Synopsis: A young Viking prince embarks on a quest to avenge his father’s murder.
Release Date: April 22, 2022
Thoughts: If you are wondering why the spike in previews for upcoming 2022 films, attribute it to my being won over by a nagging curiosity to take a quick peek at several titles coming down the pike with intriguing premises, interesting casts, or a mixture of both. Take The Northman, for a prime example. Viking prince and hard-scrabble armies in bloody battles? Uh, yeah! Cast roster that reads like a MN Movie Man must-see list? You better believe it. Director known for visceral projects that aren’t aiming to please the masses but firmly establish a sense of reality even in circumstances that lean toward fantasy? Bingo! Led by Alexander Skarsgård (The Legend of Tarzan) and featuring Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos), Anya Taylor-Joy (Last Night in Soho), Ethan Hawke (Zeros and Ones), Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man: No Way Home) and featuring a rare appearance by singer/sometimes actress Björk, The Northman, directed by Robert Eggers (The Witch) is already a much-anticipated title for many and you can add me to that list as well.
Synopsis: An aspiring fashion designer is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer. But the glamour is not all it appears to be and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something darker.
Review: Time flies when you’re coming out of lockdown. It seems like only yesterday I saw the first trailer for this mystery within a horror film directed by Edgar Wright (The World’s End) and couldn’t wait for its release date to arrive and now it’s finally here. OK, so it was only May but that was five months ago, and a lot has happened since then. It’s a rare pleasure when a movie is as good as it is advertised to be and it’s a true unicorn when the resulting film is just a tad bit better, and I think Last Night in Soho may inch out it’s well edited preview by a few blonde hairs. While it’s going to divide a great number of people that want the third act to be as elusive as the first two, this is a movie that ultimately has the general consumer at heart rather than the niche crowd…and what’s wrong with that?
I tend to get a kick out of people that wish they lived in another decade. Really? As a (insert anything other than straight while male) you wanted to live in a different time when you had even less rights and freedom to be who you were? Well sure, the clothes may have been wilder, and the music was better but still…you might be sacrificing liberation for the overall visualization of the time and that wouldn’t be the best. Yet I must admit the opening of Last Night in Soho, featuring Thomasin McKenzie’s ‘60s obsessed Eloise flouncing around her time capsule-like bedroom in a dress of her own creation is a bouncy way to start what ends on a much different note. Living with her gran (Rita Tushingham) after mum passed away, Eloise has a passion for fashion and just wants to study at a top London fashion school.
Receiving her acceptance letter at the top of the film, this country mouse heads to the big city with many of the same dreams her mother had and, as we can tell, suppressing similar mental health issues that caused her to return home without achieving them. Eloise will be different though, and when her original living situation with an impossible roommate Jacosta (Synnøve Karlsen) doesn’t work out, she seeks out a bedsit on the third floor of an assuming row house owned by Mrs. Collins (the late, great Dame Diana Rigg, Breathe).
She’s barely settled and sleeping on her first night that something odd happens. Always a bit of a dreamer, Elosie has a whooper. She fantasizes she’s a new girl in town, Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, Radioactive), during the swinging ‘60s who wants to make it as a singer and hopes she can do it on talent alone. Meeting the enigmatic Jack (Matt Smith, Terminator Genisys) at a luxe club who thinks she’s the tops, he sweeps her off her feet and the world is hers for the taking. It’s a beautiful dream world Eloise has created…so how did the “love bite” Jack gave Sandie wind up on her neck the next morning? As the lines between the reality of Eloise and the fantasy of Sandie start to blur, the dreams of the night seep into her day. Night after night, Eloise appears to travel back in time and doesn’t exactly live as Sandie but peers over her shoulder into her world…a world that first turns dark, then violent, then deadly.
Written by Wright and Krysty Wilson-Cairns (1917), the film is a filled with twists and turns, not to mention some brilliant camera work and effects that have McKenzie and Taylor-Joy switching places multiple times during scenes. One moment it’s Eloise dancing with Jack, the next it’s Sandie. It’s disorienting and very much meant to be – yet it’s always easy to track what direction the movie is heading, just thankfully not where it will end up. After seeing the film I’ve read the finale hasn’t sat well with people and I suppose I can see why. It’s far more in line with traditional suspense tropes and less of the dreamy quality employed so well in the first 90 minutes, but I wasn’t complaining at all. It’s still vehemently performed by the cast – that’s undeniable.
Playing like Wright had an Argento filter on his camera, the production design is awash with Argento’s favorite bold color palettes and the Italian’s maestro’s penchant for gore that comes out of nowhere. The film is restrained up unto a point but eventually let’s its bloody banner wave, but it has purpose. Smith and Taylor-Joy both look like they stepped out of a time machine for their roles, even if Taylor-Joy is getting dramatically overrated (please witness her 5-minute-long YouTube version of Petula Clark’s Downtown…or maybe you shouldn’t, she sings it in the movie and takes half that amount of time). McKenzie (True History of the Kelly Gang) has the heavy lifting to do, and she has muscles of steel by the end. It’s a nervy performance that works well in harmony with the other performers that are so still and solid. Acting stalwarts Terence Stamp (Big Eyes) and Tushingham (The Owners) are divine in their limited screen time and what a wonderful showcase for Rigg in her final screen appearance, looking radiant.
An ambitiously rich production that boasts eye-popping visuals and an array of period music to create a dazzling soundtrack, Last Night in Soho gooses the audience with increasing energy as it goes along. The scares are nicely timed and lingering, benefitting from delivery that has polish and an awareness of what type of movie everyone set out to make. Arriving in time for Halloween, it’s a top-notch selection for those looking for creativity and art that jumps out at them, along with an imaginative story that dips and swerves to keep you guessing.
Synopsis: A young girl, passionate about fashion design, is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s where she encounters her idol, a dazzling wannabe singer. But 1960s London is not what it seems, and time seems to fall apart with shady consequences.
Release Date: October 22, 2021
Thoughts: I normally don’t get to have the “full” movie-going experience anymore when going to theaters. Ha… “when I go to theaters” that hasn’t happened in over a year! Sorry, let’s start again.
Back when I went to theaters, I normally didn’t get to have the “full” movie-going experience because there are rarely previews at press screenings. Movie trailers in general don’t tend to interest me anymore because I can just look at the length and know they are going to show the majority of the film, so I don’t even bother. It’s helped a great deal in going in blind, so I’ll usually just watch the first 30-60 seconds to get a feel and then shut it off.
With Last Night in Soho, I found that I wasn’t able to turn it off after 30 seconds, 60 seconds, 90 seconds…I had to watch the whole thing. An eternal caveat I need to remember is that every bad movie can be edited into a fantastic trailer but there’s something about this new Edgar Wright (The World’s End) thriller arriving in October that looks like it is up to something good. Starring exciting up and comers Anya Taylor-Joy (Radioactive) and Thomasin McKenzie (Jojo Rabbit), it shows a lot but tells a little – the perfect kind of teaser. Other trailers may arrive as the release date grows near, but I don’t need to see anything more. Along with the intriguing poster…I’m sold at first glance on Last Night in Soho.
Synopsis: The story of pioneering scientist Marie Curie through her extraordinary life and her enduring legacies – the passionate partnerships, her shining scientific breakthroughs, and the darker consequences that followed.
Stars: Rosamund Pike, Anya Taylor-Joy, Aneurin Barnard, Sam Riley, Simon Russell Beale, Jonathan Aris
Director: Marjane Satrapi
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: With the increasing convenience of streaming services available to the general public, it has become much easier to tell stories at a pace that’s entirely up to the filmmaker. Gone are the days where writers, directors, and stars are tied to having to decide between a two-and-a-half-hour movie or a two night miniseries. Now there’s the limited series that can run anywhere between three and twelve episodes, giving the space that’s needed if a life, a legacy, an event won’t fit into the same old standard package.
Releasing on Amazon Prime after debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2019, Radioactive is an odd case of a film recounting a life that feels shortchanged. Though it has an admirable cast, a talented director, and focuses on a source and subject that hasn’t been explored in this kind of narrative detail before, you leave the movie without any deeper understanding. Sure, you may glean some Jeopardy! factoids about the advances Marie Curie brought forth but it’s nothing that speaks to any kind of emotional resonance it appears the filmmakers were attempting to uncover.
Before watching Radioactive it’s sad to say my only exposure to Marie Curie on film was in the much-maligned but cult favorite Young Einstein from 1988. Aside from that supporting role, Curie was a brief topic in my history classes with the Polish scientist living in Paris being given credit for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium and her development of the theory of radioactivity alongside her husband Pierre. Her work earned her not one but two Nobel prizes, the first woman to ever win the award and the only female to ever win it a second time. Modern medicine and general science effectively owes its practice to her pioneering efforts.
Much of director Marjane Satrapi’s film covers these breakthroughs and even flashes forward decades in time to the lasting effects (good and bad) of Curie’s work. Basing the film off of Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss, screenwriter Jack Thorne (How I Live Now) hits all the necessary milestones with a workmanlike efficiency and a kind of rote necessity. This has the effect of shading some of the make or break moments as less urgent and more like another day at the office for the Curies instead of the gigantic scientific innovations they were. Surely the Curies were more multi-dimensional than Thorne’s screenplay makes them out to be and not the drones going through the emotional touchstones of the ups and downs of being married partners that also worked together.
Things get even more rocky when the action shifts from science to Marie’s personal life. As Marie, Rosamund Pike (Jack Reacher) is the right choice for the role, I think, but isn’t served well by Thorne’s sedate dialogue. You can sometimes feel Pike itching to roll her eyes at the words she has to utter, especially when Curie moves from celebrated physicist to pariah almost overnight thanks to a relationship scandal. Viewed now, you almost want to throw something at the screen for the way the brilliant woman is thrown to the wolves but then again the historical context bears remembering. It’s once Marie starts to suffer the effects from being so close to the radium that Pike gets down to her acting business and Satrapi lets her leading lady be looser with the material. Working with a fine but not memorable Sam Reilly (Sometimes Always Never) as her husband, Pike starts to take control of the movie rather forcefully, so much so that the last forty minutes of Radioactive are downright compelling. It only makes you wish the previous sixty minutes were as good as the final act when Marie was tackling her last battle alongside her daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy, Split) who would soon after have a Nobel Prize of her own.
In the end, I was left wondering if Radioactive wouldn’t have worked better like the recent Netflix limited series Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker. In four episodes totaling a little over three hours, the history of another important female was told and felt like a thorough examination that didn’t cut corners. Clocking in at barely over ninety minutes, Radioactive feels like it needed more time to get under Marie’s skin and certainly with the cast and creative team Satrapi assembled (the haunting music from Evgueni & Sacha Galperine who also worked on the score for 2019 Oscar nominee Corpus Christi is right on the money) it would have truly glowed bright.
Synopsis: Security guard David Dunn uses his supernatural abilities to track Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed man who has twenty-four personalities.
Stars: Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Spencer Treat Clark
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Running Length: 129 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Seeing that this is a spoiler-free zone I have to say up front that while you’re not going to get much in the way of big reveals when it comes to Glass, it’s impossible to talk about the movie at all if you haven’t seen the two films that came before. So if you haven’t seen Unbreakable or Split and don’t want to know key plot points, now is the time to turn back.
Okay…let’s get on with it.
Director M. Night Shyamalan is famous for his twist endings that send the movie and audience into a tail spin right at the conclusion, calling into question everything we’ve been watching for the previous two hours. At first, it was a fun parlor game to predict what he had up his sleeve until it became evident that the twist was both the most interesting thing about the film and its downfall. At the end of Split, Shyamalan lobbed a soft curveball at us before the credits but then laid out a whopper when he brought back Bruce Willis’ character from Unbreakable for a brief scene that suggested the two movies had a common bond that would become evident in a future film.
With the unexpected success of Split (not to mention 2015’s scary romp The Visit) Shyamalan was able to parlay his renewed good standing in Hollywood and his hefty profits into capping off a trilogy supposedly always at the back of his brain. That seems like a convenient way to pat yourself on the back in hindsight but, okay, let’s just go with the claim that Shyamalan always imagined he’d make Unbreakable, Split, and Glass as a trio of films that suggested real life superheroes and mega villains truly did walk among us.
So where did we leave off with the previous films? At the end of Unbreakable, David Dunn (Willis, Looper) had just accepted his developing powers that gave him the ability to see the bad deeds of others just by touch while his body proved to be indestructible. At the same time, the mysterious Mr. Glass, (Samuel L. Jackson, The Hateful Eight) with a rare disorder that caused his bones to break with the greatest of ease, showed his true colors as a master criminal that orchestrated multiple catastrophic events in an attempt to find a man like Dunn to be his foe. Shyamalan’s late-breaking twist gave way to an abysmal wrap-up via on screen text that did no one any favors.
The last time we saw Kevin, James McAvoy’s (Trance) disturbed Split character with dissociative identity disorder, he had transformed into a 24th personality known as The Beast. Though his kidnapping victim Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy, The VVitch) managed to escape, The Beast has joined with the rest of the angrier personalities within Kevin to form The Horde and has continued to hunt young girls that are “unbroken”. Casey’s recovery has included fleeing her abusive uncle, taking up residence with a foster family, and attending the same school as Dunn’s son, Joseph ( Spencer Treat Clark, The Town that Dreaded Sundown)
The movie begins with Dunn doling out vigilante justice as The Overseer in a very Michael Myers stalker-ish way, with his ultimate goal to hunt down The Horde and find a new batch of missing girls. When Dunn and Kevin are captured by the ambitious Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson, 12 Years a Slave) and brought to a remote psychiatric hospital for testing, Dunn is reunited with Mr. Glass who has been waiting over a decade to initiate the next phase in his evil plan.
I wish I could say that Glass is the amped-up finale it’s being advertised as but sadly it’s a movie that coasts instead of soars. While the first third of the film creates some genuine interest as we see the characters from previous films crossover, it quickly devolves into talky repetition that feels indulgent on several levels. Shyamalan can’t quite get out of his own way where the crux of the story lies, falling into a black hole of superhero mythos he can’t adequately tie into the action onscreen. The finale especially feels like a convergence of so many ideas that aren’t fully realized, making it all feel slightly half-baked and not as satisfying as I would have liked.
While I genuinely like all the actors in the movie, I struggle with praise for any of them here. McAvoy has the showiest role…and he knows it. Wheras in Split the shifts between Kevin’s multiple personalities seemed like an actor exercising considerable control in delineation of characters, in Glass we get to meet even more of the alters and that starts to trip up McAvoy early on. With Shyamalan giving him far too much room to play, the performance feels overworked. You’d be forgiven if you forget Willis is in the movie, he’s so low-key Paulson practically has to shake him awake in their scenes and he outright disappears for a long stretch in the middle section of the film. Jackson seems to having more fun than the rest, if only Mr. Glass had been giving any new defining character trait in this film…but it’s just a repeat of work that’s been done 19 years ago.
This is all too bad because the film is rather well made thanks to thoughtfully constructed scenes by cinematographer Mike Gioulakis. Let it also never be said that Shyamalan doesn’t fill the screen with visual clues for audiences to pick up on along the way. Even working with a smaller budget, Shyamalan has stretched his coin with intelligence, spending the money on important visual effects and keeping the location shooting to a minimum. What they didn’t spend money on? A decent make-up artist. Poor Charlayne Woodard looks like she’s melting under her old-age make-up as Jackson’s mother – we never forget the actress is five years younger than that actor playing her son.
As with most Shyamalan films, the filmmaker rounds out Glass with a coda to send audiences out with more to think about and I have to give some credit to the director for finding a way to get us back in his corner right at the very end. It’s not quite enough to make the movie a true success but it doesn’t shatter the film experience completely.
Synopsis: Five young mutants, just discovering their abilities while held in a secret facility against their will, fight to escape their past sins and save themselves
Release Date: April 13, 2018
Thoughts: The recent Friday the 13th saw the arrival of Happy Death Day, a ho-hum low-impact entry in the profitable horror genre. The next Friday the 13th in April 2018 might have more of a humdinger in store and that has me interested. In the midst of growing comic book fatigue from audiences, Marvel and 20th Century Fox have taken a left turn and introduced some horror into their action packed universe. The New Mutants is the first release in an intended trilogy and it appears to have more scares on the menu than the X-Men series it was spun-off from. Directed by Josh Boone (The Fault in Our Stars) and featuring a nice supply of up and coming stars, I’m hoping this one pays off and other franchises take note.
Synopsis: After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.
Stars: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor Joy, Betty Buckley, Jessica Sula, Haley Lu Richardson
Review: I hate to say it, but M. Night Shyamalan brought it all on himself. With a succession of movies, the writer/director (producer, cameo, etc.) introduced sophisticated ideas wrapped in a mystery to less and less fanfare. Known more for his twist endings than the sum total of his accomplishments, the director of The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs began to lose himself in the inner-workings of his storytelling. Sacrificing plot, good dialogue, and characterization for that one moment, “the twist”, that would entice an audience into sticking with the film despite the absurdity of it all, it wasn’t long before Shyamalan’s name stopped being the selling point and instead became an Achilles Heel.
Laying low for a few years and producing the occasional movie or TV show, Shyamalan emerged from the shadows with 2015’s The Visit, a tight little scare fest made for a small fee which wound up doing surprisingly good business. Showing he wasn’t entirely beholden to his twist endings (though that film did have one), good will led Shyamalan back into the conversation and it felt as if his second act in Hollywood had begun.
The first thing I’ll tell you about Shyamalan’s Split, and to keep spoilers squashed I won’t tell you much, is to do your best to go in without thinking of this as the horror film its being falsely marketed as. True, the film boasts a few nerve jangling moments and an overall sense of dread usually reserved for films with a high body count, but I made the mistake of expecting a thrill ride when in reality Split is more like an uncomfortable Sunday drive.
A trio of girls celebrating a birthday at a local mall are abducted in the parking lot and held captive in an underground compound by a man (James McAvoy, Trance) with dissociative identity disorder (DID). While two of the girls (Jessica Sula & Haley Lu Richardson, both largely forgettable) plot a way of escape, the third (Anya Taylor Joy, Morgan & The Witch) takes a different approach, recognizing their captor could be manipulated depending on which of his 23 personalities they are talking to. Time is running out, though, for several of the identities talk of a 24th personality, The Beast, that’s “on the move.” Meanwhile, the man’s psychiatrist (Betty Buckley, Carrie), disturbed by a concerning change in demeanor for her patient, attempts to lure out the new personality that’s been causing trouble.
To me there are two short films going on here with overlapping ideas that Shyamalan couldn’t quite stretch to feature length. The first is the kidnapping plot with its increasingly desperate attempts at escape from the teenagers and the second is a film centered on the psychiatrist exploring the inner workings of DID. Both have some value and are staged nicely by Shyamalan with tight close-ups that give the film a claustrophobic feeling but to really take on discussions of mental illness Split needed to choose which story to tell and it never can decide.
Taylor Joy’s saucer-eyes look great in a Shyamalan close-up and the actress keeps a sense of mystery along the way that’s as interesting as it is slightly creepy. Through flashbacks we see her as a child spending time with her father and uncle; there’s something off about these memories and as the film progresses, we begin to see why. Shyamalan throws a lot of unspoken feelings at Taylor Joy and asks her to fill in the blanks which she winds up conveying quite convincingly.
Surprisingly, it’s Buckley that nearly steals the show…though considering her storied history on stage and screen it’s not that surprising at all. Her therapy sessions with McAvoy’s character(s) give the film it’s most crackling edge and I kept wondering if these intimately crafted scenes hadn’t originally been written for the stage. Buckley doesn’t appear on screen as often as she should but her performance here makes you wish she would.
At the end of the day, though, this is McAvoy’s picture and he walks away with the whole kit and caboodle. There’s such a very fine line between honest and camp when it comes to playing a character with multiple personalities but McAvoy approaches each with a level of dignity and respect. True, there are some moments McAvoy got too actor-y for my taste but overall it’s a dynamic, full-bodied performance that goes far beyond simply changing his voice or how he holds himself. With each new personality introduced, McAvoy seems to change appearance entirely which makes the impending arrival of the feared 24th identity even more ominous.
Audiences familiar with Shyamalan have been well trained to prepare for a twist but my advice would be not to look too hard. There are a few late-breaking turns that won’t come as a total surprise and one big shocker at the end you’re either going to love or hate (the audience at mine was an audible mixture of both) but Split is less concerned with fooling its audience and more interested in bringing them into the mind of trauma victims coping with their past in the present. It’s not an entirely successful film (and at nearly two hours, a too long one at that) but it’s stuck with me just like Shyamalan’s earlier work did.
Synopsis: Kevin, a man with at least 23 different personalities, is compelled to abduct three teenage girls. As they are held captive, a final personality – “The Beast” – begins to materialize.
Release Date: January 20, 2017
Thoughts: There was a time when the presence of director M. Night Shyamalan’s name on a poster or movie trailer would elicit a little shiver down your spine. Then came a string of overstuffed, self-serving duds that found his name removed from all marketing materials in order to not tip off audiences he was involved. Then along came the surprisingly strong (and scary!) The Visit in 2015 and Shyamalan got some of that clout back…and I’m hoping that Split continues the Shyamalan-aissance. The latest thriller with a twist finds James McAvoy (Trance) with multiple personalities holding three girls hostage and there’s some nice potential here for some spooky scenery chewing. With January no longer that foreboding dumping ground for useless films that it once was, could Split ring in the New Year with a yelp?
Synopsis: A corporate risk-management consultant has to decide and determine whether or not to terminate an artificial being’s life that was made in a laboratory environment.
Release Date: September 2, 2016
Thoughts: Though I feel like I’ve seen this overall plot before (as recently as 2015’s Ex Machina), Morgan has a lot of positives going for it. It wasn’t made for much but it looks nice and expensive, it has a cast blooming with both interesting actresses on the rise (Kate Mara, Iron Man 2, and Anya Taylor-Joy, The Witch, and Rose Leslie, Honeymoon) as well as veteran character actors (Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight; Paul Giamatti, San Andreas). It’s also produced by Ridley Scott (The Martian)…but then again his son did direct it so I’m sure he’s wearing his producer hat while drinking out of his Best Dad Ever mug. The last Scott offspring that directed a movie was Jordan and she gave us the underrated gem Cracks so here’s hoping an eye for unsettling films runs in the family.