It Comes at Night, or does it? And does anybody care?

A24 Films continues in the tradition of The Witch of substituting long-staring camera shots and dramatic dream sequences for actual plot points.

A number of critics have disseminated that the plague or sickness in the film is never identified.  Some great cleverness is afoot, they argue.  I say poppycock: the filmmaker is simply incompetent, or worse, taking the easy way out.  It Comes at Night may have been a fine short film, but there is way too little here for a feature.

One critic — solidly in the minority — gets it:

The movie is far too solemn and high-minded to indulge in anything resembling scares or thrills, instead doubling down on the queasy atmosphere and lots of long, slow-tracking shots in which nothing happens.

Put another way: The Trigger Effect was a good movie.  Toward the end of the picture our heroic father attempts to break into a house to save his young child.  It Comes at Night is just that small part about trying to break into a house.  You have to think a little bigger sometimes people.  You’re making a movie.

One last thing: the non-ending of It Comes at Night fits this non-movie well.  3/10

Comparison Notes (recommended): the much better films 10 Cloverfield Lane and Blindness (2008)

Film Brief: 20th Century Women

There’s a form of contrivance in film which may be termed amalgamation.  The idea that a perfectly good movie can be made by an assembly process, putting a bunch of different elements together in a box.  It’s not a good thing.  Much better is to let your film develop organically.

Nonetheless, I liked the performances and bit of fun in 20th Century Women, so a marginal thumbs-up; 6/10, and one step behind The Accountant on the 2016 List.

Comparison Notes (recommended): The Diary of a Teenage Girl

 

Film Brief: Moonlight

moonlight-poster-smallI had no desire to see Moonlight, but it has proven to have legs and is likely to garner Oscar nominations including the big one.  Plus, I was in the mood for something that might make me think a little.  And so my review:

Act “i”: Great; Act ii: Great; Act iii: Complete and utter collapse.  Also not happy about omission of an opening title.  8/10 if you lop off Act iii, but since the producers did not, thumbs-down; 5/10.

 

Does American Honey Stick?

american-honey-poster

In my last post, I noted that good movies were either character-driven or story-driven. What I left off was that the best ones are both — which is where I hoped American Honey was headed.  There’s a lot of promise here early on, and I admit I was fairly well stuck on American Honey.

My criticism of Beasts of the Southern Wild was “these folks live in squalor, but they relish it.”  The same holds true here.  Where American Honey succeeds, in contrast, is in continuously putting our young heroine in risky situations.  But the movie fails by the same count — it doesn’t know where to take those storylines.  It skirts obvious but bold developments in favor of mundane relationship issues among this very loose group of young adults.

american-honey-text-blockStill though, like Beasts, we have a glimpse into a world of impoverished youth which I found mostly fascinating.  There’s a vivid intimacy and fresh honesty here.  But this is an overlong movie — nearly 3 hours — and it begins to repeat itself.  As always, story matters.  At the end of American Honey, you’ll likely be left asking, ‘so what?’ — and worse ‘what could have been?’

A couple more notes: I didn’t pick up on the square frame from seeing the trailer multiple times, but it sure was obvious on my screen: a completely unnecessary, distracting gimmick.  Regarding the film’s star, Sasha Lane: expect to see more of her.  Hopefully continuing with interesting roles, but don’t be surprised to see her in superhero costume. 6/10

Comparison Notes: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Short Term 12, Tangerine, The Master, Electrick Children, River’s Edge, My Own Private Idaho

Film Brief: Swiss Army Man

Stephanie Zacharek, Time:

…essentially the movie is really just two guys talking in the wilderness for 90 minutes

And that’s the problem with Swiss Army Man.  I disagree with the 90 minutes part of that statement, but it’s certainly the case that the filmmakers too quickly ran out of ideas.  Again, I know not everything can be Being John Malkovich as far as inventing new ideas, but still, you have to continue on with your movie.  I can think of a number of interesting ways in which Swiss Army Man might have evolved, but the “Daniels” were content to stop short.

Even so, there’s enough fun novelty for a marginal thumbs-up.  6/10

Comparison Notes: the TV series The Greatest American Hero.  It’s the 4th of July, after all.

Note on the trailer: it gives away too much; watch at your own risk.

Film Brief: The Lobster

Me: “One for Scallop”
Ticket Window Attendee: “What?”
Me: “Clam”
Attendee: “Oh, uh…The Lobster?”
Me: “Yea, that one”

Even solemn love stories need to pick up the pace occasionally.  You might think of The Lobster as a cross between Couples Retreat in reverse and Logan’s Run.  I agree with Walter Addiego, SF Chronicle:

If you can live with its blemishes, “The Lobster” is a bracing experience

Critics were generally over the moon for this movie; me, not so much.  It wasn’t clear that the filmmaker really knew what he was doing with the story.  And I know not everything can be Being John Malkovich.  But it’s not good enough to have one little idea about romantic involvement and play it out for a couple hours.  Malkovich took one idea, then added another and another and another, brilliantly executing each one.  The Lobster is a yawner by comparison.

Still, it’s an interesting film that marginally works.   Definitely gets credit for throwing out a unique vector.  6/10

Comparison Notes (all better): Lord of the Flies, Her, Blindness, Under the Skin, Being John Malkovich

Film Brief: The Witch

The Witch - poster

Not much to see here, folks.  Not nearly as much as you would think.  I was so very much looking forward to The Witch, and so even the more disappointed.  An exceptionally strong pot of potential, but nothing exceptional about the movie.  The Witch is not without its assets, but this one’s a pass — another miss by A24.  5/10

Comparison Notes (Recommended): Antichrist, The Visit, Breaking the Waves