Notes on Split

I went to see Split on my twenty-third birthday, and I was very excited. That was partly because my birthday was the day Donald Trump was inaugurated as President and it was a way to not think about, you know, events. But it was mostly because I am an M. Night Shyamalan apologist, and he was back! I love The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and The Happening, and after a string of bad decisions, he was resurgent. He’d had a surprise hit on television with Wayward Pines and his previous film, The Visit, had been both well-received and profitable. Now it was time for his redemption story to go mainstream with his biggest success since Signs.

And it did.

Measured by return on investment, Split was Shyamalan’s most profitable movie, turning $9 million into over $250 million, and it received some of the best reviews of his career. It was number one at the US box office for three consecutive weeks (a record in Shyamalan’s filmography matched only by The Sixth Sense), it had a sequel greenlit by April, and James McAvoy is one of the year’s prototypical examples of an actor locked out of the Oscars race by genre rather than merit. M. Night Shyamalan brought his reputation back from the dead with one of the year’s most successful movies.

And I hated it.

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Video Game Movies and Why They Suck

It is a truth universally acknowledged that no one has ever made a good movie based on a video game, since the genre came into being with 1993’s Super Mario Bros. I don’t usually care for such truths, but that’s one I’m happy to accept, by and large. I would possibly carve out an exception for some of the Pokémon movies, though I haven’t watched any of them in a long time, and there are, of course, some good movies about video games or inspired by their aesthetic: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wreck-It Ralph, Tron, etc. But as far as film adaptations of video games, it’s been one failure after another, with only occasional spells of mediocrity to shake things up.

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Speed Racer Is Not An Art Film

The air crackles with potential. A change is coming. I see it on the horizon. Hope is home to roost at last. The tide is about to turn. I know the signs. People in Film Twitter ask some question – What film would you make everyone else in the world watch? What film would you take into the bunker with you if the bombs fall? – and ever more people give the same answer as me.

Speed Racer.

But it’s not just Speed Racer – it’s everything that writer-director team Lilly and Lana Wachowski do. People who never mentioned Sense8 in their life outed themselves as viewers in their hundreds when it was cancelled. The Matrix was never out, but it’s back in, and even the sequels are getting more appreciative second looks. I see gifs of Jupiter Ascending used in non-ironic contexts, and all of a sudden people remember that Bound exists. When my favourite film magazine took suggestions for future issues, I scream-tweeted “WACHOWSKIS ISSUE PLEASE” and six people liked it, only one of whom co-runs this blog. I knew it would happen, but I didn’t realise it would happen this soon.

The Wachowskis are on the verge of a critical rehabilitation.

Please don’t fuck it up by calling Speed Racer an art film.

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In Defense of The Happening (Yes, Really)

M. Night Shyamalan was the worst director in the world until he wasn’t, the butt of endless jokes until he wasn’t, and a talentless hack who made two good films twenty years ago by fluke until he wasn’t. He spent almost a decade in the critical doghouse from 2006’s Lady in the Water until his first tentative steps towards redemption with 2015’s The Visit. Now, he’s back on top thanks to the incredible success of Split, which was lauded by critics as a welcome return to form and made a tidy profit somewhere in the region of a quarter of a billion dollars on a budget of less than ten million.

Here’s the problem: Split is an awful pile of crap. Worst still, he already made the movie that critics seem to think Split is – a great B-movie directed in the style of Hitchcock – nine years ago. Almost universally panned at the time, its reputation has only grown worse over the years, largely, I suspect, due to people on the Internet who’ve definitely never seen it using it as a cheap punchline. But what if it’s not one of the worst movies ever made? What if it’s sincerely enjoyable and great?

I’m not the first person to defend this movie, but I’m one of the few whose praise is full-throated and unapologetic. No caveats, no cop-outs. I think it’s a near-perfect execution of its concept and I wish I could take away all the acclaim that others have heaped on Split and give it to this movie instead.

I love The Happening.

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