MOVIE BUFF-ET: Creepy, crooked performances by McAvoy, Keaton make Split, The Founder stand out

Photo: John Baer/Universal Studios

For the first hour and 50 minutes of its running time, Split masquerades as a clever and meticulously made, but schlocky women-in-peril horror film that uses varied and creative camera angles to provoke its audience.

However, in the final five minutes director M. Knight Shyamalan slowly reveals what the movie is actually up to, and that reveal makes the film even more interesting and promising.

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Even without the reveal — which I won’t give away in case you haven’t already been spoiled — the film is a return to form by Shyamalan who took the film world by storm with suspense thrillers The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable before stumbling and falling on his face with a succession of demonstratively weaker films.

While I wouldn’t go as far to say Split is as good a film as either The Sixth Sense or Unbreakable, it is an effective thriller that evokes the work of Hitchcock in its best moments and B-movie thrills at its worst.

The film is creepy, and James McAvoy excels as the creep. Or, should I say creeps?
McAvoy plays Kevin a man who suffers from dissociative identity disorder or split personalities. His psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) has identified 23 distinct identities residing in Kevin’s mind and there may be more seeking to get out.

McAvoy is like a chameleon in portraying these personalities with only the slightest help of clothing changes to make it work. His body language, emotive eyes and delivery of the lines make each personality unique.

Kevin’s personalities refer to each other collectively as the Horde. Barry, a gay fashion designer, is usually the personality in charge or “in the light.”

However, Dennis, a violent man with a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the prim but overbearing Patricia have revolted and wrestled the light away from Barry. There is also the 9-year-old Hedwig personality who also gains the light from time to time.

As Dennis, Kevin abducts three teen girls from a shopping mall and locks them away. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) plays the introverted Casey, the most capable of the trio. Much like Kevin, Casey is “broken” as a victim of abuse and that gives her a bit of insight in dealing with Kevin’s multiple personalities.

Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu-Richardson, and Jessica Sula all play their parts well as the abducted teens. Buckley deftly handles her expository role as the psychiatrist, but McAvoy gives an 800-pound gorilla of a performance that’s as gonzo as can be.

McAvoy’s performance plus the final reveal will not doubt have many looking forward to what Shyamalan has up his sleeve next.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 57 min.
Grade: B

The Founder

The Weinstein Company

I’ve eaten more food from McDonald’s than I’d like to admit to. You may have too?

I admittedly like McDonald’s french fries better than any of the other fast food joints, but the real reason I’ve eaten more than my share of McDonald’s food is pretty simple. Its hamburgers aren’t sloppy.

I’ve done a ton of driving over the years to cover sports. To make deadline and to get home more quickly, I’ve eaten in the car a ton.

From experience, I’ve found that McDonald’s burgers can be handled one-handed with less mess and fuss than practically any other fast-food burger around. That’s the case whether you get the burger in Arkansas, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee or any other state in the nation.

The secret to McDonald’s success isn’t quality or speed or service; it’s consistency. You go to McDonald’s and you know what you’re going to get. There are no surprises.

I had never really considered how McDonald’s consistency came be. Sometime somewhere I had read an article about Ray Kroc, who founded the McDonald’s Corp., and in the same article I had read that he was the marketing mind behind the franchise. Beyond that I never gave the story of how McDonald’s came to be much thought until seeing the latest film starring Michael Keaton called The Founder.

The film, directed by John Lee Hancock, is an engaging, cautionary tale that tells us as much about our own greedy nature as an Americans as it does the origins of McDonald’s.

Keaton stars as Kroc, who is a moderately successful career salesman in his early 50s. He can sell anything, or at least try. As the film opens, he is selling multi-spindle milkshake blenders, which allows a restaurant to make six thick and frosty beverages at the same time.

Traveling the rural roads of the Midwest, Kroc’s having a difficult time finding mom-and-pop restaurants and drive-ins that have the foot traffic to need even one of his milkshake monstrosities.

However, when he finds out that one hamburger stand in San Bernardino, Calif., ordered six, Kroc thinks it has to be a mistake. When he calls to double check the order, the McDonald’s brothers — Mac and Dick — up the order to eight.

Kroc decides then and there that he’s going to drive Route 66 west 3,000 miles to see that hamburger stand with his own two eyes.

What he finds is an ultra-efficient restaurant, stripped down to its core that offers a limited menu fast without sacrificing quality. Kroc falls in love with the concept and decides he has to be a part of it, and ultimately decides he has to make it as his own no matter what.

The film details how Kroc partners with the McDonald’s brothers but ultimately wrestles the business away from them in legal but crooked fashion.

Who knew fast food could be so interesting and entertaining?

Keaton makes the nasally voiced Kroc almost appealing despite his excessive gumption and greed. It’s enthralling to watch him play a man who started with good intentions, but who gets lost in his desire to build his dream business into an empire.

Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch play Dick and Mac McDonald, who at first shun Kroc’s advances, but eventually give into Kroc’s persistence against their initial gut feeling.

Both lend fine support to Keaton as the wily salesman wears them down before ultimately buying them out of the business in a duplicitous yet genius ploy that made the McDonald’s Corporation as much a real estate empire as it was a fast-food franchise.

Laura Dern plays Kroc’s supportive but longsuffering first wife Ethel whom Kroc eventually spurns for an almost unrecognizable Linda Cardellini as Joan Smith. Smith leaves her husband, a Chicago-area McDonald’s franchisee, for Kroc once the corporation is rolling. Sort of like buying a bigger milkshake maker.

Hancock deftly handles the material and tells the story in a compelling but straightforward manner. The film took a beating at the box office in its opening week of wide release, but a strong performance by Keaton and interesting story about an American institution makes the film more than worthwhile.

(PG-13) 1 hr. 55 min.
Grade: B+

Classics Corner

To Catch a Thief
To Catch a Thief might not be Alfred Hitchcock’s most thrilling or shocking film, but it might be his most romantic.

Without it, we never would have seen Cary Grant and Grace Kelly on the screen together, and that would have been a shame. In the real world, it seems icky for a 50-year-old man to chase after a woman in her mid 20s, but on the silver screen, it works, particularly with stars like Grant and Kelly.

Grant named Kelly his favorite leading lady, and that’s something considering he acted opposite a virtual who’s who of Hollywood starlets. He remained friends with her until her untimely death from a stroke at 52, and reportedly told dirty jokes to her teenage children as a sort of uncle figure. But, I digress.

Hitchcock must have believed that it would take a thief to catch a thief because that’s the exact plot. In the lush 1955 film, Grant plays John Robie, a retired cat burglar, who is accused of returning to his plundering ways, and is tasked with finding the actual thief to clear his name.
Kelly plays Frances, the daughter of a rich widow Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis). They are visiting the French Riviera and are No. 1 on the list of prospective victims of the latest cat burglar.

Robie hopes to use Frances to get close enough to expose the true cat burglar, but the two fall in love in an excellent scene featuring fireworks exploding over the Riviera while kiss.

Of course, while the two were necking, the cat burglar robbed Frances’ mom.

The film takes several twists and turns before culminating, and of course the identity of the cat burglar is a surprise.

It’s one of four films —Suspicion, Notorius and North By Northwest — Grant starred in for Hitchcock and the final of three — Dial M for Murder and Rear Window — for Kelly, but To Catch a Thief is the only one with Kelly and Grant. The film is special for that fact alone.