Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." (Julius Caesar; Act 4, Scene 3).

Category: Movies (Page 1 of 18)

“Mother:” Darren Aronofsky & Jennifer Lawrence (It’s Not Nice to Fool Mother Nature!)

Darron Aronofsky’s new film “Mother!” looks to be a re-imagining, perhaps, of “Rosemary’s Baby” from its trailers. After Aronofsky films like “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “Noah,” you come out of this one feeling slightly bilious—partially from Matthew Libatique’s hand-held close-up camera work—and partially because the film, (allegorical though it may be), just leaves you saying, “What the hell just happened here?

For the first one-half to two-thirds of the film we have a normal story of a couple living in a remote house in the woods (Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence). He is a poet who has writers’ block and she is his loving, much younger and very supportive wife. [They don’t have names in the film, so I’ll simply refer to them by the actor’s names.]

As a would-be writer myself (30 books, to date),the depiction of how the publishing industry works was ludicrous, but it gives us a chance to see how Lawrence feels that she is not the Most Important Person in Bardem’s life, as he shows her his (finally, belatedly) completed manuscript, she cries and calls it beautiful. Immediately the phone rings and we learn that Bardem’s agent in New York (weirdly enough, played by SNL’s Kristen Wiiig) has already seen the manuscript. [Uh—-okay, folks. Not the way REAL publishing works, but let’s move on. And good luck on living on a poet’s income; better he should write horror novels or screenplays, like this film appeared to be from the trailers.]

I want to warn anyone reading this that there will be potential spoilers in my remarks, so look elsewhere if you don’t want to know some specific details about the film. However, to quote the critic in “Time” magazine, “It tries so desperately to be crazy and disturbing that all we can see is the effort made and the money spent.” That observation is not mine and seems a bit harsh, but my remark to a fellow critic as I left the theater was, “This one will not do well at the box office once word gets out.” So, a few details are here, but, no, I won’t give you the entire plot, blow-by-blow, (one of my biggest beefs about those who review my short story collections.)

So, what “word” am I suggesting will get out?

The word that the film makes minimal sense while trying to comment on a host of current topics as varied as the chaos in the world where refugees from any of a myriad list of countries are fleeing for their lives (Syria, almost anywhere in Africa, Afghanistan, et. al.), how we are destroying the Earth (Mother Earth—get it?), how artists both need fans, but also resent the rabid ones who won’t leave them alone, and egoism as demonstrated by those artists, etc.

True film buffs will see “Mother!” and be glad to have seen Aronofsky’s latest film. Word out of TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) was that people came out of the viewing either loving it or hating it, but definitely talking about it. I heard that, at one film festival screening (Cannes, I think) it was both booed and received a 5-minute standing ovation, so opinions come down on both sides of the issue.

IMHO, I don’t think the average couple who want a night out on the town without the kids will like it. They’d prefer a story that made sense. This one does not. It reminded me of Terrance Malick’s “Tree of Life” in that there was a story present that could have been told on a “normal” plane, but things quickly spiraled out of control on that front. “Tree of Life” went wild with great cinematic images, but the story suffered a quick death.

Don’t look for too much of that Malick touch here. The hand-held, close-up camerawork is all zoom-y and jerky. I found it really annoying on the big screen. I feel I have seen every pore on Jennifer Lawrence’s face. I think that is probably the movie’s strength: Jennifer Lawrence in her prime.

The sound is also quite good, and some of the early spooky shots in the old basement made me think of the film “They Come At Night” earlier this year in 2 respects: the shadowy spooky lighting and the fact that nobody ever really came at night and patrons were quite upset at being suckered in by the title and the trailer that seemed to portray a standard horror story. [I hope this isn’t the second instance of misleading advertising in film trailers this season, in the fans’ opinion(s).]

As for the secret room in the basement that is never properly explained or the bloody hole in the floor that I was sure was going to give way when someone walked over it, or the constant influx of strangers whom husband Bardem will not get rid of: not as enchanting or as well-explained.

Bardem ultimately becomes a religious figure (Satan? The Devil?) and Worst Husband & Father Ever.

The story makes sense for a while, but ultimately: “things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”

At first, we have the couple in the woods ( I was reminded of the house used one season on “American Horror Story”) with the wife trying to (literally) re-build the house to please her husband, because, (we learn in an aside), it was his childhood home. We are also told that a fire destroyed it and killed his mother. All Javier has left from the wreckage is a precious piece of glass that he keeps on display on a pedestal. It gets broken, of course, but nevermind about that right now.

After we woozily (those close-up shots and hand-held photography) watch Jennifer run to the bathroom to periodically bolt glasses of a yellow liquid that she mixes on multiple occasions, I wanted to know what it was she was drinking. The film never said. I read (elsewhere) that it was some kind of migraine medication. It would have been nice to have known that, somehow, from the dialogue. I don’t have migraines, have never heard of a yellow powder that people take for it, and was trying to figure out if Lawrence was a closet drug addict or trying to abort an unwanted pregnancy, since there is a conversation in the film where random guest Michelle Pfeiffer tells Jennifer that she (Michelle) can tell that Jennifer doesn’t want kids.

First guest to disrupt the couple’s solitude is Ed Harris, who tells Javier that he is an orthopedic surgeon at the hospital in town and suggests that he was told this was a bed and breakfast where he could stay. Once he finds out that Bardem is the famous poet Harris admires, Harris is invited to stay at their house by Javier as long as he likes. This disturbs Jennifer as she was not consulted.

Then, Ed’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) shows up. Later, his two warring sons (real-life brothers Brian Gleeson and Donheel Gleeson) arrive and a violent fight breaks out about their father’s imminent demise and the money he will leave. [We have learned that old Ed is coughing up a lung because he is terminally ill.]

MOTHER NATURE

Let’s examine some of the themes/allegories that Aronofsky has laid out for us, or why I feel they are there. What is my support for my interpretation, in other words? When it comes to the Mother Nature reading, in addition to the film’s title, we need only pay attention when Jennifer says she wants to make the house “a Paradise” for her husband. And there is this line: “I gave you everything. You gave it all away.” Then, of course, there are the lines of the song that plays over the credits: “It’s The End of the World As We Know It, it ended when your love left me.”

RELIGIOUS SYMBOLISM

Believe me, you won’t miss this. Gifts brought to the child born under chaotic circumstances. Preacher-like figures and small votive candles. Adoring worshippers. Small photos of the object of their adoration everywhere. And we all know what happened to the first son of God in The Good Book, so don’t look for a happy ending here.

EGOISM

“Vanity Fair”cited “the fevered insecurity of an artist who fears the attention of his public as much as he does their abandonment.” It is undeniably true that a writer or artist of any sort is dependent on an adoring public for both ego gratification and sales. Still, it’s taken to the limit here. Jennifer’s constant desire to have her husband make the unwanted guests go away made me think of a story she told tonight on Seth Meyer’s Late Show. She described being asked to pose for a selfie in a bar after a hard day on a shoot (and a few too many beers) and turning the young man down, whereupon he used the “f” word and went away mad. Not as mad as Jennifer, however, who describes dousing him and his luggage with beer because he wouldn’t leave her alone.

You get the feeling that the character Jennifer Lawrence portrays in “Mother!” would dearly love to give every character in the film except Bardem the old heave-ho, but nobody listens to her polite requests that they not sit on the still unmoored kitchen sink counter or simply get the hell out of her house. She is telling them what to do both politely and, ultimately, ragefully, just as Mother Nature has been warning us about weather crises to come for decades, but we just don’t listen. And, just like the 2 recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida within 4 days of one another while vast parts of the west are going up in flames, things are getting wildly out of hand now, because milder warnings given early on were completely ignored.

The film is crazy and disturbing and, in Lawrence’s words on television tonight, “horrifying” but it’s not your normal horror film with an ending that wraps things up for you, with or without a twist ending, so if you hated “They Come At Night” because you thought there was actually going to be something coming at night, you will probably think this film has done a bit of false advertising with its trailers, too.

Doesn’t mean you can’t watch it to try to decode the layers of meaning and enjoy Aronofsky’s skill as a writer/director, but I liked “The Wrestler.” It made sense from beginning to end.

“It” Breaks Records for Horror Movie Openings

When I showed up at our local Cineplex at 5:10 p.m. last Saturday to see “It,” I didn’t expect to find that particular showing sold out—but it was. So was the 6:20 p.m. showing, after I bought the last ticket.

“It”—based on a novel by Stephen King written over 30 years ago—is breaking records for a horror movie opening and easily became the largest September oepning of all time. It more than doubled the earnings of the previous record holders, which were “Paranormal Activity 3” with $52.6 million in 2011 and September’s “Hotel Transylvania 2” with $48.5 million back in 2015.

One might ask why now? Why “It”?

As one critic (Chris Nashawaty in “Entertainment Weekly”) said: “It” doesn’t shy away from nastiness and definitely earns its R rating. There’s implied incest, bullying in the extreme, and children are violently attacked. But that raises the question: Who exactly is it for? Its heroes, like its audience, are kids. What responsible parent will buy their tickets?”

Chris just doesn’t get “It.” The people I saw in the theater on Saturday were not predominantly teen-agers, although there were plenty of them, too. The man sitting next to me was probably a forty-something father who had read the book (which he told me). I definitely read the book, all those years ago, and, to refresh my memory, I strolled down memory lane with the television version of the book that ran in 1990, four years after the book came out.

The original film-for-television version had John Boy of the Waltons attired in a ponytail, to show that he was a creative sort, as Bill. I never did quite get used to that ponytail and Richard Masur as one of the boys turns up a suicide when the team gets the call to return to Derry. In the interests of not ruining the new film, I won’t tell you which of the team Masur was, but killing him off in what will be Chapter Two for this particular treatment may or may not happen.

What I did was primarily take a close look at the differences between the 1990 film and the current 2017 version, and I’ll add some theories about why “It” burst out of the doldrums of September with blockbuster numbers at the box office.

1) The original film covers both the young people and the 40-somethings who are called to return to Derry when the evil clown, Pennywise (originally played by Tim Curry of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”) returns in 27 years. This film stops when the protagonists are young and have just rescued their only female member, Beverly Marsh (well played by Sophia Lillis). We also have, as the lead (Bill), Jaeden Lieberher of “Midnight Special” and the young lead actor of “Stranger Things, Finn Wolfhard. Also present in the remake are Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and a cast of reprehensible parent figures.

2) David Morrell has suggested that our current national situation: being led by a clown who seems bent on making bad things happen may be partially to blame for the film’s September popularity, but if you look at the anemic offerings out there, it is easy to see why “It” would carry the day. It is true that the adults in the film seem either indifferent, incompetent, or just plain evil, from Beverly’s father right on down to Eddie’s mother and the local pharmacist.

3) Pennywise was played by Tim Curry in the original film and is played by Bill Skarsgard in this one. I am not as quick to laud Curry and put Skarsgard down. I thought they were both fine in their roles.

4) The original film used a lot of blood scenes where it bubbles up from the green sink in Beverly’s bathroom. In this newer version, it isn’t just blood that bubbles p. There are also menacing black cobweb like tentacles that threaten to drag Beverly down to the sewer(s).

5) I noticed that the language was very “R”-rated in this movie. That seems natural, since the original in 1990 played on network TV. Every other line has either the “F” word in it or that four-letter word that means excrement.

6) When Beverly’s sink goes haywire with the bubbling blood, only she is able to see it and she enlists the help of the Losers gang, who are also able to see it, but her father is not.

7) When chubby Ben is menaced, he is actually cut with a knife by the bully Bowers, who, himself, has been mistreated by his policeman father. In the original, he was bullied but not quite so extremely.

8) The rock-throwing scene (Losers against local bullies) remains in the film.

9) The weapon of choice for use against Pennywise in the sewers has changed from a slingshot that only Beverly seemed able to aim well to the sort of gun that is used to kill animals at a slaughter house.

10) There is a long sequence in a haunted house that reminded me of Miss Faversham’s digs in “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens.

11) Every trope in the horror movie book is thrown at the audience over and over again: the quick jump forward, the “don’t go in there” places, the “cover-your-face-terrifying” moments. The two teen-aged girls sitting to my left actually applauded after the film ended, so it obviously works and works quite well if you have not seen it done one million times before in many other films.

12) The lighting was appropriately spooky. Not as spooky as “It Comes At Night” earlier this summer, but very dark and moody. Sewers are also plenty scary and this time, instead of just a look at the scary house, the leads are taken inside it more than once.

13) Director Andy Muschieti (“Mama”) has delivered the script by Chase Palmer, Cary Fukomaga and Gary Dauberman, based on King’s novel, in a straightforward murder mystery manner, coupled with horror movie tropes that cause one to scream and jump out of their seat(s). (Think “Psycho”).

14) Critic Rick Bentley (Tribune News Service), who gave the film only 2 and 1/2 stars (putting him at odds with most of the theater-going public) made the very accurate statement that “Pennywise is terrifying, but he’s not the biggest monster

Jeremy Renner Stars in Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River”

“Wind River” opens with a young Indian girl running barefoot across snow with a mountainous landscape in the background. We soon learn that the mountains are (supposedly) in Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation, a reservation established for the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes in western Wyoming. The entrance to the Wind River Reservation is the small town of Lander. We do see a town sign for Lander early on, but all the mountains used in the beautiful cinematography are really in Utah.

Ultimately, the young Indian girl running for her life dies of pulmonary hemorrhage from the sub-zero cold. Her body is discovered by Corey Lambert, a Fish and Wildlife employee whose job, as he tells FBI agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) called in to consult is, “I hunt predators.” Corey was stalking mountain lions when he came upon the young victim’s body, Natalie Hanson (Kelsey Asbille).

The pretty blonde FBI agent (Elizabeth Olson) responds, “So why don’t you come and hunt one for me, then.” The Florida-born, Las Vegas-based agent is out of her league and she knows it. She doesn’t even seem to own boots or mittens, so the locals have to help her out

Corey not only knows the territory well, he also has a backstory (doesn’t the hero always have a backstory?) about losing his own teen-aged daughter three years prior. His young teen-aged daughter Emily also happened to be the best friend of the just-discovered dead girl, Natalie Hanson.

The best male actor comparison for Jeremy Renner’s portrayal of the anguished bounty hunter is that his role is a throwback to the roles played by strong silent types, like Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda and young Clint Eastwood. Renner has been justifiably praised for his performance here with critics saying it’s his best work since “The Hurt Locker.”

The cinematography is gorgeous, if brutal, and one of the leads seems well cast. The barren wintery landscape is the biggest cast member. Sheridan also gets in some digs about injustices done Native Americans, including the factoid at film’s end that no statistics are compiled for missing Indian women. Here’s an example of the sentiments Sheridan has scripted, spoken by the Indian girl’s brother to the cops, who say they only want to help: “Why is it that it starts with you white people trying to help.” He implies that it always goes bad after that and, judging from history, he’s not wrong.

Sheridan initially had his heart set on Renner for the part, but Renner’s role in “Awakening” caused him to be unavailable at first, so Chris Pine was set to play the role, but “Wonder Woman” duties forced him out. Then, Renner’s schedule opened up and allowed Sheridan to continue with this frontier film, after scripting—but not directing— both “Hell and High Water” and “Sicario”—casting his first choice as the main character. The credits throw in the fact that it is “from the producer of “Lone Survivor.”

This, however, is Sheridan’s first time directing one of his own scripts. He and his cast perform competently, although the current trend of leaving numerous unanswered questions means we are still wondering what-the-hell happened to Renner’s own daughter 3 years back. We are equally mystified by the question of relationships by film’s end (Is Renner still in love with his divorced Indian wife, Julia Jones as Wilma? Is Renner attracted to Olsen’s FBI agent? What? Open-ended themes are all the rage these days, so those are a couple of unresolved issues you’ll have to mull on your own after the film ends.)

Ben Richardson’s beautiful cinematography is enhanced by the score composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
. Filmgoers at Cannes gave the film an 8 minute standing ovation, while the Sun Dance people also liked it a lot. (Sheridan didn’t tell the studio he was entering the film at Sun Dance, but it turned out well.)

The denouement where we find out how the beautiful Indian girl (Natalie is played by Kelsey Asbille) ended up dead features Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”) as her boyfriend. He is only in the film for about twenty minutes. The “let’s have everybody shoot everybody else” finale has been done-to-death in this year’s “Free Fire” and various Tarantino films. I had hoped for more—maybe even a well-scripted plot twist.

Elizabeth Olson, playing the FBI agent, seems way too pretty and fragile—which supports her insecurities in her job but makes you long for a Frances McDormand of “Fargo,” the movie, or an Allison Tolman of “Fargo,” the TV show (Season #1) to really make the part believable. Renner, for me, fit the bill, especially when surrounded by excellent Native American actors, like Graham Greene’s Ben (*NOT the long-dead British novelist, but the actor who appeared in “The Green Mile” and “Dances with Wolves.”)

The movie plays like “Jeremiah Johnson” meets Melissa Leo’s 2008 drug-smuggling-in-Canada film “Frozen River” amidst the modernized-to-the-present-day landscape of DeCaprio’s “The Revenant.” The acting by Renner and the plot, itself, are throwbacks to the seventies, something I couldn’t be happier about. I’ll enjoy watching for Taylor Sheridan’s next film. This one opens wide on August 4th.

Genre: Western murder mystery thriller

Length: 111 minutes

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Stars: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olson, Graham Greene, Jon Bernthal

Reviewer: Connie Wilson (www.ConnieCWilson.com)

Totally Preventable Disease that Killed “The Cincinnati Kid”

There are diseases that become forever associated with a famous victim. Michael J. Fox is active with research for Parkinson’s Disease. Mary Tyler Moore was a lifelong diabetic. Jerry Lewis, although not a victim of the disease, will always be associated with the marathon television fundraisers he organized and helmed for Muscular Dystrophy.

One particularly insidious disease had, as its most famous victim, Mr. Cool, himself – a man who once said, “You only go around once in life, and I’m going to grab a handful of it.”
And, boy, did he ever!

This famous actor once was at the top of Charles Manson’s “hit list.” It was by sheer luck that this A-lister was not present the night Manson’s minions struck and killed Roman Polanski’s pregnant actress wife, Sharon Tate, and her entourage at her Los Angeles home. (After learning his name was on a Manson “hit list,” the star began carrying a gun.) His last words were said to be, “I did it,” although other reports say he died in his sleep under an assumed name (Sam Shepherd) at a Juarez, Mexico clinic. This mega-star died of mesothelioma – a cancer affecting the lining of the organs, such as the lungs, heart and/or abdomen.

Who was he? More about that in a moment.

Mesothelioma is a disease that kills between 2,000 and 3,000 people annually, and an estimated 43,000 people around the world die from the disease each year. You can be exposed to the asbestos, which is a known cause of the illness, and not show any symptoms for decades due to the disease’s long latency period. It is particularly difficult to catch early, because the symptoms mimic so many others. To wit:
1) Shortness of breath, wheezing or hoarseness
2) A persistent cough that worsens
3) Blood coughed up from the lungs
4) Pain or tightness in the chest
5) Difficulty swallowing
6) Swelling of the neck or face
7) Loss of appetite
8) Weight loss
9) Fatigue or anemia

Those symptoms mimic many other diseases, and victims often do not seek help until their illness is too far advanced for effective treatment. Even cases that are caught early have a grim prognosis.

One other famous face of mesothelioma was musician Warren Zevon, who wrote “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.” In a “Tonight Show” program devoted solely to Zevon and his music, talk show host David Letterman paid tribute to the “Werewolves of London” tunesmith. Zevon advised, known to be terminal with mesothelioma at the time of the taping, advised others “enjoy every sandwich.” (These taped appearances can still be found on YouTube and are deeply moving; Zevon worked right up until his death, compiling a memorable final album which featured many guest artists.)

The famous face of mesothelioma mentioned in paragraph two has been named one of the Top Thirty Movie Stars of All Time on various polls. His work has been cited as an influence on actors working today, like Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell. He once said, “I live for myself, and I answer to nobody.” That maverick anti-establishment attitude informed his work and his life—and made it more difficult to get him to consult a doctor when he first noticed a persistent cough in 1978. Although he gave up his cigarette habit and underwent antibiotic treatments, he did not improve.

Finally, after filming one of his final films, “The Hunter,” Steve McQueen had a chest X-ray and a biopsy. The biopsy revealed pleural mesothelioma, an aggressive and rare cancer directly caused by exposure to asbestos. The most likely explanation for why McQueen contracted the disease is also in keeping with his rogue image: he was a Marine at one point early in life and was sent to the brig for not reporting for duty, but being absent without leave (AWOL) to spend time with a woman. Part of McQueen’s punishment was to remove asbestos from pipes aboard a troop ship.

McQueen also speculated that Hollywood’s love affair with asbestos, which was used on movie sets to create fake snow from 1930 to 1950, might have exposed him to the deadly carcinogen. The use of asbestos occurred in movies as famous as the Bond film “Goldfinger” and “It’s A Wonderful Life” (although not used in that Jimmy Stewart picture as snow, because a substance known as foamite had been invented for that purpose in 1946). Asbestos was used to decorate other parts of the “It’s A Wonderful Life” set and it was used in the CBS Network facilities building for years, where another veteran character actor, Ed Lauter (“The Longest Yard,” “The Family Plot”), worked for many years. He died of the disease in 2013 at the age of 75, only five months after his diagnosis.

In 1942, when Bing Crosby sang “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” in the film “Holiday Inn,” the snow falling was actually asbestos, and 1939’s “Wizard of Oz” relied on asbestos for the poppy field scene
. Stunt men who wore flame retardant suits in films were exposed to asbestos (McQueen did many of his stunts himself and “Towering Inferno” was one of his biggest films) The suits that race car drivers often wore contained asbestos in the early days; McQueen was a well-known racing enthusiast of both fast cars and motorcycles.

Steve McQueen’s efforts to find treatment led him to Mexico to undergo questionable treatments by a man (William Donald Kelley) who promoted a version of the Gerson therapy. It used coffee enemas, daily injections of fluid containing live cells from cattle and sheep, massages, frequent washing with shampoos, and laetrile, which is derived from apricot pits. Nothing worked. McQueen paid upwards of $40,000 a month ($116,000 in today’s dollars) for the treatments over three months in Mexico. (Kelley’s medical license was revoked in 1976).

Against his U.S. doctor’s advice (U.S. doctors said his heart was too weak), Steve McQueen underwent surgery to remove huge tumors that had, by that time, spread to his liver, neck and abdomen. [The liver tumor, alone, allegedly weighed five pounds] McQueen died of cardiac arrest at 3:45 a.m., twelve hours after surgery on November 7, 1980, at age 50. The El Paso Times said he died in his sleep. He was cremated and his ashes were spread over the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, the asbestos that took Steve McQueen’s life at age 50, almost 40 years ago, is still legal in the United States. First responders to the 9/11 attack in New York City on September 11, 2001, survivors present in the city and those involved in cleanup at the site were exposed to asbestos, as it was used in the construction of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Hundreds of tons of asbestos was released into the atmosphere as a result of the airplane attacks. My own nephew, an architect, was in charge of plans by an architecture firm to remove asbestos from schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that took place within the last five years.

Organizations like the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance work year-round to educate people about the dangers of asbestos. Steve McQueen’s death was only one of thousands that year, but people are still being exposed to the mineral today and thousands will be diagnosed this year.

Maybe it’s time to step up and make asbestos illegal in the United States?

Review: “It Comes At Night” Brings Psychological Paranoia & Terror This Summer

Secure within a remote desolate home in the woods as an unnatural threat terrorizes the world, the tenuous domestic order that Paul (Joel Edgerton of “Loving” and “Midnight Special”) has established with his wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo of “Selma”) and son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr. of “Birth of a Nation”) is put to the ultimate test with the arrival of a desperate young family seeking refuge in “It Comes At Night.
“The movie is about the unknown and the fear of the unknown. Death is the ultimate unknown.” So says Writer/Director Trey Shults of his impressive new thriller “It Comes At Night,” which opens wide on June 9th. The minimalist story is not a typical genre thriller, according to Shults, but, as he said (quoting Mies Van der Rohe), “Less is more.” The basic story is about a family trying to survive in a cabin in the woods while some sort of virus ravages an apocalyptic land. “Imagine the end of the world— Now imagine something worse,” says the A24 press handout.

The second man who brings his family to the remote cabin seeking haven and the necessities of life is headed by Will. Will is played by Christopher Abbott, who was excellent in “James White,” where he portrayed a young man nursing his dying mother (Cynthia Nixon of “Sex and the City” and “A Quiet Passion”) through terminal cancer. Will’s wife, Kim, is played by Riley Keough (Elvis’ granddaughter, “American Honey”) and his small son Andrew is played by Griffin Robert Faulkner.
Despite the best intentions of both families portrayed in the film, paranoia and mistrust boil over as the horrors outside creep ever-closer, awakening something hidden and monstrous within Paul as he learns that the protection of his family comes at the cost of his soul.

There is also, as the film opens, the harrowing death of Travis’ grandfather, Bud, played by David Pendleton. One of the unusual things that happens to someone dying of the mysterious contagious disease is that the victims’ eyes fill up completely with pupil; no “whites of their eyes” as they are decimated when death draws near.

Shults said, during a Q&A following the film’s showing in Chicago on June 1st, that he was fascinated with questions about topics like genocide. He is definitely focused on death and man’s mortality in this film, which is not about zombies or monsters, but is every bit as horrific as he examines the lengths people will go to to protect their own and to survive.
Since the original impetus for Shults’ film came from helping his own father through terminal pancreatic cancer, the mood of the film is grim, grimmer, grimmest. Shults has said that, following his father’s death (they had been estranged for 7 years prior), he sat down and wrote and “It just came spewing out of me.” He’s certainly in good company in musing on the temporary nature of our existence on this planet. Woody Allen has examined the topic in any number of comedies and Ridley Scott just trotted out another “Alien” film (“Alien: Covenant”) which has some thoughts on the same eternal question.

But Shults has made death as scary as anything you’ll see this summer, and perhaps as scary as anything you’ll ever see in any season on the universal topic of man’s mortality. What lengths will a man go to to “save” and protect his family? What would happen if we were facing an unbeatable disease with no modern medicines or hospitals to help us? Many in the world are facing these questions right now, in real time, but Shults is still struggling with the deaths of two close family members (his father and his cousin), with memories which clearly haunt him to this day.
Award-winning filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (John Cassavetes Award, 2016; Independent Spirit Breakthrough Directors Award (2016); Gotham Award (2016)) follows his incredible debut feature KRISHA,(which starred family members and debuted at SXSW in 2015), with IT COMES AT NIGHT, a horror film following a man (Joel Edgerton) as he learns that the evil stalking his family home may be only a prelude to horrors that come from within.
The uncomfortable subject matter of “It Comes At Night”, says Shults, is “drawing from heavy personal experiences and placing it into a fictional narrative, hoping the same emotions come through. At its heart, this is a movie about mortality.”
The script for “It Comes At Night” was actually written before “Krisha.” When “Krisha” was a big hit at SXSW, Shults got a 2-picture deal from A24. This is that second film, but he has been learning from the best since the age of 18, working on 3 Terrence Malick films, starting with “Tree of Life” in Hawaii.

The film is beautifully shot and paranoia is justified and created with the skillful use of camera, sound and light (see my interview with Trey Shults on www.TheMovieBlog.com for details). This is a riveting, horrific picture of a future we can only hope never becomes a reality. I am still thinking about it today, four days later. Yet Shults resists calling it a horror film, and believes it is far more about psychological horror than a genre flick with monsters or things that go bump in the night (as they literally do in this one.)

For some, the questions we are left with as the film ends will cause criticism. There are times at the “end” of a piece (remember the finale of “The Sopranos”?) when viewers feel they have been shortchanged or cheated by the ending. For me, this was not an issue, as it was pretty clear what was probably going to happen next. Still, I understand those who want more of a “Breaking Bad” type of ending, where things are wrapped up neatly and some characters live and some characters die (and spin-offs are even made possible by the “concluded” feeling.)

Two other things that may cause Shults some criticism from some sources will be his intentional intermingling of the dream sequences (nightmares, really) with reality. They will say (truthfully) that it is sometimes difficult to tell what is a dream and what is reality.

Again, this did not cause me any problems. After listening to Shults explain why this was intentionally done, it made even more sense. He explained that he saw the dream sequences as a way into Travis’ mind. (And Travis = Trey). It is Travis’ point-of-view through which we see the story, even though it is his father, Paul (Joel Edgerton), who is dictating the terms of Travis’ young life.
And last, some will say, “Why is it called ‘It Comes At Night’?” Shults explained that night is the time when he is at his most creative and it was a title that sounded good. Hopefully, he said, it helps put you in the heads of the main characters. It is not a literal interpretation of what occurs in the film but more a metaphor, so be warned.

This is the beginning of a bright future for a very gifted filmmaker.

Genre: Horror/psychological thriller/Mystery
Length: 97 minutes
Writer/Director: Trey Edward Shults
Cast: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton
Reviewer: Connie Wilson

Speaking with the Director of “It Comes At Night”

“It Comes At Night” Writer/Director Trey Edward Shults Talks About His New Film

Genre: Horror/thriller/mystery

Length: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Writer/Director: Trey Edward Shults

Cast: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Griffin Robert Faulkner, David Pendleton, Mikey the dog

Reviewer: Connie Wilson

Following the absolutely gut-wrenching preview showing of the film “It Comes At Night” in Chicago on Thursday, June 1st, writer/director Trey Edward Shults talked about how this, his second feature film, came to be. (the movie opens wide on June 9th).

At 18, Trey became an intern on a Terrence Malick shoot in Hawaii for the volcano scenes in “Tree of Life.” He was rooming with the film loader, who taught him how to load film inside a changing bag for Imax films. They were helicoptered to the volcano site and filmed lava erupting from the volcano.

Something caused the second unit film loader to be unavailable and Trey stepped in, with lava oozing down the sides of the volcano in the rain and the cinematographer yelling, “We need another mag!” After that, Trey quit college at 19 and, in addition to interning in Austin with Malick, was employed on a Jeff Nichols movie.

Shults spent this time studying movies constantly, making shorts, and trying to find his voice as a filmmaker. He says he has never worked on “a traditional film set” and is open to collaborating with actors. “Krishna,” which was Shults’ first feature-length film, premiered at SXSW in 2015, featured his family members, and earned him a 2-film deal with A24. It is a movie about family and, as he said in Chicago, “I knew I had to quit making movies that starred only my family members.” (Laughter).

So “It Comes At Night,” film number two, was born, after Shults had captured the John Cassavetes Award (2016), the Independent Spirit Awards Breakthrough Director Award , the Gotham Award (2016) and earned reviews that praised “Krishna” as “unforgettable,” “original” and “a ferociously impressive film debut.”

In this, Shults’ second full-length feature film, Joel Edgerton (“Loving,” “Midnight Special”), who plays Paul in the picture and also was an executive producer, helped with assembling the top-notch cast: Carmen Ejogo of “Selma;” Riley Keough (Elvis’ granddaughter who was in “The Girlfriend Experience” and “American Honey”) as Kim; Christopher Abbott (“James White”) as Will and new-comer Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Travis, through whose eyes the story is told. Said Shults, “I’m very blessed, because they are all very talented and amazing people. I went through the Hollywood bullshit casting. You fly to London and meet with someone and they say, ‘Oh! I’d love to be in your movie!’ and you fly home and then they say they have committed somewhere else.” Stelts shrugs and says that the role of Travis was cast during a Skype session with Kelvin Harrison, Jr. of New Orleans, who was 22 at the time, while Shults was 27. Kelvin is the person through whose eyes we experience the film. (When asked for his favorite scene in an interview, Harrison said he enjoyed the grim, gory sequence where Riley Keough straddles him in bed and oozes thick blood into his mouth. He also identified one of his favorite movies as the 1959 film “Imitation of Life,” about a light-skinned black girl passing for white).

The personal elements of the film came from Trey’s watching his father (from whom he had been estranged) slowly die a grim death from pancreatic cancer. As someone who nursed her father through terminal liver cancer in a town too small to have much of a hospice program, I could definitely relate. In sharing that commonality, I earned a hug from the director, who is the product of various strong female role models, including his actress aunt Trisha Fairchild, who starred in “Krisha.” Family is important to Trey and that line about trusting family first is used in the film’s dialogue.

The long, slow fade to black of his father’s death made a deep and indelible impression on the young filmmaker. He says, “I started writing and it started spewing out of me. For the people who dig it, that’s cool. It’s not about the disease; it’s about what the disease does to people.” He mentions genocide and paranoia and the struggle to survive, turned to maximum volume.

Set in a remote cabin in the woods, the survivors of an unnamed disease are trying to survive, using gas masks and barricading themselves from what is out there that might infect them or kill them. We never know exactly what that might be, but gas masks are used throughout, as are kerosene lanterns and natural light (much like Terrence Malick’s films and their emphasis on natural light.) The film’s tone is reminiscent of early Carpenter or “Night of the Living Dead.”

Dream Sequences: Q: You’re never really sure it is really a dream or reality. Is that intentional?

A: “Yes. The way we shot it was deliberate, from 240 to 275 to 30. The score is also subtly different and, at the end of the movie, the aspect ratio slowly changes and the reality/dream music is interwoven; we shot 3.0 for the rest of the film. The goal with the nightmares was a path into Travis and how he’s thinking and how he’s processing these things. (“Totally,” is usually Trey’s favorite one-word response.)

Q: What about the stupidness of horror movies, in general? What did you think was stupid in that way in your film, if anything?

A: Travis running into the woods after Stanley (the dog) is probably the stupidest thing. (He adds that he would probably have done it, too).

Q: What about the title?

A: A title hits you and then it sticks with you. At night is when my brain is most active. It’s a little gateway into how I think. (Laughs) I had this nightmare where I had cancer, but it was just in my finger, but I was gonna’ die. The title “It Comes At Night” is not literal. It is metaphorical. It’s intentional. The purpose was to put you in the headspace of the characters.”

As Trey says, “The entire theme is pretty minimal. Less is more,” he says, quoting Mies van der Rohe.“I really wanted to make the most of this toned-down setting. There isn’t an ounce of fat on this movie.” Shults mentions some of his Obsessive/compulsive tendencies (wrestling, when in high school, until a shoulder injury ruined that career) and says, “I mixed the gunshot sounds over and over and over.” Shults also said, “We didn’t do night lighting. You go in the woods with a flashlight or in your house and it’s dark and it’s totally terrifying. We wanted economical storytelling. It’s a low-budget film (shot in 5 weeks in one setting.) There is no hidden material.”

Shults tells the story of attending a screening of “There Will Be Blood” with his mother and how it influenced him, as have such diverse films as “Boogie Nights,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “The Shining,” and “The Thing.” For all of his admiration for such classic horror films, Shults says “It Comes At Night” is not a genre film.

“The movie is about the unknown and the fear of the unknown. Death is the ultimate unknown.” He tells the story of his cousin who, having been drug addicted but clean for years, came to a family reunion but relapsed while at the reunion (and later died). These brushes with death early in his life—whether a parent or a cousin—obviously have informed the young filmmaker’s work. His apprenticeships with Terrence Malick inform the first 45 to 50 minutes of the film, when the cinematography goes from cameras to dollies to zoom shots.

Some will not like the ending, because the film leaves us with questions.

Shults says, “I like questions. I know that’s what I love. I love the kind of movies where you think about them later and wonder about things. If this turns out to be one of those movies that stays with you afterwards, that’s cool.” (“Totally.”)

“Obit:” A Documentary Look at New York Times Obituary Writers


Obit: The Obituary Writers at the New York Times Discuss Their Craft

Genre: Documentary
Director: Vanessa Gould
Length: 95 minutes
Actors: Bruce Weber, William McDonald, Margalit Fox, Paul Vilella, Douglas Martin, Jeff Roth
Cinematographer: Ben Wolf
Original score: Joel Goodman
Reviewer: Connie Wilson

Once, 30 people helped maintain the basement archives of 10,000 drawers in the basement of the New York Times offices, drawers stuffed with obituary clippings that documented the lives of the rich and famous. Now that staff is down to one. Say the few obituary writers at the New York Times who are left, “You can count on one hand the number of obituary writers left on staff.”

Why have old newspaper clippings in the day of the Internet? “We like to keep the paper copy because we don’t know if the online sources are going to work.”

This surprisingly light-hearted, entertaining and engrossing documentary doesn’t just interview writers. There are many film clips of the famous, such as the September 26, 1960 JFK/Nixon debate held in Chicago. The first of four televised debates, it was estimated that 70 million people tuned in; it is still considered the turning point in making the photogenic John Fitzgerald Kennedy a media darling who would go on to win the Presidency, beating Eisenhower’s Vice President, Richard M. Nixon, who showed up looking haggard, sweaty and unshaven.

The obituary this day was that of the first television media consultant (William P. Wilson, 86) who insisted on the single support podium and ran 2 blocks to purchase powder puffs and make-up for JFK, while Nixon eschewed any cosmetics and his image suffered afterwards as a result. Naturally, I perked up my ears at the news that his surname was “Wilson” and I found his savvy recognition of the fact that the far trimmer and fitter-looking Kennedy would photograph well on television with his perfectly-fitted suit, while Nixon (who had been ill) looked pallid, sweaty and nervous, was the beginning of that entire field of television on-air consultants.

There were also stories of last-of-their-kind individuals like Manson Whitlock, who repaired typewriters until his death
. When asked about “prepared ahead” obituaries, the writers said that, generally, if a person was in their prime and relatively young, no advance obituary existed. That’s what made writing up the deaths of individuals like Prince, Michael Jackson, Carrie Fisher, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams so daunting. Who does the NY Times have on file now? “Stephen Sondheim, Meadowbrook Lemmon of the Harlem Globetrotters, Mort Sahl and Jane Fonda—although we hope we don’t have to use them any time soon.”

Say the few mostly male and mature obituary writer, “You’re always wrestling with a way to fold the facts in, if we can. We don’t want to stop the narration. We’re trying to weave a historical story and entice the reader. It’s a one-time chance and you can’t do it again.”

Bruce Weber, featured prominently in the documentary, gave some of the essentials of a good obituary. First, following the unfortunate announcement that a Russian ballerina had died (when she is still alive and well today), the death must be confirmed by a reputable source—possibly a family member, the police or the hospital. Says Weber, “I had to call all the Wallaces in Champaign-Urbana when (writer) David Foster Wallace died.”

Second: avoid flowery sentimental language.
“No Hallmark card language to give the obituary an emotional cast.” Douglas Martin, originally from Clear Lake, Iowa, read aloud from his great grandmother’s obituary that appeared in the Clear Lake Mirror and violated that rule to the max. No euphemisms for dying are to be used, like “shuffled off this mortal coil” or “passed away.”

Third: always provide the cause of death.
It has long puzzled me why obituaries tip-toe around the cause of death, often not mentioning it at all. Weber confirms that readers want to know what killed the person, especially if the individual was young.

Fourth: get it right! Weber tells the camera that he regrets a small error in an obituary (of William P. Wilson, 86) that ran that day. He had identified William Wilson’s grandfather as a Democratic Congressman from Illinois; the family has reported that Granddad was Republican. “That was such a small thing. I could have simply left out his political affiliation and it would still have been good. I regret that.”

The length? Depends on the fame of the subject. Obituaries can run 500, 800 or 900 words, but it is the more important celebrity types that garner the greatest space. Also mentioned was the pressure of getting the obituary into print on time if the celebrity—-as with Michael Jackson—dies unexpectedly, has a large body of work, and dies in the afternoon. MJ was declared dead late in the day, around 3 p.m., and that made it difficult to get it written well by 8 p.m. when the paper went to press at 9 p.m. (“We had to really scramble.”) Philip Seymour Hoffman, by contrast, was found dead early on a Sunday morning, which helped the work pace of the writers. However, in this Internet age, “the competitive pressures of journalism have increased exponentially.”

This film is an amazing piece of documentary work. The pacing was great and the quick flashes of celebrities as varied as David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, Carrie Fisher and Prince—flickering by in quick, well-edited cuts—was a good way to spice up an otherwise potentially dry, boring topic.

What sorts of unusual stories have been written by these obituary writers?
There was the obit of Svetlana Stalin (daughter of the U.S.S.R.’s Josef Stalin), who defected to the U.S. and died in Topeka, Kansas. The inventors of the Slinky and the television remote were profiled. There was the sole survivor of the landmark court case Brown Vs. the Board of Education decision, an African American woman educator. Jack Albert Kenzler who averted the scrubbing of a space mission with his inventive tinkering and died at age 74, was newsworthy. The pilot of the Enola Gay who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Manson Whitlock, who repaired typewriters all his life and died in 2014, among the last of that dying breed.

Margalit Fox noted, “Obituaries are inherently retrospective things. It used to be that the only people allowed to be players on the world stage were overwhelmingly white men, but that is changing.” The obituaries point out the changing technology (from typewriters to computers), the advances of women and minorities, and the creation of brand new jobs in this sophisticated age, such as the television media consultant William P. Wilson, shown in a film clip onstage at the Kennedy/Nixon debate scene. Each person mentioned earned a film clip or photo of them during life, many of them very amusing and all of them interesting.

Doesn’t writing about death every day become dreary and depressing?

“No,” says Bruce Weber. “We want to know, ‘How did people get to be the way they are? How did the world get to be the way it is?….We’re trying to write an entertaining piece about history for those who may not know that history. Art also makes you a permanent piece of people’s history. A lot of people my age (Weber is 57) begin to think of their mortality. Seeing the full circle, the full arc. Am I accomplishing anything? Did I leave a mark? The appreciation of the universality of dying intrudes. There’s nothing you can do about dying.”

“The Wall”: Character Study That Gets Old Fast

This will be a stream-of-consciousness review of “The Wall,” starring John Cena and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, in the hopes that it will save some locals who (still) read my movie reviews a few dollars. I just returned from viewing it at what used to be called the Showcase Cinemas in Davenport (IA) [now called “Rave” by Cinemark] and I really wish I hadn’t wasted the time. The money wasn’t bad, since I chose to go at 2:10 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, but, of course, there is always the snack bar ready to drive the price up. (The Jr. popcorn @ $5 and some Junior Mints: $8.99, with no drink).

One thing I want locals to know is that I’m pretty sure that the 2 O’Dells mentioned at the end in the credits are Spike O’Dell’s nephews. If you don’t know who Spike O’Dell is, you won’t care (the teen-aged girl sweeping up obviously did not know who Spike was when I shared this information), but for those of us who grew up with “Spike at the Mike,” [or interviewed him, like I did for the Dispatch when he made his first move away from KSTT (to North Carolina, as I recall, before Chicago)], you might find it interesting that Spike’s brother’s kids (Spike’s nephews) actually work at making movies.

I learned this while sitting at the Chicago Film Festival about 2 years ago from my seat-mate, who identified himself as Spike’s relative and told me about his sons and their career when I told him I was a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics’ Circle in Chicago, reviewing for www.TheMovieBlog.com and www.QuadCities.com. He shared that he was originally from the Quad Cities, too.

I was happy to see the name Brandon O’Dell (and another, who, I think, is his brother….Michael?) drift past in the credits. I made a mental note to share this with local readers who are movie buffs.

What I also want to share with local readers who are movie buffs is that this film is not that great. If you’ve seen the trailer (above), you’ve seen all the interesting parts. There is almost no action and the dialogue is largely a string of “f**s” in various formats.

Hearing the “F” word does not offend my delicate sensibilities, but it got old fast. So did the lack of any music. I realize that Amazon put up the money to make this film, and with just 2 “real” characters onscreen (the third is simply the voice of Laith Nakli playing the role of the Islamic sniper Jubah, the ghost, the Angel of Death and responsible for 35 U.S. casualties) it must have been a pretty inexpensive film to shoot.

There is no set except for a rock wall in a desert, with some debris and some dead bodies around it. Eight pipeline workers have been shot and killed and John Cena and Aaron Taylor-Johnson have been sent out to see if they can find the sniper responsible for the mayhem. As you can see from the trailer, they do find the sniper, but he quickly gets the upper hand, and the rest of the film is simply Aaron Taylor-Johnson stuck behind a wall talking.

Don’t get me wrong: Aaron Taylor-Johnson is an up-and-coming talent whose star turn in “Nocturnal Animals” as the crazed rapist murderer earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor this year, so he does a good job of playing a guy pinned down for hours with a leg wound, no water, and no idea how he’s going to get out of the situation he finds himself in. But that wasn’t really what I thought I was going to get in this “war movie.”

When Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) attempts to call for help, he quickly figures out that the voice at the other end of his radio is not someone from “his” side. The sniper has managed to hack into the radio (he actually tells our main character that he purposely hit his water bottle and his radio antenna) and wants to talk about war as seen from the other side.

He tells Isaac, for instance, that “You’re hiding in the shadow of Islam” because the wall Isaac is crouched behind used to be the wall of a school, and the sniper used to be a teacher in such a school. Isaac responds, “No, I’m hiding in the shadow of death.” The two have a loooong conversation about the meaning and purpose of war, with the bottom line being that who is the terrorist “depends on the angle you look at it from.”

This insight is not particularly new or fresh. Any of us would agree that American incursion on the soil of another country makes us the invading colonial power (no matter what reason/excuse is given for the invasion) and, naturally, those who live in the land invaded are probably not going to be pleased at the death and destruction that U.S. forces—whether mercenaries or enlisted—have wreaked on so many Middle East locations.

This country, just to be clear, is supposed to be Iraq in 2007, soon after “W” declared victory in Iraq while wearing that ridiculous flight suit(with the cod piece), with “Mission Accomplished” on a banner behind him. It could have been Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Syria, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq or any number of other countries where U.S. citizens have fought and died in the past 50 years. Even Korea if you want to go back to the fifties. It is hardly a CNN BREAKING NEWS news flash that we have managed to make ourselves pretty much “persona non grata” as a country everywhere in the world and it’s certainly getting a lot worse with Donald J. Trump running the show….for however long that may be.

As we all now know, the mission in Iraq in 2007 was hardly “accomplished” and at the rate we are going as a country, it seems as though we will never be free of war.
One thing that Dwight Eisenhower said he was most proud of as his presidential legacy was that he “kept us out of war” (a direct quote) as President. Obama also kept us out of war.

The others in between and now? Not so much. Some speculate that JFK was shot in Dallas in November of 1963 because he was going to withdraw from the black hole that Vietnam proved to be, and LBJ certainly did not keep us out of war, nor did George W. Bush or George Herbert Bush—although the smarter of the two knew enough to make it short and sweet with lots of allies assisting. (If anything, he plunged us even deeper into the hell that war represents.) Even Reagan had that invasion of Grenada, which was an interesting small war.

So, while I’m in complete agreement with the sentiments that screenwriter Dwain Worrell has articulated here, I didn’t find much dialogue that screamed “Big Insightful Moment” and I do not agree that “Screenwriter Dwain Worrell has a knack for believable, expository dialogue.” There was almost NO dialogue, really, beyond grunting and groaning, the “F” word, (liberally sprinkled with the use of the word “shit”) and some implausible action involving Cena, who seems to come back to life for a while. I don’t disagree that “this is how soldiers really talk” but the exposition was really, really slow and did not break any new cinematic ground in any meaningful or striking way.

Our local critic wrote: “It’s simple, yet it brims with complex issues.” Uh….not really, no.

Another POV I don’t ascribe to: “‘The Wall’ is one incredible war movie that utilizes a handful of characters to make a statement about what motivates soldiers to fight and what motivates countries to go to war.”

Well, there was really nothing about “what motivates countries to go to war.” Right now, what might motivate us to go to war is our current President needing a diversion from the independent investigation into Russian involvement in our last presidential election and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with the Russians. The REAL reasons countries go to war are always somewhat hidden, like the underbelly of an iceberg. We learn in school that the assassination of the ArchDuke Franz Ferdinand and his wife touched off WWI and that Hitler’s savage genocide and his invasion of Poland were the reasons behind WWII, but if you are a real scholar, you’ll learn that, just like the Civil War, there are many, many reasons why we get into these unwinnable situations, slavery being just one of the many causes that sparked the Civil War in 1861. (Surprisingly, our current occupant of the White House, Agent Orange, didn’t seem to know that the South’s dependence on free labor in the form of slaves was a Big Sticking Point in the 1861-1865 conflagration that pitted brother against brother on our native soil, but he doesn’t seem to know much about a lot of things, so what’s new?)

I would like to give you some “credentials” of the cast and crew at this point, mentioning that this seemingly low-budget foray by Amazon (and Big Indie/Hypnotic/Roadside Alliance with The Molecule responsible for visual effects and Fuse FX working on it, as well) was directed by Doug Liman, who directed “Edge of Tomorrow” and “The Bourne Identity.”

I do not agree that: “You’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat within the first 15 minutes.” There were 3 people present when I saw it today (Monday afternoon, May 22, at 2:10 p.m.). One was a middle-aged woman and one was a middle-aged man and me. The middle-aged man got up and LEFT the theater a full FIVE TIMES! (He was really way more than “on the edge of his seat; he was OUT of his seat and in the lobby more than he was in the theater, I think.) I haven’t seen that many trips in and out of a movie since I was the one exiting “Les Miserables” during its interminable run. The small theater that “Rave” was showing the picture in was so far from the lobby that we were almost in the parking lot. Not auspicious placement for this low-budget film.

So, again: my advice is to save your money. It’s NOT edge-of-your-seat thrilling. The only action is in the trailer above, and, after that, it’s all talking. Yes, we learn a few interesting things about how Isaac really doesn’t want to go back home because he screwed up on a previous tour of duty and feels great guilt for the death of his friend and fellow soldier Dean, and, yes, there is (sort of) a finale that might make you think after you leave the theater.

What it made me think is that I wasted my time and money and I should wait until Aaron Taylor-Johnson is in a movie that is truly action-worthy. This movie looks like all it cost was for the 2 name actors who appear onscreen and, after that, the producers didn’t even spring for a score. NOT RECOMMENDED.

Go see “Alien: Covenant” or rent “Life” for more action and, in the case of the 8th “Alien” film there is some spouting off about the meaning of life, so you will get the pan flute solo with David/Walter (Michael Fassbender) to satisfy your need to be bored silly.

Wilson Out!

“Alien: Covenant”: Ridley Scott Helms A Great New “Alien” Movie

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Amy Seimetz, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Uli Latukefu, Tess Haubrich, James Franco, Guy Pearce

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green. Screenplay by John Logan and Dante harper.

Length: 2 hrs., 2 mins.

Cinematography: Dariusz Wolski

Reviewer: Connie Wilson

“Alien: Covenant,” which opened May 19th, marks a return to form for Ridley Scott and the “Alien” franchise. Ridley Scott is The Man. This film is about an attempt to colonize a planet known as Origae6. The crew aboard the space ship “Covenant” is carrying 2,000 colonists and 1400 embryos to a friendly planet that has been checked out as habitable and hospitable for potential human colonization.

Unfortunately, an unexpected space mishap does damage to the ship and the troubles start.

Titular captain James Franco, (who is ejected as a corpse into deep space just a few minutes into the movie), doesn’t even make it out of his travel pod, leaving behind his stricken widow, played by female lead Katherine Waterston as Daniels, who takes over for the Naoomi Rapace kick-ass heroine of Ridley Scott’s last “Alien” helming, 2012’s “Prometheus.” Let’s just be blunt: Sigourney Weaver was better.

This film is set 10 years after “Prometheus” and 18 years before the original “Alien” of 1979. When Franco bites the dust, the second-in-command (Billy Crudup), somewhat cavalierly, I thought, decides the “Covenant” will land, instead, on a planet that rather suddenly crops up on their radar, Planet #4.

“Maybe we need to take a closer look,” says Katherine Waterston as Daniels, who is now second-in-command to Crudup. “Any objections?” She adds that this sudden decision to land on a planet other than their intended target (which is still 7 years away) seems “Too good to be true” and, when Crudup persists in over-ruling her wise counsel, she says, “This is a monumental risk not worth taking.”

Crudup, as new Captain Christopher Orman says, “It’s good judgment based on all the data available,” and Daniels (Watersten) responds, “As your second, I need to protest officially.” (By this point in time, many women in the audience may have been shaking their heads and saying, “Isn’t that just like a man?”)

I may be one of the few reviewers (still) working who reviewed 1979’s “Alien” with the closing phrase, “It’s grim! It’s gory! It’s horrifying in the best possible way! If this type of movie is for you, you’ll love it!” I even quoted Sally Field (who won the Oscar that year for “Norma Rae”) who praised the $9.9 million project she had just seen at Cannes as a guest on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight” show, saying, “This piece of celluloid does everything a film should do—-excites you, scares you, interests you.” Television’s “The Flying Nun” lavishing such high praise on what would become the first in a long line of “Alien” spawn was in response to the originality of the concept and how well it was executed, coming just 2 years after “Star Wars” in returning the public’s interest to space adventures. But, while “Star Wars” was often described as a western in space, “Alien” was a horror story in space. And it is certainly true that horror sells well in today’s movie marketplace, so here come the aliens—again.

Today’s “Alien: Covenant,” by contrast with the first 1979 film, cost $110 million to make and employed 15,000 people. It was shot in New Zealand and Australia’s New South Wales and the kick-ass heroine Ripley, originally portrayed by Sigourney Weaver in 1979, was the vanguard of many kick-ass heroines to come. (Homage to Weaver comes in the form of her recorded voice as “Mother.”) The female lead this time out is no Ripley.

I was given a rather comprehensive questionnaire to fill out as I entered the movie this time, asking me, among other things, which of the characters was my favorite. I answered that the monster was my favorite. I smiled when I saw that “Variety” pronounced this as a movie for those who were rooting for more of the alien creature.

I did not stick with the franchise through all the non-Ridley Scott films, but I toughed it out through “Alien”(1979), “Aliens” (1986), “Alien: 3” (1992) and “Alien: Resurrection” (1997). Once the sequels devolved into “Alien Versus Predator” (2004) and/or “Alien Versus Predator: Requiem” (2007), with no Ridley Scott in sight, I was out until “Prometheus” (2012), which brought Scott back to the franchise and introduced us to Michael Fassbender as the humanoid robot David. In this film, he plays opposite himself as a new, improved robot identical to David, called Walter.

I first want to say that the trailer that shows David playing the pan flute is, for me (and, I’m thinking, for those who came for the scary), one of the weakest pieces of celluloid that could have been chosen to spread the word that this is a kick-ass film with the highest production values ever and some of the best special effects work. (The original “Alien” actually won an Oscar for visual effects.) Yet, another critic declared it his favorite part of the film, so, to each his own.Go figure.

Why not show more of the alien attacks?
To not do so was a bit like showing fans of “The Walking Dead” some quiet, introspective conversational part where the principal characters discuss what direction to go next in their quest to stay alive.

In other words: that clip was boring, and the film is not. I am specifically mentioning the sequence used on James Corden’s show with Michael Fassbender, shown the night before it opened on May 19th, 2017. The clip does highlight the seamless way that Fassbender plays against himself as David/Walter, and it does also underscore Ridley Scott’s desire(s) to have the films explore topics more substantial than whether a scary monster kills everyone in sight, so there’s that. It’s also true that censors on mainstream network television shows might not favor blood-curdling scenes of the Alien monster at work, so I may have answered my own question and the “official” trailer (shown above) certainly uses such scenes, although with a somewhat tame opening.

“Alien: Covenant” has taken the scary, creepy parts of the original film and amplified them to the ultimate degree. Like the other new movie out there with a similar theme that leaves us hanging (and thinking there is going to be a sequel), “Life,” true fans will line up for the next installment, because this film is good and it looks terrific. Despite its over 2-hour length, it keeps you enthralled, living up to Sally Field’s original words of wisdom about the Mother of All “Alien” films.
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Others have remarked upon the savvy idea of having the crew members all married to each other, which means that the death of a spouse/character carries more emotional weight. I noticed the ramping up of what true loyalists will remember was the horrifying scene where the alien bursts forth from the first crew member’s body (RIP, Ash and Kane), after it had gained access to his body as a host by clamping itself over his face. Will we get some of that? (What do you think?)

I was a bit surprised that Demian Bichir (“The Bridge”), who is brought onboard after intimate contact with the monster, wasn’t quarantined or left behind, because, by now, most of us know the way it works. (Zombies, crew members who have been face-planted by aliens: it’s all the same.) But this is supposedly 10 years prior to the first “Alien,” which then makes you wonder why that intrepid troupe from the “Nostromo” wasn’t more careful around those gigantic pods.

I would also like to say that the same-sex romance between Damien Bichir and Nathaniel Dean was so low-key (or non-existent?) that I missed it. I didn’t miss the fact that the (onscreen) gay singer from “Empire” (Jessie Smollett) is a crew member, but, since the film has already opened in 34 foreign markets (and taken in $42 million there) and is scheduled to open in 54 more shortly, I may have an explanation as to why those in a position to downplay a same-sex relationship might do so. [I still remember the documentary “Be Like Others” from Iran, which detailed how homosexuals in that country are forced to undergo gender re-assignment surgery, a la Caitlin Jenner, whether they want to or not.]

What I did smile at (besides the man, as usual, overruling the woman when it comes to what direction to steer the vehicle) was the way the crew members, upon landing on Planet #4, immediately begin polluting the pristine planet (New Zealand is the stand-in) carrying lit cigars (in a wheat field!) and putting out spent cigarettes in the dirt. There is a reason for this, which would give away a plot point. For me, the plot point was that we humans just can’t seem to stop trashing any beautiful planet.

The entire film is very professionally done
. I would particularly like to mention the sets and set decoration, courtesy of Chris Seagers (production design) and Victor J. Zolfo, in charge of set decoration. This is a movie that definitely looks like $110 million was spent on it. The use of Wagner’s music and quoting Byron and Shelley also classes up the project. It is clear that Scott has not abandoned his attempts to discuss mankind’s deepest and most profound questions (which was primarily what hurt “Prometheus”). But, regardless of the sheen of deep-thinking, this is a Giant Sci-Fi Horror Adventure Movie, and it is going to make a lot of money.

“Alien: Covenant” has already dislodged “Guardians of the Galaxy 2” atop the money-making charts, and it definitely deserves its first place ranking. While it is true that the monster, originally, was so different and shocking in 1979 that even a pro like Sally Field took to the TV talk show circuit to sing its praises, a concept that is revisited this well deserves to be applauded again.

I’d love to see it on a double bill with “Life,” which was also Top-Notch film-making (Jake Gylenhaal, Ryan Reynolds) dealing with a similar theme.

“Colossal” with Anne Hathaway @ SXSW Opens April 7th

Genre: Sci-Fi, Comedy Thriller
Length: 110 minutes
Director: Nacho Vigalondo
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens
Reviewer: Connie Wilson

Spanish director of “Colossal” Nacho Vigalondo at SXSW.

According to Spanish Director Nacho Vigalondo (“Timecrimes”), “Colossal” was greenlit by the studio because Anne Hathaway championed it. Hathaway saw a chance to play the avenging female who fights back against male physical abuse. The Oscar-winning actress (“Les Miserables”) jumped at the opportunity.

It’s too bad Hathaway and Vigalondo didn’t take this homage to Japanese kaiju movies and Godzilla one step further and have the two main characters (Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis as Gloria and Oscar) represent the symbolic influence that the United States has in the world, for good or bad on a colossal scale. Now would have been a particularly good time in history for that approach.


Colossal” director Nacho Vigalando.

But that didn’t happen in this improbable film about a young girl who drinks and parties too much and, as a result, is kicked out of cozy Manhattan digs by her British boyfriend (Dan Stevens) and returns to her small-town America hometown roots to lick her wounds and try to figure her life out. While there, Gloria (Hathaway) learns that she controls a Godzilla-like monster that is terrorizing South Korea.

Colossal” director Nacho Vigalando.

Vigalondo, during the Q&A after the film, acknowledged that, to a certain extent, he identified with the character Hathaway portrays, who makes it out of the small town she grew up in and seems to be making it in the Big City. She doesn’t want to go back home with her tail between her legs, a failure. Vigalondo found himself in the same position after his birth in Cabezon de la Sal, Spain, a small town, in regards to his move to the Big City of Madrid, Spain. He also cautioned against making the film into too much of an anti-alcohol polemic, laughing about his own fondness for hoisting a drink now and then.

Hathaway has seemingly made it in the Big Apple as far as most of her classmates back home know. Until she hasn’t. Her drinking is out of control and her boyfriend (Dan Stevens as Tim) wants her to rein it in. He packs her stuff in Manhattan and tells her to clear out.

Gloria goes back to a conveniently empty house—presumably her old home— in her small hometown, where old classmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) owns a bar and offers her employment. The signs all point to Sudeikis having carried the torch for Hathaway’s character of Gloria, keeping tabs on her and following her progress for 25 years.

The Highball Lounge next to the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar Boulevard, where Jason Sudeikis bartended during SXSW to promote his film “Colossal.”

One cool thing that the filmmakers did to promote the film at SXSW was to have Sudeikis fly in and bartend one weekend night at the Highball Lounge, connected to the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar Boulevard. Sudeikis makes a very good “boy-who-still-has-a-crush-on-girl” in this film, although the character arc written for him is not completely logical. (One minute Sudeikis is the good guy helping out his girlfriend. The next, he is her worst nightmare.)

When Gloria (Hathaway) accidentally discovers that her presence in a certain park at an early hour of the morning causes a huge Godzilla-like monster to go on a rampage in Seoul, South Korea, the movie veers from reality to sci fi fantasy. The premise (I’d like to have heard THIS pitch) is that anything Hathaway does remotely controls the monster, as long as she is in her local park at the bewitching hour. The monster mimics her actions, whether it is dancing, holding its arms up in the air, or killing hundreds of innocent locals under his giant feet.

“Colossal” director Nacho Vigalondo at SXSW.

Later, Sudeikis learns from Gloria that he, too, can wield super power as a robot, if he shows up at the same exact moment in the small local park, so we are treated to many scenes of the robot and the Godzilla-like creature squaring off while the hapless residents of Seoul scream and run for their lives. Funny or terrifying?

The movie has been dubbed a “fascinating misfire” and “idiosyncratic and eccentric, with reviews that cite ““diminishing humor from an inherently absurd conceit” (Dennis Harvey in the September 21, 2016 “Variety”) it has been compared to Hathaway’s previous role as “Rachel Getting Married” meets “Godzilla.”

THE GOOD:

The cast does a good job with this implausible premis
e. Sudeikis, in particular, is asked to suddenly morph from hero to villain with very little rational motivation for changing so completely. He pulls it off, but is much more convincing as the likeable character in the first half of the film.

The feeling I got while I tried to decide whether I liked this film or not was that Hathaway was desperate to have a film portraying a female heroine who displayed empowerment, one who triumphs over the bad guy(s) and would sacrifice a plausible plot to get that opportunity. Hathaway’s actions resonated with one abused woman in the theater, who spoke to the issue and described herself as being “moved to tears.” That seemed a bit much, since the film is predominantly comic, with serious underlying issues that are never fully addressed. It was a bold choice to make this film, if not a totally successful one.

There is little focus on what steps Gloria is going to take to overcome her apparent addiction to drinking and the party life, but, as Bill Murray’s shrink in “What About Bob?” (Richard Dreyfuss) would say, “baby steps.”

The supporting performers, (Tim Blake Nelson and Austin Stowell as Garth and Joel) playing cronies of Oscar (Sudeikis) are also good, although underused. There is a puzzling romantic encounter between Joel and Gloria that seems superfluous and unnecessary—almost as though it were an after-thought or a plot line that the director introduced and then dropped.

On the bright side, Jason Sudeikis comes to the fore as a player who can provide convincing acting as the leading man/love interest in future films.

THE BAD:

Nacho Vigalondo, director of “Colossal” at SXSW.

The plot is a flimsy premise for a movie under the best of circumstances, whether borrowing from Japenese takusatsu cinema, or an homage to films like “Godzilla.” It could have been a comic drama about people coping with normal problems— alcohol addiction, drug addiction, or domestic abuse— but it does little but scratch the surface of those weighty issues. Cast members are either not used to shed any light on same or are barely seen at all. Sudeikis’ character arc was particularly troublesome, (although it apparently rang true for at least one member of the audience).

OVERALL:

I’m wondering whether people who shelled out up $40 minimum for a night out on the town (dinner, parking fees, movie ticket) are going to feel this slight film was worth the price of admission? During the post-film Q&A, the Director urged all of us to post a 3-word Twitter review with the hashtag #Colossal. This would enter all of us into a contest.

What should I write? “#Colossal: weird & odd. #Colossal: Inventive but slight. #Colossal: creative fail. #Colossal: fantastical concept. #Colossal: amusing failed premise. #Colossal: thin, sometimes funny.

I ddn’t enter.

The man behind me wrote: “Colossal: colossal fail.

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