It Comes At Night: Movie Man Jackson

So…what is It? Whatever it is, it’s best to stay inside. The world has suffered some unknown catastrophe, one in which it is easy for people to contract some mysterious disease that reduces individuals to a gray, sickly, unresponsive zombie-like state. Living in the woods is a family of three—patriarch Paul (Joel Edgerton), matriarch Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr). They only go out when absolutely necessary, and rarely at night.

The whole structure of the family gets thrown out of consistency when an intruder, Will (Christopher Abbott) comes into the family’s home. After initial distrust, Paul and company show Will hospitality when it’s determined all he’s looking for is a little food and shelter for his own family—wife Kim (Riley Keough) and son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). However, hospitality eventually turns into hostility when doubt begin to creep into each person’s head as to how safe they ultimately are. Whatever’s out there at night isn’t comparable to what’s going on in this home.

It Comes At Night. Surely, that means that there’s something in this film that terrorizes the main characters at night, right? Well…not exactly. The latest feature from the little studio that could in A24 has become quite the polarizing one, critics appreciating it yet audiences being let down by it, evidenced by a “D” Cinemascore. Is it deserving of all of this audience criticism, much of it seemingly founded on bait and switch trailers?

From a production standpoint, It Comes At Night is damn impressive, possibly even spectacular. Sophomore director Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) clearly is a rising name in the genre of horror, possessing a great eye and technique for all that unnerves. And it isn’t blood and gore and demons and whatnot. Along with cinematographer Drew Daniels, the most unforgettable moments are ones like where only an electric lamp illuminates the path that Travis walks through in the isolated cabin, and lingering shots of an ominous red door. Plenty of long and methodical takes exist in this movie that only amp up the claustrophobia, along with a minimalist score courtesy of composer Brian McOmber.

It Comes At Night comes from a very personal place and experiences of of writer/director Shults. The underlying trepidation, and general unease of how the two families—almost tribe-like—interact with each other comes from personal experiences and inspirations of its director. It feels fresh. Humanity is the main question posed with a family dynamic essentially asking “How far would you go to save yours?” “Can a person go too far in doing so?” The ending, much talked about, works for me when looking at it through the prism of family and sticking by one another. Hopefully without spoiling, I compare it to a parent who deep down knows their kid is wrong in some matter, but refusing to believe so despite all of the evidence points against him or her.

All that being said, It Comes At Night is a mystery that mostly does well in leaving matters up to the viewer. This is a world that the characters know little about, as do we as the audience. Still, the storytelling and details deliberately left out can sometimes be frustrating. Certain plot points are introduced, but never go anywhere beyond their initial introduction. Some of the final act comes off as a little too vague and shapeless. Not a complete detriment to the film, but, even just one to two more moments of clarity for these respective parts in the film would be beneficial to the finale.

The cast works wonders together. Joel Edgerton is rapidly becoming one of those actors who can seemingly do no wrong, gravitating to smaller, ambiguous pictures. He’s a forceful alpha father presence in this one, who co-exists with Christopher Abbott, also playing an alpha patriarch. Scenes the two share together are full of tension. Can’t diminish the work Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keogh, and Kelvin Harrison, Jr contribute, either. Granted, there aren’t really any character arcs or characters to really latch onto, but this isn’t a story about characters; rather, it’s about people and basic human nature when confronted with massive unknowns.

Not as completely polished as it could be, nevertheless, It Comes At Night is an overall strong, well-put together and acted feature. Freaks may not come out at night, but fear and paranoia certainly do and that’s more than enough here.

B

Photo credits go to indiewire.com, highsnobiety.com, and cinemavine.com.

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Selma: Movie Man Jackson

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“The decision is with your side, sir. Not ours.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. accomplished a lot and brought attention to many civil rights matters during his very brief life, but one moment known as the “I Have a Dream” speech sometimes overshadows everything else he had done. In Selma, attention is given to the events in 1965, events that would further shape history.

A bombing that kills four young African-American girls at a church in Birmingham, Alabama serves as a major incendiary moment that ups the ante in the Civil Rights Movement. Though there has been some very minor headway in voting for the minority group, not enough has been made, and not being able to vote means no representation as it pertains to the court and juror system. After failed attempts to convince President Lyndon B. Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to sign a voting rights bill into law, Rev. MLK (David Oyelowo), knows that he and others in the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) must take matters into their own hands. By marching from Selma to Montgomery, AL, a statement will be made, and change will be obtained.

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It could just be yours truly, but does it seem like the past calendar year has included more movies based upon historical figures than usual? Whatever the case, some, like The Theory of Everything and Get On Up, attempt to take a wide look at the famous person’s life. Others, like The Imitation Game, Big Eyes, and now Selma, focus upon a specific period in the subject’s life. No one approach is definitively better than the other,  but centering in on a specific period does appear to give a biography piece more focus, and at the very least not shock or disappoint people when certain events are not mentioned. I don’t think I would call Selma particularly riveting and I am sure it will not be watched again by my eyes, but it is a definite must watch during this moviegoing period.

In a way, watching Selma unfold is like being exposed to the events for first time. Part of that is due to the way somewhat unknown director Ava DuVernay handles the material, less like a history book or lecture and more of just a natural story. The audience knows of its importance, and so do the characters involved in it. But these characters are living and breathing, meaning that they clash and experience friction just like in real life, and all don’t necessarily share the same way to achieve the end goal. Some don’t even share the same end goal. It is a nice look at the inner-workings of a group, and just because they are unified in public doesn’t mean that the group is in lockstep behind closed doors.

The other part of this that may end up being underlooked is how the movie looks. As this progresses on, DuVernay fully realizes the horrors and the savagery that came about with these marches with impressive cinematography. As impressive is frequently utilizing the right depth and angles in the various speech and behind closed doors conversation scenes, as their correct usage gives more dramatic tension and heft to these moments. It is really minute, and yours truly probably could have described this better, but know that it all adds up to a very tight-looking production.

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Much of the attention and accolades given to Selma will be towards the man who portrays one of the best orators in America’s history. David Oyelowo is a name that has been picking up steam for a few years now, but this performance probably marks his arrival into the mainstream. From appearance to diction, the portrayal is spot-on. And it isn’t overly showy; in most scenes he is humble and understated like MLK likely was. Even when there isn’t a whole lot going on as the movie gets a little dull at times, he keeps it relatively on course by his presence alone. When those crowd-addressing speeches come to light though, Oyelowo delivers charisma and a real intensity with every spoken word.

His performance isn’t the only one worth mentioning. Just about everyone who appears here does an extremely great job, like Tom Wilkinson and Tim Roth as Confederate state governor George Wallace in supporting roles. Underneath these supporting characters are smaller roles that are comprised by fairly younger actors and actresses, but without their good work, the emotional moments would lack a little in potency. It isn’t hard to imagine some of these people going on to obtain more work and larger roles within them.

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Selma is definitely a historical film, but for all of the recent racial events in the recent news, it does feel awfully current and maybe needed now. The film is strong in most areas, but perhaps it is strongest in how it connects to our present day, a fact it doesn’t shy away from as heard by its end credits song by John Legend and Common. Undoubtedly race relations have come a long way in 50 years, but there is still much work to be done.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to theguardian.com, bellanaija.com, and insidemovies.ew.com.

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The Purge: Anarchy: Movie Man Jackson

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“It’s my right! Granted to me! By the new Founding Fathers!”

When the crazies are able to play, you best stay away. Why are they able to play? A little event known as The Purge. The next installment of this franchise goes back to Los Angeles a few moments before the yearly American tradition, in which all crime—including murder—is legal for 12 continuous hours, commenced by the sirens at 7pm. Despite the outright inhumanity and bloodshed it champions, the new Founding Fathers-created Purge has proven to be a necessary and beneficial event, as it has shown to stabilize the economy and reduce poverty rates.

This year’s annual event is personal for police sergeant Leo (Frank Grillo). One year ago, Leo suffered one of the worst experiences a parent could have, and he has tagged this night for vengeance. On the other side of town, young lovebirds Shane and Liz (Zach Gilford, Kiele Sanchez) are looking to get home before sundown, until they are forced to venture out in the purge-invested streets when their car breaks down. Lastly, mother and daughter Eva & Cali (Carmen Ejogo, Zoe Soul) are safely tucked away in their apartment, but are forcibly removed from their safe haven by a shady group. Improbably, all five of these people come together and must focus on one objective: Survive the night.

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2013’s The Purge was a film with a lot of potential, armed with an intriguing premise and relative star power in Ethan Hawke and Lena Headey. Unfortunately, that potential went untapped in many areas, mainly due to terrible characters/pitiful acting from all involved (save Headey, Hawke, and the main baddie), and a misstep in marketing that made the film look like a predominant horror, but was actually more of a science fiction thriller with slight horror tinges. Still, it made a ton of money off a 3 million budget, and a sequel was immediately greenlit. So, does The Purge: Anarchy rewrite all of the fails of the first? Not exactly, but it is much better in comparison.

The same premise found in the original is found here, and to some, there is no accepting the “fact” that this mayhem somehow makes the world a better place. At this point in time, this fact is what the franchise is built upon, and if you are unable to suspend disbelief, save your time and watch something else. Part of the reason why the first failed, in my opinion, had nothing to do with the premise. Instead, the failure was a direct result of funneling its juicy mythology into nothing more than a home invasion setting. Luckily, Anarchy avoids this mistake by taking to the streets.

With the change to an outdoor setting, we finally get a feel as to how the Purge may play out for those unlucky enough to find shelter. Immediately, this makes the event more intriguing and more frightful, because it is ever-changing, compared to a static setting. The movie is definitely not a horror, but more tension is present here as opposed to the first, simply due to the shift in surroundings. This truly feels like an unique event.

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The story at the core of The Purge: Anarchy is one of survival in the face of an extremely undesirable situation, but there are a few societal issues it touches upon, some more heavy handed than others. Class warfare, government secrecy, nonviolence, vigilantism, and more are clearly referenced here. It can get tired in points, only because it has been seen before, but it isn’t a huge deterrent to the film. But, there are some missed opportunities within the story that could have solidified this as a compelling piece of science fiction thriller.

There is a huge resistance, led by a man named Carmelo (Michael K. Williams), who evokes some of Malcolm X mixed with a bit of Jim Jones. He and his organization initially look to be a sizable part of the happenings in the film, but end up just coming and going, and it is a damn shame. What is also sort of disappointing is the (slight SPOILERS) lack of anarchy. For one night, The Purge would appear to “level” the playing field, so to speak. Instead, it is more of the same, which is probably the point the movie is trying to make, but I can’t help but wish that it went another direction (END SPOILERS).

Though the movie follows five characters, the singular one that makes the movie worth viewing is Frank Grillo’s. Leo is a man that is driven by revenge, and it would have been really easy to make him an unlikable character with no redeeming qualities. Thankfully, Grillo plays the character essentially from a chaotic good alignment, and unequivocally nails the uneasiness his character has during the Purge, while simultaneously realizing that the only path to vengeance is dependent on eliminating his target. Additionally, he brings a real physicality and grit to the role that meshes perfectly with the urban locale. There have been better performances this year in cinema, but Grillo’s deserves recognition.

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The rest of the cast? Well, they are more of a mixed bag, ranging from OK to subpar. Generally, the females fall in the former category, not truly able to add any substance of note aside from being scared or snapping back verbally. They are not bad performances, but not ones that you will remember either. One that will be remembered for all of the wrong reasons is the man who plays Shane (Zach Gilford). Shane for the bulk of the movie comes off as an aloof jerk and smartass with no real motivation as to why. Definitely a misstep by the writer, but the actor does himself no favors as well. The movie does attempt to redeem his character, but it is too little too late.

Anarchy is primarily written and directed once again by James DeMonaco, who manages to effectively flesh out the world and the Purge itself. Everything is just more tighter in this installment, from pacing to back story. Not to be forgotten about are the surprisingly solid action set pieces. Whether hand to hand or firearm based, the scenes are filmed with great precision and sound just like they should, all while not being overly gratuitous.

Its premise may always be cooler than its end result, but it is clear that The Purge: Anarchy really is a step above its predecessor. mainly because it finally carves out its own identity. So enjoy your right to purge, it’s more memorable this time around.

Grade: B-

Photo credits go to joblo.com, fansided.com ,& turntherightcorner.com.

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