time for reasons fair and unfair. He’s directed great James Bond movies (Skyfall), and not-so-great ones (Spectre.) He’s made small films that were decent (Away We Go) and big ones that were disastrous (Revolutionary Road). But while he’s getting some of his best attention for 1917, which has emerged as an Oscar frontrunner, Road to Perdition stands as his most complete and satisfying work. 

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Festival du Nouveau Cinema

‘Color Out of Space’ is Pure Cosmic Horror

Festival de Nouveau Cinema 2019

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Color Out of Space Review

Color Out of Space stands out as one the best direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s work.

Even before a meteor streaks out of the sky, Richard Stanley’s Color Out of Space firmly establishes an atmosphere of alien, otherworldly dread. Opening on a fog-shrouded forest dripping with foreboding atmosphere, Stanley evokes the spirit of the controversial author in a way few filmmakers have, and the use of direct quotes from the short story further cements this as a love-letter to Lovecraft and his work. But Color isn’t just a slavish ode to the influential writer and his cosmic horror creations; the South African director also injects just enough of himself into the film to create something that builds upon the core of Lovecraft’s story, maintaining that kernel of pulp horror while introducing elements that feel wholly personal to the filmmaker. For this and many other reasons, Color Out of Space stands out as one the best direct adaptations of Lovecraft’s work, and one of the most engrossing genre movies this year.

The film by and large maintains the narrative core of the original, recombining elements to suit the change in medium, but staying quite faithful otherwise. Nic Cage stars as Nathan Gardner, who has moved his wife and two children to a secluded country home to get away from urban life. The Gardner family’s pastoral bliss is interrupted by a meteor that strikes their farm in the dead of night, and both their home and their very bodies begin to change soon after.

Color Out of Space

Unsurprisingly for a film with the hands of Lovecraft, Stanley, and Cage on the wheel, Color is often quite a strange experience, rife with disparate influences and odd touches. Nathan’s daughter, Lavinia, is a practicing witch, which is a story element that could only have come from Stanley, a magician himself. The Gardner family are also trying their hand at Alpaca farming — a bewildering plot element that feels like it could have been one of Cage’s notoriously eccentric fancies, right down to the brief lesson in Alpaca milking. Of course, Lovecraft’s passion for unknowable cosmic terrors is draped over all of this. There’s a wonderful atmosphere of dread and the unknown, about as pure an expression of Lovecraft as one could hope for in a contemporary setting. You’d think it would all make for a disjointed mishmash, but it all gels quite nicely, with the quirky family coming off as endearing more often than not. 

Color Out of Space is one of the most engrossing genre movies this year.

There are a few distracting, odd moments, like Lavinia’s turn to self-scarring in a desperate ritual to avert disaster. It largely isn’t commented on, and her sudden appearance with arcane runes carved into her flesh doesn’t end up feeling like the important story or character beat it probably should have. Likewise, Cage’s performance is on the eccentric side, with odd mannerisms and a truly strange accent taking over as the Gardner patriarch begins to go off the deep end. But then, that’s half the fun when it’s Cage we’re talking about.

Color Out of Space

Like so much of Lovecraft’s work, Color Out of Space deals with the intrusion of the unknowable and alien into the mundane waking world. While other works have had this manifest in the form of eldritch space gods or croaking fish-people, Color instead uses an alien environment as the intruder. While Stanley clearly isn’t working with a massive budget, this idea is still used to create some stunning environments as the Gardner farm’s transformation progresses, with the climax offering some of the most engaging visuals in recent memory. There’s also some truly unsettling body horror, more gruesome and explicit than anything from the story, but an organic fit for the material. Color Out of Space is Stanley’s first feature-length fiction film in around fifteen years, and by all indications, he hasn’t lost his edge. For both fans of Lovecraft and the director’s own works, there’s much to see and love here. The visuals are breathtaking, the atmosphere sumptuous, and it’s Lovecraft to the core with just enough original madness thrown in.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on October 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Festival du Nouveau Cinema.

Color Out of Space Review
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