Movie Review: It Comes At Night

About fifteen minutes into “It Comes At Night,” I had the identical reaction I did to a suspense/horror film (“The Gift”) that Joel Edgerton also appeared in a year or so ago, which is basically please, don’t let the adorable dog meet a gruesome end. Or if it must, let it be signaled ahead of time so that I can look away. Fortunately, for animal lovers who plan to see this movie, I’m happy to report nothing bad happens to the dog, though you can’t say the same for the human cast.

The movie opens with an elderly man dying, presumably from something contagious as those attending him wear masks. After some moaning and rocking on his part, they place the guy in a barrow and wheel him out into the woods – this part may remind some of the “Bring out your dead!” scene in “Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail.” The poor guy definitely isn’t deceased yet, but this is soon taken care of – and then we jump into the main story – in which Joel Edgerton plays a father who lives in the same woodsy cabin with his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and seventeen-year-old son (Kelvin Harrison). Without really introducing anyone or putting things in context, there’s a lot of wordless sneaking around the property with guns loaded, as Joel and his family are threatened by thieves breaking in. The intruders turn out to be a couple (Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough) and their young son (Griffin Robert Faulkner). They insist that they live nearby – and as it turns out, we’re now in a dystopian world where plague runs rampant, so the news that they’re not ill (yet) prompts Joel to agree to take them in. However, the newcomers must follow a strict set of rules – no going into a locked chamber, only leave the house in pairs, etc. This works for awhile – until it doesn’t, and their guests wish to leave. Also there might be ghosts, as the Chamber of Secrets has been opened – but no one will admit to having done it.

Like “The Gift,” “It Comes At Night,” features the dilemma of a man who comes to realize that the person he has invited (however grudgingly) into his life and home turns out to have less-than-honorable intentions and must deal with the fallout of separating from him. What begins as an act from good intentions eventually turns sour and resolving things can only be messy. What is going on in the outside world isn’t focused on, instead we share the claustrophobic view of the main characters as they struggle to connect – and then separate. There are a few sweet moments, mostly involving Kelvin getting to know the newcomers, but it’s mostly action-driven. But on the bright side, the dog (as far as we know) does not share the fate of several characters.

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Movie Review: Midnight Special

Throughout time, highly gifted children have posed a challenge to their parents, and this is especially true if, like Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) in “Midnight Special,” he’s blessed (or cursed) with superpowers, such as the ability to manipulate light beams with his vision, the knowledge of a second world superimposed on our own, and a healthy dose of clairvoyance for good measure. Oh, and he can also hear foreign language stations on the car radio before it’s even switched on, because, why not? The movie jumps right into the action from the start with Jaeden’s dad, (Michael Shannon), preparing with his kid to go on the run. Meanwhile, we hear from a TV news station that the boy is actually wanted by the FBI, so we know things are dire. Michael also enlists his old friend (Joel Edgerton) to help protect the boy, though it’s not entirely clear where their destination is, and they set off on a road trip.

Of course, we quickly realize from all this that “Midnight Special,” is not going to portray the typical movie road trip, in which the characters get comically lost, damage the car and meet a host of oddballs as they struggle toward their destination. No, the tone remains one of rather dour seriousness from start to finish, and though it’s easy to figure out what’s going on, it’s nevertheless difficult to see because almost the whole movie is shot in darkness or semi-darkness. There’s a good reason for this, as Jaeden’s character has an extreme light sensitivity, but there were a few times when the screen went dark, and I wondered if my TV had somehow switched itself off. Anyway, as Jaeden and co. are fleeing down the highway in pitch blackness, the FBI is paying a visit to a cult on a farm, which until recently, was Jaeden’s home. Though Jaeden was regarded as blessed by the cult, the government believes they have a sinister motive and are using the boy in a nefarious way. But the truth is a lot more dramatic than that; basically (spoiler), Jaeden really needs to phone home. Kirsten Dunst plays his concerned mom, who eventually joins them on the road trip, and Adam Driver plays an agent who winds up coming closer to the truth about Jaeden than any of his colleagues.

Basically, “Midnight Special” is “E.T.” without the endearing titular character, although I first saw “E.T.” when I was a kid, so maybe I’m biased and looking back through a golden haze of nostalgia. This is the kind of movie you feel bad for hoping for some humor, no matter how dark, because it’s clearly meant to tackle big issues. The cast all does a decent job, but it is not exactly the kind of movie that doesn’t mind poking fun at itself, no matter how subtle. Also, there is the semi-darkness issue, which irritated me, but your mileage may vary.

The Gift: An Abridged Script

FADE IN

INT. FURNITURE STORE

JASON BATEMAN and REBECCA HALL are shopping for their ginormous NEW GLASS HOUSE when they run unexpectedly into JOEL EDGERTON.

JASON BATEMAN
Gosh, honey, here we are a photogenic couple who’ve just purchased an upscale home. We’re happily in love, I’ve got a brand new job, and we’re about to embark on a fresh start. What are the odds that anything could go wrong?

REBECCA HALL
(under breath)
Well, I’m guessing there are some ripples in the horizon. After all, you just don’t snap your fingers and…

JASON BATEMAN
What was that, honey?

REBECCA HALL
Nothing, dear. A toast to our perfect life! Wait, who’s that guy that’s been shadowing us exuding creepy awkwardness vibes?

JOEL EDGERTON
It’s me, JOEL EDGERTON, JASON’s old friend from school. Remember?

JASON BATEMAN
(hesitates a little too long)
Oh right. Nice to see you again. Do drop by anytime you happen to be in the neighborhood.

JOEL EDGERTON
Will do!

EXT. THE HOUSE – THE VERY NEXT DAY

JOEL EDGERTON
(knocks on door)
Hey, can JASON come out to play?

REBECCA HALL
No, he’s at work. Didn’t you overhear the part of our conversation where he mentioned his NEW JOB?

JOEL EDGERTON
Only the part where the delivery guy announced your address. By the way, I brought you a GIFT.

REBECCA HALL
Thank you. And thanks for the GIFT that arrived yesterday on our doorstep, too.

JOEL EDGERTON
Don’t mention it.

REBECCA HALL
Oh, and here’s our adorable DOG. Geez, it’s kind of sickening how perfect our life is, I mean seems.

JOEL EDGERTON
Well, I couldn’t be happier for you. Shall we continue this awkward conversation inside?

REBECCA HALL
Be my guest.

JOEL EDGERTON
(goes into a room that appears to be a nursery)
Do you have kids?

REBECCA HALL
No. But we’re hoping to soon. By the way, my husband has a monkey phobia.

JOEL EDGERTON
Good to know.

JOEL continues to VISIT and leave GIFTS, until REBECCA finally invites him over for DINNER, which makes JASON as happy as if he had received the news that he needed a root canal. Although JOEL seems to have a good enough time.

POST-DINNER

JASON BATEMAN
(real line)
Does that guy seem odd to you?

REBECCA HALL
Well, maybe a little on the Asperger’s side, but I’m sure he’s harmless.

JASON BATEMAN
Oh no. He was weird when we were growing up, and he hasn’t changed.

REBECCA HALL
So you were once friends with this guy. That seems hard to…Wait, what are you doing?

JASON BATEMAN
(writes “Weirdo” on the fridge)
Just furthering the plot. It could use it.

REBECCA HALL
Oh grow up.

Surprisingly enough, JOEL comes over the next day, and sees the fridge. Even more surprisingly, he invites JASON and REBECCA over for dinner.

INT. McMANSION of ONE UPMANSHIP

JASON BATEMAN
So, JOEL, just what is it exactly that you do now? I mean REBECCA and I both have yuppie movie jobs that allow us to live in a glass house, at least my wife did pre-breakdown, yet you’ve been curiously circumspect about your career path post military.

JOEL EDGERTON
(phone rings)
Excuse me a moment.

JASON BATEMAN
Let’s go snoop!

REBECCA HALL
No…Oh, all right.

JASON BATEMAN
This guy is obsessed with you. And look – women’s clothes!

REBECCA HALL
So he’s living with someone of the female gender. Told you he wasn’t obsessed with me.

JASON BATEMAN
Maybe he’s a cross-dresser. Anyway, he’s definitely weird and almost certainly has a very small penis.

REBECCA HALL
Gee, how is it that we’ve lived together for a substantial amount of time, and the fact that you have a CRUEL STREAK has never come to light until we bumped into JOEL?

JASON BATEMAN
I think we’d better get back down before he gets back.

JOEL EDGERTON
(re-enters)
Sorry. Look, I have a confession to make. This is my WIFE’s HOUSE, we’re in the middle of a nasty divorce.

JASON BATEMAN
Er…OK, listen. It’s been a few weeks, and while we appreciate all the gifts, it’s clear this relationship is never going to progress past the AWKWARD SMALL TALK STAGE because basically, I would rather castrate myself than spend another moment in your presence. So I think it’s time we took a break and saw other people.

JOEL EDGERTON
(frowns, says nothing)

JASON BATEMAN
Great, so now we understand each other!

But apparently, there has been a failure to communicate somewhere because first, the DOG DISAPPEARS and then the KOI FISH CROAK, and not only that, when JASON goes over to CONFRONT JOEL – he doesn’t even LIVE THERE!

INT. LIVINGROOM of DISTRAUGHTNESS

DETECTIVE
Oh yeah, JOEL EDGERTON has a police record. My guess is that he’s going to lose his job with Mr. and Mrs. McMansion, whose house he apparently borrowed to host you, so that should be punishment enough, don’t you think?

JASON BATEMAN
Look, this guy is stalking us, and we don’t even have his real address. Plus my wife’s trying to get pregnant again and already had a BREAKDOWN and PILL ADDICTION. A little help here would be appreciated.

DETECTIVE
Are you positive you didn’t leave the door unlatched? Also, fish aren’t the easiest pet to keep alive. Next time, try gerbils – they’re tough little guys.

JASON BATEMAN
Never mind, I should have realized that seeking help from MOVIE DETECTIVES would be less productive than banging my head against the wall.

REBECCA HALL
So what’s our next step – installing a computerized home security system which we can easily do because you work in that very field?

JASON BATEMAN
Nah. I’m too busy trying to get the big promotion, even though I’ve only been there a couple weeks, and in reality would barely have my desk set up and everyone’s names straight at that point.

REBECCA HALL
Should I at least stop at Bed, Bath and Beyond to pick up curtains? Right now our property is to obsessive stalkers as a Fourth of July cookout is to mosquitoes.

JASON BATEMAN
No, I’m just going to let you slowly unravel believing that JOEL is stalking you. Good times.

REBECCA HALL
Well, we’ve received a final note. What does JOEL mean when he says he was “willing to let bygones be bygones”?

JASON BATEMAN
(a little too quickly)
No idea.

REBECCA starts probing further and discovers that JASON has FILES on JOEL plus the guy he’s up against for the promotion. Also, at one point, she PASSES OUT unexpectedly, and somewhere in this chaos, manages to get PREGNANT.

INT. DR. EXPOSITION’s OFFICE

DAVE DENMAN
So what brings you in today?

REBECCA HALL
Actually, I lied. I don’t need a chiropractor, and I’m here under false pretenses.

DAVE DENMAN
There seems to be a lot of that going around lately.

REBECCA HALL
I hear you were friends with JASON growing up. Well, my perfect life is spiraling out of control at the speed of life, and I’m hoping you can help me. My husband has turned into J. Edgar Hoover, plus I heard that you and he knew JOEL growing up, and there was some kind of SCANDAL that involved JOEL’s dad’s burning him and ending up in prison. So I’d like some answers.

DAVE DENMAN
Oh jeez, yeah, JASON picked on JOEL a lot back in the day. Including starting a rumor that JOEL was gay, which was what sparked the whole thing – pardon the pun.

REBECCA HALL
So let me get this straight: JOEL manages to overcome trauma and somehow develop the capacity for forgiveness that would rival Mother Theresa’s, and JASON still acts like a dick as an adult?

DAVE DENMAN
That seems to the case. Luckily, I’ve apologized to JOEL so my conscience is clean. Also, my house has vinyl siding and is fully curtained.

REBECCA HALL
Well, WE are going to have a little talk when he gets home.

EXT. PARKING GARAGE AFTER JOEL GETS OFF WORK

JASON BATEMAN
So, JOEL, er…my wife says I should say sorry, so okay, I’m sorry. Now we’re cool, right? Everything forgiven?

JOEL EDGERTON
Um, generally, apologies tend to have remorse in them. Or contrition, guilt, any of those fun things.

JASON BATEMAN
Picky picky.

JOEL EDGERTON
Anyway, it’s too late. Like way, way too late.

JASON BATEMAN
(loses temper, starts to beat JOEL into a pulp)
How dare you not accept my apology after I took time off my important job to track you down and stand here humbling myself in this smelly garage?! You are so ungrateful!

INT. THE HOUSE – BIG CELEBRATION

JASON BATEMAN
Wow, I really got the promotion. It looks like being an asshole pays off.

REBECCA HALL
Yes, dear, and by now, you’ve totally endeared yourself to anyone watching this movie – if they happen to be a sociopath…Ah!

Heavy object hurtles through window, scaring the shit out of everyone.

JASON BATEMAN
It’s JOEL!

JASON’s BOSS
No, it’s the guy you screwed over to get the promotion.

JASON BATEMAN
Well, I’m not going to press charges. Let him go.

However, this is not the end of it. Possibly due to all the stress, REBECCA goes into early labor and is rushed to the HOSPITAL.

INT. HOSPITAL

JOEL EDGERTON
(limps into REBECCA’s room looking totally pulverized)
Hello, I’ve brought you another GIFT.

REBECCA HALL
Thanks. Hey, you haven’t seen my husband around anywhere, have you?

JOEL EDGERTON
I got him a gift, too. For old times sake. How’s the baby?

REBECCA HALL
Doing fine so far. Though it looks like JASON’s apology didn’t go quite as he reported.

JOEL EDGERTON
(real line)
Good people deserve good things. Which would be you. As for JASON, he’s finally getting what he deserves.

Meanwhile – JASON loses his JOB for being an UNETHICAL BASTARD, and thanks to a TREASURE HUNT of SORTS, realizes that JOEL may indeed be the FATHER of his SON. Also that REBECCA no longer wants anything to do with him. And JOEL’s limp turns out to be totally FAKE, as well as his ARM SLING.

AUDIENCE
I’m going to need a shower. And just what is the message of this movie: That if someone’s unconscious, it’s okay to do anything you want to the person who’s shown you nothing but kindness, including simulate sexual assault? If only one person witnesses it, and he’s a BULLY who needs KARMA to kick his ass, it didn’t happen?

DIRECTOR JOEL EDGERTON
No, that’s the MORAL of BLACK MASS. Keep trying.

AUDIENCE
Screw these mental gymnastics – now let’s get that shower!

END

Movie Review: Black Mass

As I settled into my seat at a local theater before the start of “Black Mass,” questions ran through my mind.

Will Johnny Depp give a chilling performance as the lead, notorious James “Whitey” Bulger: a psychopathic criminal from Boston’s South End, who had his finger in just about every illegal pie, and wound up collaborating with the FBI to decrease crime (at least that of his rivals), an arrangement that worked nicely for years until it no longer did?

Can both a British and an Australian actor nail that pesky Boston accent?

Since I’ve lived near Boston, will I recognize any of the scenery?

Answers: Yes, more or less, and yes.

The movie begins with various informants being interviewed and then goes into flashbacks, beginning when Johnny has been released from prison (“It’s nice to have you back,” a neighbor says sincerely.) and is ready to get back in the game.  We’re soon introduced to his brother, a Senate member, (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his old pal turned FBI agent (Joel Edgerton).  We briefly meet Johnny’s mother (who cheats at cards), but there is no sign of a father anywhere.  The movie does not really address the natural question, which is how two brothers from the same environment took such divergent paths in life, which perhaps is unanswerable.  Instead it focuses more on the complex system of loyalties between Johnny and his allies, something that is eventually threatened when a former Boston FBI agent moves back and cannot be bought or derailed from bringing Johnny to justice.

Throughout “Black Mass,” Johnny wears the same black jacket and the same inscrutable expression for pretty much the whole thing; he stays deadpan (helped by lots of makeup) regardless of whether he’s shooting someone at close range, strangling them or just wheedling out the secret to a friend’s steak sauce.  Lots of characters are beaten to a pulp in this movie, and most wind up at the bottom of a river.  Benedict and Joel attempt to stay loyal to Johnny, and do a decent job here, but I never got a sense that either was struggling too hard with his conscience over what the right thing to do was (something that would have brought more depth to the movie).  There are female characters, too, but they are basically there to nag at the men and fail to grasp the concept of loyalty to one’s brothers and friends.  At one point, Joel attempts to explain his wife that Johnny looked out for him when they were growing up.  “What did he do – take you trick-or-treating?” she snaps, unimpressed.  Women just don’t understand in these kinds of films.

At the end, consequences are finally meted out, and we find out what happened to most of the major characters, although if you’re already familiar with the story, there’s nothing new.  Overall, “Black Mass” is an absorbing way to spend two hours, even if the cleverest part of it is the title.   My theater was full, and except for a few people, everyone seemed riveted to the screen.

Movie Review: The Gift

In one scene in “Billy Madison,” Adam Sandler phones a guy he hassled in high school and apologizes for being a jerk. It turns out that this is one of the few wise things Adam does in the movie. Though the guy is gracious about the whole thing, we get a shot of him crossing “Billy’s” name off his hit list after he hangs up. Key line in one scene: Am I glad I called him!

You gotta watch out for those creepy loner types in Hollywood movies because they almost always grow up and don’t forget or forgive past injustices. In “The Gift,” Jason Bateman plays a husband, who has just moved back to near his hometown, and who is focused on getting ahead in his new job and trying again to have a child with his wife (Rebecca Hall), who we later learn is emotionally fragile following the loss of their first. When out house shopping, Jason bumps into an old classmate (Joel Edgerton who also wrote and directed the movie), who he claims not to remember, although Joel seems to remember every detail of their past in Technicolor detail. Indeed Joel is more than willing to re-kindle whatever their relationship was, arriving on their doorsteps bearing gifts and dropping by unannounced to chat with Rebecca during the day. But while Jason treats Joel from the start as if he has cooties, Rebecca sees him as socially awkward, harmless nice guy. Each of their reactions (and perhaps the viewer’s) says a lot about who they were in high school and the type of people they’ve become.

Surprisingly, Rebecca’s view slowly morphs into Jason’s, but only if you’ve never seen a big screen thriller before. Several of the rules hold true here, as well: 1) Random acts of kindness by strangers always turn out to be sinister, 2) If you think you’re alone and not being observed, you aren’t, and 3) If you go to the authorities with your concerns, you will hit a brick wall. Very soon, of course, discrepancies appear in Joel’s background, as well as chinks in his claims that he’s doing much better now, leading Jason to decide to call it quits with their burgeoning, well, something or other and Joel does not take the news graciously.  He sends a note saying that he was initially willing to let “bygones be bygones,” (this is all in the trailer), and soon, Rebecca is asking pesky questions of Jason demanding to know just what Joel means by that.  Soon, too, bad things start happening to Jason and Rebecca.  While Rebecca feels guilt about cutting off Joel, Jason is equally convinced that it was the right thing to do – but Jason’s conviction that he and his wife are victims being terrorized by an unstable former outcast is obviously not that clear cut.

Feeling increasingly gas-lighted when she’s home alone and unsure whether she’s losing her sanity, Rebecca begins to probe into Jason’s past, even going so far as to unlock the top secret drawers in his filing cabinet.  She hits pay dirt when she discovers that Jason did his share of bullying as a youth.  But was it really more than just “kids being kids” as one character claims?  (Obviously, because these things don’t escalate without fuel.)  Though she begs Jason to make belated amends, it becomes apparent that Joel intends to get revenge for old injuries and settle the score at last.

“The Gift,” ends with a creepy twist, as Jason is coerced into a warped treasure hunt, and it looks like everything he values is slipping through his fingers.  All sorts of lines are crossed in this movie, and it ultimately does an excellent job in showing that our present actions can make up for our past sins – but only if we’re willing to look in the mirror.  Which sadly, only one of the main characters in this movie is.