Cary, NC – Split, directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Signs), is a thriller about three girls who are kidnapped by a man with 24 personalities, played marvelously by James McAvoy (X-Men: Days of Future Past). The film marks a welcome return for Shyamalan, who crafts a highly entertaining and tense ride that features stand out turns from McAvoy and newcomer Anya Taylor-Joy.
Two Great Lead Performances
Taylor-Joy, who first popped up on my radar with last year’s excellent horror film, The Witch, is quickly becoming a genre staple. Confident, capable and believable, Taylor-Joy is a true talent. Her interactions with McAvoy are filled with tension and unpredictability. When your co-star gives the kind of performance McAvoy does (more on that in just a moment), it’s hard to stand your ground but she meets him head on and keeps you rooting for her until the very end.
McAvoy Chews Scenery And Has A Blast
Now, speaking of McAvoy’s character(s), this is a role that truly requires an actor to go big or go home. Plagued by 24 personalities, we actually only get to meet nine of them but McAvoy makes each one distinct, completely changing everything about his performance from one character to the next without having to rely on wigs or makeup to sell the differences. It might sound strange, but it’s actually a hoot watching McAvoy chew the scenery. Don’t get me wrong: he is menacing in all the right places, but it’s also clear he is having a blast, which helps keep the movie from taking itself too seriously.
Shyamalan Finds His Groove Again
Of course enormous credit must also go to writer/director Shyamalan. The filmmaker has been quietly returning to form, starting with last year’s similarly fun and simple horror film, The Visit. With Split, Shyamalan once again keeps things small and focused, while also leaning into the ridiculous. He wisely injects random and off-kilter moments of humor in the film, adding to the lack of predictability that flows through the entire movie.
Worth The Trip
Shyamalan has seemingly found his groove again, as Split proves to be tense, funny, captivating and filled with great performances across the board. I’m truly hoping he can keep up the momentum for what he does next, but until then, go see Split and have a blast.
20th Century Women
Cary, NC – 20th Century Women is a unique movie, showing off the philosophies of the past and the unusual family life of its writer and director. But with a lack of story and an emphasis on messages and lessons, it’s a film that will enthrall some and irritate others.
No Plot, Lots of Talk
If you go into 20th Century Women expecting a streamlined coming-of-age story, I’m afraid I have some bad news. There is definitely a story to pick out: Divorced mother Dorothea Fields wants to make sure she raises her teenage son Jamie right, imparting not only her advice and wisdom but the advice of 20-something Abbie and teenage Julie, whom Jamie has a powerful crush on.
The movie jumps around in time and focuses mainly on how these characters interact at different times and what messages the three women in Jamie’s life teach him. Dorothea represents a more traditional feminism of the 1960s while Abbie is more rebellious and Julie is, in many ways, as naïve as Jaime and learns about men while he learns about women.
And so the movie goes. It fits the mold of director and writer Mike Mills other big film, Beginners, in how autobiographical it is. Dorothea and Jamie are based on Mills’ own life and mother and we are treated to her wisdom. Sometimes it is more subtle and well done but often it comes in the form of pithy statements that you may either find poignant or eye-rolling.
Going For Something Different
Mills has to be given a lot of credit for doing a movie that is different from most others. Not only is he exposing himself with this personal story – just as he did with Beginners when he told the story of his elderly father coming out as gay – but he takes risks with visuals, jumping around in time and using experimental effects to mess with light and color.
The actors performances are a little more hit-or-miss. Annette Bening (American Beauty, The Kids Are All Right) stands out the most as Dorothea, giving a kind of weighty, wise persona to fit the character. No one matches to reach this level, with Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon, Live By Night) getting the closest as she plays a teenager coming into her own.
Not everyone is going to enjoy 20th Century Women but if you want to see a family drama where people are nice to one another and try to help out, it’s a fitting film for that.