Plot twist! The biggest surprise is that M. (Manoj) Night Shyamalan finally gets his Hitchcockian groove back. Split (2016), Shyamalan’s deviously playful horror thriller, is completely bonkers and satisfies as a companion piece to his earlier, more successful works.
Of course, I have a cameo. I’m billed as ‘Jai, Hooters Lover’
James McAvoy is both frightening and magnetic in his split personality role. He demonstrates his crazy-good acting skills as the devious kidnapper who imprisons three girls in an underground bunker. He tells them they are being kept as “sacred food.”
I face my greatest challenge yet: being directed by M. Night Shyamalan (oh, and playing a dozen distinct personalities…but mainly the first thing).
To make matters worse, he suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID), meaning his victims (one being the resourcefully enigmatic Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch (2015)) are never sure which of his 23 tortured souls will steal the limelight next.
Wouldst thou like the taste of butter…and a pretty dress? Wouldst thou like to live deliciously?
A radical psychiatrist played by charismatic Betty Buckley (Abby from Eight is Enough) believes DID patients can access supernatural abilities.
24 personalities? I thought eight was enough.
It’s this convincing concept that grips the audience through every suspenseful turn. I was tickled by this film even though it transcends the boundaries of common sense and good taste.
Astronaut John Glenn died last month, a man who not only spent decades in the US Senate, but was also the first American to orbit the Earth in a space capsule. President Barack Obama noted that Glenn’s life “reminded us that with courage and a spirit of discovery there’s no limit to the heights we can reach together.” Hidden Figures (2016) is a reminder of the earthly obstacles that needed to be removed before those lofty heights could be attained.
This overlooked history lesson about three unheralded black women who deserved their due for analytical geometry is a significant one but also entertaining and marvelously acted. These mathematical geniuses were known as ‘human computers’ for their computational abilities.
Based on the novel by Margot Lee Shetterly, Hidden Figures shines a light on the unsung pioneering heroes behind the scenes at NASA in 1961, as the Russians were ahead of the game in the space race.
The efforts of the three main characters would lead to John Glenn’s eventual orbit around Earth, relying upon exact calculations, and thus would mark an important turning point in civil rights and gender equality.
This film is driven by bright performances. These strong, smart, proud women are far from just sassy; they are fierce and excel at their jobs. In bringing life to Katherine G. Johnson (who’s alive and kicking at age 97), Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and acting newcomer Janelle Monae are spitfires. They’re full of sympathy, likability and strong-willed determination.
Henson plays the lead character, and she’s very good, but the lesser-known Monae is also enormously charismatic and confident on the silver screen. Mahershala Ali plays Colonel Jim Johnson, a Hallmark-grade military suitor who woos Katherine. In this film, getting a man is just a part of the package deal; not the entire package. Kevin Costner solidly underplays it as NASA director Al Harrison, who’s tough but begins to trust Katherine and let her voice be heard.
“Civil rights isn’t always civil,” Mary’s huband Levi (Aldis Hodge) tells her, and that’s the unfortunate truth. This is just one example of historical progress, and we still have a long way to go. Warmly felt and necessary about the female experience,
Hidden Figures could have easily been a mess of sentimental mush, but the honest performances keep it on track. Robustly satisfying and entertaining, the stars of this film keep the storm brewing beneath the surface, suffering quietly until the audience practically begs for a rational hand to set all the nonsense straight.
Ironically, the release of Hidden Figures takes place just before the ushering in of a presidential regime with a less-than-lovely reputation toward minorities (women included). But as uncertain as things may look right now, this film reminds us of our capacity to overcome obstacles. If for no other reason than that, it’s the triumphant crowd-pleaser we need right now.
Paul Verhoeven, the demented, clever, and inventive Dutch filmmaker who directed Robocop (1987), Total Recall (1990), Basic Instinct (1992), and Black Book (2006) is back in action with a controversial home invasion thriller which deals with rape, psychological trauma, and how one woman copes with her issues. Isabelle Huppert stars as Elle, a businessperson who actively seeks out her attacker on her own without notifying law enforcement, and deals with him in her own tweaky way (yeah, it’s a Paul Verhoeven film).
The character’s name is Michele Leblanc, the head of a major video game company. A woman who, through her tenacity and strength, has made a success for herself. There’s something off about the femme. Something in her past makes her the woman she is now, and this very issue leads her to dealing with her rapist in a most unconventional way. Written by David Birke, Elle (2016) is absolutely brilliant. Verhoeven pulls no stops in the intense rape scenes and other violence that occurs in the film.
Huppert delivers an astounding performance. At the beginning of the film, the audience should feel sympathy for what she’s been through, but as the film slowly reveals what kind of person she can be in her day-to-day life, the audience may not know how to feel. Verhoeven and Huppert do excellent work in developing the character as a complicated and realistic person. Her levels of good, bad, and ugly are all over the place. It’s a character study that will probably get analyzed by film scholars, and maybe even psychology professionals in the future.
Elle is a bold film that challenges conventions and boundaries. Verhoeven is courageous for telling the story, because it’s a story that could have easily taken place in real life. The film’s content and themes may be jarring to the senses, but Verhoeven’s presentation, Birke’s writing, and Huppert’s performance make it one of the most interesting films of the year.