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Movies

My Top 10 Films of 2016

A trio of great musicals, a pair of harrowing dramas, a superhero spectacle— these were my cinematic highlights of 2016.

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First of all, yes, I know: it’s almost the end of February 2017. We’re already two months into 2017, so it’s pretty damn late to do an “end-of-the-year wrap-up” list. And, to that, I say…you are completely right, reader. But look, I’ll be entirely honest: I don’t do these lists for you. I do them for myself, so that years from now, I have a “record” of sorts about what the year in pop culture really was. So yeah, maybe this isn’t exactly timely. But I feel obliged to do it anyway and, if you’re reading this, I hope you get some type of value out of this very untimely list. And, c’mon, cut me some slack here — I still beat the Oscars to the punch, so doesn’t that count for something?

And it wasn’t like I spent the last few months just twiddling my thumbs — the reason I didn’t write out my Top 10’s of the year sooner was because I had so much stuff I had to catch up on first. The way I do Top 10’s isn’t “the best things I saw in the last 365 days” — if it was, most of the best things in 2016 would make my 2017 list. Every year I spend my January going through the quality things I missed out on in the year, all in an effort to make as through a list as I can.

Which of course is still an impossibility: I’m sure I’ll end up seeing something months from now that I think was good enough to retroactively make my list. But hey, two months into the new year is already late enough: I couldn’t wait until June now, could I? In any case, here it finally is: my Top 10’s of 2016. Today I’ll be closing things out with my favorite movies of 2016. Kicking off the list at number 10 is…


10. Hardcore Henry



Yes sir, I am indeed starting this list out with class, aren’t I? But, look: as I said around the time the film was first released, you will know pretty much right off the bat if Hardcore Henry is the type of movie you will love. I certainly did, as the film’s unique action style and off-the-wall craziness is present within minutes of the film’s start. This is the kind of movie that has a telepathic Russian baddie for like no reason, and has an exciting action shootout in a seedy strip club for like no reason. But the reasons for why Hardcore Henry did pretty much everything it did was pretty simple in my mind: cause it’s REALLY freaking cool.

At the time of its release, Hardcore Henry was very much compared to a video game, and I do think the comparison is pretty apt. Like a video game, you kind of have to accept some puzzling plot progression, and a lot of things that don’t really add up. But once you do that in a video game, the sense of utter fun and joy that can be had with the thing knows no bounds.

Hardcore Henry operates much in the same way, with its crazy unique first person style creating some of the most striking, energetic action sequences released in years. And though the story might be silly, there are little strokes of cleverness to be had within the broad strokes. First and foremost is the character played by Sharlto Copley, who is not only the best use of the actor’s talents since District 9, but also an incredibly fun and rather interesting plot device. To say anything more is probably a spoiler, but just know this: as weird as it is to say on a list like this, I truly believe there’s a strong likelihood you will not love this movie. But you know what? I sure as hell did.


9. Hacksaw Ridge


Upon creating this list, I decided that I could only include one “Andrew Garfield suffers for his faith at the hands of the Japanese” movie, and boy was it a hard choice between Hacksaw Ridge and Silence. But at the end of the day, I have to give the edge to Hacksaw Ridge, for primarily one reason: I’m a war movie junkie, and I don’t think I’ve seen a war movie as brilliantly realized as this one since Saving Private Ryan. The latter film is one of my Top 10 movies of all time, so, you know…I was a prime audience for this one.

And though at lot has been said about its somewhat preachy opening act, I think it was necessary to spell out Desmond Doss’ beliefs, and just how much it has impacted his life and time in the army. I am personally always interested in well-told stories about belief, even as a pretty un-religious person. And once again, when the film gets to the nitty-gritty of the massacre that occurred on Hacksaw Ridge, having the first half to back it up really does make it land all the better.

And, honestly, I loved Hacksaw Ridge just because it was so god damn refreshing. Well much has been said about the innate brutality of the film, one thing that I feel hasn’t been mentioned enough about the movie is how it idolizes a legitimately good person, a hero with very little flaws to put aside. War movies are often about heroes to some extent, but never have I felt it so profoundly than with Hacksaw Ridge. Because this is a movie about the heroism that comes from saving others through healing, not through harm. And regardless of the politics of it all, I would argue we need more films like this right now.


8. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping


Look, I already wrote about the joys of Popstar back in my “Best Movies of Summer 2016” list, so I’m just going to re-quote what I said about the film there right here, since it still all completely applies today.

Not a day went by this summer when my heart didn’t hurt just a little bit for how hard Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping bombed at the box office. I was lucky enough to see Popstar at an early screening a month or so before it came out, and fell in love with the comedy almost instantly. It has humor, it has heart, it has like a dozen catchy songs — what more could I possibly want from it?

The best thing I could say about Popstar is that it reminds me of the very best Will Ferrell comedies, from Anchorman to Step Brothers, and that Andy Samburg does an exquisite job of playing the Ferrell-esque fool at the center of the film. But when the film isn’t being outrageously funny, it also does a stellar job of telling its central story in a surprisingly sweet way. Popstar is the type of film that SHOULD have been an early summer break-out, and the fact it didn’t catch on has me supremely bummed. At the very least, I hope Popstar is set to become a buzzed about cult comedy classic like a decade down the line. Considering the quality of the final project, it at least deserves that much.

Popstar was the funniest comedy of 2016, without a doubt.


7. Kubo and the Two Strings


Oh hey, I also wrote about Kubo on that list too so, y’know, might as well re-quote it! Even in a competitive year for the form, Kubo is the best animated motion picture of 2016. I just wish it saw nearly as much success as all the others…

I have been a fan of Laika since the very beginning, and have championed the studio as doing things with animation that very few others (including Pixar!) would dare to do. Laika truly takes chances with their storytelling and animation, and is not afraid to delve into the uncomfortable, gross, spooky, or what have you. Those have been aspects of all three of their previous efforts (Coraline, Paranorman, and The Boxtrolls) to various degrees, and they are quickly getting to the point as a studio that I completely believe whatever films they make will be worthy of my time. Not only did this summer’s Kubo and the Two Strings cement that trust, but it also raised my expectations for the company to even grander heights.

To say that Kubo and the Two Strings is Laika’s grandest accomplishment is no small thing: like I said, this is a studio that has up until this point ONLY made great movies. But Kubo somehow manages to top all of them, combining jaw dropping effects, a delightful sense of adventure, and a fascinating story into probably the best animated film of the year. Unfortunately this is another one that isn’t getting its proper due (even with Laika’s low standards, the film is a bit of a disappointment at the box office with a gross so far of just $40 million), but in time I desperately hope that a big fandom will surround Kubo — if any film from this summer deserves such a thing, it would be this one.


6. Moonlight


Ah, Moonlight. What more can be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said before? It truly is a gem of a movie, one that does an astounding job at making you empathize with its main character. It’s also excruciating beautiful, brilliantly acted by a lot of great talent, and put together with such fine procession by writer/director Barry Jenkins.

I really wish I had more to say about Moonlight, but really the lack of things I have to say about it speaks volumes on its own — the film is just undeniably great, with the type of craft that only the best films can speak to. I don’t know what the film’s Oscar chances are come Sunday night, but even with the competition that “ranks” better in my list, I couldn’t possibly begrudge any praise that this film gets. Because it more than earns it.


5. Manchester by the Sea


From one heart-breaking drama to another, I guess it’s time to talk about the most notoriously depressing film of 2016: Kennether Lonnergan’s Manchester by the Sea. At this point, it’s almost become a gag: the film is pure misery, and everyone who tries to describe it comes away echoing the same basic thought.

And look, I’m not going to argue that Manchester by the Sea isn’t emotionally draining: it definitely is, and at no point does the film seem intent on “apologizing” to the audience for making them feel the way they are. But that in and of itself is why I loved Manchester — it’s incredibly true to life, and almost procedural in its portrayal of depression and crippling grief. Despite Lonnergan’s background, there’s never a point in Manchester by the Sea that feels overly theatrical, or emotionally manipulating. It’s just so matter-of-fact, and Lonnergan is such a brilliant writer that he can still devastate the audience with such relative simplicity. Add in some astounding performances from everybody involved (Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams especially), and you have the recipe for perhaps the best pure drama film of the entire year.


4. Sing Street


And now for something completely different! While Manchester by the Sea might be the most depressing film of 2016, John Carney’s Sing Street might just be the happiest.

I’m not sure there was a single moment where I wasn’t beaming in this glorious little musical comedy, and it truly was a perfect antidote for a year that was, well, not very fun to behold. And Carney’s talent for music really shines through here, with a litany of 80’s-inspired songs that are still getting a lot of play on my Spotify playlist (try not to get “Riddle of the Model” stuck in your head. Come on, I dare you.)

But more than anything, Sing Street is a movie about the joy of creativity, and the wonder and fun that comes with creating something artistic. It’s upbeat and happy, and truly fits that whole cliche of “you’ll want to start dancing in the aisle with it!” Not literally of course (I was at home on my recliner, so there was no aisle to speak of anyways, but you get my point.) As I put on Twitter the night I saw it, Sing Street is just delightful, and no other film this year earns that adjective nearly as much.

Plus, it made Mr. Statutory Rape from Transformers: Age of Extinction one of the coolest and most likable screen presence’s of the entire year. That’s practically a miracle!


3. Captain America: Civil War


Though I technically also wrote about Captain America: Civil War in my Best of Summer 2015 list, I’ll go ahead and write something different here, since I just recently re-watched the movie, and all the great things I felt watching it the first time very much came back.

Captain America: Civil War is going down as my favorite movie of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and in the Top 3 of my favorite superhero movies of all time. The fact I can still say that about the MCU a dozen films in speaks to how spectacularly Marvel is at what they do, and how their trust in strong filmmakers continues to benefit them. Civil War has all of the whizzbang action excellence that has made superhero films so fun in the past, but also doesn’t back away from exploring a more dramatic, thought provoking side of the universe. It’s huge in scale but deliciously intimate, to the point that you really do feel intense pain when you see the heroes of the brand go at it.

Civil War is the kind of film you can only get after 10 odd films of build-up, and is a fantastic culmination of what Marvel has been doing with their universe building so far. But even just in terms of big blockbuster entertainment, I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun watching a film like this, with Civil War besting everything else in the past half decade at least. Civil War is indeed the new benchmark for how great comic book movies can be, and the fact that the same people behind it (and the also great Captain America: Winter Soldier) are currently in production on Avengers: Infinity War couldn’t have me happier. They pulled off one hell of a hat trick here, and I’m beyond curious to see if they can pull it off again.


2. Hunt for the Wilderpeople


Above I called Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping the funniest comedy of 2016, but you might notice that I didn’t call it the best. No, that honor confidently goes to Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople, the comedic gem that premiered at Sundance back in January 2016, and opened in limited release during the summer.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the most charming movies I’ve seen in years, enlivened by two great performances by its two main stars (breakout Julian Dennison and Alan Grant himself, Sam Neill) and one heck of a funny script. But what put Hunt for the Wilderpeople over the edge is truly its direction from Waititi, who helms the film with the kind of self-assuredness you would never expect from a man on his sophomore feature. The film is energetic and stylish, with a sort of Wes Anderson vibe that bounces well off of the beautiful New Zealand vistas.

Though a comedy first and foremost, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a really enjoyable adventure romp, with its fair share of exciting moments and small scale action scenes. It’s also incredibly sweet, with an ending that makes you feel the kind of euphoria that only a great film with wonderful characters can truly manage. Watching Hunt for the Wilderpeople was one of the most delightful moments for me in 2016, and its one of the few films on this list I would recommend whole-heartedly to pretty much every person I know.


1. La La Land


Yes, yes, I know — you don’t “get” La Land Land. You don’t see why the film is getting all the acclaim it is getting, and you just see it as another “overrated” piece of Oscar bait. And as I’m going to elaborate on in a latter article, that’s totally okay. But here’s the thing: I loved La La Land. With every fiber of my being, I love this goddamn movie.

I listen to the soundtrack everyday, with it being the rare musical in which EVERY song is great. I loved the chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, and honestly could give two shits about whether the two can actually sing or dance or whatever. I loved Damien Chazelle’s direction, who after this and Whiplash, has proven himself to be perhaps the most talented young filmmaker in Hollywood. And I love the ending, which is a breathtaking experience to behold, and a fascinating place to end its characters on.

But, more than anything, I love what La La Land IS, by the pure nature of what it’s exploring. It’s a film about two artists growing off of each other, a subgenre that I am admittedly a sucker for. It’s a beautiful theme that I always love to see shown in art, even if it can get a little bit self-important sometimes. But once again, I don’t care — as a fellow dreamer, it’s uplifting and beautiful to see such a perfectly realized take on how two people can so profoundly impact each other. As an artist, as a romantic, and as just a lover of damn good cinema, I’m going to paraphrase the words of famed poet Sir Mix-A-Lot here when I say that I LOVED La La Land — and I cannot lie about that fact. So, umm, deal with it, I guess? Yeah, that sounds right.


And there you have it — my extremely late choices for the 10 Best Films of 2016. Check out my similar list of the best TV shows of 2016 below:

https://freshlypoppedculture.com/my-top-10-tv-shows-of-2016-7cfb3f46d7a0


Also published on Medium.

Matthew Legarreta is the Editor and Owner of Freshly Popped Culture. A big ol' ball of movie, TV, and video game loving flesh, Matthew has been writing about pop culture for nearly a decade. Matthew also loves writing about himself in the third person, because it makes him feel important (or something.)

Movies

Feel Free To Take The Rest of The Day Off, The John Wick: Chapter 3 Trailer Is Here

The national holiday known as John Wick Trailer Day begins…now.

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I love movie trailers. I know for some they find the mere act of watching a movie trailer a “spoiler” for what is to come in the final film, and look, I get it. Sometimes, there are moments and things I see in a trailer that, when I watch the full movie, I wish I could have taken back seeing. But, for me, there’s something so magical about the trailer watching experience that I can’t throw away the art form entirely. And though you might bristle at my definition of trailer making as an “art form”…eh, you’re wrong. There is a beauty to a well produced, well edited trailer, and the best ones are examples of the power that come with the form. Yes, they’re marketing, and yes, they’re sometimes scattershot, thrown together bores. But the good ones? Watching those come hand in hand with watching movies, at least from my perspective.

All of which is a long preamble to me saying that, on Youtube, I have a private little playlist of trailers for movies, TV, and video games that I absolutely LOVE. Trailers that I return to again and again and again, just because the craft that went into them is so staggering. One of those trailers is this first one for John Wick: Chapter 2, which was my first indication that “Woah, this one is going to be something special.” And it very much was! But even outside the general kickassery of that sequel, the trailer was and is absolutely delightful. So coming into today’s big release of the John Wick: Chapter 3 trailer, I had some very high hopes. Would — and could — this trailer manage to match the quantified hype levels that the Chapter 2 teaser put out?

Honestly, no, not quite. But the first trailer for Chapter 2 didn’t show us a FREAKING KATANA MOTORCYCLE CHASE/FIGHT, so it rather evens out, don’t you think?

And not being as masterful as the first Chapter 2 trailer ≠ being bad. In fact, from a purely technical and academic level, this trailer would probably best be described as something that, fundamentally, “fucks to the max.” You got the aforementioned motorcycle chase, which indeed fucks hard. You got the much teased “Keanu on a horse” action, which indubitably fucks. You got John Wick murdering people with a book, which of course fucks, how could you even question such at thing. And you got Halle Berry and her attack dogs joining in on all the fun, which in this franchise of course, is murdering people. Sounds like Trailer Fucks Bingo, if you ask me.

And what the trailer does so well (and what I hope the film will do well too) is amp up the tension, to an insane degree. Ending the second film on that huge cliffhanger was a brilliant move, as seeing Wick prepare in the “one hour head start” he has to get the hell out of New York before literally every hitman around comes to assassinate him makes for a heck of a sequel pitch. And the trailer plays around with that deliciously, racketing up the tension in the first half to deliver the true fireworks in the second. Set to a remixed version of the crooner tune “The Impossible Dream” by Andy Williams, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the operatic, pulse pounding remix of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” used in the Chapter 2 trailer, but it still makes for an interesting, exciting contrast.

John Wick: Chapter 3 Trailer

And everything else about this trailer is classic John Wick greatness, from the many, MANY creative kills (seriously, that book thing) to the surprisingly crisp, exciting photography brought to life by cinematographer Dan Laustsen. Lausten took an already pretty presentation from the original John Wick and made it flat our gorgeous, and that sense of visual beauty is all over this trailer. I love action movies that take the time to actually look good, and John Wick is one of the few franchises committed to having that kind of aesthetic. In addition to the mayhem, carnage, and wacky-ass world building, of course.

Anywho, this is a great trailer, but it does little to change my overall excitement for the film — after all, it’s hard to go much farther than “PUMP THIS SHIT IN MY VEINS NOW,” right?

John Wick: Chapter 3Parabellum (yes, this one has a subtitle, to the annoyance of SEO managers everywhere) hits theaters on May 19. And even if the first trailer is a smidge below the one for John Wick: Chapter 2, the astounding first two posters released for the film more than make up for it. BRB, clearing wall space.

“John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is on the run for two reasons… he’s being hunted for a global $14 million dollar open contract on his life, and for breaking a central rule: taking a life on Continental Hotel grounds. The victim was a member of the High Table who ordered the open contract. John should have already been executed, except the Continental’s manager, Winston, has given him a one-hour grace period before he’s “Excommunicado” – membership revoked, banned from all services and cut off from other members. John uses the service industry to stay alive as he fights and kills his way out of New York City.”


Also published on Medium.

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God Damn It, Sony is Back On That Ghostbusters 3 Shit Again

“I am so freaking tired writing about Ghostbusters sequels.” – Me, in the year like Two-Thousand-God-Damn-Twelve

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I thought we were passed this, you guys. I really, truly did.

After nearly a decade of writing stuff about Ghostbusters 3, I thought the release of Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters reboot (maybe subtitled Answer the Call? I don’t fucking know) signified the end of an era. All the in-fighting, fanboy hyperbole, acute sexism, accusations of sexism, controversies, cameo wrangling, and nostalgia baiting all led up to 2016’s Ghostbusters — and it all fizzled like a recently used Muon Trap. The reboot got mixed-positive reception from critics, but absolutely bombed at the box office, grossing a paltry $229 million worldwide off a budget of $144 million. After literally decades of build-up, I thought this was how the saga ended: a middling-to-bad reboot that would end up being forgotten to time, in a franchise that likely wouldn’t see the light of day for decades to come.

Oh, but don’t underestimate the folks at Sony Pictures! Apparently it only took them two years to turnaround from the failure of 2016’s Ghostbusters, wipe their hands on their jeans, and get back to work on revitalizing the series. So in a move that I can’t imagine anyone in the year of our lord 2019 asked for, we’re getting another Ghostbusters movie, completely divorced from everything set up from the last one. So another reboot, essentially!

But, no, that would be inaccurate. Because this project will be a sequel of sorts…a sequel to the original two Ghostbusters, that is. In what should have been clear from the start, but inexplicably wasn’t for the team behind 2016’s reboot, these “thirty years later” revitalizations are incredibly popular nowadays. From The Force Awakens to Creed, every series that was once popular decades ago is now being revitalized, with a younger cast indeed “rebooting” the series, but the old guard sticking around to serve as a continuation, rather than a rehash, of what came before. It’s like having your cake and eating it too: the studio gets their “new” franchise off the back of an old one, but you respect and excite fans by showing more of what they loved the first time. It’s a win-win and, quite honestly, I think the quality of these legacyquels (as Matt Singer so brilliantly coined) has been better than the standard reboot/remakes we were getting for a while there.

By going this route, franchise films can at least make a statement about their own impact, or their place in the pop culture cannon, which is a lot more than standards reboots usually do. Those end up just saying the same exact story over again, trying to tap into the magic of seeing it for the first time, but absolutely failing to do so. You know, like how the 2016 Ghostbusters did. As much as one group might like to bitch and moan about how casting women ruined everything, it wasn’t the genitals of the cast that took down Ghostbusters, and it’s absolutely insane I have to write something like that in the first place. It was the uninspired, meandering, and ultimately forgettable way Ghostbusters tried to cash in on its predecessor’s clout that ultimately did it in.

But let’s make like Sony, and forget that whole movie ever even happened: a new Ghostbusters is coming, whether you like it or not. And if you think this is just in the planning stages, or something Sony rattled off as a potential project during an investor’s meeting, think again. Because, slightly burying the lede here (that you probably read everywhere else, so forgive me for assuming you already know) is the fact this project is coming from none other than Jason Reitman, the filmmaker behind Tully, Juno, and the like. He’s also the son of franchise director Ivan Reitman which, y’know, I’m sure is totally unrelated.

Anywho, he has been working on it in secret for a while now alongside Monster House writer Gil Kenan, and the project is already set to begin shooting by the end of the year for a Summer 2020 release. Still don’t believe me? Just take a look at the already released teaser for the film, reportedly done by Reitman himself, and brandishing the “Summer 2020” release in plain sight. This one’s coming folks, and coming fast.

Now just in case you needed reminding, this one DEFINITELY takes place in the original continuity — you hear that Elmer Bernstein score? Oh yeah, buddy, that’s OG shit right there. And on the surface, yeah, it’s pretty cool to ape that aesthetic. And Jason Reitman is a strong director, even if this one seems like a very strange fit for him (his films are funny, sure, but not out-and-out comedies: his sensibilities are more Sofia Coppola than Judd Apatow). But I just can’t get excited about this thing, not in a way I might have back in 2012 or whatever. After years and years of talk about further Ghostbuster films, only to get the subpar 2016 reboot, I’ve rather soured on this franchise. Unless the pitch is really strong, and the actors involved (all teenagers, from what’s been reported) are interesting, I just can’t get enthused about the prospects of Ghostbusters 3: Here We Fuckin’ Go Again.

Even worse will be the discourse around it, and the shit that stained the last one floating back up to the surface. Another round of talking about whether or not the original movie is good (it is.) Another round talking about whether Ghostbusters 2 is bad (it is, very.) Another round of needless appreciation for Paul Feig’s tepid reboot. Another round of MRA asshats whipping their dicks out and complaining about how only men can shoot imaginary beams out of imaginary packs while capturing imaginary beings in an imaginary story. Another round of well-meaning but overbearing people, in kind, giving more credit than necessary to a movie that frankly doesn’t deserve it. And another round of me whining about the discourse, whilst doing absolutely nothing to divorce myself from it.

It’s all just…so…tiring.

Ghostbusters 3

Like Bill Murray in another, non-Ghostbusters movie (that actually is a lot better than Ghostbusters if you think about it), I can’t help but feel I am stuck in an endless loop writing about this thing. Ten years from now? I’ll be writing about Ghostbusters 3. Twenty years from now? Ghostbusters 3. Thirty years from now? I won’t be writing about anything, what with the collapse of all life on the planet and what not. But the last thing I write before I fight in the water wars, or engage in vehicular combat for gasoline, or — most likely — drown in the rising sea levels?

Fucking Ghostbusters 3, man.


Also published on Medium.

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The Crushing, Existential Sadness of The Disappointing Glass Reviews

R.I.P. Shyamalanassaince: September 2015 – January 2019.

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I am eternally fascinated by the career of M. Night Shyamalan. After bursting on the scene with The Sixth Sense nearly 20 years ago, the man went on to gain an incredibly rare status amongst his directing brethren: actual name recognition! He’s one of the few directors who many people outside Film Twitter can name — up there with Spielberg, Scorsese, and Tarantino. But unlike those other directors, Shyamalan’s brand can probably be described more as “infamous” than famous, especially in recent years. The man went from the New Spielberg to a laughing stock…literally.

And well his fall from grace is, in some accord, deserved (his movies post Signs are all dire to varying degrees), I still can’t help but feel pretty bad for the guy. He went from being a huge up-and-coming talent, the next big thing in the world of Hollywood, to an absolute joke amongst critics, audiences, and his peers. It’s the classic Hollywood rise-and-fall, played out in slow motion over a twenty year period. But right when all things seemed over for Shyamalan, and he delivered for the first time something Hollywood would not allow (a legitimate box office bomb in the form of After Earth), Shyamalan attempted what few failed artists can surmount: an honest-to-goodness comeback.

And it wasn’t a sudden comeback either: Shyamalan spent years revitalizing his public image, first doing so with the surprisingly solid The Visit back in 2015. It was a return to low-budget roots for the director, and its nature as a sort of pallet cleanser for the director was very much apparent. It was a movie he seemed obliged to make to get even an ounce of his creative juices flowing again, and it turned out to be a pretty fun little comedy/horror movie to boot.

After some decent television work developing and directing Wayward Pines, Shyamalan came roaring back to life with another low budget delight, 2017’s Split. It was a film that was thrilling, funny, well crafted, and genuinely exciting. Basically, it was something we hadn’t seen from the man in damn near 15 years, and audiences took notice. On the backing of a bravado post credit scene, linking the film to his previous cult classic Unbreakable, response to the movie was incredibly promising. And remember that whole thing about Shyamalan’s Hollywood clout running out because he made a bomb? Well, Split, off a $9 million budget, made $238 million — making it a massive, massive hit. A good movie AND a hugely successful one? Yup, Shyamalan was back, and as a huge fan of his first three features, I couldn’t have been happier for him.

Now we stand a mere five days away from the release of Glass, Shyamalan’s newest feature. As a sequel to his current hit Split, and one of his past hits, Unbreakable, it serves as pretty much a crescendo for the entire man’s career. One of those “everything has been leading up to this” moments those voiceover guys are always talking about in the commercial. Glass was — had to be — the thing that solidified the Shyamalanassaince.

…And he whiffed it. Goddamn it, he fucking whiffed it.

Glass Reviews

That’s at least according to the first reviews for the film, which were released Wednesday following the lift of the film’s press embargo. To say they were incredibly mixed is an understatement. Here’s just a sampling of some of the notable ones:

‘Glass’ Review: M. Night Shyamalan’s Grounded Superhero Movie Is the Biggest Disappointment of His Career

Glass’ tries and fails to shatter the comic book movie formula

M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass is half-empty and deeply unsatisfying

M. Night Shyamalan’s Long-Awaited ‘Glass’ Is A Bewildering Misfire

‘GLASS’ REVIEW: M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN BREAKS HIS CLEVEREST FRANCHISE

I don’t say this often because I’m not a character in an early 90’s sitcom, but…ouch-a-rooney. Those are not pretty reviews, and are a direct return back to the critical dragging that was unleashed upon films like Lady in the Water, The Happening, and The Last Airbender. And though it would be easy to cry “Well, the critics are wrong!” here (as people on the internet often do, bafflingly)…they weren’t wrong with those last three. They were all terrible. And with Shyamalan’s track record, I’m unfortunately going to have to take the critic’s side here: by all accounts, Glass is an excruciating disappointment. And, man…what a fucking bummer.

Of course, I have yet to see film myself (I’m not special like all those other film journalists), and I remain somewhat hopeful I’ll come out on the positive side of things. But, at this point, it’s undeniable that this whole thing has put a massive dent in the pent up anticipation for the film. Since Split, it’s been a solid two years of anticipation from Shyamalan apologists like myself: we finally got the sequel we spent a decade asking for and, even better, it came in a way that seemed unique, fresh, and necessary. It wasn’t just a last ditch effort for Shyamalan to gain some clout back from his former fans. He did the work, guys! But like a drug addict who was on the op-and-up, only to suffer an insurmountable relapse, Shyamalan has fallen once more. He was supposed to be our Timothee Chalamat — our Beautiful Boy. And now we’re all very, very sad Steve Carrell.

Because, on a personal note? This has massively curbed my enthusiasm for Glass which, up until this point, was pretty sky high. I really had faith in the movie — naively, I admit — and my hype was frankly off the charts for it. I’m currently in the process of writing up my list of most anticipated films of 2019 (yeah, yeah, I’m late, whatever), and let’s just say Glass had a very high ranking amongst that list. Emphasis on the had — as much as I want to see the film still, I just can’t get excited for it like I was before the negative reviews. And I doubt I’m the only one either; this really puts a damper on the pre-release hype, as you would expect.

On my planned path to MAXIMUM HYPE, I just got done re-watching Unbreakable in the lead up of Glass‘s release. And guess what? That movie still fucking rocks. It’s slow and contemplative and weird, but it manages to engross me with every single frame. And just seeing it again made me slightly more optimistic for Glass, if anything to see these characters again. But in the back of my mind, that voice was still being cautious: “it’s going to be a disappointment. It’s very bad, apparently. DON’T. GET. EXCITED.” That voice is probably right…but also a fucking buzzkill.

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And the saddest thing of all, to me, is that it seemed no one really saw it coming. Usually when a film is going to be poorly received by critics, press releases are held very close to the film’s opening weekend. You don’t want bad word-of-mouth to sour the launch, so you cut off as many people from seeing it as you possibly can. And yet, Glass screened almost two weeks earlier for critics: usually, a sign that the people involved imagined that it would be, at the very least, tolerated. Hell, when I first saw Film Twitter commenting about the press screenings, I got exciting, thinking that Universal and Shyamalan probably imagined the film was going to get great reception, and wanted to ride that buzz into the film’s launch. I mean, you wouldn’t set up a series marathon across the country a week before the film’s domestic release if you didn’t have faith people would respond well to it…right?

That’s my thinking at least, which leads to a pretty depressing conclusion: the poor response is blindsiding everyone involved. They screened the movie early because, generally, they thought that people were going to end up liking it. The fact that a majority didn’t (and, even worse, some outright despised it) probably came as something of a sneak attack. And for a director whose probably experienced that experience MANY times in his career (for better or worse, Shyamalan seemed to buy into his own hype there pretty bad for a while), for it to happen to him again right on the cusp of his grand return is probably the harshest sting of all. Or in Simpson meme:

There’s a reason why so many movies are about underdogs: everybody loves them. To see a character rise up from the bottom and make it to the top is one of the most common — yet satisfying — forms of storytelling. Even more satisfying is the “comeback kid,” someone who manages to rise from the bottom, fall from the top, and rise up yet again. It’s inspiring to know that, despite our failures, we can still succeed — and we love to see that narrative play out. But this is no movie: this is real life, and things don’t always turn out as we want them to in real life. Rocky gets knocked out in the first round. The Slumdog Millionaire beefs it on Question #1. Daniel-San gets his ass handed to him instantly. And M. Night Shyamalan makes yet another bad movie. For as much as the characters in his movies might be Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan sure as hell isn’t.


Also published on Medium.

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