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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

The key to M. Night Shyamalan’s recent success seems to be a limit on the amount of money he’s allowed to throw around.

After working with sizable budgets on big projects like The Last Airbender, After Earth, The Happening, Lady in the Water and The Village—all of which sucked major ass—Shyamalan almost made a good movie for $5 million with The Visit.

Now he’s finally made his first good movie since Signs back in 2002 with Split, a down-to-the-basics, creepy thriller propelled by excellent performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy. The film—with a $10 million budget, according to IMDb—reminds us that Shyamalan can be quite the capable director (and writer) when he isn’t getting too carried away.

Taylor-Joy, so good in recent horror masterpiece The Witch, plays Casey, an introverted, outcast high school student attending a birthday party for Claire (Haley Lu Richardson) simply because she got a “mercy invite.” Casey’s stuck after the party, so Claire’s dad offers her and another friend, Marcia (Jessica Sula), a ride home. That ride never gets out of the parking lot, because a strange, angry man (McAvoy) winds up in the driver’s seat and sprays the girls with a chemical. They wake up together in a prison cell.

McAvoy’s character, as you know from all the trailers and previews, is suffering from a form of split-personality disorder. In addition to the man who kidnaps them, he’s a stately, mannered woman; a 9-year-old child; and several others. One of those others plays a big part in making this film more than just a psychological thriller.

McAvoy is bone-chillingly good here, seamlessly segueing into each personality, and giving each one an original vocal and physical spin. In ways, this plays out like a modern-day Psycho, with a few more personalities thrown in, and without the shower scene.

While in the Hedwig persona, McAvoy has a memorable dance scene—a welcome funny break in the movie. McAvoy even saves what could have been a hokey finale by delivering his final major monologue with such ferocity that we buy into it. McAvoy’s great work here has a place alongside Anthony Perkins in Psycho, Jack Nicholson in The Shining and Kathy Bates in Misery.

The last act of the movie, when Shyamalan takes things into strange monster-movie territory, is truly scary. I won’t give away any secrets; go see the movie, and have some fun with it. Well, “fun” might not be the right word. It’s pretty freaking bleak.

Taylor-Joy is becoming a new kind of “scream queen.” She has an amazing array of expressions, and Shyamalan takes advantage of this. Rather than shrieking her face off as the terrorized often do in horror movies, Taylor-Joy is a restrained, conflicted kind of horrified. What she lacks in volume, she makes up for in major intensity.

Following up her terrific performance in The Edge of Seventeen, Richardson takes the normally vain “popular” character in horror films and gives her a lot of depth and smarts. Betty Buckley does well as a therapist (basically this film’s Dr. Loomis, although less crazed) trying to help the McAvoy characters handle their afflictions. Shyamalan himself shows up for a fun cameo, and stick around for the credits, which include a powerful Easter egg.

Given his current trajectory, Shyamalan could be one or two films away from giving us another masterpiece. Split is one of his best, and proof that we weren’t all crazy back when we figured he would do great things behind a camera.

Split is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

I would really like to see a return to greatness for M. Night Shyamalan. I’m a big fan of what I consider to be his very best film, Signs, and I was fine with The Sixth Sense. Unbreakable should’ve been great … but that ending. Sheesh.

One could argue that he has been the worst big-movie director in Hollywood since Signs, compiling an unholy streak of moose-spunk movies along the way. He’s been worse than Michael Bay, who at least made the somewhat fun Pain and Gain during that stretch. Shyamalan has put out The Village (awful), Lady in the Water (dog dookie), The Happening (epically bad), The Last Airbender (How is he still getting jobs?) and After Earth (It can’t get any worse than this, right?).

Now comes The Visit, a smaller-scale, $5 million film that shoots for pure horror with a PG-13 rating—a combination which always irks me. On the good side, I can report that Shyamalan shows some of the style and flair found in his earlier films, and he manages a few truly good scares. On the bad side, he’s using the distracting “found footage” gimmick, and it essentially wrecks the movie.

Young Becca and Tyler (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould), both savvy amateur-camera operators (of course), have never met their grandma. When Mom (Kathryn Hahn) decides to go on a cruise with her boyfriend, she leaves the kids with her parents, even though they have been estranged for many years. Becca and Tyler are game, so they board a train to Pennsylvania to meet Nana and their granddad.

Things get weird fast on the farm. Nana (a delightfully strange Deanna Dunagan) is prone to sleepwalking and projectile-vomiting, sometimes naked, after 10:30 p.m., while Pop Pop (a creepy Peter McRobbie) has a tendency to stick shotguns in his mouth and pile his used adult diapers in strange places.

Becca fancies herself a documentary filmmaker, and Tyler likes to rap. This is bad, bad news for the movie, because whenever the film gets going, it soon stumbles, thanks to found footage and Tyler’s stupid rap songs. Shyamalan’s ability to frame a shot or a good scare are evident in The Visit, but then he drifts off into shitty Paranormal Activity territory, with dopey sequences involving setting up the camera to capture Nana’s mischief—and, of course, not dropping the camera and keeping Nana in frame when she’s in scary pursuit. Good God, this gimmick needs to be outlawed.

I will give Shyamalan credit in that he caught me off guard with his usual “big twist.” After I ruined my experience watching The Sixth Sense by trying too hard to guess what was going on (which I did in 15 minutes), I purposefully set out to remain blissfully ignorant while watching this one. When the twist comes, it’s a solid gut punch. Then Becca managed to keep her camera rolling during another potentially scary sequence, and I fell out of synch with the film again.

Dunagan makes a mark as the worst … grandma … ever. Yes, she makes cookies and plays board games, but she also chases the kids with knives and scurries after them in the basement, looking like the ghost from The Ring. McRobbie wears a perpetual scowl and says random, strange things to cement his standing as marginally scary.

Shyamalan basically had a low-level idea about scary grandparents, so he worked in the found-footage gimmick to give the story a sense of purpose. Perhaps he’s getting scared of himself and his own talents, because a good, creepy-grandparents story done on a shoestring budget could’ve been great. Yes, The Visit had the potential to be a good, solid horror film had it gone for a R rating and dropped the found-footage motif. But instead, it’s just another sub par effort from Shyamalan, who now hasn’t made a decent movie in 13 years.

The Visit is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Will Smith plays royal king douche of all douchebags in director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest travesty, the unwatchable, intolerable After Earth.

Conceived by Smith (he gets a story credit) as a project for himself and his son Jaden (they were cute together in The Pursuit of Happyness), After Earth focuses on a father and son stranded on Earth long after humans have abandoned it. It seems humans can no longer breathe on the planet’s surface, yet all manner of wildlife (buffalo, huge-assed birds, baboons, lions, etc.) have no problem. Go figure.

They wind up on the planet after their transport ship drives through an asteroid field, and everyone else on board is killed. After the harrowing crash sequence (the best thing in the movie), Will Smith’s Cypher Raige (this year’s pick for dumbest movie name!) is severely injured and must stay behind in the crippled ship as son Kitai Raige (wait … that’s this year’s dumbest movie name!) ventures out into Evil Earth to retrieve a rescue beacon from the ship’s tail section.

Actually, there was another survivor: The ship was also carrying an alien monster that can’t see you unless you are afraid of him, and therefore shooting off stinky pheromones. Being able to shut off all fear is Cypher’s calling card: He’s not afraid of anything, so he’s not going to get eaten. The kid, on the other hand, is scared shitless and therefore prime bait.

I mentioned that Will Smith is a major douche in this movie, and that’s an understatement. He’s one of those badass military dads who has a problem expressing emotion and barks orders at his kid during suppertime.

Will Smith has made previous movies fun due to his charisma. In this film, he’s barely got a pulse, and to make matters worse, his character just sits around with a broken leg, basically guiding his son via a futuristic Skype-like communication.

Proving that anything is possible, Jaden’s performance is actually worse than that of his dad. Both speak with ridiculous accents that I’m thinking are supposed to be a mixture of Earth accents (a little British, crossed with Rastafarian and a touch of German). While Will sounds merely silly, Jaden sounds completely ridiculous.

I’m picturing the following conversation between Shyamalan and Jaden Smith on the set:

M. NIGHT: “Hey Jaden: Your dad is really dragging ass in this movie. I need some emotional juice out of you to balance things out. I need you to cry and scream and whine and stuff like that. Also, please pretend that the thing chasing you is a real lion and not just crappy CGI. Understand?”

JADEN: “Screw you, M. Night! Will Smith is my dad, and I can do whatever I want! And The Village sucked!”

M. NIGHT: “Why, you little bastard! I made The Sixth Sense … and Signs!”

JADEN: “Yeah … you also made The Happening and The Last Airbender, bitch!”

WILL SMITH: “Son, do what the director told you, and stop bringing up the bad movies. It makes the dude withdraw and shit, and then we won’t get any work done.”

JADEN: “Dad … shut your mouth, too. Your performance is leaden, and you are making my inexperienced ass carry this whole damned thing! I want to go home and do karate!”

WILL SMITH: “Yeah … whatever. I’m going to make another Hancock or Bad Boys after this bombs. You go ahead and start that big music career of yours. Ha ha.”

JADEN: “I hate you!”

WILL SMITH: “I hate you, too. Ha ha.”

M. NIGHT (crying and hugging himself in the corner): “I made The Sixth Sense …”

Trust me: This fictional exchange is more compelling than anything that happens in After Earth. Jaden was a true charmer in The Pursuit of Happyness, and I even dug him in The Karate Kid remake. Therefore, I’ll blame his dad and M. Night for most of what goes wrong in this movie.

As for M. Night, this continues an unholy string of bad movies that should get his ass shut down for good. His last good movie was Signs … 11 years ago. Since then, he’s made five films, all of them wretched.

It looks like his next project is something called Wayward Pines, and it’s for TV. Incidentally, Wayward Pines, starring Matt Dillon and Melissa Leo, has a story summary that sounds a lot like Twin Peaks. While that might sound a little cool and promising, I’m sure M. Night will screw it up, M. NIGHT STYLE!

Here’s something funny: As bad as After Earth is, it’s actually Shyamalan’s best film since Signs. That shows you the miserable state of affairs for all things M. Night.

Will Smith allegedly wanted After Earth to be the first movie in a franchise. Further films won’t happen unless he writes the checks himself and stays far the hell away from Shyamalan.

After Earth is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews