Eric Plaag and Matt Smith

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Evil on this Train: A Review of Murder on the Orient Express

In Uncategorized on November 18, 2017 at 12:07 pm


by Matt Boyd Smith

There aren’t many changes to the core elements of this classic Agatha Christie story, but Kenneth Branagh’s stately, gorgeously-designed and exciting take on the quintessential locked-room murder mystery manages to remain entertaining and filled with interesting variations on a well-worn genre.

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Atomic Blonde: A Review (Spoilers)

In Uncategorized on August 11, 2017 at 9:29 pm


When Atomic Blonde debuted at SXSW last year, it was greeted with resounding enthusiasm. Its marketing showed a stylish, bone-crunching action-thriller that put a strong woman at the center and featured similarly mind-bending action sequences to John Wick, the current action film high water mark. The final product is not quite the female John Wick we’d been lead to believe, but it gets very close with its intense fight choreography and stunts that pile up amid a neon-drenched spy film set in 1989 Berlin.

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Quick Hit: Eric Takes on Mad Max: Fury Road

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2015 at 12:40 pm

By Eric Plaag

Matt is off somewhere waxing poetic about this film, so while he’s still riding that high, I’ll bring us back down to earth with this brief, capsule shot at Mad Max: Fury Road. I’m sure he will follow with his own review, or perhaps we’ll engage in another kerfuffle for our TheSplitScreen readers. Bring your popcorn. In the meantime:

*From a technical achievement perspective, Mad Max: Fury Road is utterly mind-blowing, especially in 3-D.

*From a stunt coordination perspective, Mad Max: Fury Road is utterly mind-blowing, especially in 3-D.

*From a set and production design perspective, Mad Max: Fury Road is utterly mind-blowing, completely jam-packed with interesting–no, fascinating–gestures, nods, and bows to George Miller’s decades-long fever dream on dystopia and post-apocalyptic cultural re-emergence. The shapes on stilts in the remnants of the Green Place, in particular, were mesmerizing and deserved far more time and explanation.

*From a character development perspective, this film is a complete mess.

We get almost no information about who Max is or what the source of his (frequent) hallucinations might be, nor can we rely on the past Mad Max films, given that this one seems to function in an alternative universe where Max’s dead son was actually a daughter. As a result, never in the history of highly regarded action films has there been a more cardboard-composite leading character. Furiosa suffers in similar ways, even if she has a bit more to work with, and her fall into the sand on learning the news of the Green Place was preposterously purple screenwriting that caused me to guffaw out loud. Indeed, perhaps the best developed character (and the only one with an actual arc) in the whole film is Nux, whose religious views, social motivations, and associated doubts about all of it are palpable and curiously complex for a secondary character.

*From a plot and story development perspective, this film is empty and simplistic, and at times the sense of physics and its consequences embodied by this film strains credulity even beyond any of the mind-numbing Fast and Furious films. Further, I’d have found the Leche League characters to be much more believable if they weren’t ACTUAL SUPERMODELS, because, news flash: brainless, undernourished stick women are going to be a dime a dozen in this type of post-apocalyptic future and not at all desirable for producing the kind of behemoths that Immortan Joe hopes to be his heirs.

While I marginally recommend the film, I’ve seen all of this before–technical and stunt achievements notwithstanding–and was largely unmoved by either story or character elements, which to me are crucial for a film to be considered truly outstanding. Put simply, if you want to explore post-apocalyptic dystopia with armored vehicles, worthy villains, and leads you can actually care about, then put your money on The Book of Eli. It did all of this, on a much smaller but far more meaningful scale, and it didn’t feel, as my wife Teresa called Mad Max: Fury Road, like a two-hour-long music video.

3 out of 5 stars

The Quarter-Life Crisis, or Going Backward to Move Forward: a review of Laggies

In Uncategorized on November 9, 2014 at 1:47 pm


by Matt Smith

Laggies, the new film from director Lynn Shelton (Humpday, Your Sister’s Sister), is a rather delightful rom-com about moving on from all the things holding you back. Indeed, the term “laggies” refers directly to its protagonist Meg’s (Keira Knightley) group of friends, who just can’t move past their identities in high school, as much as it does to Meg herself, who is lagging behind her development as an adult. Meg is down and out, in the full throes of a quarter-life crisis, and can’t move beyond her lack of a professional identity or her relationship with high school boyfriend Anthony (Mark Webber) which hasn’t progressed in nearly a decade. She’s in the middle of the same group of friends who have aggressively pushed themselves into adulthood—marriage, children, humorlessness—while missing the point of what growing up should be about. The stages of life sure seem miserable, and the fact that Meg wants none of it doesn’t seem to please her friends.
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Matt’s Top Ten Films of 2013 (it’s about damn time)

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm


by Matt Smith

I didn’t see Neil Jordan’s vampire flick until very late in the year, but I’m very glad I did. The visuals are lush, the performances grand, and the tone tender yet still chilling. The film centers on the mother-daughter vamps Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan), who stole their immortality from an all-male society centuries ago. The story unfolds in a piece-meal, somewhat labyrinthine fashion, with fragments of information periodically filling in the backstory of our protagonists. Refreshingly, Byzantium doesn’t feel like a retread of either the current vamp vogue or that now-classic other Neil Jordan-directed film Interview with the Vampire. Instead, the film takes a decidedly feminist slant, examining and interrogating the struggles of Clara and Eleanor against the patriarchal hierarchies inherent in the genre, and inverting the power relationships typical of the romanticism at play in stories about vampirism. Ronan is a knockout as Eleanor, delivering her second great performance of the year (the other being in the little-seen young adult apocalypse flick How I Live Now), proving that she is one of the most exciting actresses of her age group, and providing a counter to the equally-talented Emma Watson’s roles as she has attempted to shirk the Harry Potter behemoth from her back. Here Ronan continues her trek into strong female lead territory, with her standard softness which belies a visceral nature of violence lurking just underneath the surface. She’s an impassioned and compassionate character, but vicious when she needs to be. Byzantium is a gorgeous film that begs to be seen, and it was neglected by viewers upon its release. Now would be a good time for everyone to discover this gem. It’s the best thing I saw in 2013.
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