Who Better to Make Us Feel ‘Old’ Than M. Night Shyamalan?

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Old (CREDIT: Universal Pictures)

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Vicky Krieps, Rufus Sewell, Thomasin McKenzie, Alex Wolff, Abbey Lee, Eliza Scanlen, Ken Leung, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Aaron Pierre, Kathleen Chalfant, Emun Elliott, Embeth Davidtz

Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Intense, Strange Violence and a Bare Buttcrack Running Into the Ocean

Release Date: July 23, 2021 (Theaters)

After delivering one of the most iconic twist endings of all time in The Sixth Sense, M. Night Shyamalan became straitjacketed by his reputation for the last-second reveal. But now that he’s a little bit older (wink, wink) and wiser, he’s quietly and consistently embraced that reputation. And why not? He truly is one of the all-time masters of the technique, and Old might just be his greatest trick since The Sixth Sense. But Old doesn’t rely on the twist for the entire movie to be effective (which was also the case with his breakthrough film). If the conclusion hadn’t told us what was really happening on this beach that ages people at a rate of about 2 years per hour, I would’ve been disappointed. But I also probably would’ve quickly gotten over that by appreciating everything else there is to offer in this meditation on the passage of time.

Each of the vacationers who find themselves on Old‘s private beach are in situations that are ripe for prompting considerations of mortality. Prisca (Vicky Krieps) has a tumor in her stomach, which is contributing to the troubles with her husband Guy (Gael García Bernal). Charles (Rufus Sewell) is beset by mental illness while attempting to keep both his much younger wife Chrystal (Abbey Lee) and elderly mother Agnes (Kathleen Chalfant) happy. Jarin (Ken Leung) and Patricia (Nikki Amuka-Bird) are trying to enjoy themselves without worrying too much about Patricia’s frequent seizures. Big deal rapper Mid-Sized Sedan (Aaron Pierre) is decompressing from the pressures of fame while also dealing with a blood clotting condition. And on top of all that, we’ve got Prisca and Guy’s two kids and Charles and Chrystal’s daughter running around, which is the perfect formula to make any parent get a little verklempt about how the days are just whizzing by.

So just how would people really react if their lifespans suddenly became overwhelmingly compressed? As Old sees it, their first instinct would be to escape, which is probably why Shyamalan decided to make it nearly impossible for them to do so. As they attempt to make peace – or not – with their doom, their reactions are filled with violence and terror. And of course that’s the case; this is a panicky and desperate crisis, a fabulous escape room of mammoth proportions. But there are also moments of  reflection and tenderness, as the families attempt to make the best of the time they have left with each other.

From the first frame to the last, Old is richly satisfying as both metaphor and thought experiment. The questions it raises are plenty of fun to puzzle out as the characters do so on screen. If our biological ages suddenly become so much older, would we become correspondingly more emotionally and mentally mature? Just what is it that makes us mature when time passes at its normal rate anyway? Life experiences, for sure. And well, there’s a lot of life experience packed into each grain of sand on this beach. And the same is also true of the richest cinema in the world. You’ll probably feel a little older after watching Old, and I bet you’ll be thankful about that.

Old is Recommended If You Like: Feeling both scared and enriched by the passage of time

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Hours

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’ is a Textbook Example of How Not to Reboot

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CREDIT: Reiner Bajo/Sony Pictures Entertainment

This review was originally posted on News Cult in November 2018.

Starring: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Sylvia Hoeks, LaKeith Stanfield, Stephen Merchant, Vicky Krieps, Claes Bang

Director: Fede Álvarez

Running Time: 115 Minutes

Rating: R for Violence and Sexual Content, But Relatively Mild by This Series’ Standards

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Where do you go if you’re an iconic character whose creator isn’t around anymore? For the supernaturally proficient hacker Lisbeth Salander, that worry applies twofold. Stieg Larsson, the original author of the Millennium book series, passed away in 2004, with all three of his Salander-starring novels published posthumously. With the books proving immensely popular, the series was eventually continued about a decade later by David Lagercrantz with The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye. I haven’t read Lagercrantz’ entries, so I don’t know how they compare to Larsson’s work, but I do know that they haven’t been the sensations that the originals were.

Similarly, the film edition of Spider’s Web is arriving with much less fanfare than David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo adaptation (or even the Noomi Rapace-starring Swedish-language version). Dragon Tattoo got mostly strong reviews and cracked $100 million at the box office, but it proved to be too expensive and brutal to immediately continue on as a franchise. Still, it does director Fede Álvarez (Don’t Breathe, 2013’s Evil Dead remake) no favors to be working with a version of Salander that is so far removed from Larsson and Fincher’s conceptions. To be fair, in order to truly succeed, it would have to succeed, so the problem is really that Spider’s Web is ultimately too generic. Dragon Tattoo featured brutal, hard-to-watch moments of abuse, but they made for striking, unforgettable characters. Spider’s Web, alas, reduces Salander to a standard-issue avenging angel caught up in inscrutable international intrigue.

Don’t blame Claire Foy, who is certainly willing to be as unapologetic and deeply committed as is necessary to embody Salander. And don’t blame Sylvia Hoeks as Lisbeth’s long-lost sister or LaKeith Stanfield as an enterprising agent. (Sverrir Gudnason, however, is not a particularly inspiring Mikael Blomkvist.) But do blame the not-particularly-deep story they are caught up in. Ghosts from the past and not-so-legitimate government authorities have caused problems for Salander in the past, but this time, they do not offer much unique to say about the human condition.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is Recommended If You Like: Cookie-cutter sprawling mystery thrillers

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Hacks

This Is a Movie Review: ‘The Young Karl Marx’ Gives Communism Its Very Own Cookie-Cutter Biopic

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CREDIT: The Orchard

This review was originally posted on News Cult in February 2018.

Starring: August Diehl, Stefan Konarske, Vicky Krieps, Olivier Gourmet, Hannah Steele

Director: Raoul Peck

Running Time: 118 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Would Probably Be PG-13 for Philosophically Fueled Arguments

Release Date: February 23, 2018 (Limited Theatrically)/March 6, 2018 (Digital and On Demand)

Among history’s most influential philosophers, Karl Marx deserves a lot of credit for clearly keeping in mind that his ideas exist for people. It is not particularly useful to get bogged down in theory when you could actually improve the way people live. The human element is baked right into his writing, especially his most famous quote: “Workers of the world, unite!” That spirit is clearly present in The Young Karl Marx, which is less about how the socialist pioneer wrote The Communist Manifesto and changed the course of history and more about how he had a wife and kids and friends and acquaintances. This focus offers an appropriately fraternal approach, but it also makes for a rather run-of-the-mill biopic.

The Young Karl Marx has a notably multicultural background, as it features two German actors (August Diehl and Stefan Konarske, respectively) as Marx and Friedrich Engels, a Luxembourgian (Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps) as Marx’s wife Jenny, and a supporting cast of Belgians, French, and Brits. Plus, its director is the Haitian Raoul Peck (probably best known for the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro), and its dialogue weaves seamlessly between German, French, and English. This diversity may have some thematic connection to worldwide proletariat unity, but in practice it feels haphazard. Besides, it is simply a fact that Marx and Engels were multilingual. The polyglot nature feels meaningful and important, but it never goes much beyond the surface.

And that total straightforwardness is really the trouble with The Young Karl Marx. This is a major case of “this happened, then this happened, then this happened, the end.” Marx and Engels meet uneasily at first, and then they become great friends. They have disagreements with other philosophers who are too theory-centric, but then they all more or less come to an understanding with each other. Workers are suspicious of Engels’ motives, as he comes from a more privileged background, but then he proves his bona fides. Marx and Jenny struggle to get by on his writing income, and then they continue their lives together. It is all more or less acted with spirit, vigor, and dignity, and then The Communist Manifesto goes on to be one of the most influential texts of all time. If you’ve ever been exposed to Marxim, The Young Karl Marx won’t tell you anything new. It’s only worth seeking out if you’re a completist when it comes to historical figures’ domesticity.

The Young Karl Marx is Recommended If You Like: The home lives of philosophers, Debates about materialism and Hegelianism

Grade: 2 out of 5 Bourgeois Notions

This Is a Movie Review: In ‘Phantom Thread,’ Daniel Day-Lewis is a Master Dressmaker in Love with Routine

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CREDIT: Laurie Sparham/Focus Features

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Krieps, Lesley Manville

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: R for More F Bombs Than Expected

Release Date: December 25, 2017 (Limited)

In the beginning of Phantom Thread, Reynolds Woodcock’s muse and lover Alma (Vicky Krieps) describes him as “the most difficult man.” Such a definitive claim could potentially set us up for disappointment, but if anything, it turns out to be a bit of an understatement. So then the issue could bethat the dialogue is too on-the-nose, but that is not a problem with a lead actor and a director as precise as Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Thomas Anderson are. And that precision is really what this film is about. The story of a dressmaker, no matter how legendary, strikes me as a rather niche attraction, but it should be known that Phantom Thread is primarily the (love?) story of two stubborn people butting up against each other.

If you are a fan of P.T. Anderson, or cinema in general, but do not have strong feelings towards fashion, you might be comforted to know that the focus is on the relationships. But you may soon find yourself discomforted by how discordant those relationships are. Or you might find all that hilarious. This is definitely an example of the rarely seen prestige cringe comedy, and I cringed more than I guffawed, though I appreciated the craft and the crack comic timing.

The setting is 1950s London, but due to the lack of electric devices in Reynolds Woodcock’s house, it feels like it could be decades earlier. Reynolds and the waitress Alma are quite smitten with each other, so he takes her into his home as his muse, in-house model, and soon enough, lover. Cyril (Lesley Manville), his sister and assistant, is on hand to make sure everything remains in tip-top shape in the wake of this new arrival. While at first there appears to be a genuine spark between Reynolds and Alma, it does not take long for there to be troubling signs. He casually drops some remarks about her imperfections, while she surprisingly enough has the gumption to give as good as she gets. But instead of maintaining her dignity, this results in the two of them butting up against each other with their shared obstinacy. Yet she manipulates him towards marriage, while I quietly scream that they need to cut their losses and run away from each other.

This definitely falls into the category of films I admire but do not particularly enjoy. The characters are marvelously realized, but too bullheaded to be pleasant for any extended period. I think that intimate exposure of imperfections is the point, and there is certainly a lot of room to appreciate that, but preferably from a safe distance.

Phantom Thread is Recommended If You Like: The Devil Wears Prada, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Witnessing the painstaking creative process

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 Measurements