Thursday, January 17, 2019

GLASS

James McAvoy     Sarah Paulson     Bruce Willis     Samuel L. Jackson
Anya Taylor-Joy     Spencer Treat Clark     Charlayne Woodard


     M. Night Shyamalan has written and directed a number of films (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water) that seem to have a hit or miss quality about them, at least from film critics’ points of view.  Glass is intended to be the third in a trilogy with Unbreakable and Split, neither of which was up to his first success, Sixth Sense.  It is a sequel with promise, but falls short, partly because of a complicated story that contains multiple back stories, but mostly because of the editing, which forces the viewer to spend too much time wondering what is being portrayed in many scenes.  Perhaps devotees of M. Night Shyamalan’s previous two films, Unbreakable and Split, the first two parts of a trilogy, of which Glass is the third, will be able to establish precedence and context to certain scenes, but the general public will be frustrated in trying to figure out what is going on, particularly in the beginning scenes. 
     The main players are:  1) Kevin Crumb (McAvoy), an established master at portraying dissociative identity disorder (DID), who has multiple personalities, one of which is a superhuman hunk capable of, say, overturning cars, another of which is a nine year-old with a lisp.  An abusive mother is the cause of his problems.  2) David Dunn (Willis) has a security business with his son Joseph (Clark), who believes his father has superhuman powers, but knows he is to keep quiet about it.  David is committed to preventing crimes from happening through his tactile sensitivity, whereby he can sense when someone is doing something wrong and goes about trying to stop it.  3) Elijah Price (Jackson) having grown up with a bone disease that makes his bones extremely fragile, decides, based upon his expertise in comics, that there must be the opposite of weaknesses such as his—superheroes, who have extraordinary strengths.  The movie does have a clever way of showing how each of these characters confronts his weakness and develops a superpower, but logic about their existence soon falls away. In a grandiose turn showing his supreme confidence in his belief, Elijah goes about convincing Kevin and David that they are indeed superheroes. 
     Once again in this last of a loosely connected trilogy, James McAvoy is the most interesting aspect of a film about disturbed individuals.  I don’t know if he necessarily captures the actual DID disorder, but he is entertaining in his ability to be so many personalities.  Bruce      Willis and Samuel L. Jackson have roles that they could easily “phone in”, but certainly provide more interest than would be there otherwise.  The addition of a psychiatrist (Paulson) and her staff at the mental hospital once again implies that the care in such places is self-serving rather than to help patients.  Paulson is a fine actress, but she is wasted here.
     In short, Glass is overly ambitious and too reliant on sketchy scenes to provide necessary information to follow the convoluted story, so many times it comes across as a jumbled mess.  Although it has been shown that many people can turn weaknesses into strengths, a man becoming a super-hero as a result is hardly a possibility.

This Glass is less than half full.

Grade:  F                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, January 7, 2019

DESTROYER

Nicole Kidman     Toby Kebbell     Bradford Whitford    Sebastian Stan    Scoot McNairy
Tatiana Maslany     James Jordan     Jade Pettyjohnn


     This is one of those films where you have to work hard just to keep up with the characters and the story, partly because Director Karyn Kusama chose to switch back and forth in time rather than tell the tale chronologically.  It’s a common practice I literally hate, and see no reason for it—except to make us work hard.  Perhaps filmmakers think it increases the mystery, because the viewer doesn’t have critical information until almost the end of the film. But that’s not a good reason.
     Destroyer had the potential to be a fine thriller, but fails because of the above and because by the time critical information is given, it serves only to draw out the story and drag on and on when you just want it to end.
     We’re thrown off base right away, when Detective Erin Bell (an almost unrecognizable Kidman) drags herself around a murder scene amidst the taunts of other detectives already there.  She spots significant clues, and goes to the police station to still more taunts.  She is the only one who could recognize some tell tale signs at the murder scene, but you won't know that this is the end of the movie, rather than the beginning of the story.  
     To avoid spoilers, I will refrain from going into the story at all.  Erin Bell is the focus and reason for the story and for the title itself.  She is a detective on the Los Angeles Police force, who has become persona non grata, and must endure taunts from all sides, including criminals and her own daughter.  We’re immediately curious about her history—which is a rich one—but must travel back and forth in time among a myriad of characters to learn about only a fraction of it.
Acting in this film is its strongest asset.  Award-winning Nicole Kidman (in three films just this year:  Destroyer, Boy Erased, and Aquaman plus television’s “Big Little Lies”) captures and sustains your attention throughout the film, which (in its disjointed way) is about who she is and part of how she came to be.  (I say “part”, because that’s all we get.)  Toby Kebbell and Bradley Whitford provide terrifying cameos that make you shiver, and Tatiana Maslany and Jade Pettyjohn play their roles of fleshing out the plot aptly.
     There is so much potential for soul in this story, that it’s a crying shame the ones responsible seemed to miss their own point.  The tale of a sharp but discredited detective with a back-story who continues to persevere contains the makings of a moving human story; but this film is not the one to tell it.  The title itself proves the filmmakers’ absence of empathy and insight into the main character.

About plans gone wrong in so many ways.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

ON THE BASIS OF SEX

Felicity Jones     Armie Hammer     Justin Theroux     Kathy Bates     Sam Waterston     Cailiee Spaeney

     Two mind-boggling aspects of the film, set between the 1950’s and 1970’s, are the number of U.S. laws that favored men over women and the obstructions a gifted woman like Ruth Bader Ginsburg faced throughout most of her young career. Beginning with law school at Harvard, throughout her attempts to get a law firm to hire her, and her attempts to bring up and hold onto a major case about gender discrimination, men talk over her and the other women, disparage their comments, and often simply ignore them.  It’s a puzzle in their circles as to why RBG and her husband mix up their typical gender roles, e.g., her taking the lead in arguing a case, him taking on household and child care chores, and, above all, sharing in all their responsibilities at home and in their profession.  
     One prospective employer at a respectable law firm in New York expresses his admiration and respect for her (who graduated first in her class, even after helping her husband through law school while she was also enrolled, AND took care of their child), but he doesn’t hire her because the wives in the firm might get jealous.  (Actually, I was told exactly that and was turned down for the same reason when I was applying for my first job as a psychologist in 1979.)  RBG finally lands a job at Rutgers teaching “Sex Discrimination and the Law.”  
     On the Basis of Sex provides us with an excellent dramatic account of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life, from the time she was a girl up to her winning a major case at the Denver Court of Appeals.  It follows the prior release of a fine documentary, RBG, by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, earlier this year.  At first, I regretted their releasing the two films so close together in time, but after having seen both, I see them as complementary.
     This film, written by Daniel Stiepleman and directed by Mimi Leder, balances RBG’s personal background—including adult family life—with arguments among colleagues and those formally presented in court.  By the end, we have a clear sense of how this woman came to be (influence of her mother), the almost unprecedented degree of support from her husband Marty, and her forging a new pathway through a male-dominated legal system to achieve what is now perceived to be  obvious rights for women.  I especially appreciated hearing some of her arguments in court, which were presented in a way that only logic is needed to understand it—knowledge of law not needed.
     In addition, the film portrays the Ginsburg family’s actual life, such as arguments between RBG and her daughter that were expertly moderated by Marty Ginsburg. As portrayed here, he could be a model for a father’s role in conflicts between a mother and her daughter. The film captures the Ginsburgs’ marital relationship, which was apparently always loving, but open to conflict and differences of opinion.  Marty is clearly a peacemaker but one with principles and loyalty to both his wife and daughter.
     As she did as Jane Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Felicity Jones captures the charming spunkiness of a woman who is well grounded.  She conveys just the right blend of feminine charm, fierce commitment, and solid logical mind that characterizes heroic women.  Armie Hammer is a master of supporting roles—for male or female characters—of all different kinds, as he has shown here, and I’m wondering when he will play a starring role; he is clearly capable.  A real winning actor here is Kathy Bates as the irascible Dorothy Kenyon, a determined social justice advocate. This is a perfect role for Bates who should receive a supporting actor nomination.

A film that addresses equality between men and women with grace.  Thank you, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland