‘Alita: Battle Angel’ Introduces Us To a Hero Unafraid to Be ‘The One’

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Alita: Battle Angel” is a movie which is at once familiar but unique. It’s another post-apocalyptic film in which Earth has been laid waste by war and where humans survive any way they can, with or without the limbs they were born with. Hovering over them is a city in the sky much like the one in “Elysium” where the wealthy survivors live in what looks like infinite luxury. Yes, there are many familiar science-fiction elements at work here, but this movie still feels unique in the way it looks and how it is told. Just when I thought it would be the same old genre film which I have seen far too many times, I was surprised at how invigorating it was as it introduces us to a heroic female character who is not afraid to back down from a fight.

This movie brings together filmmakers James Cameron and Robert Rodriguez, and you can tell the pride and enthusiasm they had in bringing Yukito Kishiro’s manga series “Gunnm” to the big screen. With all the visual effects and 3D tools at their disposal, and this is the first 3D movie I have looked forward to watching in ages, they have created an imperfect but highly entertaining cyberpunk adventure which mixes live action and computer-generated imagery to brilliant effect just like in “Avatar.”

The year is 2563, and the Earth has been devastated by a war known as “The Fall.” As the movie begins, we see renowned scientist Dr. Dyson Ido (Christoph Waltz) sifting through a junkyard in Iron City when he comes across a disembodied female cyborg. Her body is part of the trash thrown down from the wealthy sky city of Zalem, but what its residents didn’t take into account is this cyborg still has a fully intact human brain. Dyson ends up taking her back to his office and rebuilds her, and the next morning she wakes up with a new set of artificial limbs and a pair of eyes which look like something out of a Margaret Keane painting. From there, she goes on a journey of endless discovery which will show her enjoying the simple things and eventually embracing her true identity.

Just like with “Avatar,” it is hard to distinguish what is real and what is CGI in “Alita: Battle Angel” as both worlds mix into one another in a wonderfully creative way. This movie also utilizes 3D in a way which reminds us how the extra dimension can make us feel like part of the action instead of just letting us sit back in our comfy seats. Hollywood really burned us out on 3D as it became nothing more than a gimmick and another way to take an extra dollar or two out of our pockets. But in the hands of Rodriguez and Cameron, filmmakers who have successfully mastered the extra dimension (the jury will excuse “Spy Kids 3-D”), it is a reminder of what an effective tool it can be when placed in the right hands.

Speaking of Rodriguez, this is easily the best movie he has made in a long time. His last few films like “Machete Kills” and “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World” had him repeating himself to tiresome effect, and I was begging him to try something new. His attempts to made good-bad movies completely missed the point of why such movies were enjoyable in the first place, and his many gifts were wasted as a result. But with “Alita: Battle Angel,” he gets his biggest budgeted movie yet, and you can feel his joy at playing around with tools he never got to play with before. The look of the movie is astonishing, and his filmmaking skills get reinvigorated as a result.

And, of course, you can feel Cameron’s influence over this project as he co-wrote the screenplay with Laeta Kalogridis, and his mastery of storytelling is on display here as he weaves in various themes dealing with pollution, corruption and endless greed to very strong effect. Hugo (Keean Johnson), Alita’s love interest, is infinitely eager to buy his way into Zalem, but like John Leguizamo trying to get an apartment in Dennis Hopper’s luxury high-rise which sits high above a zombie-infested city in “Land of the Dead,” the odds will never be in his favor. The rich live in safety while the poor live in squalor and, just like in the real world we inhabit, the division between the haves and have nots is far too big.

And yes, Cameron’s weaknesses as a screenwriter are on display as well. Ever since “Titanic,” he has shown a tin ear for dialogue, and hearing the villainous characters sputter out lines such as “looking for me” is dispiriting as I have heard this phrase far too many times. Also, the arcs of certain supporting characters are not resolved in a satisfying manner, and I had to look at the movie’s Wikipedia page to figure out exactly what happened to them. I still wait for the screenwriter of “Aliens” to reappear. Remember the classic line of dialogue Cameron came up with when Sigourney Weaver talked to Paul Reiser about the difference between bloodthirsty extra-terrestrials and human beings? It still stays with me:

“You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.”

As for the actors, they help breathe life into the computer-generated landscape. It’s great to see Christoph Waltz play someone other than a devious villain, and he makes his scientist character a deeply heartfelt man who is more complex than we were first led to believe at first. There’s also nice supporting work from Oscar winners Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali who lend their charisma to enigmatic roles. And it is nice to hear Jackie Earle Haley’s voice as the enormous cyborg and assassin Grewishka as you can always count on him to create an ominous presence in a movie which calls for it.

But let’s face it, “Alita: Battle Angel” belongs to Rosa Salazar who portrays the title character. The actress, best known for her roles in “Parenthood” and “American Horror Story: Murder House,” gives this movie the heart and soul it deserves, and it was immense fun watching her discover the simple things in life to such a wonderfully enthusiastic degree. And when Alita embraces her role as a fierce warrior, Salazar sells it for all it is worth as she is not about to be held back by anyone. Without her, this movie would not have been anywhere as effective.

For a brief time, I thought this would be yet another movie where the main character struggles with whether or not they are “the one.” “Alita: Battle Angel,” however, is not interested in asking such time-wasting questions, and it did not take long at all for me to be fully engaged in her quest. I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I was for that.

“Alita: Battle Angel” ends on a note which serves as a set-up for a franchise filled with sequels. This will more than likely annoy many audience members as every other motion picture looks to be starting a franchise which serves to keep studio executives happy. Still, I found it to be a self-contained movie which never felt like an overlong advertisement for future installments. I am eager to see where Alita’s future adventures will take her, and I have a strong feeling we will find out before the first of several “Avatar” sequels are released. Heck, has filming on the first “Avatar” sequel even begun yet? Stop leaving us hanging Cameron!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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Tears Shed During The 20-Mile Pablove Training Run

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So, the last few weeks of Los Angeles Marathon training have proven to be frustrating for me. During our 18-mile run, I lost my cell phone which I mistakenly believed was safe and secure in my arm band, and I was forced to retrace my steps to where I had to abandon the run to find it. Thankfully, the police found my phone and took it to their station in Downtown Los Angeles where I recovered it. As for our 8-mile recovery run which took place the following week, those of us who bothered to show up (three or four people aside from the coaches) decided to cancel it as the rain and cold wind proved to be an unwelcome combination. Those of us who ran, or rather swam, the 2011 LA Marathon can attest to how rain and wind serves to make running a miserable experience as hypothermia becomes more of a problem than heat stroke.

The weather proved to be just as unforgiving this past weekend as rain blanketed much of Los Angeles on the morning of our longest run yet, 20 miles. As much as we would have liked to postpone it due to bad weather, we all knew we had to grin and bear it and go with the US Postal Service motto of how “neither rain nor snow” could keep us from doing our duty.

When my alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., it sounded so peaceful outside my window as I dragged myself out of bed and got my running gear on. But as I began applying anti-chafe cream over my body, I started to hear what sounded like water going through a pipe in my building which I assumed was the result of someone taking a shower next door. But no, the rain was coming down again, and it was coming down hard. I sighed as I put on an extra layer of clothing to combat the cold weather I knew I would be dealing with, and I showed no hesitation in putting on a poncho as well. Lord knows I was going to need it.

Once again, I was the first person to show up at the Pablove meeting site in Griffith Park, but I stayed in my car as the rain was still pouring down hard. The coaches and other runners showed up soon after, but even they were not in a hurry to exit their vehicles. Once Coach Joaquin got out of his, the rest of us followed suit, but I brought my umbrella with me to keep from getting doused before I started pounding the pavement. One of the runners asked if I was planning on taking my umbrella with me on this run, and I replied no. Granted, I think he meant what he said as a joke.

Just as we were about to start, I went back to my car and put my umbrella away. Once I did so, I noticed all the other Pablove runners had taken off without me. I was hoping they would wait, but considering we were starting this run an hour early due to its double-digit length, time was not about to wait for any Pablove runner. As I got underway, another runner arrived at Griffith Park a bit late and ran alongside me. However, it didn’t take long for him to leave me in the dust to where I started singing Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” to myself.

Our route took us to the treacherous street known as Forest Lawn Drive which has a number of blind spots where cars race by at 45 miles an hour, and it also goes right by a cemetery which always feels like a bad omen.  While we always run against traffic, it was decided we should run with it as the other side of the street was flooded to where we would be doused by cars looking to splash unsuspecting pedestrians even as they ran the risk of hydroplaning.

But the beauty of it all was that, as we made our way to Forest Lawn Drive, the rain suddenly stopped. Not only that, the sun began to break through the clouds. I would like to think the weather gods saw us running, recognized me and said, “Hey, you ran the 2011 LA Marathon. Okay, I’ll go easy on you. This weather must bring back bad memories.” As much as we need the rain in California, it was nice to have a break.

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Once I made it to Barham Boulevard, I ran up a hill which, like any other, wiped me out very quickly to where my walk breaks lasted longer than they should have. From there, I made a left on Lake Hollywood and ran up to the reservoir, a place I have not run through or around before during marathon training. I was excited at the opportunity to run an unfamiliar place. My enthusiasm, however, was tempered a bit by a sign at the fence in front of me.

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The “Keep Me Wild” sign piqued my interest, especially with the mountain lion pictured on it. I know I am not as fast as I used to be, so the chances of escaping an animal who sees me as little more than lunch are not very good to say the least. I kept thinking of the scene from “The Edge,” a terrific character drama starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, in which a character talks about how to avoid being attacked by a bear: put your hands up in the air, look it right in the eye and back away slowly. Of course, it was a bear he was talking about. I’m not sure the same applies to a mountain lion.

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I decided to run at a pace of 3:1 as my plan was to finish this run without feeling completely fatigued. Aside from the coaches, there weren’t many familiar faces to pass by on this route. I thought about bringing one of my iPods with me so I could listen to music, but since this day started off with a lot of rain, I figured it was best to leave it behind.

Upon arriving back at Griffith Park, I ran into Coach Kerry who informed me I was running at a pace slower than 15 minutes a mile to where everyone else was now two miles ahead of me. As a result, he advised me to turn around as soon as I reached the other runners or at least when I passed the LA Zoo. I wanted to complete all 20 miles, but Coach Kerry said he didn’t have the resources to ensure my safety at this point, so I obliged him and promised to turn around sooner rather than later.

It was at this point my mood descended to a place of utter frustration. This was also complicated by me dwelling on traumatic events from the past which were suddenly reawakened in my conscious mind. I’m not going into the exact details, but they were driving me insane even as I went about the days acting like nothing was wrong. Furthermore, my knees were hurting more than usual. Granted, I should have expected many parts of my body to get sore on a long run like this, but it worsened my already pathetic mood. Once I passed the LA Zoo, I just gave up and started dragging myself back to the starting spot.

I couldn’t even get myself to run anymore as I wondered if I was really taking marathon training seriously anymore. Just because I am a veteran, does this mean I can wing it as if my body will always remember what is involved in this endurance event? How could I have fallen so far behind everyone else? This is not supposed to be a lonely time for me, is it? Soon after, I found myself crying. I was miserable and felt like I was letting everyone down.

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Eventually, Coach Joaquin caught up to me, and as much as I tried to put on a happy face, I just couldn’t do it. I broke down in tears in front of him, and he encouraged me to let it all out. He also told me to “be a man,” but he didn’t mean that in the way most men do. It wasn’t about putting on a strong face and not crying. It was about acknowledging how I felt to where I could deal with my depressed feelings. Clearly I was having a bad day, let alone a bad week, and pretending like nothing was wrong would have been harmful more than anything else. Joaquin told me tomorrow was another day which I come into with a better mood, and that things will be better before I knew it.

Still, as I stood by my lonesome at Griffith Park, I couldn’t hide my sadness as it felt like my body was failing me in a way which was irreversible. Coach Kerry also took notice of my mood and reminded me of all the hard work I have done over these past nine years, and he even said he just started running again for the first time in two years and ended up injuring himself in the process. Also, he said I could always do the half-marathon instead of the full LA Marathon this March as he has yet to register everyone and encouraged me to take the day to think about it. He reminded me of how people have good and bad marathon seasons, and that there was no shame if I decided to do the half instead. I could still run on marathon day.

While I rewarded myself with Sausage McMuffin with Egg meal at my local McDonald’s, my mood had only brightened so much as I still felt kind of separate from the rest of the Pablove runners. It even made me wonder if all the marathons I had done previously meant much in the eyes of my fellow teammates and coaches. I know it helps to be humble, but I want my accomplishments to have more meaning than they already do.

Coach Kerry told me to take a day and think about if I wanted to run the half marathon instead of the full LA Marathon this March. As I tried to have a debate with myself on this, I realized I had already made up my mind. I got in touch with Kerry and told him I will be running the half marathon instead since I was falling behind constantly, and also because me knees were feeling the strain more than ever before (I spent most of Saturday with ice packs on them).

So, this will be the first time in years I won’t be running the full Los Angeles Marathon. While this feels a bit frustrating and disappointing, it is all for the best. I will still be there on March 24th pounding the pavement, and I will still be raising money for The Pablove Foundation as their fight against pediatric cancer rages on. To date, I have raised $652 dollars towards my fundraising goal of $1,500. Please only donate what you can.

And yes, there is no shame in a man crying. Trust me, I have been proving this to be the case for decades.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN HOW YOU CAN MAKE A TAX-DEDUCTIBLE DONATION TO THE PABLOVE FOUNDATION.

‘A Star is Born’ Movie and Blu-ray Review (Written by Tony Farinella)

Ladies and gentleman, allow me to introduce you to Tony Farinella, a fellow film buff who will now be contributing articles to The Ultimate Rabbit. This is his first review for the website, and we look forward to reading many more from him.

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Wow.

It is very rare that a film like “A Star is Born” comes along.  When the trailer was released, I must have watched it about fifty times.  When the soundtrack came out, I listened to it every single day and still do today.  Many people are often quick to judge when it comes to remakes, especially for one like “A Star is Born,” considering it has been done multiple times in the past.  However, this one is different and far and away the best version of the film to ever come along which is truly saying something.  It all starts with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  They are the straw that stirs this drink.

The word authentic is used a lot when it comes to the filmmaking process.  It was especially true when it came to “A Star is Born.”  In order for this film to be as effective and powerful as it ultimately ended up being, two things needed to happen.  Number one: Lady Gaga had to be believable as an actress.  She has acted before, but it has never been on this level.  Number two:  Bradley Cooper needed to be believable as a singer.  It can’t look like he’s lip syncing or just trying to fit in and not look out of his element.  He IS Jackson Maine in the same way Lady Gaga is Ally.

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When that happens, you have movie magic.  No film has affected me as much as 2018’s “A Star is Born” since 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby.”  There is something to be said about having a dream and having someone believe in you.  The story has been done before, but it is told in a way that brings something new to the table, especially with Bradley Cooper as the director.  He is the director and he is more than up to the task.  The music is incredible, catchy, and it truly brings the viewer into this musical world.

As far as the story, Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) has seen better days.  He is boozing at a very dangerous level and is also really into drugs.  He props himself up on stage, but he is not the man he used to be as a performer.  This frustrates his brother, played by Sam Elliott.  There is only so much he can take of Jackson being late or not taking things seriously.  However, when Jackson has a chance encounter with Ally (Lady Gaga), he sees something special in her.

All her life, people have told Ally they like the way she sounds but not the way she looks.  They talked about her nose and have criticized her.  Legendary comedian Andrew Dice Clay plays her father in a tremendous performance.  He’s a driver, and he talks about how Paul Anka once told him he had more natural talent than Frank Sinatra.  As his daughter tells him, she doesn’t have the same disease he has where he loves to hang out with celebrities and feel important.

With Ally and Jackson, both are the missing piece in each other’s lives.  Jackson tells her she has a voice, has something to say, and is the one who needs to say it.  Ally brings out the best in Jackson musically and as a person, even though he is still struggling with his demons.  When he runs into an old musical friend, played by another legendary comedian in Dave Chappelle, the friend tells him he looked like his old self up on stage with Ally.  However, as Ally’s star is rising, Jackson is starting to hit rock bottom.

People are taking notice of her because of Jackson, but Jackson can’t be left alone with his alcohol issues and his ability to self-destruct at any moment.  She’s becoming more of a pop star, but she isn’t really sure she likes it.  She tells her manager she doesn’t want to lose the part of her that is talented.  With fame, there comes a lot of wonderful and magical things, but it is very complicated for both Ally and Jackson.  They need to figure out how to handle it to save their relationship and also their careers.

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As mentioned earlier in the review, “A Star is Born” has tremendous songs, and they are performed live.  Because of this and of the way they are shot, it brings an intimacy to this film.  This is a very intimate film, make no mistake about it.  The love between Jackson and Ally feels incredibly real and raw.  The music is there without any frills.  It is just great music and it is not done in a way which sounds staged or phony.  This is as real as it gets in terms of moviemaking.  It is incredible what Bradley Cooper pulled off here as a director.

The third act is a tough one, as I’m sure many people are aware of by now, but it is also a hopeful act without giving too much away. The final performance and the way Lady Gaga looks into the camera, that is golden.  It does not get any better than that.  For this and so many other reasons, “A Star is Born” is my favorite film of 2018.  After watching it twice, once in the theater and once on Blu-Ray, I don’t think I have any tears left in me to cry, quite frankly.  Those tears were earned though, and this is what makes it such a special movie.

Lady Gaga has said this a number of times, and it is true: “You can have a hundred people in a room and all it takes is one to believe in you.”  This is a film that anyone with a dream of making it in a field they are passionate about needs to see and watch over and over again.  It is possible.  It is possible because of the love and support of another person and the belief in yourself.  :A Star is Born” isn’t just the best movie of 2018, it is also one of the most important films of the year as well.

* * * * out of * * * *

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Blu-Ray Info: “A Star is Born” is released on a two-disc Blu-Ray Combo Pack, which comes with a digital copy as well.  You can also pick it up on DVD and 4K.

Audio and Video Info: The film comes presented in 1080p High Definition with an aspect ratio of 16×9, 2.4:1.  The film looks magnificent on Blu-Ray and really pops and stands out.  The audio is also out of this world on the following formats: Dolby Atmos- TrueHD: English, DTS-HD MA, English 5.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Dolby Digital: Français 5.1 (Dubbed in Quebec), and Español 5.1. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish.

Special Features:  There is a thirty-minute behind-the-scenes special feature, which includes interviews with just about every major actor in the film including Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga.  They talk about the process of getting this film made, how it took three years, and what it meant to all of them.  It is called “The Road to Stardom: Making A Star is Born.” Music Videos are included as well as songs and performances not seen in theaters.  All in all, there is some good stuff here, but I would have loved a commentary track and an even lengthier behind-the-scenes of the film, as I know a lot went into this. Depending on how this film does on Oscar Night, I’m going to go out on a limb and say they will be releasing it again with more special features.

Own “A Star is Born” on 4K UHD Combo Pack, Blu-ray™ Combo Pack and DVD Special Edition on February 19

‘Cold Pursuit’ is Far More Devious Than the Average Liam Neeson Film

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I went into “Cold Pursuit” believing it would be a typical Liam Neeson action film and a cross between “Taken” and “Death Wish.” Heck, it feels like Neeson has been doing the same movie over and over in recent years as he keeps playing characters who are either out to rescue their children or avenge the loss of a loved one. As we watch Neeson operate heavy machinery in a place which looks infinitely colder than the one he traversed in “The Grey,” I kept waiting for him to say, “I have a particular set of snow plows I have acquired over a very long career…”

Indeed, “Cold Pursuit” has the attributes of the average Neeson action flick, but I was surprised to see it also has a wonderfully twisted sense of humor. Even as the violence gets increasingly brutal and the blood flows more frequently, I found myself laughing endlessly as Neeson’s quest for revenge inadvertently sets off a war between rival gangs intent on protecting their own self-interests. As a result, this film was and was not what I expected, and as it went on I had no idea of the twists and turns the story would end up taking.

Neeson plays Nels Coxman, an ordinary man who lives a quiet life with his wife Grace (Laura Dern) and son Kyle (Micheál Richardson) in the small Colorado town of Kehoe. As “Cold Pursuit” begins, Nels has been given Kehoe’s Citizen of the Year award, something he accepts quite humbly as he considers his job as a snowplow driver nothing particularly special. Nels is also revealed to be a quiet man as his wife encourages him to speak more regularly at the dinner table and use as many words as President Abraham Lincoln said during his address at Gettysburg.

It doesn’t take long for tragedy to strike when Kyle dies of a heroin overdose. Nels refuses to believe his son could ever be a drug addict even when the police, long since hardened by the morbid work they do, remark how parents always say that. From there, the movie does not slow down as Nels goes from being the town’s key citizen to a vigilante as cold as the frosty weather he works in on a daily basis. Seeing him do deadly deeds either with a snowplow or a sawed-off rifle made me think of a line between Chevy Chase and Tim Matheson from “Fletch:”

“You shoot me, you’re liable to lose a lot of these humanitarian awards.”

Neeson inhabits the role of Nels as effectively as any he has played in the past, and I could tell he was having a lot of fun with this particular character from start to finish. Unlike the government agents and trained snipers he has played previously, Nels is nothing like them as he truly is an ordinary guy caught up in a situation he has no control over. At one point he even tells his brother, Brock “Wingman” Coxman (William Forsythe), how he learned about disposing dead bodies from a crime novel he once read.

“Cold Pursuit” also introduces to one of the slimiest and most comical drug kingpins I have seen in some time, Trevor “Viking” Calcote. Trevor is played by Tom Bateman in an inspired performance as he makes this drug dealer as brutal as he is hilariously hypocritical. While he shows no remorse in offing another human being, he is equally intense when it comes to making sure his son learns all he can about life from William Golding’s classic novel “The Lord of the Flies” while eating foods which do not contain the slightest ounce of high fructose corn syrup.

What intrigued me most about “Cold Pursuit” was how Nels’ quest for vengeance ends up triggering a turf war between drug dealers and American Indian gang members. In the process, we are subtly reminded of how America was stolen from the Indians (they are called Native Americans for a reason folks) and that the word “reservation” has more than one meaning. In this small Colorado town, a bad review on Yelp or Trip Advisor can be every bit as damaging as a bullet. This all results in a motion picture with a body count somewhere in between Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and John Woo’s “Hard Boiled.”

“Cold Pursuit” is a remake of the 2014 Norwegian thriller “In Order of Disappearance” which starred Stellan Skarsgard, and both films were directed by the same man, Hans Petter Moland. Learning of this made me wonder if Moland would fall intro the same trap George Sluizer did when he remade “The Vanishing” in America and changed the ending to disastrous effect. However, it looks like little was loss in the translation as this remake retains much of the brutality and black humor of the original. This was a giant relief to me after witnessing the misbegotten remake of “Miss Bala” which all but neutered the original for the sake of a PG-13 rating. Unlike “Miss Bala,” this film is anything but generic.

If there is any issue I have with this film, it is the inescapable fact that Laura Dern is completely wasted here. She is always a welcome appearance in anything she appears in, but she disappears from “Cold Pursuit” way too soon to where I wondered why they bothered casting her at all. Frankly, I am getting sick of seeing Dern reduced to playing the helpless housewife whose love is wasted on male characters who fail to return it in equal measure. She deserves much better.

Still, I was pleasantly surprised by “Cold Pursuit” as it proves to be an effective thriller and a twisted delight. For those who like their humor especially black, this is a film worth checking out as it features everything including a child who knows all there is to know about the Stockholm Syndrome. More importantly, it features female characters played by Emmy Rossum and Julia Jones who are far stronger than their male counterparts who are too caught up in their own jealousy and self-interest. The scene where Jones shows how she has her ex-husband by the balls, literally and figuratively speaking, is one which will never be quickly forgotten.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

 

 

Worst Movie Trailers Ever: ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’

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I still vividly remember watching the trailer for this sequel at Crow Canyon Cinemas where it played before a screening of “Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.” I could hear and feel the audience’s disdain for “Return to the Blue Lagoon” to where I kept waiting for them to erupt into a chorus of boos. This trailer made this sequel to “The Blue Lagoon” look infinitely lame as well as completely unnecessary. The trailer’s narrator talked of how the 1980 original was “the first movie to explore the innocence of natural love,” and my eyes immediately rolled up in the back of my head. Oh lord…

Seriously, was anyone begging for a follow up to Randal Kleiser’s 1980 film which starred Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins? While “The Blue Lagoon” was a huge hit which made almost $60 million and only cost between $4 and $5 million to make, it was critically eviscerated in a way few movies were at the time. Indeed, its portrayal of these two kids living an idyllic existence and developing outside of what is considered civilized society is laughable to say the least, and the overly dramatic score by the late Basil Poledouris made things even more cringe-inducing to where watching this movie on mute made it slightly easier to digest.

The trailer for “Return to the Blue Lagoon” made this sequel look like it will be an exact photocopy of its predecessor as it features Milla Jovovich (in her breakthrough performance) and Brian Krause going through the same motions as Shields and Atkins did before them. When Jovovich tells Krause how she realizes she is now a woman, I did my best to stifle a laugh and failed. When the narrator says “through the eyes of innocence, they discover their sensuality,” I did a facepalm. Remember those unintentionally hilarious videos we watched in health class? Watching this trailer reminded me of them.

Movie trailers are supposed to get you excited about what they are advertising, not give you a reason to avoid it altogether. The one for “Return to the Blue Lagoon,” however, gave us more than enough reason to not bother taking a second trip to that deserted island. The sequel opened in theaters on August 2, 1991 and grossed only $3 million dollars against a budget of $11 million. Jovovich has since said this was the worst movie she has ever done, and I imagine any of the “Resident Evil” sequels are vastly more entertaining to sit through.

The only other thing which may have kept audiences away from “Return to the Blue Lagoon” was perhaps sheer jealousy. Krause got to make out with Jovovich while we sat back and watched. Deep down, you had to feel jealous about that. Rod Stewart was right, some guys have all the luck.

Feel free to check out the misbegotten trailer below.

‘Miss Bala’ is Far Too Average to Be the Least Bit Empowering

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Right now, 2019 is looking to be a year where I have gone from appreciating movies for what they are to instead wishing they were something better. I have already sat through M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” which started off promisingly, but ended up becoming a contrived mess which left me thinking of what it could and should have been. As much as I pride myself on analyzing movies for what they are, I couldn’t do this with “Glass” as it came with expectations impossible to ignore, and it self-destructed long before the infinitely frustrating conclusion.

Now we have another 2019 movie, “Miss Bala,” which proves to be just as frustrating if not more so. It has an intriguing premise of a young Latino woman caught up in a situation not of her making which has her playing both sides of the same coin to where she manipulates things to come out on top. But what results here is nothing more than a below average action thriller undone by cliched characters and a screenplay filled with contrived situations which willfully defy logic. A lot could have been done with this material, but the filmmakers have instead turned it into the equivalent of a subpar episode of “24.”

Gina Rodriguez of “Jane the Virgin” fame stars as Gloria, a makeup artist in Los Angeles who travels across the border to Tijuana to visit her best friend, Suzu (Cristina Rodlo), who is competing in a local beauty pageant. But during a party at a nightclub, their plans are suddenly thwarted when members of a drug cartel open fire and everyone runs for their lives. Suzu ends up disappearing and Gloria becomes desperate to find her, but this search leads to her getting kidnapped as she becomes a pawn of both drug dealers and the DEA.

Like I said, “Miss Bala” has a very intriguing premise which comes with a lot of promise. Like Cary Grant in “North by Northwest,” Gina Rodriguez plays a character who ends up in a situation not of her own making which leaves her looking guilty in the eyes of the world. What excited me was the anticipation of watching Gloria turn one side against the other as I was convinced she would do so in the most ingenious of ways. It’s fascinating to see a character go from being completely lost to gaining the upper hand once the instinct for survival kicks in.

Alas, “Miss Bala” is quickly undone by a screenplay which doesn’t do nearly enough to make Gloria’s transformation from a frightened civilian to a vengeful warrior emotionally fulfilling or believable. Writer Gareth Dunnett-Alcocer has constructed a kind of “connect-the-dots” screenplay which looks to take some characters and situations in interesting directions and instead resolves them in ways which feel far too pat and simplistic to where it’s like the filmmakers are telling us, “Remember who the good and bad guys are.”

As for the villains, they are a stereotypical bunch of drug cartel gang members who could occupy every other show on network television these days. The filmmakers attempt to balance things out by presenting us with DEA agents who prove to be as bad, but the moment where they turn against Gloria reeks of desperation as they can’t seem to decide what to do with characters who have not been developed in a satisfying way. Even worse, a certain character at the end is revealed to be an agent of another government agency, and it is one Gloria has even more of a reason to distrust than the DEA.

It’s a real shame because Rodriguez proves to be a formidable presence here as Gloria, and you can tell she put her heart and soul into this character as she fearlessly portrays the emotional turmoil of her character’s predicament from start to finish. Sadly, her transition from scared innocent to emboldened warrior never feels believable enough, but this is not necessarily her fault.

Aside from Rodriguez, you have Ismael Cruz Cordova playing an uber cool drug dealer and menace to society named Lino who takes pleasure in intimidating those he feels are beneath him. Part of me is getting sick of characters like these as they act so ridiculously confident even when there are numerous moments which make clear how foolish in who they trust. And just when Lino starts to get interesting, the character is rendered into a stereotypical bad guy through a storytelling device which feels tacked on only for the sake of tying things up quickly.

Anthony Mackie also shows up as another bad guy named Jimmy, but he is completely wasted here as he gives off the same thousand mile stares just like he did in “The Hate U Give.” And when he reappears in the movie’s last half to where we learn more about his character, I wanted to yell at the screen, “Seriously?”

“Miss Bala” was directed by Catherine Hardwicke who made one of the most unforgettable and emotionally visceral teen movies ever with “Thirteen.” I was hoping she would bring the same emotional urgency to this material, but perhaps she has softened her vision a bit too much in the wake of “Twilight” and “Red Riding Hood.” Hardwicke does direct some strong action sequences and she never lets the pace drag for a second, but she is unable to make this action thriller stand out from so many others like it.

I don’t know, maybe I am being a bit unfair to “Miss Bala” as it doesn’t aim to be a genre defying piece of cinema. But even as a simple B-movie with low aspirations, it never truly excites in the ways it wants to. Then again, perhaps I have been spoiled by portrayals of vicious gang members in movies like “Sicario” or “The Infiltrator” as they make the ones here look like paper-thin cartoon characters. For a motion picture looking to be a powerful piece of female empowerment, “Miss Bala” settles for something far less to where the finished project leaves not much of an aftertaste if any. Its ending has the promise of an ongoing franchise where Gloria will equate her skills with guns and deception with her love of makeup, I don’t think we will be seeing a follow-up to this one anytime soon.

It should be noted how this film is a remake of the 2011 Mexican film of the same name. I have not seen the original, but I did take the time to watch its trailer which shows it to be grittier and more interesting than what we got here. If nothing else, I hope this remake will get audiences more interested in the original, let alone make them aware of its existence. The critical acclaim which graced it is not about to be bestowed on this tepid version.

* * out of * * * *

 

‘Nightcrawler’ is a Brilliantly and Insanely Twisted Motion Picture

nightcrawler movie poster

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written in 2014.

Just when I thought I wouldn’t see a 2014 movie as twisted as “Gone Girl,” along comes “Nightcrawler.” Delving into the underground world of Los Angeles freelance crime journalism, this is a thriller which feels like a cross between “Taxi Driver” and “Network” as it follows characters who do not hesitate to cross over any and all ethical or moral considerations in order to survive another day in an infinitely cruel and competitive world. You will find yourself laughing at things you would normally never laugh at, but that’s because it serves as a way to deal with the increasingly insane scenarios which will leave you staring at the screen with your mouth open.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Louis Bloom, an alienated young man struggling to find work anywhere and everywhere. The movie starts off with him stealing materials from a construction site which he then attempts to sell at a scrap yard with little success. His attempts to find a job or even an unpaid internship prove to be utterly fruitless despite his best efforts and conniving ways, and he is a symbol of how many Americans who are having the toughest time finding work. Then one night while he’s driving on the freeway, he comes across a nasty car accident and, like many, he is tempted to take a closer look. This is when a camera crew led by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) drops by to film whatever footage he can get to sell to the local news station. Instantly intrigued, Louis goes out and buys a cheap video camera and starts filming crime scenes and human carnage which eventually catches the eye of veteran news producer, Nina (Rene Russo).

“Nightcrawler” marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy whose writing credits include “Freejack,” “Two for the Money” and “The Bourne Legacy.” With a limited budget, he succeeds in creating a crazy version of the American success story, proving it can be achieved but at a soul sucking price. Gyllenhaal, with a stare which cuts through the audience like a laser beam, gives us a character beyond determined to rise to the top of the TV news food chain. In many ways Louis is enigmatic as we don’t get to know too much about him, but no one can deny he is a full blown sociopath who has finally found something he can make a career at.

Gyllenhaal does some of his best work yet in “Nightcrawler,” and I’m not just saying this because he lost 20 to 30 pounds to play Louis. His focus as an actor is never in doubt as he makes Louis as compelling a human being as he is an insane one. Even as Louis throws all reason out the window, we cannot help but be mesmerized as Gyllenhaal makes him a highly unlikely antihero.

It’s also great to see Russo here as well as she brings Nina to a life in a way which showcases how vulnerable her character can be despite how hardened life has made her. This is a character clinging on to her job for dear life in a business prepared to chew her up and spit her out without a second thought. It should not be a surprise she crosses countless journalistic guidelines to get the bloody violent footage her audience is craving for. Whether or not she believes it is the right thing to do is beside the point because her survival in an unforgiving economy is foremost on her mind. You can chastise Nina and Louis all you want for the choices they make in life, but like anyone else, they are driven to survive by any means necessary.

I loved the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo as they constantly size each other up to where they firmly believe they have the other person figured out. As Louis gets more and more successful at capturing footage others could only dream of getting, and this eventually leads to him getting better equipment and a super cool car which goes super-fast, their relationship gets increasingly tense as he makes it clear to Nina who’s in charge. Nina observes Louis with both utter fascination and disgust as he stares right through her to where she can’t help but be taken in by him.

As “Nightcrawler” hurtles towards its wonderfully insane conclusion, Louis becomes a magician of sorts as he manipulates events to where he creates news he greatly profits from. We should despise him for what he does, but Gilroy has the audience firmly in his grip to where we can’t help but admire him for the devious things he has accomplished, and that’s regardless of what happens to others in his path.

Gyllenhaal was born to play Louis just as Russo was born to portray Nina, and both actors are well served by a supporting cast which matches them from scene for scene. The always reliable Bill Paxton plays Louis’ chief competitor, Joe Loder, and he is a hoot to watch as he tries to gain the upper hand only to see things blow up in his face. Also terrific is Riz Ahmed who plays Louis’ partner in crime footage coverage, Rick, a nice guy who hasn’t lost his moral bearings but is constantly forced to go against his better judgment in order to keep his job. Ahmed does great work as he makes us sympathize with Rick even as he gets into situations he can’t quite pull himself out of.

With “Nightcrawler,” Gilroy has given us a wonderfully twisted tale which shows how the American success story can become a reality if you’re willing to lose yourself in the process. What’s brilliant about the movie is it’s filled with characters molded by the world they live in. We can berate them all we want, but their actions speak more about what society has turned them into. In a time where employment opportunities are not as plentiful as they should be, it’s a little hard to blame these characters for what they do. But when we are forced to do the same, hopefully we can do it in a way that is nowhere as life threatening. Of course, that might just be wishful thinking.

I have to end this review with this piece of dialogue Louis Bloom has as it sums up the state of the world today perfectly:

“I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe, sir, is that good things come to those that work their asses off, and that good people such as yourself, who reach the top of the mountain, didn’t just fall there. My motto is: if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.”

* * * * out of * * * *

Please check out the interview I did with Gyllenhaal and Russo on “Nightcrawler” which I conducted on behalf of We Got This Covered down below.

‘Grandma’ Marks Lily Tomlin’s First Lead Role in a Movie in Decades

grandma movie poster

It’s a shock to realize ”Grandma” marks Lily Tomlin’s first leading role in a motion picture in 27 years, her last being in 1988’s “Big Business” opposite Bette Midler. Tomlin has been such a prolific presence in just about all forms of entertainment, be it movies, television or the theater, and there’s no stopping her even in her 70’s. But her triumphant return to lead actress proves to be well worth the wait as this movie makes great use of her endless talents.

Tomlin plays Elle Reid, a poet who is as celebrated as she is misanthropic, but even she would say this about herself. We learn her longtime partner passed away some time ago, and she’s still trying to recover from this loss. As the movie starts, she breaks up with her much younger girlfriend, Olivia (the always wonderful Judy Greer), in a genuinely cruel and dismissive way. This should have us hating Elle from the get go, but we can see there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Shortly thereafter, Elle is visited by her 18-year-old granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), who informs her she’s pregnant by her no-good stoner boyfriend and wants to get an abortion. The procedure costs $600 dollars, and she has already set up an appointment at a local clinic. Elle, however, is broke and has no credit cards as she has long since cancelled them (I guess such a thing is possible in this day and age) and turned them into tree ornaments. As a result, Elle and Sage go on a road trip to get the money, and this involves Elle reconnecting with people from her past and Sage discovering how she has to stick up for herself from now on.

From a distance “Grandma” sounds like another road/buddy comedy which goes through the motions we have gotten all too familiar with, but this is not the case. The movie allows its main characters to go on a journey which will allow them to deal with life in ways far more productive than the ones they have utilized thus far. It is also filled with wonderfully down to earth and relatable characters, something I am always pleased to see in a time where local multiplexes remain dominated by superhero movies.

It is really gratifying to see Tomlin kick ass on the silver screen even after so many years. Her character of Elle is cantankerous to say the least, but Tomlin slowly lets you see what is tearing away at her soul as she is forced to deal with past events which have left her and others in a state of disrepair. As U2 once sang, she is stuck in a moment (several actually) that she can’t get out of.

As with any other role she has played throughout her long and justly celebrated career, Tomlin infuses Elle with a complexity and a good dose of humor which makes her irreplaceable in a movie like this. Her character is not one to mess with easily as she does not let anyone take her down without a fight. Just watch her handle her granddaughter’s no good boyfriend as he refuses to take any responsibility for anything he does in his life. It should be absolutely no surprise she does him in when he acts disrespectfully towards Sage.

Also, the fact Elle is gay truly becomes an afterthought after not too long. The realization of this should make us realize how far we have come as a society. We have become far more accepting as a culture of other peoples’ difference, and coming to see this feels like a huge relief.

Julia Garner ends up making quite the impression as Sage as her character also goes on a journey which takes her from being a very vulnerable individual to one stronger and far more prepared to defend herself in a world which can be infinitely unforgiving. Garner has appeared in “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For,” and it’s great to watch her hold her own with Tomlin.

As for the other actors, it’s always a joy to see Judy Greer in anything, and she still looks infinitely lovely even as her character gets a number of insults hurled at her. Sam Elliott is excellent as Karl, a former lover of Elle’s who can barely hide the hurt he feels after being spurned by her years before. Marcia Gay Harden plays Elle’s daughter, Judy, and she is a powerhouse here as we see how Judy’s troubled upbringing has molded her into the obsessive-compulsive person she has long since become.

“Grandma” also marks one of the last screen performances of the late Elizabeth Pena before her death at far too young an age. Pena plays Carla, a restaurant owner who is somewhat interested in buying some books from Elle. It’s a shock to see Pena here because I felt like I had already seen the last of her on the silver screen, but there’s still a piece of her unforgettable talent for everyone to see. She was a great presence from one movie to the next, and she will be missed.

This movie was written and directed by Paul Weitz, and many of his movies like “About a Boy,” “In Good Company” and even “American Pie” deal with humanity at its most intimate. “Grandma” was made for under a million dollars, far less than what most independent films get made for these days, and this helps to make it Weitz’s most intimate movie yet. The characters and situations they experience feel real and not easily faked, and it’s always refreshing to see a movie where everything feels genuinely down to earth.

“Grandma” does deal with the very touchy subject of abortion, but it does so in a way that is thoughtful and intelligent. Weitz isn’t out to make some big political statement on the subject, but he does acknowledge the fact it is legal and that people have their reasons for getting one. But this movie is not at all about abortion. It is really about the journey Elle and Sage take together and how it helps them to move on into the future. Whether you are talking about movies or real life, it is always about the journey, not necessarily the destination.

But yes, the main reason to see “Grandma” is for Tomlin who reminds us once again why she is one of the greatest comedians and actresses of all time. She dominates each scene she’s in and holds our attention for every second. There are many reasons why Tomlin has lasted as long as she has in show business, and her performance in “Grandma” is just the latest. I don’t care how old she is because there’s no stopping her, ever.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Paul Weitz and Sam Elliott Talk About the Making of ‘Grandma’

grandma tomlin and elliott

Grandma” marked the great Lily Tomlin’s first leading role in a motion picture in 27 years, the last being 1988’s “Big Business” in which she starred opposite Bette Midler. Here she plays Ellie Reid, a misanthropic poet who is still mourning the death of her longtime partner. As the movie begins, Ellie coldly breaks up with her girlfriend (played by Judy Greer) and is met by her granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) who desperately needs $600 dollars by sundown for an abortion. This leads Ellie and Sage to go on a road trip to get the money, and they find themselves uncovering dark secrets from the past which must be reckoned with.

“Grandma’s” press conference was held back in 2015 at the London Hotel in West Hollywood, California, and it was attended by Tomlin, the movie’s writer and director Paul Weitz, and co-star Sam Elliott.

Weitz’s previous films include “American Pie” which he co-directed with his brother Chris, “About a Boy” which featured one of Hugh Grant’s best performances, and “Being Flynn” which starred Robert De Niro and Paul Dano. Weitz previously worked with Tomlin on the movie “Admission,” and this led him to write the part of Ellie Reid with her in mind.

grandma movie poster

When it comes to writing a screenplay, one has to wonder how somebody does that. Does the writer treat it like a journey where they don’t know how it will end, or do they have the beginning, middle and end in mind when they start writing? I asked Weitz about this, and he gave us some insight on his writing process and of what story is really all about for him.

Paul Weitz: In terms of the script, I do think it’s a good sign for me when I kind of know what the ending is. It’s very clear that Sage ends up learning so much from Lily’s character in the movie like learning how to stand up for herself and learning not to shy away from the fight. It’s not clear to me what Lily’s character has gained from this until the end when this sort of fierce love that she has had for her dead partner, she’s able to let go of that guilt because of the protectiveness and kindness to her granddaughter. The most emotional thing in the movie to me is not the moment where Lily is crying. It’s actually a moment where she’s laughing and she’s thinking about some old joke that her partner said which made her laugh. It’s a really private moment and I really like that, and I like that it’s about letting go of stuff and moving on to something with a lot of up to miss him despite all the crap she’s been through.

Elliott plays Karl, one of Ellie’s former lovers who is quite perturbed by her sudden reappearance in his life. The actor is of course known for his deep and resonant voice which has served him well in one movie after another whether it’s “The Big Lebowski” or “Thank You for Smoking.” This led to my question of how he manages to keep his voice so deep and bold after so many years.

Sam Elliott: Uh, I don’t know. It actually gets deeper as time goes on if that makes sense. I’ve been blessed with it I guess. I sang very early on. My mom used to drag me to sing in a choir when I was a kid, and I was always involved with these acapella choruses and different things always through school. Its good fortune as it turns out. It’s not a matter of management, it’s just gravity.

“Grandma” is a terrific comedy drama filled with strong dialogue and terrific performances, and it is worth checking out. It is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Whether Empty or Half Full, This ‘Glass’ is a Frustrating Misfire

glass movie poster

This is the first M. Night Shyamalan film I have looked forward to watching in over a decade. After the cinematic atrocity which was “The Last Airbender,” I had given up all hope of him returning to his former filmmaking glory. Then there was “After Earth” which did the impossible; it robbed Will Smith of his natural charisma, and it came with the pathetic tagline of “fear is a choice.” But now we have this highly anticipated 2019 film which combines characters from “Unbreakable” and “Split,” the latter being the first Shyamalan movie in ages to earn a fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. As much as I try to leave my expectations at the door, this one piqued my interest ever since I got a look at its first trailer.

Well, the good news is that “Glass” is no “Last Airbender” as Shyamalan has managed to find his footing again as a filmmaker. The bad news is “The Sixth Sense” director still has yet to regain his mojo as a screenwriter. This long-awaited conclusion to his own superhero trilogy proves to be a disappointing misfire as the promises it looked to contain fall flat long before its misconceived climax which contains more endings than “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” and proves to be as frustrating as the one in “The Matrix Revolutions.”

Through a series of events, both David Dunn (Bruce Willis) and Kevin Wendell Crumb and his 23 different personalities which he refers to as The Horde (all of them played by James McAvoy) end up being imprisoned at a mental institution where Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson) has resided at for over a decade. The three are put under the care of Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson), a psychiatrist whose specialty is working with patients whom she believes are suffering from delusions of grandeur. She wants to convince them they are not the superhuman beings they believe themselves to be, but we already know she will be in for one hell of a surprise.

“Glass” starts off interestingly enough as it reintroduces us to its three main characters with underplayed relish. Seeing David do battle with the most dangerous of Kevin’s personalities, The Beast, is fun as we see these comic book characters, or superheroes if you will, battle one another in a world more real to us than any in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It also doesn’t take too long for these two to be put under the same roof with Mr. Glass who looks to be in a vegetative state, but we know when looking into his twitchy eyes that he is waiting to prove his latest comic book theory for all the world to see. Seeing Jackson’s face reminded me of when Dr. Loomis confronted a young Michael Myers in “Halloween” as he stared listlessly out a window. Loomis says to him, “You fooled them, haven’t you Michael? But not me…”

But once “Glass” moves into the mental asylum, Shyamalan’s version of Arkham, the film begins to fall apart as these three characters cannot come together in a fully satisfying way, and things begin to drag as he underplays everything to where everyone needed an overdose of coffee or Red Bull. Granted, Shyamalan likes to underplay things instead of numbing us with endless explosions and characters yelling at one another for no special reason, but I would have loved it if he presented his stories in an overblown manner for once.

And yes, being an M. Night Shyamalan film, this one has the kind of twists he has been employing constantly since “The Sixth Sense.” However, the twists he has in store for us in “Glass” failed to blow my mind in any stimulating way, and they only served to make an already frustrating film even more frustrating as a result. Nothing comes together in a way which makes much sense, and it reminded me of how sick I get of Shyamalan’s need to stay one step ahead of the audience in an effort to outdo his previous work. This has been a big problem for me since “The Village,” and things aren’t getting much better.

By the time he reveals his twists in “Glass,” I had already lost much interest in the story as I found my mind wandering constantly to where thoughts of “Good Will Hunting” danced in my head. As much as I am determined to accept movies for what they are instead of what I want them to be, I kept thinking of the various ways this one could have been greatly improved. Seriously, it would have been far more interesting to see these three men trapped in a room together to where they are forced to deal with one another in a way they could not have expected. This could have been a superhero movie meets “The Breakfast Club” as these three could have discovered all the things they had in common to where they realize how all they have is each other.

As for the acting, it is mostly very good. It’s nice to see Bruce Willis reprising one of his best characters for the first time in years, and playing David Dunn allows the “Die Hard” actor to climb out of the VOD and direct to DVD muck he has been stuck in for far too long now (“Marauders” anyone?). James McAvoy has an actor’s dream role as he plays a character with multiple personalities, and he realizes each one with tremendous thought and precision to where I was in awe at what he pulled off here. As for Samuel L. Jackson, his role as Elijah/Mr. Glass remains one of his most unique as he portrays a “bad-ass motherfucker” who uses his mind instead of a gun or his fists to fulfill his needs.

The only performance I had issues with was Sarah Paulson’s. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a fantastic actress who has given many great performances and will give many more in the future, but watching her portray Dr. Ellie Staple was an extraordinarily strange experience. This is not altogether her fault as her character is ill-defined and not conceived in a particularly interesting way, and even when revelations about Ellie are made in the last act, it is not enough to save Paulson’s talents from being wasted. The actress spends most of her time staring at the three main characters or into the camera and looking ridiculously ethereal from start to finish, and it got to where I wanted to yell at the screen, “Hey, act normal! Stop looking so serene!”

For what it’s worth, “Glass” does represent a big step up for Shyamalan as a director. He still shows a solid skill for generating moments of high tension, and this is especially evident in the scene where a male nurse threatens to drop a flashlight onto Elijah’s fragile body. Even though the proceedings could have used a serious energy injection, Shyamalan still shows signs of a director’s mastery of suspense which I hope will serve him well in the future. There are only so many filmmakers who can fall down so far and get a second chance in Hollywood, and I am certain the box office will make clear he is here to stay. But as a writer, he still needs a helping hand as the screenplay has several plot holes you could drive a fleet of double decker busses through.

To watch “Glass” is to analyze it for what it could have been instead of what it is. Shyamalan has succeeded in creating a cinematic universe which Hollywood studios salivate over on a regular basis as the possibilities for sequels appeal to them greatly, but what ends up on the silver screen is inescapably underwhelming. I am happy to say it is no “Last Airbender” and infinitely more entertaining than “After Earth,” but Shyamalan still has yet to regain his former glory as a celebrated filmmaker in the eyes of audiences around the world.

* * out of * * * *