Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Reviews 380 – Happy Birthday to Me (1981)

February 16, 2019

I thought that viewing it on my very own birthday was a good choice for watching the 1980’s slasher Happy Birthday to Me despite not knowing which way the pendulum swung (victim or aggressor) for the celebrant. As it so happens, the answer isn’t as clear as you would think. And I sure did not know what to make of a horror movie which stars Melissa Sue Anderson, whose only notable role was that of squeaky clean kid on the virtuous Little House on the Prairie TV series, a far cry from this gorefest.

Virginia “Ginny” Wainwright (Anderson) is part of the ‘in’ college group known as the “Top Ten”, a band of rich, spoiled, vain kids who drive fancy cars and raise hell in pubs. Her father, a single parent, is overly concerned with her partying ways and the company she keeps not only for the usual reasons but also because of the hours she spends at her mom’s gravesite. Virginia’s obsession over her lost mom go hand in hand with a history of mental episodes, one that she continues to be treated for by psychiatrist (Glenn Ford).

When kids start disappearing and the rumors and finger-pointing begin the “Top Ten” are at the “Top” of the suspicion list. The audience gets to see all the gruesome manners in which victims are killed by an often veiled assailant even as the “Top Ten”’s own numbers dwindle. Meanwhile Ginny experiences episodes of memory flooding back and clearly appears to be the perpetrator killing off some of her friends.

But the name of the game here is to spot the evident red herrings – there are plenty – while Ginny questions herself and tries to sort things out. There are subtle clues at first that Ginny’s past treatment was anything but the usual until the details of the medical procedure are revealed and even then the audience has to figure out if she is really the one.

Without spoiling anything I can say that the multiple reveals at the end are not the ones expected, although closer examination does make some of them somewhat incredulous. Still this is another fine somewhat forgotten Canuxploitation film. And the “death by skewer” featured on the poster is not the only imaginative one.

Happy Birthday to Me.

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Movie Reviews 379 – Black Snake Moan (2006)

February 8, 2019

I intentionally did not look up the movie synopsis on my Black Snake Moan DVD before popping it into my trusty player as the fact that the cover featured both Christina Ricci and Samuel L. Jackson , either one alone being good enough to have me sold on a viewing. The lack of any prior knowledge regarding the plot turned out to be a blessing as this was certainly a film that surprised me. In fact, this one has a lot of surprises.

The story is centered on Lazarus (hey, already a bonus!) a weathered black man (Jackson) who has just been dumped by his wife (who has run off with his own brother to make matters worse). Living in a remote dilapidated home Lazarus wakes up one morning to find a battered and barely clothed young woman unconscious on the side of the road, just steps from his front door. Hesitant at first, he cautiously takes in Rae (Ricci) and tends to her injuries. But when she awakens she is shocked to find a lengthy heavy duty chain tied around her torso with the other end secured to a radiator.

The first surprise is that the chain is not there for what you probably think. Quite the opposite to tell the truth. Turns out that ol’ Lazarus has nothing but the best intentions. In fact, he deems himself Rae’s saviour of sorts. Another surprise is that Rae, chains and all, is a promiscuous woman. I mean really promiscuous and when she offers herself to Lazarus it isn’t even a simple ploy to escape. But Lazarus has issues to deal with besides the woman chained in his house at the moment. There is of course the brother who stole his wife. There’s Lazarus’ best friend who happens to be a preacher and is of course shocked upon learning of the captive Rae. And then there’s the pharmacist Angela who seems to have a soft spot for him, but who Lazarus must lie to in order to keep the whole “I have a woman chained up in my house” thing a secret. And then there’s the music. Yep, while not quite a musical, music plays a large part of the story. Not enough surprises? I haven’t even gotten to Rae’s dark secret regarding her mother and it’s not the fact that her boyfriend (Justin Timberlake) who has mighty serious anxiety issues has left her to join the army in hopes of overcoming his attacks.

The blues, liberal sex, biblical imagery, and booze somehow all blend in this story about a man destined to get both the girl and himself back on the right track of life. Does it even sound like a ‘feel good’ story? And yet it is. There are a few other surprises, but watch it for yourself to discover those.

January Movie Marathon – 2019 Edition

February 1, 2019

My annual tradition of cramming in (at least) 31 movie viewings during the month of January continued this year. It was a closer call getting in the required viewing (only one film over the target this time) mainly due to all that excess snow this year having me out shoveling instead of watching. Here’s a brief review of what I watched this year.

1) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – Jimmy Stewart plays the small town lawyer hired to defend what is supposed to be an ‘open and shut’ murder case. Dealing with the evidence and facts isn’t as hard as dealing with the accused’s lovely wife. If all that wasn’t odd enough, consider that this is a comedy by director Otto Preminger.

2) Comic Book Confidential (1988) – A great documentary featuring the radical independent comic creators of the time. Lots of legendary creators (Crumb, Miller, Pekar,  Kurtzman, Eisner) with other not so familiar names. The best part is MAD’s Bill Gaines reminiscing about the pre-code EC days.

3) The Day the Fish Came Out (1967) – (see full review here)

4) Lifeboat (1944) – Only Alfred Hitchcock can get away with an entire movie set on a lifeboat adrift at sea after a Nazi U-boat attack. Of course he also manages to throw in a murder. Dazzling portrayal of the self centered journalist by Tallulah Bankhead (dahling!). It’s Hitch. It’s great.

5) Rock ‘n’ Roll Frankenstein (1999) – Greedy record producer decides he can make the greatest Rock star ever by piecing together the parts of legendary dead artists. The plot sounds a lot better than it is.

6) The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) – Will Smith plays the ‘down on his luck’ portable bone-density scanner salesman who earns a shot as a stockbroker intern, but has to live on the streets with his son in order to possibly get the job. The usual Smith goody-goody, “live your dreams” stuff.

7) Columbo: Double Exposure (1973) – Hey I’m slowly going through all the Columbo TV movies! Columbo nabs murderer Robert Culp, a motivational researcher, by using the same subliminal image video technique he learned from the perpetrator himself.

8) The Children (2008) – Not as frolicky fun as “Girls Gone Wild” but this horror is basically “Kids Gone Wild”. Lots of bad shooting choices makes one wonder where this movie is going for most of it (not in a good way) and the payoff just isn’t there at the end.

9) Lords of Dogtown (2005) – Docudrama capturing the birth of the competitive skateboarding scene on the beaches of Venice California in the mid 70’s. Don’t let the subject matter deter you if you’re not into that scene. Between all the Ollies and Halfpipes, this one packs a punch. Gnarly!

10) This Gun for Hire (1942) – One of the few Veronica Lake – Hollywood’s peek-a-boo girl – films I’ve seen. Not Film Noir at it’s finest to say the least. Lake is embroiled in a murder mystery centered on a chemical formula and WW2 traitors.

11) The Head (1959) – (see full review here)

12) Dead Poets Society (1989) – Robin Williams is the marquee star but this movie is clearly about the young boys in his class at an Ivy League seeding school who learn to “Seize the Day” against all odds. Carpe Diem!

13) 12 Days of Terror (2004) – Drama depicting the summer of 1916 New Jersey shark attacks that supposedly were and inspiration for Peter Benchley to write Jaws. Enough of a bite to watch, but it is a TV movie so keep those expectations in line.

14) Ice Station Zebra (1968) – The cold war goes frigid when a crucial satellite component ends up in the frozen Arctic and both the East and the West race towards Ice Station Zebra to recover it. The good guys can only get there by submarine but, as expected, not everyone on board are who they appear to be.

15) Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) – This fourth installment in the series of movies in which the story of household spooks activities are conveyed purely via the video feeds of home monitoring systems is the one where they ‘Jumped the Shark’. Really nothing new here despite it being something of a sequel to PA3.

16) Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – (see full review here)

17) Billy Elliot (2000) – Little Billy discovers that his interests lay not in the proud boxing tradition of his family, but in ballet, much to the chagrin of his father who is in the midst of England’s notorious coal miners strike just trying to keep the family together.

18) The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) – What is the secret of Santa Vittoria? Millions of bottles of wine. Anthony Quinn is the bumbling, reluctant mayor of the little Italian town who must hide their horde from the encroaching Nazis during WWII.

19) The Giant Behemoth (1959) – Even Britain was getting in on the Giant Monster kick of the 1950’s. While they did not use rear-projection footage of pet lizards and the stop motion animatronic was not much better.

20) 13 Going on 30 (2004) – Jennifer Garner plays the girl/woman who wakes up one day to discover that she has gone from a pubescent teen to a grown woman overnight. Honestly Tom Hanks did it better in Big in the 80’s.

21) Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964) – Goofy Godzilla goodness in which Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra (larval form as the original Moth died in the previous movie) take on the new bad boy on the block King Ghidorah. In preparation for the return of Ghidorah in this year’s May release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters

22) House of Strangers (1949) – Edward G. Robinson plays the family patriarch who works all his life to build a successful local bank but his overbearing ways has taken a toll on his family, the and nearly costs his favored and most devoted son everything.

23) Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) – This was the first of two Dr Who films made by Amicus which starred the great Peter Cushing and the world’s first chance to see Daleks in color. Who and crew take the TARDIS on its first voyage to a far future post-apocalyptic Earth where the last few remaining Daleks are still fighting the handful of humans.

24) The Bodyguard from Beijing (1994) – Your typical “feds have to bodyguard a witness to a mob murder” plot where Jet Li is the all-business master protector and Christy Chung is the beautiful, rich, overbearing damsel he has to keep alive. And of course at the end they are in love.

25) The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) – (see full review here)

26) The Jerk (1979) –  Steve Martin’s first feature film where he took his brash, daring stand-up comedy and came up with a dimwitted man on a rags-to-riches-to-rags journey to find himself. I still get a kick of him discovering his ‘special purpose’. Silly but still funny.

27) Hellboy (2004) – I hear that there will be another Hellboy movie coming out this year. But without Ron Perlman, John Hurt, or director Guillermo del Toro. No chance in Hell it’s as good as this original.

28) Born to Kill (1947) – Film Noir great Lawrence Tierney in a movie in which the title says it all. He’s a lowly con man who wants it all and doesn’t blink an eye snuffing out anyone who crosses him or just rubs him the wrong way.

29) Black Snake Moan (2006) – Odd film in which a weathered black man (Samuel Jackson) takes in a battered promiscuous young white woman (Christina Ricci) to get both her and himself back on the right track of life.  (I hope to have a full review in the coming days.)

30) Timecop (1994) – Jean Claude Van Damme at his barely comprehensible thespian best. Which isn’t a whole lot. Well at least it’s a Science Fiction time travel story which JCVD mumbles through.

31) The Right Stuff (1983) – I decided to revisit this movie about the original Mercury astronauts on the 50th anniversary of the tragic Apollo 1 fire. Great film but if you have a chance read Tom Wolfe’s book that was the source for the script

32) The Spirit of St-Louis (1957) – I started with Jimmy Stewart and it was only fitting that I ended this month long blitz with another of his films. Aside from the fact that Stewart was nearly twice the age playing Charles Lindbergh, the story of the first solo transatlantic flight remains a classic.

 

 

Movie Reviews 378 – The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971)

January 25, 2019

While not a household name, Spaniard Paul Naschy was legendary in the horror movie biz, concentrating his efforts to revitalizing the classic horrors. He will forever be best known for his take on the Werewolf trope, making no less than a dozen films portraying the benevolent werewolf Count Waldemar Daninsky. The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (original title: La Noche de Walpurgis) is one of, if not the best in that series.

As implied by the title, the story is one in which Wademar is pitted against a vampire, in this case the equally noble but decidedly evil Countess Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (Patty Shepard). The story begins when researcher Elvira (Gaby Fuchs) and her assistant Genevieve (Barbara Capell) take a trip to Turkey in search of the tomb of the countess. When they arrive at a small town believed to be area in which the tomb can be found they encounter Waldemar who believes he knows where to find. Unknown to the girls is the fact that the remains of the countess is also rumored to have a cross-handled dagger which happens to of great interest to Waldemar. When the trio find the tomb and open it revealing the countess’ body an accidental drop of blood is enough to revitalize the vampire releasing her from her grave prison. But the Countess must rebuild her army of slave vampires and Genevieve is her first victim. As Waldemar falls for Elvira he must sacrifice not only his newfound love, but his one chance to end his own torment in order to save everyone.

Comparable to Hammer Gothic horrors of the era with sexy women, isolated villages, and the classic monsters, this film is set in a contemporary, modern setting while retaining the doom and gloom of its British predecessors. Naschy delivers a poignant, despondent werewolf worthy of commiseration and there is enough depth to the story to keep things interesting for those few moments of horror and gore.

One of the things that should be kept in mind is the staggering number of alternate titles this movies in this series have been released both on media and cinema screens over the years. Walpurgis Night, Shadow of the Werewolf , and Werewolf Shadow are but a few titles you may find in DVD formats.

My one problem with this and other Naschy films is that the media always seems to be comprised of worn weary, barely visible film stock which has been pretty much the case for the few others I’ve (barely?) seen. Hopefully I can someday enjoy this and the other Naschy films decently restored someday as they certainly deserve better treatment.

Movie Reviews 377 – Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

January 19, 2019

Charles Laughton has always been a favorite actor of mine and I consider his portrayal of the relentless barrister in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution as his best role.  But with such a stellar supporting cast that includes Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power and Laughton’s wife Elsa Lanchester director Billy Wilder was sure to have a hit on his hands the moment he said “Action!”

Returning to office from a recent hospitalization due to a heart attack scare Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) is being coddled by his torturous personal nurse (Lanchester) and doctors orders instruct him to stay away from any trying cases when he is presented with the odd situation of a lowly inventor (Power) being accused of murder. He fully intends to follow his medical orders as he tries to squirrel away cigars and booze from those hoping he represent the accused when the man’s very wife (Dietrich) gives the most lethargic and unconvincing alibi imaginable.

Now piqued, Robarts takes on the case and by picking apart the prosecution seems to sway the court with the help of some last minute ‘evidence’ . But his keen senses tell him that something wrong which turns out to be an understatement. Contrary to how courtroom dramas usually proceed, the verdict is not the end of the story but in a way the beginning.

This film clicks on many levels. The mystery is suspenseful not only from the point of view of whether the accused is really guilty – although the pendulum certainly begins to sway in one direction – but also the evident inconsistency in the wife’s lack of faith in her own husband. And in this one aspect the final revelation is as shocking as the truth to the murder allegation. More surprisingly, (well perhaps not as much given that this was directed by the great Billy Wilder ) this movie has some of the funniest, butting banter between Laughton and Lanchester regarding his health which begins with the very first scene to a surprising coup de grâce last line in the film.

There is some additional welcome comedy from an elderly cleaning lady (Una O’Connor) and other courtroom antics but the film is not all fun. The underlying story is built upon post war anti-German sentiment among the ruins of a bombed out Berlin tavern and the supposed murder is that of an charming innocent wealthy widow.

Known for it’s astonishing ending, one held in such high regard it warranted secrecy during filming (common today but extraordinary at the time) some have remarked that that secrecy may have even cost Dietrich an Oscar. While it did not win any Oscars it was heavily nominated at numerous ceremonies that year, so really something of a hidden gem for those focused on wins alone.

I was tempted to seek out Christie’s original version but apparently the source material was just a short story and this screened adaptation had a lot of it’s ‘meat’ added. Given the talents involved I suspect that the additions are what made this film so great.

Movie Reviews 376 – The Head (1959)

January 11, 2019

Let me start by declaring that when it comes to disembodied noggin films The Brain That Wouldn’t Die stands head over heels (pun intended) above all the rest. That said, the German production of The Head (Der Kopf?) comes in at pretty close second. But with a number of similarities between the two I have an inkling that those were not mere coincidences and that those who made the so called undying brain probably pilfered a few ideas from this Deutsch predecessor.

This is your standard Mad Scientist tale, in this case said scientist being Doctor Ood (Horst Frank) who arrives at a medical facility late one night at the request of Professor Abel (Michel Simon) who has developed Serum Z, a formula that he has used to keep animal tissue alive. Abel has summoned Ood to help him perform a transplant operation on his own weak heart, and when a sickly vagrant with a terminal diagnosis is obtained from the local hospital Ood begins the operation. The procedure is a failure but Ood takes advantage to simply salvage Abel’s head, keeping it alive on a rolling cart using serum Z. Much to Abel’s horror when he wakes up and sees his bodiless head in a mirror, Ood scoffs at Abel’s pleas to kill him.

But Ood does not stop there. When he meets a hunchbacked nurse who was hoping to undergo an operation at Abel’s facilities to ease her affliction, Ood woos lures an old Fräulein acquaintance now working as a burlesque dancer and achieves his ultimate goal: a full head transplant! But Irene is suspicious of the miraculous changes to her body and when a particular beauty mark is noticed by one of the dancer’s former suitors they begin to ‘piece’ together the true nature of her operation.

The burlesque showgirl body donor, the fact that she is modeling for artist on the side, the dive jazz joint, the mad scientist, the senior moral doctor rejecting any notion of unethical transplants and a finale that culminates with a fire that conveniently reduces the evidence (not to mention the head) to ashes are all shared between Die Nackte und der Satan (the catchy original German title of The Head) and The Brain That Wouldn’t Die released three years later. Similarities too numerous to ignore. But unlike its superior copycat, The Head was not as widely distributed and something of a treasure to enjoy despite the sense of déjà vu.

My Alpha Video DVD specifically proclaimed that it contained a ‘remastered’ version but ‘remastered’ must mean something else in German since my video was grainy, had plenty of vertical line abrasions, was splotchy at some points and clearly missing some footage as scenes end abruptly mid-action. But that is not to say that it made this unwatchable. It would take a lot more than that for me to pass up a movie like this.

Auf wiedersehen!

Movie Reviews 375 – The Day the Fish Came Out (1967)

January 5, 2019

I’ve always had a taste for the offbeat and camp movies (if you haven’t noticed) and The Day the Fish Came Out, probably one you’ve never heard of before, has always been one of my favorites. For some strange reason this was one of those films that my local TV station, CFCF-12 Montreal used to play over and over when I was a kid. But honestly, I was hooked the first time.

Part of the eccentricity lays not in just the plot itself, but the genre and setting. Believe it or not this is a Greek production of a science fiction comedy that skirts a doomsday scenario of all things . Written, directed and produced by Michael Cacoyannis (of Zorba the Greek fame) it was loosely based – and I do mean loosely – on the real life accidental dropping of hydrogen bombs on a Spanish island, the so called Palomares incident, just a year earlier. Cacoyannis took that concept, changed the island to Karos Greece, threw in lots of bikinis and made it colorful beyond belief.

The military trackers of a mission note the radar disappearance of a plane whose precarious cargo consists of two bombs and a particularly radioactive large metal container simply codenamed “Q”. When it becomes evident that the plane is lost a team a recovery team is sent to the island posing as real estate developers who want to build a hotel, despite the obvious barren landscape. Meanwhile the plane pilot and navigator (Colin Blakely and Tom Courtenay) are left scrambling and hiding with nothing but their skivvies, without any way to communicate with command. To make matters worse, “Q” is found by a peasant goat herder intent on cracking open the box dreaming of what must surely be riches within.

But the fun really starts when the locals start promoting the island and foreign touring groups, believing it to be the next hot-spot vacation destination, start sending tourists in droves to Karos. The leader of the covert military team (Sam Wanamaker) now has the added headache of keeping the tanned and toned tourists from interfering the mission to find Q.  Especially troublesome is the vivacious Electra (Candice Bergen, who was a model long before she was an actress) who has her eyes on one particular able seaman (Ian Ogilvy) who is soon ordered to keep her occupied.

Despite many flaws this movie still works on so many levels. There is the clash of cultures, the nutty characters such as a torturous dentist, the bumbling plane crew at each others nerves and scurrying like hobos throughout the film, the determination of the goat herder to try ever more powerful tools and techniques to open the container, and the frantic locals doing everything to try to cash in on the tourist trade. The backdrop transforms from a mundane archaic town to a rainbow painted settlement. The tourists that take over are a futuristic looking collection of Warhol-esque models that would look at home on a 60’s Parisian catwalk. You really have to see the outlandish garments to believe them. And when they party to a catchy heavy beat tune they flail their arms while shouting “Cooah-Cooah!” like giant multi colored birds in heat.

Perhaps the greatest appeal is how deftly the story navigates the boundary between comedy and  sombre drama. As the silliness in town gets weirder by the minute, the movie switches over to the desperation of a father sweating with every attempt to relieve the misery of his family. Title kind of gives away the ending which begs the question of whether this is really a comedy or a thinly veiled socio-politico commentary. Either way, you will be entertained.

“Cooah-Cooah!”

Movie Reviews 374 – The Nanny (1965)

December 29, 2018

If you thought for even a moment that this was a review of the obnoxious sitcom featuring Fran Drescher and her ear splitting, reverberating nasal laugh I ask you to please leave now before anyone gets hurt. And apologies to those who Googled “Davis Nanny” hoping to find “Alice” – Ann B. Davis – ‘nanny’ to The Brady Bunch, because this has nothing to do with her either.

Still with me? Good. This review is for the sixties film The Nanny produced by Hammer studios and that stars Bette Davis and just having put those two together should be enough to know where this is going.  Now this is not a Hammer Gothic horror that we know and love but rather one of their rarer psychological thrillers that can almost be pigeon holed with the few Film Noir movies they produced just a few years earlier.

Riding on the wave of her return of to the top of the Hollywood pecking order with the fortunes of her hits [Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, this was another ‘old biddy’ sub-genre film to take advantage of her now mature personifications. But unlike those other ‘old people’ films this one pits two opposing forces at opposite ends of the age spectrum. Davis is of course the venerable titular ‘nanny’ taking care of a young family that recently has gone through hard times with the passing of their youngest child. Her nemesis is the young son Joey (William Dix), a troubled lad just released from a boarding school for troubled kids. And each of them have a secret.

While the child is clearly a brazen, manipulative, uncontrollable brat he meets his match with the calm, cool, collected nanny who accommodates his every command. But is Joey as evil as he appears, going so far as to stage mock suicides by hanging? Was he somehow responsible for the death of his little sister that so traumatized his mother (Wendy Craig) as to render her the real ‘child’ in need of a nanny? The answer lies in a dark secret held by the nanny that indirectly ties onto the death of the child long ago.

Some standout performances from ‘aunt Pen’ (Jill Bennett) and the upstairs neighbor (Pamela Franklin) round out the performances. While not as recognized as Davis’ other films of its ilk, this is nearly just as good and not to be missed!

Movie Reviews 373 – Silent Night (2012)

December 21, 2018

Nothing says Christmas like a flame-throwing Santa Claus!

Following in her proud father’s footsteps, Aubrey Brandimore (Jaime King) is a loyal small town cop under the watchful eye of sheriff Cooper (Malcolm McDowell). But Aubrey is having a crisis of confidence having recently hesitated to use force when it was necessary on the job. But her true nightmare begins as she is called into work on Christmas day when another officer misses a shift only to find out the reason behind that officer’s “no show” is that he is one of the first victims of a Santa suit wearing serial killer. And Santa’s spree across town puts Aubrey at the center of all the action.

Not to be confused with other bloody yuletide offerings like Silent Night, Deadly Night (and any of its sequels) or Silent Night, Bloody Night where the antagonists are merely a deranged lunatics, this Silent Night red and white suited slayer, while seemingly killing indiscriminately, knows exactly what he’s doing. Well I guess wearing the Saint Nick garb while using a fireplace poker, wood chipper, scythe and the aforementioned flamethrower to slice, dice, garrote and fry people isn’t exactly sane but let’s just say there is a method to the madness.

McDowell as the macho, gung-ho sheriff with the “Not in my town attitude” nearly steals the show but King’s more laid back, methodical and persevering approach to the case is the one that will bear fruit. There’s gore aplenty with body parts all over the place and for those that are familiar with Silent Night, Deadly Night , there is a cool nod to that film with a replicated kill scene. For those that like a bit of kink with Mrs Claus, that too is provided thanks to the mayor’s smokin’ hot daughter who’s making softcore porn movies on the side.

But there are always a few lumps of coal that have to be taken in with the good presents and consequently the film is not without it’s problems. While the setting is supposedly a small town in the midst of a crisis due to a recent mill closure, there seems to be hundreds of so called ‘charity’ Santas all over the place and even in the local pub. After a roundup suspect “tall and large footed Santas” the squad room is filled to the gills with Santas. Basically you can’t throw a stick and not hit a Santa around here. The victim selection seems to be haphazard until the reveal at the end puts it somewhat in perspective but that then does not explain why ‘bad’ Santa had passed over some of the targeted victims given the opportunity earlier in the film. Yeah, I know, I’m being too nitpicky for a deranged Santa slayer movie.

If you want a pure and simple holiday film, go watch It’s a Wonderful Life. If you like your festive season entertainment a little on the bloodier side, Silent Night will be a perfect stocking stuffer.

Movie Reviews 372 – Split (2016)

December 14, 2018

M. Night Shyamalan has got his groove back.

The writer and director who delivered three genre gems (The Sixth Sense, Signs and what I consider his magnum opus, Unbreakable) between 1999 and 2002, soon faltered with some questionable films and then hit rock bottom in 2010 delivering the incomprehensibly godawful The Last Airbender (based on the animated Avatar television series). From that point on I pretty much dismissed the director and lost interest in whatever projects he had after that. Which explains how Split managed to miss my movie radar until now.

It was actually hearing that the movie Glass, a sequel to Unbreakable, was in production that managed to create a ‘blip’ reappear across my board. And it was while discussing Glass with a friend that I learned that not only did Shyamalan already make Split, itself a semi-sequel to Unbreakable, but that it was actually good.

The very next day I scoured the local online ads and not only found someone selling a DVD-BR combo, but it was only $5 and on my commute home. A few emails and a slight detour later I had the film in my hands and was ready to give it a spin.

The story Kevin Crumb, a man (James McAvoy) with a multi personality disorder encapsulating 23 distinct personalities can be captivating enough, but in this case one is a psychotic killer who captures three young women and holds them in a bunker. All the while he is having sessions with a world renowned psychiatrist (Betty Buckley) who posits that Kevin and a few others like him do not have run-of-the-mill mental health issues but in fact suffer from a newly discovered form she terms Dissociative ID Disorder (DID). Her controversial claim is that DID patients not only alter their persona as they hop from one to another inner personalities, but that the changes can also include physiological changes.

The captives, led by a prior victim of abuse and herself and outcast herself even before the kidnaping (Anya Taylor-Joy) quickly realize that they are dealing with more than one identity and in dealing with each separately try to trick a weaker ‘young boy’ into aiding with their escape. But ‘Kevin’ soon has the girls separated in different areas of the hideout just as his psychiatrist pays an unannounced visit to confirm her darkest fears.

This film is rife with some of Shyamalan’s trademark filming devices. We begin almost the moment the girls are captured but the off camera discussions only add mystery to what is the actual situation the girls are facing. Something ain’t right, but what? We slowly put the pieces together until the final reveal of the real extent of the disorder.

McAvoy is superb, deftly switching personas on the fly, seemingly with ease, and nailing each one. While we don’t get to appreciate each of the reputed identities, the half dozen or so we ‘meet’ are richly defined and interesting all on their own. Taylor-Joy’s character Casey is also multi-facetted in her own way, and leverages her dark past to take charge of her present situation. Shyamalan makes his customary ‘hitchcockian’ appearance in the film, not in a mere cameo but actually playing a small role.

The film, appropriately enough, ends with a teaser for Glass with both Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson sitting in a diner. Rumour has it that Glass will cap the trilogy in a story that blends the cast of Split with the original Unbreakable. It should be released in about a month (projected opening of 19 January) but I can barely wait.