Glass

I’m afraid I feel compelled to start my comments here with a bad joke. My opinion on this film is not as clear as a pane of…oh, you know.  There was a lot that I liked about the concept, set up and visualizations here, but there are plot holes, trails not followed and an ending that is frustratingly opaque. “Glass” should be better than it is, but in many ways I don’t think it can. M. Night Shyamalan has created a set up for his super hero epic, but stops short of committing to the characters he created to continue his mythologizing of comic books. I suspect a lot of people will be pissed off at this.

I was a fan of “Unbreakable” when it arrived 19 years ago. The notion that a sequel might be coming was appealing but not essential to me. I pretty much got the point of that story and it felt complete. After pitting out with some films that are reviled by film fans, Shyamalan seemed to redeem himself with an effective thriller with “Split” two years ago. In a surprise, as the film was wrapping, it is revealed that this story was taking place in the same world as “Unbreakable” and it set up this sequel with just a little bit of effort. The problem he now faced is making that set up pay off.

To begin with, the return of Bruce Willis in a film by Shyamalan is promising. A couple of hours before going to see this, I watched the “Death Wish” remake from last year. Willis seemed to be sleepwalking through that part, but here he feels more invested and his grizzled beard and careworn face match the super hero character in the shadows that he is representing.  The opening section of this film re-establishes his David Dunn as “The Overseer” a mysterious vigilante who punishes lawbreakers and tries to protect those in jeopardy. David works in conjunction with his son, who has become the guy in the headset to his father’s avenger. I think a stand alone story of David’s life as this character would have worked pretty well a decade ago. It would also give us a chance to see how important the discovery of a real superhero would be to a community. Alas, we only get the most effective scenes in this movie, the stalking of the neighborhood in search of “the Horde”, and the rescue of four potential victims of “the Beast”. Having the grown actor who played David’s son Joe in “Unbreakable” return to be his partner works well and gives a sense of continuity to a story with a nineteen year gap.

James McAvoy repeats his impressive trick of channeling multiple personalities through the one body that we know exists. There is a little bit more of a carnival trick to the performance in this film with the rapidity with which he must change characters. It’s almost like a voice over actor, doing all of the characters they voice, in a conversation. It is amazing, but it does feel a bit like a trained seal act. One of the drawbacks of the script is that we never really get to understand this character because it changes so often, Just as we start to get a sense of motivation, the personality switches and it becomes cloudy as to why things are happening. “the Beast” becomes a coherent character at one point, rather than just the monster that all the others were in fear of. If this is the dominant personality and it took complete control, maybe our interest level would be a bit higher.

This is a very talky picture. While in the first section of the movie, there are a couple of action scenes, the second act is all slow burn set up with Samuel Jackson’s Mr. Glass playing a somnambulist villain, lying in wait to spring his plan. Shyamalan is honest enough to leave a trail of bread crumbs so that the twists of the escape and subsequent confrontation are justified, but there in lies the problem.  Having been so meticulous with laying that groundwork, he turns right around and violates that trust with another pivotal character. The fourth lead in this story turns out to be a critical element of the climax of the film, but that is not set up at all. What appears on the surface to be a passive agenda of discovery turns out to be the main plot of the film and it just doesn’t work well.

As I dance around spoilers and sharing reveals, it is a little difficult to ignore some plot holes that might foreshadow the twist. The psychiatric institution that the characters all occupy, is the least populated facility you can imagine. The security for supposedly dangerous individuals is nearly non-existent. Maybe that will all be explained away by the films’s advocates as a deliberate act in the twist, but it just looks like it is slapdash storytelling to me. For a guy who has spent 19 years in prison heavily sedated, Mr. Glass has programming skills that are just a little too neat. Finally, be careful here, this may be TMI: the idea that an on-line video will spark a shift in paradigms, rather than ten thousand deconstructions is simply not realistic.

Unlike in his previous work, where the twist endings have been earned [whether you liked them or not], the ending here feels like a cheat. It also includes a downer moment that will deflate fans of super hero movies and stories. I can’t say that the idea that the three films in this series are all an origin story doesn’t make sense. From a comic book perspective it probably does. I just doubt that there will be any subsequent use of that idea, because the audience is not likely to make an investment in something that is shoveled on them in the last ten minutes of a six plus hour journey they have taken. I suppose though that this is where the ultimate controversy will rest. My enthusiasm however  is mostly exhausted.

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Death Wish (2018)

I love a revenge film. The catharsis and emotional satisfaction that comes from seeing justice being played out against reprehensible people is pleasing at the most base level. I think most people recognize that films like these are fantasies and not guidebooks on how to act. I can’t say on an intellectual level that vigilante action is something we should approve of, but for two hours in a movie theater it can be very therapeutic.

The original version of “Death Wish” from 1974 was one of the most controversial films of it’s time. It was also commercially successful. So much so that the character returned in a series of decreasingly relevant and quality sequels. It was a film of the moment, when urban crime was overwhelming cities and turning them into dystopian outposts in the real world, not some fictional future. The script for this remake is written in a manner to play off of that paranoia, but do so in a modern context. Screenwriter Joe Carnahan has mixed the urban danger zone that Chicago has become with the suburban setting occupied by the protagonist and his family. This changes the way the character might be perceived and it allows the fear of random violence to be part of a more contemporary story.

Another important change in the plot involves the lead now being a trauma surgeon rather than an architect. The avenging grim reaper now has a pipeline of bad guys coming through the emergency room, they provide him with a link to specific criminals. Charles Bronson’s character was not seeking the specific criminals that destroyed his family, he had become a moral cudgel to thrash the unrepentant criminal element in a somewhat random manner. He actually begins to bait criminals into their actions to be able to take them out. Bruce Willis does engage in a couple of random acts of vigilantism, but he mostly is pursuing leads that will bring him in contact with the particular gang that robbed and murdered at his house. The criminals in this film are an organized crew with a plan and an M.O.

Bruce Willis has been making straight to streaming movies for the last five years and his enthusiasm as an actor is not very apparent in most of this movie. He still has enough charisma to make us watch in some sequences but he seems to be disengaged in some of the others. It is only when he starts killing people that he seems to come to life in the film. His sequences with the family or interacting with the police lack the edginess and sarcastic humor that mark his other roles. Vincent D’Onofrio is his brother, and it is not clear in any way how he is essential to the plot. There are a couple of scenes near the end where the brothers confront some emotional issues between them, and D’Onofrio seems like he is effortlessly creating a character while Willis is just standing there.

However, director Eli Roth, has managed to inject some life into this film by making Dr. Paul Kersey, a relentless inquisitor and fledgling killer. In the original film, Bronson gets inspired by a visit to Arizona where a business contact encourages him to take up shooting. Dr. Kersey goes to Texas to bury his wife, and it is his father-in-law who inspires him indirectly by pulling to the side of the dirt road they are coming back from the graveside on, and unloading his rifle at a couple of poachers on his ranch. Coincidences become the staring point for his human hunting expedition when he recognizes a trauma patient as the kid who worked as a parking valet at his families favorite restaurant. Add a cell phone and a dropped firearm and he becomes a hooded FBI unto himself.

Roth is known for the horror films that he has made and his touch with gore is clearly visible in many spots in this film. Kersey as a doctor, knows exactly how to torture someone to get information that he needs and Roth is happy to show us the process. There are brains splattered in a couple of scenes so the violence quotient is pretty high. Early in the film, there is a set up of a device that becomes pivotal in the climax of the story. Progressives are going to hate this film but the NRA might want to use it as a commercial for membership. The unfortunate real world events that have brought gun issues to the center of national attention recently, may find that the narrative they are creating about semi-automatic weapons, will be problematic to those who have an interest in owning them for a variety of reasons other than creating mayhem.

The film lacks the grit and social relevance of the 70s original but tries to compensate with plot twists and higher levels of violence. The cop character in this movie is not as interesting as the Vincent Guardina cop in the original, but the perspective is effectively conveyed in a much more casual and subtle manner. If Bruce could manage to put just a little more effort into the non-action scenes, this could potentially be another franchise for a few years. Whether or not that happens, the revenge story is basic, brutal and as politically incorrect as you can imagine. All reasons for me to like the film at least.

 

[Sunday Screening, Late Post]