M. Night Shyamalan’s UNBREAKABLE (2000) stars Bruce Willis as a train-crash survivor confounded by comic-book buff Samuel L. Jackson’s insistence that he survived because just as Jackson’s bones are abnormally fragile (“They call me Mr. Glass.”), Willis’ body is indestructible. This was Shyamalan’s second movie and I like the way he plays with comic book tropes. However I don’t see why Willis would also acquire a kind of spider-sense for spotting evildoers, and no question Mr. Glass is a Cinema of Isolation cliche (particularly the isolation aspect: he apparently has no social life except his mother, and the film treats his condition as if he were unique). And I wish the ending captions had told us what happened to Willis, not just Jackson, though I gather a sequel may be in the offing (but given how much Shyamalan’s quality has fallen, I’m not optimistic). The deleted scenes here were interesting but a documentary on comics (including a number of noted creators) was disappointing: I’d be more interested in how Shyamalan applies the tropes here than a general comics discussion. “I’m going to ask you a question — it may sound a little strange.”
The only production of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE I’ve ever seen was a 1970s TV movie. When I rewatched it a couple of decades back, it left me wondering whether it was just a poor production (despite a cast including Laurence Olivier) or the play itself was dull (even Shakespeare can’t bat 100 percent). After watching the 2004 version with Al Pacino as Shylock, I can say it was definitely the production. Pacino does a great job as the resentful money-lender who puts up money for Antonio (Jeremy Irons) to help his bestie/possible ex-lover Bassanio (Joseph Fiennes) woo wealthy heiress Portia (Lynn Collins). But when Antonio’s bill comes due and he can’t pay, Shylock demands his right to the forfeit — a pound of fles, cut out from Antonio’s heart. Powerful though it was, the anti-Semitism is still repellent: Shylock pays a penalty for being Jewish and the Christian bigots all get happy endings (Shakespeare After All may have a point that Shylock pays for being anti-joy as much as being Jewish, but that doesn’t erase the anti-Semitism) “You called me dog before you had a cause; since I am a dog, beware my fangs.”
SET IT UP (2018) has the stressed-out administrative assistants to demanding bosses Taye Diggs and Lucy Liu decide to make their bosses fall in love and hopefully take it easy—when you control someone’s schedule completely, how hard can it be to arrange a meet cute? As they struggle to get the couple past the inevitable obstacles (including that Diggs is quite a jerk), they also notice how cute each other is … This is a pleasant enough movie, but for the life of me I don’t see why it’s gotten so many gushing reviews online. For a double bill I’d suggest White Christmas for a variation on the same premise. “We are not Cyrano-ing, this is totally The Parent Trap.”
The fifth season of THE AMERICANS was a disappointment — not bad, but they juggled a lot of plotlines and none of them paid off strongly enough to make the season work. There’s a possible American bioweapon targeting Soviet grain, Paige’s torment at being the child of spies, Henry getting an arc of his own, follow-ups on Oleg and Martha in Moscow (Martha, a character from previous seasons, really felt shoehorned in) … the cumulative effect leads to a personal turning point, but not enough to make the season work. Still, I’ll be back for S6. “Now I have power — I can crush people for you.”
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