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‘Split’ Is Weirdly Slow And Infuriating Schlock, Even For Shyamalan

split

M. Night Shyamalan is typically a director of methodical, inhumane dialogue and stuttering set pieces, but his best films also center around wild premises that pay off in narratively satisfying fashion. It’s unnerving to watch his last film, The Visit, unravel in its final act, but unlike that startling return to form, Split suffers from pretentious, overbearing writing that wishes it deserved James McAvoy’s brilliant method acting.

Like VisitSplit is mostly a dark comedy, only its central figures are nowhere near as a relational or intriguing when the jokes and twists start flying.  Anya Taylor-Joy (last year’s The Witch) plays Casey, a repressed teenager whose main direction is to stare wide-eyed at the camera as the audience waits for suitable harmonics or dramatic tension to build up (it rarely does).

Like many details in this film, Casey is the anti-10 Cloverfield Lane — that movie was a room horror with an ideal sense of location, characters who exhibit entertaining and thoughtful behavior, and a story that actually treats the audience as careful thinkers. Split has exactly none of this, though both films do have the same type of “Oh, so that’s what this movie is” type of ending, only at least 10 Cloverfield Lane had the decency to end on a set piece instead of a ham-fisted teaser.

Casey and a few other teenagers of little consequence are abducted by a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a type of split personality brought on by trauma. The film treats this as some narrative flourish, but Barry/Dennis/Patricia/Hedwig and others played by James McAvoy (his second film where he plays a character with multiple personalities) are quite unsurprising and telegraphed in their actions throughout. Only three “personalities” take up much of the story, and they mostly consist of these characters repeating the same scenes over and over again, but with slightly different context.

Dennis is a neat freak, Patricia is calulcating, and Hedwig is naive. What should have taken a handful of story beats to establish is repeated ad nasuem as the audience predicts every step of this slog, consistently wishing for explanations to character decisions and what this movie even is when they should be appreciating the stylistic horror groove Split musters.

split

At the very least, Shyamalan employs one of his best tricks, a commitment to B-horror that matches every movement of his camera, wielded gracefully by Michael Gioulakis (the cinematographer for the far superior It Follows). He has a real sense of what he wants Split to communicate in its movement, framing, and set design. For that, Split is still basically watchable, and there is at least one well-executed scare that earns its place.

If only the writing and directing of Split would allow this film to be what it truly wants to be: a B-movie  horror that expands on an interesting premise in goofy, yet creepy ways. But it’s the way the film butchers its interpretation of DID and mental health in general that falls so flat it actually becomes offensive in its absurdity, building up Casey as an intersecting example of trauma in her own right, but not in any way that reasonably connects with the film’s core messages or how it culminates in the finale. I’m sure it sounded quite compelling in Shyamalan’s own head, but his pretension is that the substance is at all meaningful or contributory to what people who actually suffer from these mental health problems go through, and the way he punctuates all of this is disastrously played for laughs.

All that said, I can easily see how some fans of Shyamalan’s work might have a bit of fun with this film, overall. It’s nowhere near as a terrible as Happening or After Earth, but it’s likely a notch below The Village and Signs. It has confidence and a full commitment from McAvoy, who acts his heart out in  a performance that manages to be both unsettling and memorable, which is far more than what Split demands from him.

Grade: C

Extra Credits:

  • Shyamalan has admitted that shooting Split was the hardest in his career. Which makes sense considering its also his longest film yet.
  • Joaquin Phoenix nearly landed the main role, but he bowed out due to scheduling problems.
  • You’ll notice from the opening credits that this is another collaboration between Shyamalan and Jason Blum. And it likely won’t be the last.
  • Three words: Shyamalan Cinematic Universe. Three more words: Don’t you dare.

Thanks for reading this. Seriously. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. 

Or just say hello on Twitter: @JonNegroni


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The Nerve of Jason Bourne’s Killing Joke

jason bourne nerve

This week on the podcast, the Now Conspiring team does a fine bit of reviewing. We fill you in on all our burning thoughts regarding  Jason BourneNerve, and Batman: The Killing Joke. And as always, we also discuss the latest entertainment and movie news worth conspiring.

QUESTION OF THE WEEK (and you’re required to answer this): What’s your pitch for a show or movie that could come after Game of Thrones, yet still taking place in the universe of the books?

Go on…The Nerve of Jason Bourne’s Killing Joke

Review: ‘The Visit’ Is Laugh Out Loud Horror

the visit review

The Visit was written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and stars Olivia DeJonge from Good Pretender and Ed Oxenbould from Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Yes, I remembered the whole title without looking it up.

For the first time in years, Shyamalan has come back to do a film more closely related to horror, though not fully. And he’s partnered with the “it” horror studio right now, Blumhouse, who’ve found massive financial (and some critical) success with the Insidious and Paranormal Activity franchises.

In this found-footage movie, DeJonge and Oxenbould play a brother and sister who spend a week with their estranged grandparents — whom they’ve never met — in rural Pennsylvania. But the more time they spend with their grandparents, the more these kids realize that something very disturbing is going on with them.

the visit review

No one loves you like your grandparents.

The film cleverly prolongs the eery situation by passing off the blame to the grandparents’ old age and an affliction known as sundowning. And most people watching this movie will fall under the same spell as they try to make it through this bizarre week alongside the kids.

One thing I have to give the movie praise for is actually two things: the children. DeJonge and Oxenbould are a lot of fun to watch together, and their characters are incredibly entertaining. DeJonge plays a young teen named Becca, who wants to create a documentary about the visit (hence the explanation for why this is a found-footage movie).

Her goal is to reconcile the relationship between her mother and these grandparents, and if you read enough into it, you can actually hear Shyamalan sending a message to his fans in this way. Trust me, it’s not very subtle.

the visit review

Mom, there’s something wrong with nana and papa.

And throughout the film, you can see Shyamalan’s clever nods to filmmaking through Becca’s eyes as she sets up elaborate shots and conducts interviews with her family. It’s a nice touch to her character that pays off and adds some weight to why we should care about her. The brother, too, has a consistent story arc that is grounded in a 13-year-old boy I’m sure I’ve met before.

Even though these kids can get a bit obnoxious and half-minded, they’re never annoying. And that’s saying something considering the amount of scenes that display Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) rapping. It’s just silly enough to maintain the movie’s unique tone, which is an unexpectedly good mix of humor and horror.

That said, I’m not sure the humor/horror hybrid will work for all audiences. Some people just want straight up comedy, and some people want full-on horror or drama. Other movies that walk this line, like the excellent Drag Me To Hell, have a knack for polarizing audiences. And I have a feeling that people going into The Visit expecting another bad M. Night Shyamalan movie won’t know what to make of the film. At least until the third act.

the visit review

Would you mind getting inside the oven to clean it?

While the movie is certainly entertaining, I was more sucked into the atmosphere and characters than the actual story. There weren’t enough thrills or even scares to justify where the script goes, and a lot of the jokes end up falling flat. But these flaws all surround excellent moments and performances that should hold your attention and perhaps surprise you.

Is it worth watching a second time? Well, it’s been a day since I’ve seen this movie, and I already want to watch it again. And I’ll probably see it several more times, in fact. Yes, it will be fun to rewatch the movie to see it from a new perspective and all that. But honestly, I just love these characters and want to revisit their thrilling adventure.

Grade: A-

Of course, it’s great to see Shyamalan returning to the genre that made him a household name. And while this movie is somewhat flawed, I bumped its grade up on the merit of how much I want to see it again. Overall, I consider that the most impressive achievement on the part of the filmmakers.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

So, M. Night Shyamalan Still Wants to Make ‘The Last Airbender 2’

the last airbender 2

Before we go any further, let’s get my opinion straight. I’m speaking to M. Night Shyamalan directly when I say, STAY AWAY FROM AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER. FOREVER.

There, that’s all I wanted to say, aside from the rest of this.

Strangely, some people don’t blame the once promising director for the insulting mess that was 2010’s The Last Airbender, including Shyamalan himself. We’ll get to the lunacy of that, but first I should mention that this is still a minority opinion. A terrible opinion, but a minority opinion all the same.

Venture Capitol Post posted an article yesterday with an unforgivably misleading title that shocked and scared the eyes of hopefully only tens of readers:

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender 2’ Confirmed: Director M. Night Shyamalan Defends 1st Film from Longstanding Criticism.

Um…No, this movie is most certainly NOT confirmed. Obvious clickbait headline isn’t just clickbait. It’s actually beyond clickbait, transcending into a full on clicksnare.

the last airbender 2
This will teach readers to skim my lede.

Nowhere in the article does it say that The Last Airbender 2 has been “confirmed.” They don’t even get the name of the movie right in the title, which should be the first red flag.

No, this article only covers a few link shares to other articles published over the last few months that point out Shyamalan’s interest in continuing the franchise. In fact, I can’t find anything new or relevant in this article to explain why it even exists. So let’s keep going!

‘Avatar: The Last Airbender 2’ director M. Night Shyamalan continued to defend his first film from long-standing criticism. He is also reported ready to push through with a sequel.

Source? Nope. There’s no source for this at all. Venture Capital Post just asserts this and moves on like it’s not the biggest bombshell fans of the animated series have seen since the first reviews for The Last Airbender came out. Who edited this?

According to Movie Pilot, the filmmaker was not to blame for the Nickelodeon cartoon adaptation’s failure with critics and audiences alike.

First, it’s Moviepilot, not “Movie Pilot.” Also, they’re shamelessly sourcing an opinionated article not written by Moviepilot staff, but written by someone who’s never seen an episode of the show they’re talking about. I’m not making that up.

Let’s jump over to that “Movie Pilot” article and see what writer Rohan Mohmand has to say (and yes, it’s ironic he shares the name of Tenzin’s son).

M.Night Shyamalan is an original thinker.

Nope, nope, keep going. You can do it, Jon.

I still haven’t seen the respective show,

Wow. Yeah, so Rohan sings Shyamalan’s praises for a few paragraphs, citing that the early success for the filmmaker based on his only two widely accepted movies, The 6th Sense and Unbreakable (a case can be made for Signs, but not a good one) lends to the fact that the failure of The Last Airbender has nothing to do with him.

Because directors don’t make both good and bad movies, according to Rohan. Especially when they’ve made like five abysmal movies in a row. You know what came out before The Last Airbender? Oh, just a little train wreck called The Happening.

In that movie, the “original” Shyamalan presented a world where plants make us kill ourselves. And that’s when we learned that originality doesn’t necessarily make something good.

Today, it has been almost six years since its release, and whenever someone brings the subject of The Last Airbender it is Shyamalan to blame.

Is this a surprise? He’s writing this like it’s not valid to blame the person who spent the most time making the movie happen and overseeing its execution for how bad it is. Granted, not every movie is bad because of the direction, but how can you argue that The Last Airbender doesn’t suffer from its many Shyamalanisms?

the last airbender 2
“Let’s do ANOTHER closeup so we can see how bad the scar is!”

But Rohan’s not finished. He cites an interview Shyamalan had with IGN about this (sorry about the inception-level article sourcing. It’s not my fault, I’m only the director of this article).

This is from Shyamalan, explaining what went wrong with the movie:

“My child was nine-years-old. So you could make it one of two ways: you could make it for that same audience, which is what I did, for nine and 10-year-olds, or you could do the ‘Transformers’ version and have Megan Fox. I didn’t do that.”

First, that last line, “I didn’t do that” wasn’t cited by Rohan for some unexplainable reason, so I added it. Second, what world does Shyamalan live in?

You know what else was made for nine and 10-year-olds? Avatar the Last Airbender, which is considered by many to be one of the greatest animated series of all time. But it’s not geared toward people who like Transformers, so Shyamalan had to “adjust.”

What kind of backwards opinion is this? Your movie sucks because you made it for kids? Have you ever seen a Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks Animation movie? You think those movies are hits because they appeal to adults ONLY? No, they appeal to a wide demographic. Kids AND adults can watch a movie like Beauty and the Beast.

the last airbender 2
Which was ONLY the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture. That’s all! 

In what universe do you have to believe that if you shoot for a wider demographic, you end up creating something akin to Transformers?! You know what, I actually can believe that someone as deluded as M. Night Shyamalan believes he’s making bad movies because he thinks anything else is Transformers. That’s the same delusion that must be related to his obvious and utter failure to understand how to make a kids’ movie, or why a good kids’ movie is good. 

Rohan (hopefully) digresses:

Defending his film, there’s nothing that we can do, for as the director, and also as a fan of the show, Shyamalan has all the rights. But, the question is, is he really the person to blame for the failure of The Last Airbender?

YES. Is this a trick question?

The answer to the question above is a “no.”

I hate everything.

Shyamalan is not to blame for the failure of the film. In fact, he is owed an apology.

Should I punch my computer now?

Last summer, Joblo penned a piece spreading the word, the story behind the making of The Last Airbender, divulged passionately on the AvatarSpirit.net forums.

So now we’re officially sourcing forums.

The story, however, is no longer available on the forum.

I wonder why.

It was published by someone who worked on the production of the film and the increased attention got her concerned as her career was going to be in jeopardy.

How do you know this? And can’t you also argue that she took it down because it was full of false information skewed by her opinion? Nope, let’s just take this at face value and source it as evidence.

I’ll give you the gist. This person claims that 80% of the decisions for The Last Airbender came from the producers, including the casting of the girl who played Katara.

last airbender 2
Yeah, I don’t remember her name either.

She argues that this casting was nepotism on part of the producers, and it resulted in them having to alter the ethnicities of many other characters, leading to the major backlash this movie suffered from before it even came out. None of the characters looked the part.

Only later would we realize that none of the actors acted the part either. Katara herself lost all of her best moments from the show (holding her own against Zuko, giving the inspiring speech to the earthbenders), and Sokka’s cleverness and wit was replaced with…brooding and being serious all the time.

the last airbender 2
Your meat and sarcasm guy.

Of course, Rohan would know this if he had watched an episode of the show.

The disgruntled forum hacker blames everything on the producers. The lack of budget, the story changes, the effects not looking right. Basically, she props up the basic challenges of any film as something that the director couldn’t control.

Except, we’re not talking about a novice director. We’re talking about M. Night Shyamalan, who at this point in his career DID have clout as a film director. I can understand a newcomer like Colin Trevorrow getting steamrolled while making Jurassic World, but you can’t give someone like Shyamalan the same pass.

And this unknown person claims that Shyamalan just gave up because none of his ideas went through. In other words, he didn’t do his job of upholding good ideas, so he’s the victim.

You know who else “gave up” on their movie? Josh Trank with Fantastic Four. You know why everyone still blames him, even after writing that cringe Tweet? Because he’s the director. It’s his JOB to salvage what the producers pick apart.

the last airbender 2
“I wanted to give you good direction, but the producers said I can’t.”

And blame the producers all you want for getting in the way. You CAN’T, however, blame them for the execution. You can’t blame the producers for the gross mispronunciation of the characters’ names. That was from Shyamalan. You can’t blame the horrendous closeups and terrible camera work. That was from Shyamalan. You certainly can’t blame the bland dialogue and writing that comes from every other Shyamalan movie and is present here (because he wrote it).

What, were these the same producers who made The Happening happen?

So Rohan concludes, claiming that Shyamalan is classy for taking the responsibility and not blaming anyone else. That’s fine. But you’re in a dream within a dream if you really think he’s not to blame for why this movie still causes physical and emotional pain for any fan of the show who’s reminded of it.

Back to Venture Capital Post, who is spinning the wheels of what you can get away with in an article that does no real work:

It is undeniable that Shyamalan is a master writer-director in his own right with successful supernatural films under his belt including ‘Lady in the Water’, ‘The Village’, ‘Signs’, ‘Unbreakable’ and 1999’s cult favorite ‘The Sixth Sense’.

No.

Just…no. It is not “undeniable.” It is, in fact, incredibly deniable that Shyamalan is a “MASTER” because only two and half of those movies were well-received by critics. Lady in the Water? Seriously? The movie that received a 24% on Rotten Tomatoes before it was “cool” to make fun of Shyamalan?

Look, I love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable as much as anyone. And I didn’t “hate” Signs and The Village. But to call the man a master is hyperbole, and saying it’s “undeniable” is transcending hyperbole. 

the last airbender 2
How do I sleep at night? 

But Venture digresses. The writer points out what Rohan did — that Shyamalan said to IGN once that The Last Airbender is made for nine and 10-year-olds instead of everyone who else who watches Transformers, which is why “you don’t get it.” Virtually ignoring every other kids’ film that has proven the exact opposite.

Then Venture rightfully acknowledges that the creators of Avatar (Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante Dimartino) don’t even acknowledge that The Last Airbender even exists. Yeah, it’s the Lake Laogai running gag that us fans have been using to cope for five years now, and it’s pretty effective.

According to Den of Geek, Shyamalan planned to push through with a sequel as evidenced by the introduction of Prince Zuko’s sister, Azula, at the end of the first film.

Wait, that’s not according to Den of Geek, that’s painfully obvious from watching the movie. Did you really have to source a website to know that they planned to make this a trilogy? Is this real life?

However, despite previous news that he had already penned a first draft for the follow-up, no updates have come up since then.

This sentence flies in the face of the earlier one in this article, which claimed that the sequel WAS reportedly happening. Oh, and it also clashes with the headline of the entire article. This is real life.

You’re probably wondering why I’m going to so much trouble to rip these articles apart, and it’s for a few reasons. The biggest is that I don’t want someone to stumble across them and take them in as actual reporting. This is a PSA.

the last airbender 2

Second, I love this franchise more than any other on television. I love the characters. I love the animation. I love the world they created. I love the comics. I love the spin off. I love the fan art. I even love the pilot episode. OK, the video games are hit and miss, but I still enjoyed playing them.

So I’m going to dissent with writers like Rohan who let their love of Shyamalan get in the way of honest criticism. And for the most part, he does a good job of explaining why he loves this director and wants him to succeed. I have no problem with that, even though I disagree.

My main issue is with a website like Venture Capital Post for all of the reasons I’ve already gotten into. And if you come across garbage articles like this during your time on the Internet, then I hope you do the same and call them out for it. We deserve better.

On that note, I’d like to welcome you to Lake Laogai.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

Review: ‘After Earth’

Despite having Will Smith under its banner, After Earth is nothing more than a high-concept afterthought.

Go on…Review: ‘After Earth’

Retronalysis: Can We Reboot “The Last Airbender” Already?

2 years ago, we were handed one of the worst movies of all time that was depicting one of the greatest animated series of all time. Our feelings were hurt when The Last Airbender (TLA) failed to capture the greatness of Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA).

With the rising popularity and success of the animated series’ successor, The Legend of Korra, it’s high-time that Hollywood try again with the Avatar series while the timing is still good.

By the way, I spent a lot of time talking about social media last week, so expect this week to be a little more entertainment-heavy.

Now, let’s get some basic points out of the way. ATLA is my favorite animated series of all time. Debuting in 2005, this show had everything I could possibly want in a sprawling epic.

Amazing animation (it is an American cartoon animated in South Korea), deep and interesting lore, a high-stakes storyline (making it accessible for an older audience), some of the most memorable characters on television, and even humor.

So, making a movie out of this show should have been a cinch. As we understand it, the show’s studio gave Hollywood a lot of freedom with the story, over $150 million was put into its production, and the show lends itself very nicely to a trilogy since it was made with three seasons.

The movie even had M. Night Shyamalan directing it.

Well, okay, all of these things ended up being a negative. Hollywood ruined the story because they had too much freedom, they spent way too much money on the wrong things, making three movies meant changing the length of the story to keep up with aging actors, and M. Night Shyamalan wrote and directed it.

If you haven’t seen the movie or know what I’m talking about, watch these videos that recap everything wrong with the movie pretty perfectly (SPOILERS from here on out).

The question being asked by some is whether or not Shyamalan will follow-up this disaster of a movie with a sequel the movie begged.

Obviously, no one outright wants it, but the movie did manage make $300 million worldwide. So, the movie does make sense financially, if not critically.

Still, that’s no guarantee the sequel will manage to pull off the same magic, especially if none of the first movie’s mistakes are corrected.

That said, I have two possible solutions that would please everyone.

We should either reboot the first movie or go the way of The Incredible Hulk (Most people did not like Ang lee’s Hulk that came out in 2003, so 2008’s The Incredible Hulk served as an unofficial sequel to the 2003 film).

A reboot is the nice solution, because it would take less effort to rework the movie’s mistakes.

Here’s my wish-list for a reboot:

1. Change the writers. The animated series had different writers for almost all of their episodes. Tapping into their talent for a movie just makes sense, especially since they’re the biggest reason (along with the creators) why the series was successful.

2. Pronounce the names correctly. Shyamalan decided that the names in the show were not pronounced correctly in Asian. That was misguided, considering the show takes place in an alternate world influenced by Asian themes, not Asia. Changing the pronunciation did nothing but annoy all of the show’s fans.

3. Change the casting strategy. In the movie, the Fire Nation was depicted by Indians, the Water Tribe was caucasian, the Earth Kingdom was chinese, and the Air Nomads were diverse. This doesn’t make sense alongside the show at all.

The Fire Nation was clearly influenced by the Japanese, which we see in their culture, architecture, and how we find out later on that “firebending” originated with dragons. So, why not carry that over to the movie? Also, a Japanese actor playing Zuko would be way more interesting.

The Earth Kingdom makes way more sense as the “diverse” nation because they are largest. Even the show implies this, since Zuko and Iroh were able to pass as Earth Kingdom refugees in season 2, and many of the characters in this part of the world look very different from each other.

The Water Tribe is composed of two separate tribes, the North and South Pole. You can get away with having Europeans depict the North Pole, but Katarra and Sokka should just be darker skinned like they are in the show to please the fans. A “white” Katarra is just too much of a change, and our pop culture could really use more diversity anyways.

Also, Dev Patel would’ve made a far better Sokka than Jason Rathbone. Sokka is humorous and very animated. Patel’s “Anwar” in Skins was one of the most animated characters in that show, so why not give him a character with more to do?

Finally, the Air Nomads should be Chinese for the same reason that the Fire Nation should be Japanese. They clearly represent Tibetan monks, and we’d have an easier time casting a child actor for Aang who can handle all of the physical stunts throughout the trilogy.

4. Rework the plot. The first season of Avatar is the most challenging to compress into one movie because almost every episode is “standalone.” It’s basically about a group of friends travelling the world having various adventures.

That said, the movie left a lot of really critical characters out, including the Kyoshi Warriors and King Bumi, who play major roles in the other seasons. 

Here’s how I would break it down: The first act would focus on Aang, Sokka, and Katarra. We needed that more in TLA, which glossed over major character development points.

The second act should introduce us to the Kyoshi Warriors and King Bumi, who could be Aang’s method of receiving his world-saving mission from Roku. This could all culminate with Book 1’s most important episode, The Blue Spirit, which teaches us a lot more about Zuko.

Finally the third act would focus on the North Pole, giving us more time to commit to Yue’s character, Aang’s confrontation with Koh, the fight between Zuko, Katarra, and Zhao, and Aang’s epic fight against the entire Fire Nation navy.

5. Make the movie longer. Yes, this is a kid’s movie, but that didn’t stop us from letting Harry Potter have at least 2 hours, and there’s really no other way to tell the show’s story.

I’d go on, but you get the point. A reboot would be a much-needed, major overhaul of the 2011 iteration.

As I said before, we could also just skip the reboot and do the sequel as an unofficial follow-up to the reboot I just described. After all, season 2 of the show was far more like a serialized saga with major set pieces, making a movie easier to create.

Or we could leave ATLA alone and just skip to a prequel for Legend of Korra. After all, who wouldn’t want to see a young version of Korra mastering water, earth, and fire?

 

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