M. Night Shyamalan, after getting caught up in a near historic downward spiral since 1999's The Sixth Sense, finally started a reversal in terms of quality with 2015's The Visit, a $5M horror film which had mixed reviews but was actually a darn good flick which grossed $98M worldwide. To keep creative control on his next project, M. Night agreed to make The Split for just $10M for Universal, and it opened to generally positive reviews and a $40M weekend.
The Split, it turns out, is a pretty fantastic & smartly written horror film that combines the right amount of humor, jump scares, psychological horror moments, and plot complexity to make it a film well worth watching.
The opening series of scenes, excellently crafted, set the dark tone. It is clear from the beginning that this is the role that James McAvoy was born to play. He kills it as Kevin Wendell Crumb, an out-of-control person with an extreme multi-personality disorder. It's when the evil people inside of him take over, that you have to watch out.
Though not perfectly cast throughout, most roles are cast damn well. Betty Buckley does a fantastic job as Wendell's psychologist, a very difficult role to play. Anya Taylor-Joy plays the lead, a young girl named Casey who comes with a very troubled past. She weirdly relates to Kevin in a way that others can't. Taylor-Joy plays this complex role fine at times, and terrifically in some of the more emotional scenes. These three main characters are so well written, so well established, and so well acted, that the others pale in comparison. I think M. Night would have been better off playing some horror story stereotypes (more than he did) just give some flavor to the minor characters.
By far the worst casting misstep is the role that M. Night chose for himself. Although brief, it was more than enough to kick me completely out of the movie—something that happens every damn time I see him on screen. He's far too recognizable, and just not good enough of an actor to pull it off. Like Tarantino, every single time he casts himself, it's a monumental error of judgment.
I was enthralled throughout the movie by how it was written so effectively to be shot on a low/medium-sized budget. M. Night accomplished this by writing fantastic characters and putting them in extreme situations. His directing is phenomenal. The blocking and lighting are excellent. The compositions are what we expected of M. Night when he was in his prime. He now has fallen in love with the slow XXL zoom, but smartly doesn't rely on it too heavily.
And the ending...oh that ending. I'll try not to ruin it, but I will mention that instead of a hardcore M. Night twist, he relies on a couple significant reveals, and the last one is a doozy. Of course, some will love it, some will hate it. Either way, you'll be thinking about long after you leave the theatre. And that's always good.
I really like this film. It's better than the critics state. And thankfully, we now have hope for a full M. Night Shyamalan resurrection. Thank God, he's back.
My rating: 8.9/10.
I recently rewatched The Sixth Sense for the first time in years. I remember seeing it in the theatre in 1999 and being absolutely wowed. I've seen it several times since and have read the script more than once. I still absolutely love this movie. Everyone raves about the twist, but I love everything else about it as well: the pace, the dialogue, the compositions, the acting—it's all fantastic. It's one of my favorite films of all time.
Although officially M. Night's third film, I feel to most of us, it feels like it's his first. It gave us enormous expectations for his future films. They came, and each one, unfortunately, seemed to be a little worse than the previous. For every person that loved Signs, a few less loved The Village, and a few less loved Lady in the Water.
None of M. Night's movies resonated with me nearly as much as The Sixth Sense, but I found some amazing quality in all of them (I didn't see The Last Airbender or After Earth). I did see The Visit, M. Night's 2015 low-budget return-to-horror flick, and liked it a lot. I'll go see his upcoming film Split as well. I think for too long he was far too intent on smacking us with a twist ending. None could ever live up to The Sixth Sense reveal.
M. Night comes out with a new film about every couple of years. That means that he's probably only taking six months or so to write each script. I wonder what would happen if he took a couple of years to write each script and came out with a new film every 3-4 years. I'm not sure he could afford to do it, but I bet it would increase the quality of his films dramatically.
I'm still an M. Night Shyamalan fan. I hope he ends his career with films that are his best yet. That will be tough to do. A good sabbatical might do him well in the mean time.
My rating for The Sixth Sense: 9.7/10
It's been awhile since I finished watching Westworld, and I wanted to process it a bit before writing down my thoughts. Here's what I think (spoilers included):
The series is very ambitious. That I like. A lot of people that I've talked to thought the first few episodes were too slow. I had the opposite impression. Though the pilot was a hot mess (it truly needed a better director), I was hooked early on. The concept is terrific: a Wild West theme park filled with robots playing humans. Guests can do whatever they want with the robots. The twist is that the robots' memories are wiped clean after every visit. However, some old memories happen to remain, causing the robots to be confused about their own existence.
I did have a few problems. First and foremost, the characters didn't wow me enough to allow me to remember their names (outside of just a couple of them), so I often got lost in conversation. I also got slightly bored in parts, which is not a good thing in such a complex narrative. I thought there were far too many twists, which cheapened the narrative. And finally, the biggest reveal (Teddy standing at the train station amongst the bodies) was something I didn't even understand when watching it. After talking to a coworker who explained it to me, I realized it would have been very impactful had I understood it. Zoning out due to boredom during long parts of the series certainly didn't help.
I also don't believe the casting was top-notch throughout. Some parts were exceptionally cast: Ford, Dolores, Man in Black. Others were not.
When Westworld works well, it is fantastic. It does stuff at a deep level that we're not used to seeing on TV. But at times, it gets too deep for a first season. It tried too hard. I wish Jonathan Nolan would have scaled back the ambition and depth. I felt like it was Game of Thrones giving away who Jon Snow's parents were in season 1. It's too much. Restraint would have been beneficial.
So will I watch Season 2? Yeah, I will. I respect the ambition. But, like Season 1, if I get bored, it'll be weeks before I get to the next episode. And honestly, since so much reserve was given away in the first season, I have no idea what they're going to do from this point forward.
This is a hard series to rate. When it works, it works terrifically. It just has a hard time consistently staying on the rails. Yet, it is still leagues above the average TV fair.
My rating: 9.0/10
The Crown, Netflix's story about young Queen Elizabeth 2, is Netflix's most expensive series so far, with a budget rumored to be north of $100M. Having won the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Series, it seems the gamble paid off.
You can definitely see the money up on the screen. I'm not a royal expert by any means, but whatever castles they shot this series in played true to me. Rarely did any scene play too small, and never in the interior scenes. The shots were gorgeous, often with striking symmetries. Sure some of the exterior shots were cheated to the small side, but never too small.
The drama runs thick, as a young and naive Elizabeth tries to do the job she has been handed while dealing with enormous personalities, like that of Winston Churchill, Phillip her husband, Margaret her sister, the Queen Mum, and the various male chauvinists who advise her. Claire Foy handles the role well, as do almost all of the main cast. Matt Smith shines in his role of Phillip, who struggles to maintain any resemblance of manhood while his wife takes in the entire spotlight. The vast halls of Buckingham Palace can be a very lonely place.
The Crown's main focus is Elizabeth's arc, and it's a fascinating one indeed. How does she balance doing her job as a monarch when doing said job often conflicts directly with being a decent mother, husband, sister, and daughter? She quickly learns that she's being used by people in power to advance their own interests, and how will she grow to the point where she can stand up to those often monstrous personalities? It is her personal growth in such extraordinary circumstances that makes The Crown so intriguing.
Though the pacing may be too slow for some, if you're into well-crafted historical dramas, The Crown will probably be for you. It's a beautiful, well-acted series, that deserves a spot in the top-tier of the Netflix offerings.
My ratings: 9.3/10
This morning I rewatched Rogue One, this time in 2D on a normal=sized screen. In my previous review, I pointed out the two biggest flaws I found with the film: weak character development and an almost complete lack of LS's. Since 3D tends to make big shots look small, I was interested to see the film in 2D to see if it played larger.
During the second viewing, I had the exact same problems I had during the first. The character development was thin. Who the hell is Saw Gerrera? Why is he in this film? Cassian Andor? What's his backstory? At least we learn a little about Jyn, but not enough to make her as satisfying as she could be. Bad-Guy Orson? Why wasn't he developed at all?
Seeing the film in 2D did very little to hide the fact that besides the large XXL CG shots, 90% of this film is shot too close.
When low-budget indie filmmakers shoot their films, they often rely heavily on MCU's in order to hide the fact that they can't afford extensive sets to paint the background with. It makes the film feel low-budget. There is never an excuse to do this in any large action film that you don't intentionally want to feel cheesy.
An example: what does Saw Gerrera's HQ's look like? We only see tight shots of it, along with terrific XXL's when it comes crumbling down. But we never get a feel of size and shape like we did inside of Jabba's chambers.
This is most noticeable in the first two acts. By the third act there are so many CG shots, it covers it up some. Having to squeeze in a big Walker does force the LS. But in crucial moments, the MCU's are used as cheats and it's very annoying. One example is when Jyn jumps onto the data storage tower. We correctly start with a LS of her jumping, and then cut to a MCU of her arm and head as she grabs the tower. This is a cheat. They then do it correctly with Cassian, showing his whole body make the jump. It's much more satisfying.
If 20% of the shots were shot too close or too zoomed in it would be annoying. But with a Rogue-One, it's the vast majority of shots. I guess the director, Gareth Edwards, and the cinematographer, Greig Fraser, have to share the blame. There just isn't any excuse for a movie with a $200M budget to be shot like this.
I still loved that third act though. And of course I still loved Felicity Jone's performance.
Although a very good film, with an outstanding third act, Rogue One has some serious flaws. But I guess with the subpar quality of the last few Star Wars films, we should be happy with the greatness that does exist within it.
Two viewings of Rogue One is satisfying. A third would be too many. That puts the film close to Return of the Jedi quality, and a huge notch below New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, yet far above the other films.
Now, this is very interesting. Look at the complete setlist for Metallica's Jan. 11th concert in South Korea:
They played five songs off of the new album! That's fantastic. They opened with Hardwired and Atlas Rise!, two songs that were certainly expected. They also played Now That We're Dead, a terrific song, Moth Into Flame, another single we'd expect, and the slower epic Halo on Fire.
I'm floored that they played that amount of new material. That's exciting. I guess the only disappointment is the one they didn't play: Spit Out The Bone.
The biggest classic from yesteryear that they skipped over, in my opinion, is Creeping Death. I'd certainly like them to keep that on the setlist, but you've got to get rid of something. There are now whole albums that aren't represented, which I guess comes with the territory of being around for so many decades.
I can't wait to see them play new material live. I'm thinking that the Dead and Halo slots will probably be rotated with more new songs. It'll be interesting to see the next few setlists.
It's great that the band is so proud of their new stuff that they're willing to squeeze more than the typical one or two songs of it into their concerts. You gotta wonder though—at what point are we going to hear the first live performance of Spit Out the Bone? That is what everyone is going to be waiting for.
The classic Rogers and Hammerstein play is concluding its run in Hollywood to glowing reviews. It was my first time seeing the production, which has been running on and off in some form since 1951.
The story is that of an English widow who travels to Siam to work for the King to teach English to the children in the royal palace. She soon finds out the King is a true male chauvinist, and a battle of wills ensues, to great comedic effect.
Yul Brynner had owned the role of the King of Siam for years. The key to any successful revival was to find an actor who could fill those gargantuan shoes, and the current production certainly did with Jose Llana, who excels in the role. Llana commands the stage and his comedic skills are terrific.
The downside of having someone so talented and powerful in the role is that every scene that he's not on stage feels like mere filler. But when the King does take the stage, struggling to get this strong-willed English woman to understand his need of having to control everything, it's a blast.
The set design is rather minimal. Many of the stronger songs are classics, though some are not as memorable as others.
The ending, though satisfying, is certainly not predictable, and that I like.
The King and I holds up well in its current incarnation. Though not as consistently funny as something like Book of Mormon, it gives plenty enough laughs to make it worth the admission price.
My rating: 8.1/10
A day after its dominating performance at the Golden Globes, I watched La La Land, the sure front-runner for Best Picture of the Year at the upcoming Academy Awards.
I had gone in expecting a large-scale musical that showcased the best of Los Angeles as two young lovers danced across their inevitable Hollywood disappointments only to find themselves in their own coupling. Was I wrong.
La La Land is a story of two people who do connect while chasing their Hollywood dreams. However, it's tightly focused on their personal stories. Instead of seeing an epic musical number with hundreds of dancers in front of the Hollywood sign, we see Emma Stone break into a small somber musical number by herself in a casting room. This tightness works, because it reinforces a hard truth—the forced joy of an imagined dream, and its inevitable decay as its realization slowly drifts further away from us.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are the perfect cast for this story, even if they're no Ginger and Fred. You believe their hope and their despair as they try hard to find their right footing in the Hollywood machine which chews up millions of young souls. Their stumbles hit you hard, and when it becomes apparent what their paths must be—it hits you harder.
While not all of the songs are classic in nature, the ones that count certainly are. The key again is restraint. La La Land never tries to be something larger than it should be.
This film encapsulates more than just a Hollywood journey—it shows us the unfortunate trade-offs that must be made as we enter adulthood. Life isn't always pretty, though in brief moments it can be. The last scene in La La Land hits this hard, as we are shown what must be lost so that the characters' lives might be found, and inevitably we are left to ponder which dreams are truly the ones we should be chasing.
My rating: 9.3/10
Here's a screenshot of my Titanfall 2 stats a little more than 55 hours into multiplayer:
After all that time, I've won 50% of the games, and my k/d vs. players is 1.0 (and weirdly a 3.0 including NPC's). Talk about a zero-sum game.
This doesn't prove that I'm a perfectly average FPSer player. As I was about to prestige (regen) for the first time, my win-% was only 43%, and my k/d was down at 0.7. I tend to be horrible before I prestige because it takes me an absurd amount of time to learn the maps, guns, and gameplay. After I prestige, I tend to go positive.
What's fascinating about this is how one person can have such a significant impact on a team of six. During those first 15-20 hours, I was a major cause of my team losing. After that time, I was helping them win.
When you max out your guns, you earn a pro-screen, which is an attachment that shows the total lifetime kills you've obtained with the weapon. I've earned them for the better guns—the R-201, Hemlock, Devotion, Bolt, L-STAR, etc. Now, I'm working on obtaining it for the slower weapons—the sniper rifles, canons, shotguns, etc. I could just keep using the carbines and push the k/d up high, but I'm trying to get comfortable with the guns that are not in my comfort zone while remaining positive with the k/d. As I get to the guns I'm worst at, it's inevitable that it'll drop, but I'll get it back positive with the better weapons.
Titanfall 2, easily the best game of 2016, will most likely earn more than a 100 hours of my time in 2017. Fifty hours is nothing but a warm up.
Jon David Rosten, author of
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