Tag Archives: mental health

Split – Review

1 Feb

Recent years have not been very kind to M. Night Shyamalan, a film maker that was once a titan in the world of suspense thrillers. Since his 2008 bomb, The Happening, things just seemed to be getting worse as time went on. Last year, Shyamalan made a film called The Visit, which I have yet to see but I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard some positive things about it. Now, I can really say without a doubt that Shyamalan is back on course with his newest film, Split. I was hesitant when I first saw the trailer. It looked cool, but trailers can be deceiving. When I left the theater, I was overjoyed that Split was everything I wanted it to be, but it also exceeded those expectations.

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After a small birthday celebration, Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her two friends are kidnapped by a seemingly random man named Dennis (James McAvoy). They wake up in a room in an undisclosed location and soon learn that Dennis is not what he first appeared to be. Dennis is also a woman named Patricia who is also a kid named Hedwig who is also over 20 other people. Having suffered with such an extreme case of dissociative identity disorder for so long, he’s gotten quite close with his doctor, Karen (Betty Buckley), who also has theories that these many personalities can give people with this disorder an evolutionary leg up over other people. Back at the girl’s make shift prison, Casey starts to work at better understanding all of this guy’s personalities, but when Hedwig mentions that the Beast is coming for all of them, she begins to formulate new ideas to escape before this terror makes itself known.

I really had such high hopes for this movie. I wanted Shyamalan to show that he still has it in him to make a really kick ass thriller movie, and that’s exactly what I got with Split. I knew I was in for a treat when the credit sequence started. The black background and twisted lettering were great, but what really hooked me was the ominous music that sent a chill down my spine the same way the Signs theme did the first time I saw that movie. The music by West Dylan Thordson is in no way overbearing and it seems to relish in its subtlety. It creeps in whenever the occasion really calls for it which is the mark of a great score. This combined with the cinematography by Mike Gioulakis makes for a great combination. Gioulakis previously worked as cinematographer on It Follows, which was a fantastic looking film, and that same kind of wispy camera movement and confident head on framing makes the same kind of impact in Split.

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The real star of the show here, though, is James McAvoy. McAvoy gives the best performance of his entire career and possibly one of the best performances I’ve seen in a very long time. You know you’re watching a great performance when you no longer see the actor playing the role, but become so convinced that the actor is no longer there and just the character. McAvoy succeeds in doing that in this movie, but what makes it even more impressive is that he makes me believe that a whole lot of characters are real and not being played for a camera. He completely transforms himself into these roles, and each personality has a different stance or walk or way of speaking that makes them feel completely separate from the others. One scene in particular has McAvoy switching between people, and that to me is one of the most impressive parts of the movie. I also have to give credit to Anya Taylor-Joy, who showed that her performance in The Witch wasn’t a fluke and that she is able to maintain a sincere performance despite insanity happening all around her.

While this is truly an incredible movie, there is something I have to get out of the way in terms of negativity. Shyamalan is no stranger to drawn out scenes of exposition, and Split is a major offender. Betty Buckley does a good job playing Dr. Karen, but a lot of her scenes do just exist to explain to the audience what’s going on with one of the personalities or her strange theory that links the whole movie together. To be fair, this is a strange story and exposition is necessary, but there’s so much of it in this movie that it can get kind of distracting. I can definitely forgive this however, because most of the movie is spot on. On the opposite side of the long exposition scenes, there are scenes of visual dread and fear that will be seared into my mind for a long time. There’s one particular moment during a chase towards the end of the movie that is one of the freakiest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Split is a really strong outing by M. Night Shyamalan, and I’m hoping this marks a grand return for someone who has always succeeded in freaking me out and guessing all the way to the end of his movies. This is a really strange film filled with ideas and clues to dig away at to find meaning. It’s also a film that showcases the talents of its actors and behind the camera artists, with James McAvoy really stealing the show with his one of a kind performance. This is a truly suspenseful thrill ride with an ending that will knock your socks off. I highly recommend it.

Final Grade: A

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The Accountant – Review

23 Oct

I’m pretty excited to finally get to writing this review because this is a movie that I have been super excited for since I first saw the trailer. I’m always ready to see new and original movies, and The Accountant falls into that category perfectly. It’s worth noting, however, that the marketing for this movie paints it out to be an action thriller that features Ben Affleck kicking all sorts of ass. While this does happen, this is more of a complex character study with a huge mystery at its core. That’s something I didn’t think I wanted, but I’m really pleased that this movie offers something a lot more complicated and thought provoking than something more straight forward.

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Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) may seem like an average small town accountant on the surface, be he is much more than that. Suffering from a severe form of autism has made Wolff very aware of patterns and numbers, which makes him the perfect candidate to un-cook books of high level criminals and businessmen. After being hired by a large corporation called Living Robotics and finding major discrepancies in their books, both Wolff and an association of the company, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick), are being sought after by mysterious hitmen led by a man known only as The Assassin (Jon Bernthal). As Wolff begins to hunt down the parties responsible, the director of financial crimes at the Treasury Department, Raymond King (J.K. Simmons), and a new hire, Medina (Cynthia Abbai-Robinson), start their own hunt to find the mysterious accountant and bring him to justice.

In the beginning of this movie, we see a young Christian Wolff putting together a puzzle that’s been flipped over so he can’t see the picture. To me, that’s a perfect allegory for The Accountant. The story is deliberately told in a way that it’s impossible to see the entire picture without all of the pieces coming together. This can make the plot kind of frustrating at times because we’re left in the dark about so much as the story jumps between flashbacks and action happening in the present. It’s definitely a movie that I’m going to have to watch again to really get the full picture. I was really surprised with the level of complexity the story has and the unorthodox way that director Gavin O’Connor and writer Bill Dubuque told it. That’s the best way I think I can describe this movie: surprisingly unorthodox.

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With all the mystery surrounding the Wolff and certain side characters, there really isn’t a whole lot of time for action, despite what the marketing campaign wanted people to believe. Most of the movie focuses on laying clues as to who the accountant is and how he got to be who he is. That being said, when this movie turns up the action, it really turns it up. The action never goes over the top nor does it ever seem like none of it could only happen in the movies. It’s all very grounded and happens very quickly which means if you blink, you may miss something. It was a really smart way to handle the violence and more exciting scenes. Never does it overshadow the bigger point of the movie and never do you find yourself getting lost in what could have been mind numbing action.

I can’t talk about The Accountant and not dive into the character of Christian Wolff, who might be my favorite character of the entire year. There’s so much to this guy when it comes to his history, motivations, and skills. From the very first trailer, I had to know who this guy was and see him in action, and Ben Affleck does a great job at bringing this character to life. I never thought Affleck had much charisma in his acting, which makes him a perfect choice to play a subdued character like this. Every small tick or deadpan line of dialogue is done really well and makes Wolff into a much more believable and realized character. If you don’t get grabbed by this character, there is something seriously wrong with you and you should probably just stop watching movies.

Despite some odd pacing choices and a plot that is occasionally frustrating, The Accountant is a very satisfying and surprisingly unique story. Ben Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career and really succeeded at bringing this troubled character to life. The cast is great, the writing is unorthodox, and O’Connor’s direction just brings it all together perfectly. Just be warned that you can’t leave your brain at the door for this one.

Final Grade: A-

May – Review

30 Sep

With October being right around the corner, I can finally say that the Halloween season is upon it. I love this time of year just as much as I love watching all kinds of horror movies, so it makes sense to celebrate one with the other. I got this year started with a little horror flick by Lucky McKee that I’ve never seen before called May. It was a movie that always looked interesting to me and after hearing about the cult following it had, I was even more curious to check it out. Now that I’ve got around to seeing it, it definitely wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, in fact it was better than what I was expecting. May is an underrated gem of a horror film that left me laughing and cringing all at the same time.

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Ever since childhood, May (Angela Bettis) has had a tough time making friends and just interacting with people in general, with a large reason being a very noticeable lazy eye. This has led her to be a loner as an adult with a strong desire to just make one friend that isn’t her doll that her mom gave her for her birthday when she was a kid. One day May notices a mechanic, Adam (Jeremy Sisto), at work, but she takes special notice to his hands. With some newfound confidence unwillingly given to her by her coworker, Polly (Anna Faris), May tries to start a relationship with Adam, which works for a time, but ultimately and horribly fails. With this failure happening after coming so close to touching the sun, May realizes that if she can’t find any friends, she can make one instead, so she sets out to find the perfect pieces she can use to make her new companion.

So I really had no idea what this movie was all about or what its style was or anything for that matter. Much like what May is trying to do with creating a new friend, the movie May feels like an homage with references of its influences stitched together to form a whole. There are a lot of references to Argento films and giallo horror movies, which is appropriate because the look, story, themes, and atmosphere feel very much like a giallo film. I get this feeling especially from May’s room which is painted red and has dolls in various states of disrepair all around the room. I also see inspiration from movies like Frankenstein and the Universal films to Stephen Kind and his story Carrie. While there are plenty of references and inspirations to choose from, McKee uses them respectfully and has created a psychological horror movie for horror movie fans, and I certainly appreciate that.

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While May could have been just a straight up horror movie, there’s some creative bits that turns it into a little something more. Amidst all the scares and creepy atmosphere is a very sad, dramatic movie that also succeeded at making me laugh at times. There’s a lot of really funny, dark humor that is almost so pitch black you have to look and listen hard enough to even notice it. May’s character is such an innocent and naïve person at first, and some of the things she says are so outlandish, and that’s just hilarious at times. As for the other end of the spectrum, this is where the movie sort of reminds me of Carrie. May is just such a different and misunderstood person for a large part of the movie, and it’s sad to see people walk all over her. I in no ways condone her actions in the later part of the movie, but because of how upsetting it is seeing her get bullied or mistreated, or at least how she perceives that she is, there’s more depth to back up her actions and give them a point.

None of what I’m saying would mean anything if the character of May didn’t work, and thankfully Angela Bettis has scary control over her. This is a fantastic performance and one that I wasn’t expecting to be blown away by. It’s rare that a horror movie has a performances that’s as great as this, which makes this one all the more memorable. Her small ticks in her hands and her face and even some of her vocal inflections indicates a character that is fully realized and is then brought to life on screen. This makes every laugh and moment of sadness all the more effective since I firmly believe in her character.

I gotta say, May really surprised the hell outta me. It works great as a stand alone psychological horror film, but also does a great job at honoring the classics and showing that without those movies, we wouldn’t have some of the modern day horror classics that deliver the chills when we need them the most. Other than the horror, this film has a great sense of humor, true life drama, and a lead performance that is under appreciated even though it is startlingly realized. For those reasons and maybe some that I haven’t realized yet, I absolutely love this movie.

Final Grade: A

Revolutionary Road – Review

2 Sep

To me, some of the coolest kinds of movies take subjects that seem completely normal and uneventful and completely flip them on their heads to show a much more unsettling look at normalcy. In 1999, director Sam Mendes graced the world with a masterwork of film making, American Beauty, which took a darkly comedic look at the sometimes tragic follies of suburban living. After this great success, Mendes would revisit similar themes with his 2008 film Revolutionary Road. While it does share similar elements to his earlier film, Revolutionary Road is a much more serious and unsettling look at marriage, mental health, and the idea of “settling down.” It’s an overwhelming experience that is bound to leave you drained by the end.

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After Frank Wheeler (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets April (Kate Winslet) at a party, it doesn’t take long for them to fall in love and start their life together. They move into a nice house on Revolutionary Road in the suburbs of Connecticut. Frank gets a job as a salesman for Knox Machines and April stays home taking care of their two young kids. It seems like the perfect nuclear family. What’s happening behind closed doors is less than perfect. Frank and April’s relationship is completely disintegrating, and this disintegrations is causing a lot of hate to boil to the surface. This hate has to remain hidden from their friends and neighbors. Their final solution to this is to pack their things, get out of the mundane life they created and move to Paris. While this idea brings them closer to the happiness they desire, a promotion offered to Frank once again puts their relationship in jeopardy as their desires and feelings become even more at ends and their lives begin to spiral out of control.

What Mendes did for more modern suburban life with American Beauty, he does for the nuclear family in Revolutionary Road. This film takes a tough look at what is labeled as the “perfect American life.” The Wheelers are a close family that live in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, and that’s ultimately what seems to be their downfall. Everything is just too nice. It also shows the long term consequences of decisions that seemed like a great idea at the time, like quickly getting married or hastily taking a job that you have no interest in. I feel like I’m rambling a little bit, but that’s one of the more interesting parts about this movie. Everything seems so mundane and ordinary at first glance, but this mundanity is what’s helping to tear this family to shreds. Revolutionary Road also takes a critical look at relationships. It doesn’t condemn them even a little bit, but it forces the audience to examine what makes them actually work and how too much focus on yourself, no matter how right or wrong you may be, can wreak the foundation a relationship is built on. In a nutshell, Revolutionary Road is a film about the extraordinary dark side to an otherwise ordinary life, which may seem all to real to some people.

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Revolutionary Road is an emotionally exhausting film, and I guarantee that by the end you’re going to need either eat an entire tub of ice cream or take a really long nap. There are scenes in this movie that are so intense and real and uncomfortable that I was looking at it through my fingers. When a movie isn’t a horror film and it elicits that kind of reaction, then something was done very right. While it is very intense and tragic in many scenes, there are times where it got to be a bit too much. That’s probably my only complaint with this film. It goes from being highly dramatic to too predictably melodramatic. This only happens a few times throughout the course of the movie so it really isn’t that big of a complaint at all. Most of the scenes hit the dramatic intensity just right, while a select few kind of just go too far. One major contribution to the drama is Thomas Newman’s excellent score that fits right in with the film’s onscreen action.

Watching this movie, it isn’t hard to believe that before working in film, Mendes was a prolific director of stage plays. He, along with the help of master cinematographer Roger Deakins, films this movie like something that could be found on stage. It works great for the film and really allows that actors to work with the limited space that is given to them DiCaprio and Winslet have already shown their chemistry in Titanic, and now show a much more matured version of that chemistry in Revolutionary Road. They give outstanding performances that, I feel, have become under appreciated since the time of this movie’s release. I was surprised to see Michael Shannon, who has grown to be one of my absolute favorite actors, shows up for a little bit. He’s only in a few scenes, but he absolutely owns the screen whenever he’s on, and for this small performance he was given a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

Revolutionary Road is one of those movies that really hits you where it hurts. At times, the drama could get a little heavy handed and the writing could stray into the “no one really talks like that” category. Even with the rare heavy handedness, this is a really interesting and upsetting film that succeeds in exactly what it was trying to do. Not only is this film shot very well, but the acting is superb and the production and costume design really get you into the era that the film takes place. Mendes is a film maker that understands the more subtle terrors of normal life, and he uses them very well in Revolutionary Road.

The Hunted – Review

19 Apr

In all my years of watching movies, one of the best film makers I’ve ever seen is the one and only William Friedkin. One of his most famous movies is the 1971 film The French Connection, but I know him best as being the director of two of my favorite films of all time, The Exorcist and Killer Joe. Needless to say, Friedkin is one of the most influential and memorable film makers, in my opinion. Not all of his movies have been overwhelming successes, however. Just look at his 2003 film, The Hunted. While I think The Hunted is a fine example of how to craft a thriller film filled with great action and suspense, I still feel there are some faults that can’t be overlooked.

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While on a black ops mission in Kosovo, Aaron Hallam (Benicio del Toro) witnesses atrocities that have such a great affect on him he can no longer fulfill his duties as a soldier. It also seems to completely unhinges him from reality. When hunters are being found brutally murdered in the woods of the northwest, all the signs point towards someone who has been trained for violent and precise combat. Not knowing how to catch this person, FBI Agent Abby Durrell (Connie Nielsen) brings in civilian military instructor L.T. Bonham (Tommy Lee Jones), who has exceptional skills in both hand to hand combat and tracking. Soon the hunter becomes the hunted, but it is revealed that Bonham and Hallam may have connections previously unknown which makes the vendetta against society much more personal.

Right from the get go, I was interested in this movie not only because William Friedkin was in the director’s chair, but also because the movie starred both Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro. Both are very fine actors and both play their roles very well in The Hunted. Tommy Lee Jones really seems to understand his character and the nervousness that is deep down inside of him, which is completely counteractive to him being called in to track down a sadistic murderer who has been expertly trained. Jones delivers his lines with sharp sarcasm while also being very fidgety when stuck in some closed in area. On the flip side, del Toro uses his trademark soft spoken intensity to really create an imposing individual. While he is seen as sadistic and violent in most scenes, we still see the human side in him too and understand him as a tragic character. The acting is really all top notch stuff.

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The action in this movie is really cool. There is absolutely nothing stylized or cinematic about any of the fight scenes, which is an interesting choice. When there’s a scene of hand to hand or knife combat, there’s no music playing and the wounds suffered by the fighters are all really brutal. Still it creates a sense of realism. In fact, the entire movie has a very real look to it. This is partially due to Friedkin hiring one of the most acclaimed cinematographers, Caleb Deschanel. There are a few action sequences that are more cinematic. One foot chase through Portland has some great music and camera techniques that makes it all the more exciting.

The only shortcoming I can find in how the plot allows for virtually no character development for the secondary characters. The two main characters get a lot of time and attention to building them up, but there are a handful of other people that either get left in the dust without any sort of character resolution or just serve to take up space on the screen. This is sort of a double edged critique because on one hand I’d like to see the characters developed, but on the other hand Friedkin wanted this to be a “lean, mean action thriller” which is exactly what it is and I appreciate his attention on the entertainment aspect. If I want to be objective, however, I have to say that a little more character development would have gone a long way.

The Hunted is certainly not one of William Friedkin’s best movies, but it does offer plenty of fun and excitement. What this movie really only fails at is developing any kind of relationships between characters other than between Jones’ and del Toro’s. Everything else in the movie is pure action with plenty of thrills, cool fight sequences, and a memorable chase through Portland that reminded me of a sequence in The French ConnectionThe Hunted isn’t going to be revered as the years go on, but it’s a fun way to kill an afternoon.

Fear and Desire – Review

14 Apr

Anyone who knows me knows that I practically worship Stanley Kubrick. He had, and still has after his death, one of the most powerful and unique voices in film. Like all great directors, even he had to start somewhere. After making some short documentaries and being a photographer for Look, Kubrick decided it was time for him to tackle a feature film. This first feature film is an anti-war movie called Fear and Desire. This is by far Kubrick’s weakest film, and that’s completely understandable. The best reasons to really watch this movie are to see techniques that Kubrick would later perfect and also to admire the effort put into making a movie so independently.

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During an unspecified war between unspecified countries four soldiers are stranded 6 miles behind enemy lines. Their commanding officer, Sgt. Mac (Frank Silvera), decides their best bet would be to build a raft and wait until nightfall to ride it downriver to safety. After a while, a local woman (Virginia Leith) stumbles upon them building their raft and must be held captive so she doesn’t alert enemy soldiers. As the day goes on, the youngest soldier, Pvt. Sidney (Paul Mazursky) begins having a breakdown and slowly goes insane. Things get even more complicated when it is discovered that an enemy general is lodged in a cabin right near the river and, as soldiers, it is their duty to eliminate the threat. All of these factors stacked up make it seem like these four soldiers may never get out of there alive.

Before I even start, that has to be one of the most inaccurate theatrical posters I’ve ever seen. That’s not with this about, so I digress. It’s almost hard to call Fear and Desire a feature film because it’s only an hour long, and being just an hour long it doesn’t really have much of a story. There’s a couple different things that happen to the soldiers and their main goal is to escape enemy territory. It’s completely fine if a movie is light on story so that it can explore certain themes and development, but there’s never much time to do that. The most interesting character is Pvt. Sidney since he has some real tragic development, which in turn supports Kubrick’s stance on what the evils of war can do to a normal person.

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For all the shortcomings this movie has, it’s very interesting to watch and see certain things that Kubrick would later utilize in his other movies. First of all, the overall anti-war message and its effects on people can clearly be seen in his later war films Paths of Glory and Full Metal Jacket. The violence in this movie is also pretty unflinching. Of course it isn’t as graphic as later movies, but there’s nothing glamorized about it. Wanna people are shot, they don’t really fall like they’re in a movie from the 1950s. They hit the ground hard and without any kind of dramatic flair. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but that’s what I feel. There’s also strange close ups and angles that seem to distort reality, which is a trick that Kubrick was known for using at length in films like 2001: A Space OdysseyA Clockwork Orange, and The Shining. Stuff like this make Fear and Desire fun to watch.

As the years went on, Kubrick came to hate this movie and it wasn’t until the last few years that it was made readily public. He described it as a kids drawing that you hang on the refrigerator, and I think that’s a pretty harsh sentiment. He made it his mission to destroy the copies that exist or lock them away, which was the case for a very long time. This movie didn’t do very well at the box office when it was released which meant that Kubrick had to take on the job of making a short documentary called The Seafarers for the Seafarer’s International Union, which is also now available on the Kino release of Fear and Desire.

Fear and Desire is most definitely Kubrick’s first film, and I don’t mean that because it’s a historically accurate statement. I’m saying it because it has all of the makings of a Stanley Kubrick movie, but it just hasn’t all been fully realized yet. This is an interesting movie in the sense that it’s the beginning of an amazing career. The movie itself is pretty lackluster and not too memorable, but there are some pretty intense scenes that don’t seem like they belong in the early 1950s. Any Kubrick fan sort of has to watch this movie, but if you’re looking for a war movie that will really hold your attention, stick with Paths of Glory or Full Metal Jacket.