It’s like the creators decided to recreate the shots from The Revenant and insert dinosaurs from an early-2000s direct-to-DVD CGI feature. Never before have I so wanted to look at pictures of the backgrounds from an animated movie. It’s a shame that there were characters.
Now imagine an hour and a half of that.
Tell me if you’ve heard this before: a young animal protagonist tragically loses his father, winds up far away, meets a companion, then eventually finds the courage to return home. The Lion King similarities are really distracting, the flood that kills the father even looks like a herd of wildebeests (yes that’s the correct spelling) considering that it was colored brown and had trees sticking out of it like antlers. Also, what’s that other dinosaur movie? Oh right, Jurassic Park! Lots of shots were taken from Jurassic Park and its sequels.
I’ve been waiting since January to do this review. Now that M. Night Shyamalan’s latest thriller Split has been released on DVD/digital media, let’s talk about it.
Split is about three girls (the most prominent being Casey played by Anya Taylor-Joy) who are kidnapped by a man with multiple personalities (James McAvoy) for a purpose which is slowly revealed throughout the film. What follows is a slow burn of a thriller which makes the audience wonder if McAvoy’s psychologist (Betty Buckley) can unravel what’s happening in time to save the girls.
I enjoyed this movie when I saw it in theaters several months ago. The acting for the most part (particularly from James McAvoy) is great. This guy deserves some kind of award for this/these role(s). Most importantly you get the impression that each of these personalities is a whole character, not just a name with a gimmick. That’s impressive for a character with twenty-three personalities. Two of three most prominent of these are Dennis, a man obsessed with cleanliness, young girls, and looks like the real-life BTK killer (who is also named Dennis), and Hedwig, a nine year-old boy who has one of the best scenes in the movie. The one which got under my skin the most, however, was Patricia. She gives a constant impression of being unstable yet fully dedicated to acting calm to cover it up. Throughout the running time there are long shots where you see McAvoy’s speech patterns, voice, and body language change as he goes between different identities.
After her excellent performance in The VVitch Anya Taylor-Joy delivered again with her role as Casey, a character shrouded in even more mystery than any of McAvoy’s. I’ll be going into spoilers later on, but I will say you feel a chill as you learn more about her. Betty Buckley was also engaging as McAvoy’s psychologist Dr. Fletcher, bringing an intelligence and compassion to probably the most weakly written of the three leads. I say weakly written because a lot of her dialogue is awkward and roundabout (much like this sentence) and, as has been pointed out to me, she should have questioned her patient with an unhealthy obsession with young girls when she saw on the news that three young girls were kidnapped.
I’ve watched a fair number of foreign films and TV shows in my life, particularly anime. These days which anime I watch mostly depends on what’s on Hulu and Netflix, and almost all of it is subtitled. Sometimes its ideal for the show or movie, other times I find myself wishing it had been dubbed over. This leads to the question: which is better?
In general, there is no answer between the two. The best option, of course, is to be able speak the movie or show’s original language, though this isn’t a reality for an American audience. Since the majority of foreign films and TV shows I watch are from China and Japan, I will be focusing on works from those countries with one important exception from American cinema which I’ll get to later.
My first exposure to a foreign movie was probably the Godzilla franchise, of which my favorite installment is Godzilla: Final Wars. I’ve tried watching this same movie both subbed and dubbed, and I vastly prefer the dubbed version as is the case for all Godzilla movies I’ve seen. So dubbed is better, right? Not so fast, because I’ve also seen both versions of Kung Fu Hustle, and the jokes are MUCH funnier in the subbed version. OK, maybe subbed is better for comedies and dubbed is better for action movies? No again, as from what I’ve heard Pokemon: The First Movie was deeper and more interesting subtitled compared to the dubbed version I saw (which was borderline infantile in its dialogue). Continue reading “Dubbed vs Subbed, The Foreign Film Dilemma”→
So far all of my posts have been of films and series that I like, so it’s time to shake things up a bit.
The OA is a series on Netflix which consists of eight episodes, with only one season having aired so far. The plot revolves around a woman named Prairie/The OA (Brit Marling) who reappears after having been missing for seven years. At the time she disappeared she was blind, but now can see since coming back. Throughout the season she tells a story to five random people about how she became blind, how her life changed as a result, and what happened over the last 7 years to help her regain her sight.
Mild spoilers from the first two episodes follow.
First, the positives. All of the actors (with one exception) range from competent to excellent in their roles, with my two favorites being Phyllis Smith as the schoolteacher Elizabeth and Jason Isaacs as Hap, a doctor running experiments.
Smith’s character has an extremely sympathetic and effective character arc throughout the season and I wish that she had been the protagonist, maybe someone who had been through Prairie’s story in the past and it came back to haunt her. Her sadness and hope to make circumstances better for her and those close to her stands out throughout the season.
Full disclosure: I once donated money to the Patreon page of this series to help fund an episode. Now that that’s out of the way…
Ever wanted to see a Sonic and Mario crossover cartoon series? Officially, we probably never will due to licensing issues. Unofficially, a lot of fans have made a lot of series with this premise. The one that continues to stand out, however, is Super Mario Bros Z by Mark Haynes (AKA Alvin-Earthworm).
In 2006 on Newgrounds.com Haynes released the first episode of this series. It was okay with 2 main draws. The first were the crossover of the two franchises with the arrival of Metal Sonic in the Mushroom Kingdom. The second was the humor from poking fun at the formula seen in the Mario games.
The next episode was significantly better and showed what Haynes could do with fight scenes. Both the humor and action improved as the series went on, with the final episode having a fast-paced, creative, and hilarious battle against Bowser’s army. Unfortunately, it ended in a cliffhanger which was never resolved. Years later the series has now been rebooted, which I think is a mistake. Yes, the animation has gotten even better with the newest episode, but I’d rather have seen that quality go into finishing the story that fans have wanted to see for a decade.
The work that was put into this series is astounding, especially when you consider that it wasn’t made by an animation studio but instead by some very dedicated fans who, at least at first, weren’t getting paid. Production time for each episode could take months due to the effort necessary to make the animation work, as well as writing the script and dialogue for the characters.
Haynes is clearly a knowledgeable fan of Sonic, Mario, and Dragon Ball Z as elements from all three franchises are present throughout the series. Sonic and Shadow’s personalities are tweaked enough to make them more closely resemble Goku and Vegeta, respectively. The chaos emeralds are a stand-in for the dragon balls, though a lot of fans have pointed out that this is the intention of the Sonic series anyways. The fighting abilities of all the characters are more fast paced using techniques from all three series and even the Super Smash Bros series a little bit. A fan of any one of these series, or better yet a fan of all three, can enjoy all the references and how the environment and characters are combined to make new possibilities for storytelling.
A New Hope is my favorite Star Wars movie, even over Empire Strikes Back. That’s not to say that the former is a better made, more thought-provoking film (it isn’t). In fact I consider Empire to objectively be the best written, acted, directed and scored of all the Star Wars movies, and I love it, but let me explain why I still like Hope better. Just for clarity, I mean the original versions, NOT the “”””special”””” editions.
One of the more famous debates among sci-fi fans is whether Star Wars or Star Trek is the better franchise. I greatly enjoy both for different reasons. I watch Star Trek when I want to think more about ethical dilemmas, how a complex society works, or to have a (fictional) scientific principle explained. Star Wars films I watch to have fun and enjoy the adventure and characters.
No one who likes Star Wars films can deny the movie version of an adrenaline rush that you get at the ending of A New Hope. The villains are given enough time to be enjoyably evil, we see Luke’s progression from a complaining kid to a war hero, and we don’t think about the millions of people he singlehandedly killed. It’s 2 hours where the viewer can be given the well-paced events of the story and not still be thinking about their implications in the next scene, allowing them to do the same thing throughout the movie.
Also Leia never kisses Luke in A New Hope, that’s important.
In Empire the audience is challenged to think more deeply about the characters and how their relationships will influence the story. The scenes in the cave on Dagobah, Vader and Luke on Cloud City, and Luke and Leia’s connection all raise fascinating questions that, until Return of the Jedi, people could only speculate about. I wasn’t alive in 1980 but I imagine long, heated discussions between Star Wars fans who, in the absence of answers, created their own. We have the luxury today of just watching the full trilogy as well as dozens of hours of the TV shows and even the prequel trilogy. As a result we know what the intent of the story was and it’s hard to imagine alternatives.
This brings me to the 2 main reasons that I consider A New Hope to be the better Star Wars film: it’s a fun adventure and a self-contained story. When Alderaan is destroyed the viewer isn’t thinking about Leia’s psychological torment, the focus is on escaping from the Death Star. When the Death Star’s destroyed the award ceremony is all the follow up you need, there aren’t cliffhangers or burning questions that make a sequel inevitable.
Empire Strikes Back, for these reasons, has more of a Star Trek feel than a Star Wars feel. It began the episodic feel of the series and added a level of seriousness that I think would be better suited for a debate of the Prime Directive in Star Trek.
Finally, this may seem like a minor point, but A New Hope has Empire beat in terms of originality. Yes there were new ship and character designs in Empire, but they’re more of an expansion of the style introduced in Hope. It was in Episode IV that this universe was created and the basis for the series’ sounds and visuals was established. The sound of a lightsaber is (for the most part) still unchanged from its first appearance. The cantina scene showed that the aliens of this universe looked far less human than in Star Trek. These elements set Star Wars apart from other sci-fi franchises.
Like in my Signs review I’d recommend re-watching both Hope and Empire. Try imagining you have never seen a Star Wars movie before and ask yourself which one stands on its own better. If you still say Empire I can fully understand why, but my priorities for what makes a great Star Wars movie are different than yours.
Most Shyamalan fans agree that his first three major films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs) are his best work. While I agree with this assessment, unlike most people I find The Sixth Sense to be my least favorite of these three. I still think it’s an excellent film, but as I stated in my last review Unbreakable is my favorite Shyamalan movie. Signs is a close second.
Signs is the story of a family in rural Pennsylvania during an alien invasion. Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) is a pastor who has left the church after a painful time in his life, which has caused his brother Merril (Joaquin Phoenix) to move in to help raise his young children Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin). Throughout the film the aliens are slowly built up, as is the film as a whole. I’ll get to what I mean by that later on.
Something that surprised me years after seeing this movie was how polarizing it is among viewers. Two of my favorite critics have each done a video review of it and have wildly different opinions, with one hating it and the other one crediting it for his love of film. My fiance couldn’t stay awake for most of it.
Some of the criticisms of Signs, such as just how much danger the Earth was really in, I can understand. These aspects don’t bother me because of the greatest strength of this movie, its trust in the audience’s imagination. You think about Signs more when re-watching it, and after multiple viewings I’ve realized a few key elements:
The “twist” in this movie (the reveal with the aliens) is actually a red herring. This revelation, though important to the plot, does not make the picture much different when you re-watch it, though you are given enough information to make some fun speculations about the aliens’ motives and society.
Plot and character elements are subtly inserted throughout the movie. These are only noticed when you’ve seen it enough times to focus on the backgrounds or think about supposedly throw-away lines.
The cinematography works especially well with two elements standing out: the long shots and the handheld camera. The reveals done using single takes (especially towards the end) are very well paced and set up, something that Shyamalan has had trouble with later in his career (as in Last Airbender). The birthday scene with the handheld camera was particularly effective at building up suspense and showed his proficiency with “found footage”, which he would further utilize in The Visit.
Finally, the real surprise of this feature is more of a puzzle for the audience: figure out how the events we have seen are constructed. Everything hinges on a tragic event in Graham’s past which is not fully revealed until the end. This is where the audience’s imagination comes in.
Throughout the film we’re given examples of how Graham’s duties and relationship to his family have changed because of his past; at one point he feels overwhelmed and stops cleaning up Bo’s glasses of water, something which comes into play at the end. That tipped me off to what Shyamalan was doing, and I began to think about all the elements that were needed for this movie to conclude as it did. What if Merril hadn’t moved in? What if the veterinarian hadn’t called Graham? Would someone have remembered Morgan’s inhaler? Watch the movie again and think about what would have been missing if that tragic event and its revelation had not happened.
Like Unbreakable, the music for this movie by James Newton Howard is amazing. Those who are fans of Psycho and Jaws will immediately recognize the inspiration for it.
In conclusion, Signs is a largely misunderstood film. Its true and more significant twist is usually overlooked with focus being on the more obvious revelation about the aliens. Re-watch this film from the perspective I’ve discussed and have fun filling in the blanks!