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Just when I hoped M. Night Shyamalan might be getting on a hot streak, here comes Glass, proving he’s still a stylish—yet sloppy—self-indulgent kook.

After one bomb after another during a 15-year stretch, Shyamalan showed us he was still capable of good cinematic things with Split, a 2017 a showcase for multiple personalities by James McAvoy and a creepy little thriller thanks to Shyamalan’s surprisingly deft direction. An after-credits scene showed us Bruce Willis as David Dunn, his super-humanly strong Unbreakable character, and the possibilities became very intriguing.

The director then announced his intention to make Glass, saying that Split was, in fact, the second part of what would be a trilogy. Glass would bring back the brittle-boned character of that name played by Samuel L. Jackson in Unbreakable, along with Willis and the newly introduced McAvoy character(s). OK, sounds good. Let’s go!

Well … shit. The new year has its first legitimate clunker.

Shyamalan is up to his old tricks again, turning in the kind of loopy, half-assed filmmaking that made the world scratch its collective head with The Happening, The Village, The Last Airbender, After Earth and Lady in the Water, all wretched stink-bombs. He has a remarkable ability to somehow employ writing that’s lazy and overambitious at the same time. He puts a lot in play with Glass, but he doesn’t seem to have an idea where to take it. Plot holes abound; there are so many that it’s hard to keep track of them.

First, he finds a way—an incredibly inane way—to get the gang together in some sort of mental institution where they are being studied by a too-nice-to-be-trusted doctor (Sarah Paulson). Then McAvoy gets a chance to do his switching-personality shtick for a good chunk of the movie while Willis virtually disappears, and Jackson’s Glass sits in a catatonic state.

Toward the end of the movie, the Shyamalan script starts rambling about the origins of comic books, asking, what do they really mean? He fixates on this like anybody really gives a crap, and the action dwindles away, replaced by the dopiest dialogue this side of a Fifty Shades movie. Shyamalan shamelessly teases a big showdown atop Philadelphia skyscrapers between McAvoy’s Beast and Willis’ strong guy. It’s as if he’s saying, “I know you are bored right now, but there’s a Kong vs. Godzilla-type showdown coming! Sit tight, you fidgety little buggers!”

Alas, the budget doesn’t really allow for that sort of CGI smackdown, so all we get is a fist fight on the hospital lawn—a very drawn out and uninteresting first fight. If anything, I am understating things when I tell you the fates of these characters are handled in a flippant, underwhelming, downright-awful way. Shyamalan takes a chance to do something worthwhile in the universe he created, but instead, he opts for blathering idiocy and preachy nonsense.

Anya Taylor-Joy, so good in Split, is reduced to a role that has her, for some nutty reasons, having sympathetic, huggy conversations with the dude who almost ate her. Spencer Treat Clark returns as Joseph Dunn, David’s now-grown son; he’s actually grown into a fairly competent actor … who is given next to nothing worthwhile to do.

Nothing makes sense in this mess, and Shyamalan takes all of the blame. Yes, Glass has the standard Shyamalan big twists in it, and they do nothing to substantiate the story or shock you in that good, Sixth Sense sort of way. He springs the so-called surprise on you, and you are left wondering, “Oh … wait … really? That’s it?”

I distinctly remember that “WTF?” feeling that hit me when Unbreakable abruptly ended with that dopey freeze frame. It felt like Shyamalan had completely betrayed his audience with a lame stunt. Well, that’s how I felt during most of Glass: I’d been duped again by M. Night.

Glass is now showing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Bruce Willis sleepwalks through Death Wish, a listless remake of the Charles Bronson vigilante movie that made a bunch money back in the 1970s, one year before Jaws was released. (I measure most things in the ’70s by the year Jaws was released. It’s a thing.)

On paper, this looked like a potentially nasty fun project, considering Eli Roth was at the helm, and Willis was in the Bronson role. Sylvester Stallone gave the remake possibility some steam years ago, but subsequently chickened out. Then John McClane himself stepped into the role—and the remake started to take shape.

Sadly, Willis is phoning it in here—and too many horribly acted scenes reveal that Willis and Roth probably didn’t gel as an actor/director combo. Willis seems tone deaf in some of the movie’s more dramatic scenes, and just plain bored in the remainder. When Willis gives a shit about the movie he’s making, it shows—but when he doesn’t care (which seems to be the case in many of his recent projects), he is zombie-like.

The original Death Wish, from 1974, is a hard watch these days. Apart from its racist depictions of criminals and extremely dated Herbie Hancock soundtrack, it’s poorly acted by Bronson. It is, however, worth seeing for walk-ons by Christopher Guest as a police officer and, most horrifically, Jeff Goldblum as Freak No. 1. They would both go on to do much, much better things. The film actually marked Goldblum’s acting debut; he took part in the infamous scene in which the daughter and wife of architect Paul Kersey are attacked. It’s a terrible scene—almost comedic now more than 40 years later. For the remake, that attack scene is mellowed out a bit (nobody gets their ass spray-painted), with Elisabeth Shue as Mrs. Kersey and Camila Morrone as their daughter. As in the original, one of them doesn’t survive the attack—and Paul gets a taste for weaponry and vigilante justice in the aftermath.

Unlike in the original, many of Kersey’s crimes are not random. This time, he’s out for revenge, playing a detective of sorts as he seeks out and eliminates his family’s attackers while slipping in the occasional drug-dealer execution. Bronson’s Kersey was an architect living in Manhattan; while Willis’ Kersey is an emergency-room doctor in Chicago. No actor has ever looked sillier in scrubs than Willis.

Roth, of course, is best known as a horror director (Cabin Fever, Hostel), and that shows in a couple of the “kills,” including one in which a thug is crushed by a car, and his guts squirt out. The scene in which this happens, with Kersey executing a meticulously planned torture act on a bad guy, feels utterly ridiculous. The whole point of Death Wish is a real guy taking (mostly) real action with real consequences. This scene is outrageous torture porn, like an outtake from Roth’s lousy Hostel: Part II.

Roth usually makes a good-looking movie, and his films often have a good, sinister humor streak to go with the carnage. That doesn’t happen this time: The attempts at dark humor fall flat, and only Vincent D’Onofrio as Frank, Paul’s sad brother, hits the right notes with his performance. D’Onofrio seems to be giving it his all, while Willis acts like somebody with true contempt for his director and really swell dinner reservations.

Dean Norris (Hank from Breaking Bad) shows up alongside Kimberly Elise as the investigators on Kersey’s trail. They try to get a couple of laughs, but they can’t rise above the mirth. Shue and Morrone are OK, but don’t have enough screen time to really register.

There is one moment in this movie that works: The final shot, in which Willis re-creates Bronson’s point-and-shoot moment from the original. Willis actually looks like he’s got the vibe right—and seems interested in the shot. Sadly, these few seconds are the only ones in which he properly earned his payday.

Death Wish is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

It feels like writer-director Robert Rodriguez delivered the first Sin City a million years ago.

However, it was just nine years ago, back in 2005. Rodriguez was reaching the apex of his creative strengths, making good movies for relatively small budgets and doing much of the work himself. Sin City was truly groundbreaking; it was preceded by fine films like Once Upon a Time in Mexico, the first three Spy Kids movies (two of which were really good) and, my personal favorite, From Dusk Till Dawn.

Since Sin City, a lot of people have been making good-looking films on reasonable budgets. Rodriguez, in the meantime, has been losing steam, with misfires like The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lavagirl 3-D, Shorts, the fourth (and truly awful) Spy Kids film and Machete Kills. Yes, he did good work with his Grindhouse segment, Planet Terror and the first Machete—but the bad has far outweighed the good.

Now comes Rodriguez’s long-in-development Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. It’s a batch of shorts based on the musings of Frank Miller—and not one of them offers anything better than the original film. It’s a tedious, worthless film from a director who seems to be running out of original ideas.

Much of the cast returns, including Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis, even though their characters died in the first movie. In the case of Rourke, his Marv segments are prequels, based on graphic novels that took place before his character got the electric chair. As for Willis … think The Sixth Sense.

Jessica Alba returns to dance provocatively (although she keeps her clothes on) as stripper Nancy, and Powers Boothe is back as the evil Senator Roark. Dennis Haysbert replaces the late Michael Clarke Duncan, and Josh Brolin steps in for Clive Owen as Dwight. Also new to the cast are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny, and Eva Green as Ava.

There are a whole lot of people driving around in black-and-white, doing those deliberately paced, film-noir voiceovers. What was once visually breathtaking has become visually blah, and none of the stories in A Dame to Kill For merit interest. The film plays like a batch of outtakes from the first movie that were slapped together and put on display.

It’s also the second time this year that Eva Green has given a spectacular, villainous performance in a film adapted from a Miller graphic novel that sucks around her (the first one being 300: Rise of an Empire). Green is the only reason to see this movie; her Ava is far more terrifying than Boothe’s deranged senator.

Gordon-Levitt seems out of place in this film; he’s way too cool and popular to be hanging around such a subpar undertaking. It’s sort of like when Bill Murray lent his voice to the Garfield movies, or Tom Hanks took a paycheck for The Da Vinci Code. It just feels wrong. Gordon-Levitt was in the running for Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla … and he winds up in this? The agent firings must commence.

For the first time in a long time, Rodriguez doesn’t have any films listed in development. Perhaps this is a good thing; maybe he needs a break. He’s better than Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill for is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Yes, G.I. Joe: Retaliation is an improvement over the original, but don’t get your hopes too high.

Dwayne Johnson joins something like his 18th franchise, as does Bruce Willis, in this confusing yet sometimes entertaining follow-up to G.I. Joe: The Sucky First Movie. There are some good action sequences, including a snowy-cliff sword battle and the destruction of London. There’s also a lot of clatter about Cobra Commanders and Snake Eyes and a bunch of other toy names.

Channing Tatum and Johnson have a great rapport, and a whole movie with them together could’ve been fun. Unfortunately, Tatum makes an early exit, making way for The Smirk. Willis is OK, but he doesn’t add all that much. Jonathan Pryce is fairly menacing as two characters: the president of the United States, and his evil impostor.

I’d tell you some plot details, but that would be a waste of space. Just know that if you plunk down for this, you will see a couple of good action sequences and a whole lot of mindless crap.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Bruce Willis returns in A Good Day to Die Hard as trouble magnet John McClane—and he looks lost, tired and miserable. One gets the sense that Willis realized he was in a dud, and spiritually clocked out well before the shoot was over.

Willis seems to have a lot of power over all Die Hard production proceedings, and since he’s the star, most of the blame falls on his shoulders. The fact that they gave directing chores to the hackneyed John Moore (who directed the horrifically stinky Owen Wilson yawner Behind Enemy Lines) would be the first big mistake. Allowing Skip Wood (The A-Team, Hitman, Swordfish) to write it could also be chalked up as a big gaffe. I mean, doesn’t that creative combo just cry “suckage”?

They are obviously running out of scenarios for McClane, so this one sends him to Russia, where his estranged son Jack (the dull Jai Courtney) has gotten himself into an espionage jam. McClane knows this, because one of his cop friends hands him one of those files with all of the info in it, because L.A. cops have all sorts of intelligence in Russia.

So John hops a plane, gets stuck in traffic, and immediately finds himself in an explosive car chase—during which he happens to run into his son. They have a little spat; Jack refuses to call him “Dad”; and John picks up a gun, smirks and becomes part of the mission.

There are none of the things that made previous Die Hard films so fun. There is no distinguishable bad guy going up against John; the film completely lacks a sense of humor; and it looks drab. All of the other Die Hard films had that peppy action-movie look and feel. This one looks like a poor man’s Saving Private Ryan, and Saving Private Ryan was actually funnier than this movie.

They can’t even come up with a decent catchphrase for McClane in this one. He keeps screaming, “I’m on vacation!” which reminds of Billy Crystal’s whining in City Slickers. By the way, he technically isn’t even on vacation. He’s on a mission to find his son; he would never pick Russia as a vacation spot. (I see McClane as more of a Barbados kind of guy. Perhaps that will be the next movie.)

Why pick Russia as the locale? Perhaps they were looking for some sort of throwback vibe to the ’80s. Well, Russia has lost its luster as a place for bad guys. And you just know some character in the film is going to say, “You Americans all think you are so smart!” (Someone does.) You can also guess that the action will eventually wind up in Chernobyl. (It does.) I was surprised Rocky IV’s Ivan Drago didn’t pop into frame and challenge McClane to a fistfight.

Anybody who whined about the previous chapter, Live Free or Die Hard, which came out nearly SEVEN YEARS AGO, will discover that film (which I happened to like) was a party compared to this one. It had a great villain (played Timothy Olyphant); it had comic relief (Justin Long, Kevin Smith and Willis when he was in a good mood); and it had the mighty beautiful Mary Elizabeth Winstead (who makes a drab cameo in this one). It also zipped along at a fun pace, and reveled in its ridiculousness.

Well, Die Hard 5 is grey, somber and lifeless. Willis is shot to look worn out and gaunt. I know for a fact he can still look sprightly in movies, because he looks healthy and badass in the G.I. Joe: Rataliation trailer that preceded the movie.

If you are going to saddle McClane with a sidekick, don’t make it his miserable son. Bring back Long, or Samuel L. Jackson from Die Hard 3, or even the Twinkie-eating cop from the first two movies. Just make it somebody with a pulse who can crack a joke.

It’s strange how Willis’ career is going right now. He was awesome in last year’s Looper and Moonrise Kingdom, but he’s also showed up in five direct-to-video flops in the last two years. The latest Die Hard plays like something that should’ve suffered that fate. Willis is becoming the Charles Bronson of his generation when it comes to straight-up action films (remember those last Death Wish movies?), yet he delivered two of best performances in 2012. The man is confusing me.

Willis has publicly stated that there will be a Die Hard 6. For the love of God, if there is another movie, make sure those participating in it remember that it’s supposed to be ridiculous, and that laughter is OK.

A Good Day to Die Hard is now playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

If you missed this one in theaters, you missed one of the year’s best big-screen experiences. Director Rian Johnson’s time-travel thriller is startlingly good-looking film.

It’s also a great brain-twister, featuring a bravura performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe, a hired assassin killing people sent back from the future the instant they pop up in front of him. Things get a little kooky when the person sent back to be offed is actually an older version of himself (a strong Bruce Willis).

Gordon-Levitt wears makeup to achieve a look more akin to Willis, but it’s the smirk and airy voice that really nail it down. Gordon-Levitt had a blockbuster year with this and The Dark Knight Rises, with this being the best screen work he has done to date.

A supporting cast including Paul Dano, Noah Segan and Jeff Daniels is top-notch. Dano is especially good as a fellow assassin (or “looper”) who loses his nerve at the wrong time—and pays a grisly price.

In a role that isn’t getting the notice it deserves (although she has gotten a nomination from the Broadcast Film Critics Association), Emily Blunt takes a break from funny stuff to deliver stellar work as a mom protecting a strange son (played by talented child actor Pierce Gagnon). Blunt holds her own with Gordon-Levitt, matching him at every turn.

Willis gets a chance to do some seedy stuff as his character goes on an unfortunate crusade. He does a good job of making his version of Joe a sympathetic character, even as he does unspeakable things.

As time-travel movies go, this is one of the best. The moment when future Joe sits down in a diner with present Joe is a real winner. (The universe does not end, as Doc Brown predicted would happen in Back to the Future Part II.) If you missed this on the big screen, don’t fret: The Blu-ray will look mighty good in your living room.

Let it be noted that this movie cost $30 million to make, according to IMDb.com. That’s a pretty low budget considering the look Johnson has achieved. It seems like the movie would’ve cost five times that amount, at least.

Special Features: A great commentary with the director, Gordon-Levitt and Blunt. It’s actually one of the year’s better commentaries, a truly fun listen. You also get deleted scenes, a couple of featurettes on the making of the film, and a short doc about the film’s score. 

 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing