Nineteen years after writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's sophomore effort, Unbreakable, and two years after he confirmed his return to form with Split, the unique auteur has concocted what is the third film in an unlikely, but not so unlikely trilogy given the twist in Unbreakable was that all-along viewers were watching the origin story of a new hero and his arch nemesis yet were unaware of it. Like Unbreakable, Split was marketed under the guise of a different genre than what its true intentions held and when that original, James Newton Howard score re-emerged in those final moments of Split almost two years ago to the weekend it was one of the greatest "twists" I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing in a theater. This inadvertently created an issue for Shyamalan though, as with this trilogy-capper, Glass, there is no disguising what genre this film belongs to: this is a super hero movie through and through. And so, for a director who has made a name and a career off of the misdirect and/or "twist ending" the challenge in penning his first, unabashed sequel would be that of how might he might continue building these characters organically while integrating them into one another's respective worlds as well as framing the continuation of their story through a device that would satisfy the intrigue and sustain the investment. The idea that James McAvoy's "Beast" or Kevin Wendall Crumb as we know he truly exists is in the same world as Bruce Willis' David Dunn and Samuel L. Jackson's Elijah Price made for some exciting prospects, but where would Shyamalan actually go with things? How would these three individuals find their way across one another's paths and even if they happened to meet-what might it ultimately amount to? These are big questions that require much ambition and follow-through and while Shyamalan has been saying since Unbreakable opened in 2000 that he's had ideas or plans for a follow-up the time has finally come to put up or shut-up and for the most part, it's a good thing Shyamalan doesn't shut-up. With Glass, the filmmaker certainly has much to communicate and much he wants to say, but one will be hard pressed to figure out how all of these (broken) pieces are meant to fit together.
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I mean, I could actually see Ike looking a little like Bill Engvall as he gets older.
But forrealz, I can't decide if this would be better/less stressful or just seem completely ridiculous if so much of it didn't hit so close to home.
There are a thousand different statistics out there about the opioid crisis, but within each of those numbers touted about in the "Americans are now more likely to die from opioid overdoses than car crashes" headlines there are also that many individual stories-some of which no doubt share many a similarities-while others exist wholly in their own unique bubble.
In Peter Hedges' Ben is Back the writer/director behind such dewy-eyed works of genuine affection like Dan in Real Life and The Odd Life of Timothy Green turns his attention to one such scenario that includes your average middle class, upstate New York family where Julia Roberts is the mom, Holly, with two kids from a previous marriage, the titular Ben played by Hedges' son, Lucas, and the over-achieving daughter, Ivy, as played by Blockers' Kathryn Newton, who has since re-married to Neal (Courtney B. Vance) with whom she has two younger children. The dynamic of the somewhat blended family would stand on solid foundation were it not for Holly's oldest son who became addicted to pain killers at a young age which served as a segue into other drugs and dangerous circles.
From the outside, Ben is Back admittedly looks like your run-of-the-mill addiction drama that might pave over the ugly stuff in favor of telling an inspiring story of redemption, but the film is keen on not glossing over certain realities, but instead reinforces the fact that this could ultimately become anyone's reality-even someone who lives in a nice suburban house and participates in the Christmas pageant every year. Surprisingly, this is a film that not only packs in the expected simultaneous beauty and heartbreak that comes with being a parent, but also poses to be something of an authentic thriller with real, raw tension.
It's an interestingly structured screenplay that approaches the audience with a simple premise and seemingly average family before unraveling the layers and the complications that come along with those layers-it's really quite impressively done in terms of character definition and development. It doesn't hurt that Roberts is in top dramatic form here as a woman who must constantly walk the line between being this happy mother who is thrilled just to have her son back to that of a mother who is panicked and concerned about what that son might do next; it's as equally harrowing as it is unrelenting. As the film is largely something of a two-hander though, and as someone who hasn't yet completely warmed up to the idea of Lucas Hedges, credible actor, the twenty-two year-old won me over with his ability to also go from having all the confidence and charisma in the world-enough to make his mother believe he's truly made massive improvements after a seventy-seven day stint in rehab, anyway-to that of being this fearful, apologetic little boy that regresses in front of his mother. These pendulum swings in personalities are representative of the journeys each of these characters take and thus are representative of the journey we take in the film.
Ben may be back, but more importantly-so is Roberts-and I don't think young Hedges is going anywhere, anytime soon.
Charming is the key word here. You will be charmed. The Upside is charming. Charmed in the sense not that The Upside will put you under a spell necessarily, but more in the sense of it being a pure pleasure; a delight, if you will. Many a foreign films are re-tooled into American stories so as to make the context more familiar and the circumstances more relatable/understandable, but oddly enough the 2011 French film, The Intouchables, might be the last foreign film to come to mind when considering what would benefit from a re-contextualization as it, by virtue of its broad and rather simple odd-couple premise, feels the least foreign in terms of beats and emotions relayed. Still, for one reason or another it was deemed a big enough hit overseas and therefore must have been doing enough right to make a stateside studio want to re-make it once more (it has already been re-made in India as well as having a Spanish-language re-make to boot) and so why not hire the likes of Walter White and the most reliable comic actor of the moment to bring it to a wider, English-speaking audience? Thus, The Upside was born and first premiered on the festival circuit back in the fall of 2017, but was shelved and sold off following the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. Eventually bought by STX Entertainment, the studio is either hoping people overlook the time of year in which they are dumping this into theaters and simply trust the inspired pairing of Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart or they are just trying to unload what is sure to make some money, but what they ultimately realize was always an unnecessary piece of cinema. And yet, unnecessary as it may be, the inspired pairing of Cranston and Hart is what makes director Neil Burger's (Limitless, The Illusionist) re-make of the film a film with genuine heart and even a little insightful substance from time to time rather than that of a film completely devoid of any charm or wit that exists solely as an opportunity to replicate a previous winning formula. The Upside is certainly formula and it goes without saying any seasoned movie-goer will know to expect every beat this hits, but that doesn't mean it's neither appealing nor endearing as it strokes its familiar elements to the point it is these charming qualities that stand out most.
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