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.

For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com

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Midnight Special: Movie Man Jackson

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No, this Midnight Special isn’t something you can get at IHOP. In San Angelo, Texas, an Amber Alert has been launched for eight year old Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher). He’s been abducted by two males, Roy (Michael Shannon), and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), and the abduction quickly makes national news. Are these guys dangerous, or are they saints rescuing Alton from a terrible fate?

It’s quickly seen that these two fellows are not the only people who are after Alton. Other entities, such as the government, and a fanatical cult, are trying to harness for their own gain. What gain? Well, he’s got tremendous powers, and would be an asset for these entities in many fashions.

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As other reviewers have noted, it’s hard to pin down exactly what Midnight Special is. It doesn’t fit neatly into a specific genre, as the fact of the matter is, it is a thriller, science fiction, drama, fantasy, even a family film. For many films, being stretched across multiple categories spells would spell nothing but a trouble in focus, but Jeff Nichols’ (Mud) feature quite easily manages to meld all into something worthwhile.

Sometimes, it’s more about the journey than the actual final destination. Nichols really takes that sentiment to heart in Midnight Special. The screenplay, penned by Nichols itself, revels in giving little, or even nothing at all in some cases. For yours truly, the latter can be a little frustrating in its steadfastness in refusing to reveal any concrete ideas. This lack of finality only impacts the ending, though, in my opinion, As it stands, the ending is fine, and does tie in ultimately with the core of the story. For me, at least, it is a little disappointing if only because I felt like there was one trick up Nichols’ sleeve to use. Extremely vague thoughts, I know, but only because it isn’t right to go too deep into the plot.

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Still, the production quality that Nichols wrings out of an 18 million budget is nothing short of extraordinary, like its main character. Obviously, it is very early to say, but it is hard seeing any other fairly small budget movie looking as big-budget-esque as Midnight Special does. Seriously, the effects are of high quality, adding more to the mysteries and slow reveal of the plot when they are used. They are so good, one wishes that more of the why and how could be explored to them. Outside of effects, the movie just features excellent cinematography, both in the daytime, nighttime, out in the open of nowhere, or in the confines of a white-light enclosed space.

The cast hits all of the right notes as well, starting with the young Jaeden Lieberher as Aldon. His role isn’t that talkative, but it does require a huge presence for a child actor that Lieberher brings to the role. It’s very cool, calm, and collected work. Supporting actors Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton are supporting, in the truest sense, which is to say they’re doing their jobs and doing them well. Adam Driver’s character is really the audience in a nutshell, gradually getting more information to the scenario at hand and reacting appropriately.

But Michael Shannon’s character is a chameleon as it pertains to how we as the audience are supposed to feel to him. Though surely his role in the story is made known in many summaries, I was pleasantly surprised at his involvement, and feel it wrong to reveal it here. Just know that his involvement to the story is touching, and relatable to many.

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Full of intrigue and mystery from the get-go, Midnight Special is a fun journey, akin to a road trip to nowhere. The final stop may not be worth remembering, but the drive to it is.

Grade: B

Photo credits go to yahoo.com, collider.com, and huffingtonpost.com. Links to digitalshortbread.com, fastfilmreviews.com, and keithandthemovies.com.

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Black Mass: Movie Man Jackson

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“If nobody sees it, it didn’t happen.”

Wise words from a notorious criminal. It’s the 1970’s, and the city of Boston, Massachusetts has become rife with criminal activity. Many gangs run the streets, like the Winter Hill Gang, led by Boston native James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp), brother of state senator William Bulger (Benedict Cumberbatch).

As much as the FBI would love to shut down all criminal organizations in the area, sometimes a one-or-the-other choice has to be made. In a land of big wolves, the biggest is the Italian Mafia, and it takes a wolf to catch a wolf. Knowing this, an old childhood friend of Bulger’s, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), approaches Bulger with a deal: Become an informant, giving intel of other local empires, in exchange for the bureau turning a relative blind eye to Whitey’s operation. Originally believed to be the lesser of all evils, the FBI soon finds that Bulger is the biggest one.

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Director Scott Cooper’s (Out of the Furnace) Black Mass asks one real question: Does it mean anything to take down the house if a stronger one is built on the side? The clear answer is no. Aside from that, though, Black Mass isn’t a new spin on biographies or gangster flicks. But, it is engrossing once it gets going, and benefits from a strong cast, spearheaded by a guy who the world has been begging of to sink his teeth into something other than a pirate, a vampire, or an art-dealing buffoon.

Yes, Johnny Depp, delivers here. Instead of the makeup and the accompanying appearances making, or in some cases, marring, his more recent roles, Depp’s appearance here, though still with makeup, is minimal enough to allow Depp the actor to shine through. His Bulger, make no mistake, is very evil, so if looking for a truly dynamic lead character, it may be best to look elsewhere. But, from the first scene Depp appears in, it never feels like he’s has to “warm up” to be evil; he’s ready from the jump. The performance is high quality throughout, featuring many scenes packed with tension as to just what Whitey will do. Sometimes he does something, and other times he doesn’t, but the unease and unpredictability are always present.

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It may be too early to say, but Depp should almost certainly in the nominee pool for Best Actor. His character’s counterpart of John Connolly, played by Joel Edgerton, should almost certainly be in the nominee pool for Best Supporting Actor. Seeing Edgerton’s character devolve from an agent who wants to do the right thing by aligning with a lesser evil to bring down a bigger evil, to desperately trying to convince himself he’s still doing the right thing is equal parts fascinating, sad, and even funny at times.

The relationship between Connolly and Whitey is more brother-like than Whitey and his own brother, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a good but “I still see this actor/actress” performance. In defense of Benedict, he’s not really on screen enough to build any momentum. In smaller roles, Dakota Johnson, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons, and Peter Sarsgaard all fit nicely and contribute as key pieces all revolving around Whitey and John.

Filming around the same areas where so much of Bulger’s criminal empire occurred is a great (and probably necessary) choice that gives more authenticity to the movie. Cooper lends some solid camerawork to the story’s events, nothing spectacular as this is an intentionally drab visual palate, but technically sound it certainly is. It’s the story itself, however, that works well enough to get into, but, based on what appear to be a mostly true telling of events, doesn’t ascend to classic mobster and crime movies. As a whole, it just sort of lacks that emotional hold that similar movies in the genre possess.

Additionally, Black Mass suffers somewhat from a slow start as the result of an iffy effort to flesh out Bulger beyond being only a bad guy. It doesn’t truly get going until about 25-30 minutes in. And, while the events are told in a very straightforward manner, gaps exist and seem to be evidenced by fade-to-black timelime jumps that possibly could have given the movie opportunity to explore more relationships and key characters if additional runtime was given.

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The term Black Mass has a religious origin, literally defined as the darker inverse of the traditional Catholic mass, bordering on parody and obvious blasphemy. As for the film Black Mass, the story isn’t a parody, or treated glamorously, but brings, what feels like at to yours truly at least, a true-to-real-life history lesson presented on the silver screen of a guy who I only knew of through America’a Most Wanted.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to liveforfilms.com, blogs.indiewire.com, and boston.cbslocal.com.

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The Gift: Movie Man Jackson

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“I believe a lot of the good can come from the bad.”

Simon says stop sending us gifts. By moving to California from Chicago, married couple Simon (Jason Bateman), and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are ready to start a new life. Simon has secured a great promotion working for a billionaire company, and the hope is that with less stress, he and Robyn can begin to build a family.

By way of a random encounter, his old life isn’t quite ready to give way to his new one. Old classmate Gordon (Joel Edgerton), reintroduces himself to Simon through dinners with he and his wife, and simple gifts like a bottle of wine and fish food. What Robyn sees as sweet, Simon sees as annoying and uncomfortable. Is this just a well-intentioned welcome-to-the-neighborhood gesture? Or might this be only a piece of an elaborate vengeance plan?

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Yours truly loves crazy people thrillers, from the better made ones like Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction, to even the more cheesy ones like Swimfan. Let’s not talk about The Boy Next Door. Point is, this genre, though typically predictable from beginning to end, is one that I am frequently entertained with. Believing The Gift to be in line with these films all in the same category, I knew I was going to enjoy this, at least somewhat. What was unforeseen, however, was me loving just about every second of it.

For the first few minutes, it would be easy to think of The Gift as nothing different than those other aforementioned movies. There is a house in relative seclusion, far enough from civilization that tons of things could happen before law enforcement shows up. A couple so perfect for each other with beautiful lives. And, of course, an individual who seems nice, but just odd enough to know their equilibrium is off. That is where the similarities end with actor and first time feature director Joel Edgerton’s movie.

Without hopefully revealing anything, Edgerton decides, for all intents and purposes, to do a 180 from what is normally seen. Instead of relying on the same template, he does away with it come a certain point in the runtime. It may even be a welcome surprise to see that Edgerton’s character is not the “everywhere, everytime” character the trailers (kudos to the studios for keeping things under wraps) paint him to be.

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As stated previously, yours truly loves these psycho thrillers. But I realize that often times, there is either a lame explanation, or no plausible reason as to why the nutcase is like so. In The Gift, however, all of the three main characters are strongly written, with very believable motivations for their acts. And, the great thing about these characters, and the story itself, is that it doesn’t all come at once, avoiding the contrivance found in some thrillers. Edgerton puts in pieces of dialogue here and there and there with accompanying shots that end up serving a purpose down the line. Perhaps, the only thing that ends up feeling contrived is the couple moving to California, as it could be argued that none of this would have happen if they remained in Chicago. But there would be no movie then, would there?

The Gift is very much a three-person film. Seeing Jason Bateman in something that is not a comedy may be odd to some, but it shouldn’t be. Even in something middling such as This is Where I Leave You, the man has proven to have dramatic talent. Rest assured, he gets a few lines here as Simon to be funny in his dry way, but this not a laughing role. Bateman succeeds in bringing focused intensity and unease to a character who, like Edgerton’s, immediately isn’t what he seems. His performance is a nice contrast to Edgerton’s “Gordo the Weirdo,” who is always in control and never really blows up even once, making his intensity not as “in-your face” as Bateman’s but just as effective. Rebecca Hall may look to be no more than the damsel in distress, but the fleshing out of her character ends up giving the story a very emotional core in between two mysterious characters embroiled in a long-standing feud. In many respects, she is the true star of the film.

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Once the traditional wrapping paper on The Gift’s setup is unraveled, what is left is a methodical, ambiguous, and technically sound film. The title is very fitting, just not in the obvious way expected.

Grade: A-

Photo credits go to businessinsider.com, and dailymotion.com.

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