THE FOUNDER [PG-13] B
It is a shame that a film like director John Lee Hancock’s “The Founder” will suffer from the shuffling of priorities during the awards season. Hancock has proven himself a precise chronicler of biographic narratives (“The Blind Side” & “Saving Mr. Banks”), so the story of how traveling salesman Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) built a global empire on the revolutionary fast food service foundation created by Dick (Nick Offerman) and Mac (John Carroll Lynch) McDonald, and then swiftly buried them under it like a cunning psychopath plays to his hand. Yet, “The Founder” rises and rises some more on the sleek wolfish instincts of Keaton’s performance, which showcases his flair for masking Kroc’s aggressive acumen behind his calculated charm offensive. Keaton, here, comes across like a sinister Tom Hanks and it’s a killer turn.
SPLIT [PG-13] A-
In the days and months to come, writers and film fans alike will be able to openly engage in spirited debates about the ongoing return to form that “Split” represents in the career of wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan. We will forget the twists that seemed to signify and define his oeuvre, and focus on his studied way with the slow burn and his insightful examination and trust in character over plot. At its core, “Split” presents a curious battle of wills between a man with split personalities (James McAvoy) and one of the three young women (Anya Taylor-Joy) he has kidnapped. There is a shrewd manipulation of the audience at work, expertly drawing us in, while distracting us from some of the more unbelievable elements of the movie. It was well played, especially as it lays the groundwork for more of this renewed Shyamalan.
xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE [PG-13] D
What “xXx: Return of Xander Cage” offers is a reminder that star power has its limits. Vin Diesel is the certifiable star of one action-oriented franchise (“The Fast & the Furious”), but he hasn’t proven capable of calling forth such a lightening strike a second time, and why would anyone assume he could with a project like “xXx,” which is little more than a retread of what his big franchise has become. The “Fast & Furious” crew is no longer a collection of underground street racers; they are now globetrotting superheroes with a quip for every outrageous occasion. “Return of Xander Cage” gets outrageousness, that’s for sure, but nothing else.