Film Nut Reviews

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Tag: Thriller (page 1 of 4)

M. Night Shyamalan’s Superhero Trilogy Culminates with Glass

Anyone who has seen one of M. Night Shyamalan’s films knows to expect big twists that seemingly come out of thin air. However, no one expected his 2016 horror epic Split to be the sequel to his 2000 fan-favorite drama Unbreakable and part of a larger, secret trilogy of films that ultimately comes to a head in Glass. Shyamalan’s latest outing brings his shared superhero universe together for a truly great conclusion to the story he started telling nineteen years ago. While some of the twists are predictable, Glass manages to be a suspenseful psychological thriller for both the characters and the audience.

Glass revolves around the six returning main characters from the other two films and one new character, who stirs up trouble for the group. It is important to note that Glass takes place three weeks after the events of Split. The film starts with David Dunn/The Overseer (Bruce Willis) attempting to track down Kevin Wendell Crumb/The Beast (James McAvoy), who has taken another set of teenage girls hostage. David and Kevin wind up joining David’s nemesis, Elijah Price/Mr. Glass (Samuel L. Jackson), in a mental institution under the care of psychiatrist Dr. Ellie Staple (new cast member Sarah Paulson), who believes that the three superpowered individuals are suffering from delusions that make them think they are more than human.

Staple’s tactics don’t fare well with each character’s sidekick. Joseph Dunn (Spencer Treat Clark), Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy), and Mrs. Price (Charlayne Woodard) show up to the facility to voice their displeasure with the superhumans’ situation. It is particularly great that all three of these actors returned for Glass, as having the original actors from Unbreakable adds a layer of authenticity to the new story. Granted, the sidekicks play a lesser role this time around, which is a bit of a letdown. Staple, in a way, becomes the needle that threads the narrative together, as the other six characters and the audience go through the same journey of discussing what it means to be more than human. The film tends to contradict itself by making valid points for the existence of superheroes and heightened abilities being a self-made delusion to protect the mind from a tragic past.

Shyamalan’s script is full of suspense, allowing the slower parts of the film to remaining interesting. The best part about Glass is its ability to make you think and second guess what you know about this shared universe. Just like all his other films, Shyamalan includes several twists that aren’t revealed until the proper moment. Some of the twists are predictable, while some are surprising. I really enjoyed the ending of the film because it both sets the stage for a potential sequel/continuation of the shared universe and allows the audience to decide for themselves what happens next. It’s the perfect open ending.

One of the best aspects of the film is the symbolism and use of color. It was very apparent that color played a big role in Unbreakable, yet the use of color in Split was a bit more subtle and winds up making more sense as you watch Glass. Color is easily the most important part of the film because it tells you exactly what you need to know. You should quickly notice that David and Joseph, Kevin and Casey, and Elijah and Mrs. Price all wear matching color schemes that represent their identities. Without giving too much away, the usage of color is absolutely brilliant to the point that color acts as another character in the story. One great example of color symbolism is Casey’s yellow and purple checkered sweater that she wears when the Beast and Mr. Glass are teamed up.

Glass wouldn’t be great without McAvoy’s brilliant acting. McAvoy’s Kevin suffers from dissociative identity disorder (DID) and has twenty four different alters that range from perpetually nine-year-old Hedwig to proper British lady Patricia. McAvoy portrays all twenty four characters to perfection and is absolutely wonderful to watch. He is immensely talented, which is evident in the scenes where he changes alters several times in one take without the camera ever panning away. I wish McAvoy would get more praise for the work he has done in both Split and Glass because he is great. Paulson is also excellent in her role and is perfectly cast. She has more screen time than anticipated, which is a happy surprise.

If you have seen Glass and find yourself wondering why the titular character isn’t the lead, then you probably haven’t fully grasped the meaning of each character. Mr. Glass plays the same role in both Unbreakable and Glass: he remains a formidable foe who plays his role from the shadows. In fact, Glass sort of plays out like a long magic trick in that the closer you look, the less you will actually see. It’s a genius way to structure a film. Shyamalan has made yet another intriguing and entertaining film.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Girl in the Spider’s Web Bests Original

Gone are the flashy Hollywood cast, overly long runtime, and slow-burn drama that embodied director David Fincher’s 2011 version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Seven years passed, and two books were skipped, before the next film adaption of best-selling Millennium series hit theaters. The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which is the fourth book in the series, serves as a solid sequel to Dragon Tattoo and reboots the Sony-MGM franchise. Spider’s Web is an action-crime thriller that substitutes the nudity in the original for adventure sequences that put titular character Lisbeth Salander front and center.

The nice thing about Spider’s Web is that it reintroduces viewers into the world of Millennium and attracts new audiences by not needing to know the events of Dragon Tattoo beforehand. Computer hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth and journalist Mikael Blomkvist, now played by Claire Foy and Swedish native Sverrir Gudnason respectively, are forced into action when a mystery terrorist group steals an already-stolen computer program that controls missile launches across the globe from Lisbeth. Unlike Dragon TattooSpider’s Web puts Mikael in the background to allow Foy to shine as Lisbeth. The missing backstory on the main character that didn’t appear in Dragon Tattoo helps give Lisbeth more depth in Spider’s Web.

Foy does a nice job of taking over the reins from Rooney Mara and doesn’t miss a beat in copying the surly hacker’s vibe. In a little over a year, Foy has proven that she can act in any genre from period drama films and TV (First Man and The Crown) to horror (Unsane) and now action. I did like the casting of Gudnason to replace Daniel Craig because Gudnason brings more authenticity to the Swedish adaptation. Sylvia Hoeks joins the cast as Lisbeth’s sister, Camilla, which would have had a better impact if this wasn’t the first film to feature her. The main cast is rounded out by Lakeith Stanfield as an NSA agent with some very helpful skills.

Spider’s Web is an entertaining thriller and could set the stage for an interesting film franchise. However, unless the film starts to catch fire internationally, this reboot will be short lived due to its low first weekend box office haul. While I’ll admit that I don’t know a ton about the Millennium series, I did enjoy Spider’s Web a lot more than Dragon Tattoo and could understand what the actors were saying this time around thanks to less fake accents. One thing is for sure: whether Lisbeth Salander’s story continues to play out on the big screen or not, Foy has a bright future in the industry.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Bad Times at the El Royale is a Showcase of Great Filmmaking

It’s a great feeling when you go see a film and enjoy it way more than you expected. Bad Times at the El Royale may appear to be a kooky film, but it is a real joy ride to watch. The premise of seven strangers, all with something to hide, meeting up for one crazy night at a run-down hotel with a very dark past should be enough to draw you in. If not, look no further than the fantastic talent that makes up the ensemble. Writer/director Drew Goddard puts some of his most brilliant work on display with El Royale.

Goddard made a lot of great choices in his writing and directing. First and foremost, the style of this film cleverly keeps you engaged and wanting to know more at every twist and turn. The film plays out by showing events from each of the character’s perspectives. The chapter format works brilliantly and adds a lot of suspense to the already heavy script. The format also allows each actor to get their time to shine while fleshing out the important backstory of their respective character. Instead of dumping a ton of exposition at the beginning of the film, Goddard spreads the details out from the start until the very end, creating some deep characters.

The pacing is brilliant and goes from slow burn to crazy action in the blink of an eye. Another great aspect of the film is Goddard’s directing. I don’t think a lot of people realize how well directed El Royale is. Each shot is framed perfectly and in a way to show exactly what you need to see at each moment. With a story that is ever-changing, the directing had to be good to keep the audience entertained. Not only is his directing great, Goddard also delivers yet another well-writen script. He is fantastic at knowing when to add the perfect bit of comedy to lighten the mood and then drop another serious bomb on the characters. Goddard has obviously proved himself before, as he wrote The Martian and executive produces/produced The Good Place, Marvel’s Daredevil, Marvel’s The Defenders, and Lost.

Making the El Royale a period piece also adds to the punch the film packs. From the costumes to the really fantastic set design, El Royale looks amazing. The cinematography and directing are also to thank for a great look. And who can forget the perfect ensemble? Jeff Bridges, Cynthia Erivo, Dakota Johnson, Lewis Pullman, Cailee Spaeny, Jon Hamm, and Chris Hemsworth provide all sorts of hijinks and fun. All seven members of the ensemble play well off of each other and show off some great acting chops, especially Bridges and Hemsworth. They all make their characters incredibly interesting and do a great job of showing how everyone can skirt the line of good and bad.

All in all, Goddard has made a really great film that probably isn’t getting enough recognition. Putting a twist on the thriller genre is not an easy task, and Bad Times at the El Royale is a great example of a genre-bending film. I could see this film becoming a cult hit one day, and I hope that filmmaking professors show this film to students to see what good directing and writing really looks like. Without giving anything away, this film has some truly crazy moments and a really great, long scene that ends the film with a bang. Bad Time at the El Royale is highly entertaining and is one of the better pieces of filmmaking to recently be released.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is a True Spy Thriller

It’s difficult for action franchises to stay serious and not get incredibly cheesy and corny. Mission: Impossible has defied the odds and gotten better with age. The last three films have all topped one another, with the sixth and latest entry, Fallout, easily being the best of the franchise. The hard work put into Fallout is clear in every scene, which makes it a very enjoyable ride. While I constantly think about the longevity of the M:I series and how much longer star Tom Cruise can continue playing Ethan Hunt, I would gladly watch several more of these films considering the high quality production, narrative, and action.

Fallout opens two years following the events of the fifth film, Rogue Nation. Hunt’s new mission, if he so chooses to accept it, is to take down a splinter cell of the Syndicate, now known as the Apostles, and find their mysterious leader known only by an alias. The best part of Fallout is that it keeps itself grounded by having Hunt face his past in multiple ways, thus tying the entire franchise together and following an on-going narrative. I appreciate that M:I actually tries, and succeeds, to follow a continuous plot and doesn’t do lame one-off films.

Previous characters also continue through the franchise and into Fallout, which is a nice touch. While he isn’t the main baddie of this film, Hunt’s previous archenemy and former leader of the Syndicate, Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), returns with only revenge on his mind. The long-awaited return of Hunt’s ex-wife, Julia (Michelle Monaghan), who was teased in the trailers, will please any fan. It is also great to see Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) rejoin the Impossible Mission Force (IMF) team and have more of a lead role, showing that the M:I franchise has started turning away from only being a boy’s club. The addition of newcomers Vanessa Kirby, who plays villain White Widow, and Angela Bassett, as one of the heads of the CIA, is another sign that M:I isn’t afraid to put women in more substantial roles.

The chemistry of long-time IMF members Hunt, Luther (Ving Rhames), and Benji (Simon Pegg) helps keep Fallout light and fun. Cruise is as good as ever as super-spy Hunt. I’m not a huge Cruise fan, but he is the sole reason that this franchise has longevity and keeps getting better. Hats off to Cruise for continuing to do his own stunts and still adding depth to his character six movies in. He also does a good job of sharing the spotlight with M:I rookie Henry Cavill, who plays CIA assassin August Walker. Cruise and Cavill make a great action team and have a good “opposites attract” vibe.

One of the highlights of Fallout is the constant long-form action sequences. Frequent Cruise collaborator and Fallout writer-director Christopher McQuarrie does a great job at allowing the action to shine and be the central focus of the film. The car and motorcycle chase scene is a good example of McQuarrie’s smart creative decisions because the five-plus minute sequence contains no dialogue and simply shows awesome stunt work. The stunt choreography is another highlight of the film and has truly been upped a few levels since Rogue Nation.

Fallout is a very enjoyable, mostly realistic action film that will keep you highly entertained over its entire 147 minute runtime. While it is a bit long, Fallout gets much better after the very obvious big reveal twist occurs. It’s always fun to see a spy film that can stay serious and be taken seriously while still allowing the audience to have a good time watching it.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Kingsman: The Golden Circle is a Wild Ride

The highly anticipated follow-up to director Matthew Vaughn’s spy-thriller masterpiece has finally arrived, and it is everything that any fan of Kingsman: The Secret Service could wish for in a sequel. Kingsman: The Golden Circle does not quite hit the high mark that its predecessor set, yet it is equally as enjoyable and entertaining. Once you get past the seemingly impossible resurrections of not one, but two key characters, the film plays out in a wild fashion that only Vaughn could have created. With just as much action, insanity, and incredible stunts and choreography, The Golden Circle is a very solid sequel.

The story picks up with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) as full-blown Kingsman agent Galahad, aka Harry Hart’s (Colin Firth) replacement. A new megalomaniac drug overlord, Poppy (Julianne Moore), has surfaced into the limelight simply because she is bored of being in the shadows. Let’s face it: it wouldn’t be a Kingsman film without a very irrational villain. Granted, Poppy is quite an interesting character and does some very hilarious things, like making a new recruit to her organization put his best friend in a meat grinder and then eat the “meat” in the form of a burger. While this might sound garish, it’s quite funny in the context that the film provides.

Essentially, Poppy and a former enemy of Eggsy team up to take down the Kingsman for no real reason other than revenge. With their lives in ruins, Eggsy and Merlin (Mark Strong), the only two remaining members of the agency, find their American cousins (the Statesmen) to get help to take down Poppy’s empire. Much like The Secret Service’s Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), Poppy plans on taking over the world by lacing her various drugs with a poison that only she has the antidote for. Her plan solely relies on bullying the American government into legalizing drugs and giving into other crazy demands.

The story is a bit much to handle at times, as there are numerous subplots to keep track of this time around. This allows for more characters to be in the spotlight, unlike how Eggsy was the sole focus of The Secret Service. It seemed like every character had their moment in The Golden Circle, which was an unexpected change. However, The Secret Service’s winning formula does still exist, as the action is taken up a notch and there are plenty of wild scenes you won’t see coming (much like the fantastic church scene). There are plenty of moments that will leave you wondering what just happened and ones that will make you ask who thought of the twisted events playing out before your eyes. The only scene I am not a fan of is the controversial, and very unnecessary, sex scene that is downright uncomfortable to watch.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed everything about The Golden Circle. Vaughn is a genius and has written two excellent films that probably no one thought would be this successful. There is a perfect blend of The Secret Service nostalgia and new content that makes The Golden Circle really enjoyable. But, with all of the references that are laced into the script, you definitely should watch The Secret Service before seeing The Golden Circle. Vaughn’s vision and direction are also brilliant, and he has brought the spy genre to another level. The costume and set designs are worth mentioning because they are both really great. The Poppyland sets are beautiful and provide the perfect landscape for the events that take place.

The acting is every bit as good as The Secret Service, and new additions Moore, Halle Berry, and Pedro Pascal are definitely the standouts. I didn’t think there was enough of Jeff Bridges and Channing Tatum to satisfy having them in the film. However, The Golden Circle is definitely a Kingsman film. If you enjoyed The Secret Service, then you will thoroughly enjoy The Golden Circle.

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

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