Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

I need to start off this review with a bit of a preface. Of the pantheon of Marvel superheroes, I've probably been a fan of Spider-Man the longest. I've found something to enjoy in each of the cinematic iterations up until this point even if they are a mixed bunch of films (which I think I may revisit a little later on in this blog). But, now, with Marvel fully at the helm of the character I really feel like they finally nailed it. They really, really nailed it. I'm so jazzed about this movie, I'm not sure I can be objective. But I will try, dear reader, I promise. And I'll take it easy on the spoilers too.

The film opens with video diary footage Peter Parker (played by Tom Holland) shot while on his way to join the action we saw in Captain America: Civil War, entrusted to the care of Tony Stark's Forehead of Security personal guard, Happy Hogan (played by Jon Favreau). After that, we jump into the movie proper with Tony (played by Robert Downey Jr.) allowing Peter to keep the suit he made for him and encourage him to try and learn how to be a Superhero. Peter is enjoying being a small time hero around his Queens, NY neighborhoods, stopping bike thieves and various other small crimes. But he's hungering for something bigger, something that will prove to Tony that he deserves to be an Avenger. He gets more than he bargained for with Adrian Toombs (played by Michael Keaton) and his crew. They originally had the salvage rights to help repair the city of New York after the events of The Avengers, but got their contract revoked by the federal Government, who took over along with a company started by Tony Stark. Needing to make some money fast to keep his crew employed and support his family, Adrian and his crew start using the alien tech they salvaged to create dangerous new weapons to sell off for a tidy profit. Things are going well until Spidey stumbles onto their operation, bringing out a more dangerous side of Adrian, who is willing to do whatever it takes to keep his family safe and secure even if that means killing Spider-Man.

I feel like this iteration of Spider-Man really nailed the character as I always loved him. He isn't perfect, he messes up but still picks himself up and tries again. This is Peter Parker early in his career as a superhero and while he genuinely is enjoying it, he quickly finds it to be harder than he ever thought it would be. I liked seeing Spider-Man in over his head, trying to catch Adrian Toombs and his crew but also learning along the way how to do it right. Tony Stark has a supporting role here, acting as a bit of a father figure/mentor to Peter. I really liked their relationship and how it drove Peter to want to catch Toombs to impress Tony. That whole relationship between the two as they learned to work together and trust each other was a welcome addition to the film. 

The action sequences of the film were all well done and very well executed. It's become common for Superhero films lately to climax with a ton of overdone and poorly rendered CGI that this film wisely sidesteps, keeping things more grounded and practical, which I appreciated. I won't go into details because of spoilers, but I felt each sequence was really well handled and slickly executed. 

I loved the high school setting for the film and that they went ahead with a considerably younger Peter Parker, who is a sophomore in high school in this film. It's a welcome change from the other films that mostly skipped over Peter's high school years. This one really feels like if John Hughes made a Spider-Man movie. It really nails that time in a kid's life and feels authentic, which makes the more fantastical elements of the film work as well. The scenes between Peter and his best friend Ned (played by Jacob Batalon) were some of my favorites in the movie. There's also a sweetness and almost innocence to the film that I found refreshing. This Peter just wants to do what's right and be a hero because he can and not someone bogged down by guilt and remorse by a murdered uncle. He looks up to Tony and Captain America and wants to be one of them. It's those aspirations and the stumbles he takes along the way that make the character so relatable to me. 

This film does a great job drawing it's characters and then casting actors in the roles that can really play them well. Tom Holland is now my absolute favorite Spider-Man. He captures the role perfectly in a way that I have been hungering for since the first Raimi film. This was the character I read in the comics and they really nailed it. Holland really captures not only Parker's quick wit, which he does have, but his naivete as well. They give Peter a great story arc in the film and Holland performs it wonderfully. 

But more than that, I appreciated the care they gave to the villain, Adrian Toombs. He has more depth than is usually given in these films and I couldn't help but at least kind of sympathize with him. At his core, he's just trying to provide for his family and stay afloat in tough economic times. He's a little guy trying to make it in the world, seeing himself overshadowed by the big shots like Tony Stark. I know Michael Keaton can play a great bad guy, as seen in previous films such as Pacific Heights and Desperate Measures. He brings that same level of menace to this role as well, especially in a particularly tense scene between Toombs and Peter, but tempers it because Toombs isn't naturally evil but feels forced into his place because he feels his livelihood and family are being threatened. Keaton does a great job playing this duality and it's nice to see that level of characterization given to a villain. 

Marisa Tomei also has some great scenes in the film and I really love her as Aunt May. I'm glad they went with someone younger as it never made sense to me why Aunt May would be such an older lady, as she was depicted in the comics and previous films. Tomei plays her scenes with Peter wonderfully and I really got that feeling of a bond between the two characters. As perhaps one of five people who fondly remembers the film Only You (in which Tomei co-starred with Robert Downey Jr.), I found May's vocal dislike of Tony Stark most amusing. Also, and this might be ever so slightly spoilerish, but she gets the last line in the movie and it left me busting a gut laughing.

Spider-Man: Homecoming was everything I could have hoped for and more. I loved every minute of it. It was filled with thrilling action sequences, great acting, a well developed story and some fantastic humor as well. There is a light-heartedness to this film that I really responded to and genuinely loved. This may just be my favorite Superhero movie of the summer, or at least a tie with Wonder Woman. Ugh, why am I making myself choose? Okay, it's a tie! It's a tie. Seriously though, it's pretty damn fantastic. Also, since this is a Marvel movie I should advise you that it has a mid-credits scene as well as a huge, huge, game changing end credits scene so make sure to plan accordingly. You'll want to stick around for both.          

The World's End

As the concluding segment of the "Cornetto Trilogy," The World's End is a bit more unique than the previous two films. While all three films were uniquely original in their own right, this entry charts more new ground than either of the previous films. Mixing comedy, Sci-Fi thrills and coming of Middle-Age drama, this one is a strange and strangely fulfilling film in it's own right. 

Gary King (played by Simon Pegg) has been having a tough time of it. He knows deep down that he peaked in High School and now almost almost twenty years after graduation he's still living in the past. He decides to gather his old friends Andy Knightly (played by Nick Frost), Steven Prince (played by Paddy Considine), Oliver Chamberlain (played by Martin Freeman), and Peter Page (played by Eddie Marsan) to relive the glory days by re-attempting a pub crawl through their hometown called The Golden Mile. Somehow, he manages to talk them all into returning to their hometown for the pub crawl but as the night goes on it becomes clear to them that something is not right in their old hometown. Joined by Oliver's sister, Sam (played by Rosamund Pike), the group is horrified to discover that the residents of the town have been taken over and replaced by robotic duplicates by a group of aliens referred to as The Network. While trying to figure out what to do, the group decides to continue on their pub crawl, although figuring out how to fight back against the aliens get decidedly harder the drunker they get. 

Drawing inspiration from such classic Science Fiction as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, and The Stepford Wives, director Edgar Wright and co-writer Simon Pegg crafted a thoroughly unique tale. The idea that saving the world falls on a group of reunited friends on a pub crawl is an intriguing one. Add in some unresolved issues between the friends, an unexpected love triangle and a wild card of a lead character, the unhinged Gary King, and drop it all in the middle of an alien invasion makes for an amusing, and at times surprisingly touching, adventure. They also came up with an intriguing villain in the Network, who believe they are helping improve the human race by upgrading people into cheery robotic replacements (or Smashy Smashy Egg Men, as Andy suggests calling them since the robot replacements are surprisingly fragile, especially their heads as well as the fact that they don't like being called robots). I also found the design of the robots Smashy Smashy Egg Men to be rather imaginative. When a limb or head is yanked off, the nub is not unlike that of a life size action figure or Barbie doll (because lord knows we all want to decapitate Man Bun Ken) filled with royal blue fluid. It's just something I've never quite seen in a movie before and I appreciated that. Since the Robot Smashy Smashy Egg Men limbs seem to be interchangeable, it adds for some wild fight sequences as well, as in one case one Smashy Smashy Egg Woman replaces their destroyed arms with the legs of another destroyed robot before attacking the group again. The film also continues the trend of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg cleverly foreshadowing the entire film in the opening scenes of the film. Still, the film contains several neat surprises in addition to their clever foreshadowing hints.

This film is probably the most mature of the three films, focusing on a group of childhood friends reuniting and taking stock of their life as they deal with the fact that they're all approaching 40. Simon Pegg turns in a fantastic performance as Gary King. Gary is a man who has been living in the past, driving the same old car and listening to the same music.He gets his group of childhood friends back together in a last ditch attempt to relive the glory days. His friends have all moved on to careers and families and therefore are hesitant to go back. They ultimately decide to in part because they feel sorry for Gary. Pegg really captures the essence of the character as a man who is desperately trying to be happy and peppy to all his friends and keep the party moving forward no matter what, but as the film goes on, it becomes clear how broken and how deep in despair Gary really is. It's an unexpectedly deep and moving performance from Pegg that really caught me by surprise. It's a nice touch that they switched up the roles this time around. For the past two films, Pegg has played the more straight arrow and Nick Frost has played the more slacker character. This time, Pegg is the mess and Nick Frost plays straight arrow lawyer Andy. Paddy Considine and Rosamund Pike turn in nice performances as well as the other two parts of a love triangle of sorts with Pegg's character. Pierce Brosnan shows up as the boys' former school principal now alien spokesperson and makes an interesting villainous turn (and it also marks the second former Bond to show up as a villain in one of these films, with the added bonus of former Bond girl Pike as well). 

The World's End marks the closing of the informal "Cornetto trilogy" as I mentioned in my review of the previous film, Hot Fuzz. The trilogy ends on a high note with some dazzling action, imaginative plot and surprisingly deep writing backing this one. While I still consider Hot Fuzz my favorite of the three, it is by the narrowest of margins with the other two films tying for second place for different reasons. If you put a gun to my head and made me choose only one for second place, much to my surprise, I think I'd have to give it to The World's End.           

Monday, June 26, 2017

Hot Fuzz

With the upcoming release of Baby Driver, the latest film by writer/director Edgar Wright, I thought it would be fun to take a look back at his previous films. I've already reviewed his first film, Shaun of the Dead, on this blog (and it can be found here) so I'm jumping in with his second film, Hot Fuzz. A smartly written deconstruction and loving parody of action films, this one is a blast from start to finish (and my personal favorite, although I love them all).  

Nicholas Angel (played by Simon Pegg) is an exceptional police officer, excelling at every task he is given. He is so good in his job that he is transferred by his superior officers simply because he's making the rest of them look bad. Nicholas is sent to the quiet country village of Sanford to take the open vacancy as their newest Sergeant. Upon arriving, he meets his new partner Danny Butterman (played by Nick Frost), an action movie junkie who feels like he's missing out on "proper action" being a small town cop, despite Nicholas reassuring him that being a police officer is nothing like the movies. Meanwhile, Nicholas starts to notice something suspicious about a series of grisly accidents that have befallen a number of the residents of the town and becomes convinced that they are in fact carefully staged murders, despite the insistence of his fellow officers that it isn't (including Inspector Frank Butterman (played by Jim Broadbent), who is also Danny's father, and the department's two detectives Andy Wainright (played by Paddy Considine) and Andy Cartwright (played by Rafe Spall)). 

Edgar Wright directed from a script that he and Simon Pegg wrote together. The two of them do a fantastic job deconstructing the various tropes of the action movie genre, especially those centered on the police, and make fun of it in a refreshingly amusing way. Much of this is done through the interactions between Nicholas and Danny. Danny, who sees Nicholas as this big city supercop, asks him endless questions based on things he's seen in action movies ("Have you ever fired two guns whilst jumping through the air?" "Is it true that there is a place on a man's head that if you shoot it, it will blow up?"). Nicholas patiently debunks each one while also pointing out that the level of carnage and destruction in those movies would result in an insurmountable amount of paperwork. All the while though, there is also a legitimate mystery thriller going on in the film as Nicholas and Danny try to figure out the source of these strange deaths going on in the village as well as figuring out who's behind it and why. 

This, of course, leads us to the brilliant climax of the film. For the bulk of the run time, Nicholas has been talking down the various cop movie cliches only for the climax to gleefully indulge in every single one of them. It's a blast watching Danny and Nicholas act out every cliche that Danny asked him about earlier in the film. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg love to layer their films with foreshadowing as well, which this plays into, along with even subtler nods that are impossible to pick up on the first time through, making re-watching the film a nice treat as you catch certain things on repeated viewings. This film also contains a nice callback to the fence climbing gag from Shaun of the Dead that might actually be funnier than the one in that film. They also loaded the film with a number of fun cameos, including Martin Freeman, Steve Coogan and Bill Nighy as Nicholas' superior officers as well as a barely recognizable Cate Blanchett as Nicholas' ex Janine and director Peter Jackson as a criminal dressed as Father Christmas. 

The performances in the film are quite good as well. Simon Pegg more or less plays the straight person in this as the super serious Nicholas Angel who struggles to switch off his Police Officer persona and relax when he's not working. His first night in Sanford, he manages to clean out the local pub of all underage drinkers as well as arrest five people and it's not even his first day yet. On the other hand, we have Nick Frost as the laid back Danny Butterman. Now, I relate a lot to Danny and his love of action movies. At one point, Nicholas and Danny are hanging out at Danny's flat when Danny reveals an entire closet of shelves floor to ceiling with DVDs. I want that closet, carefully organized with tiny lights on each of the shelves to make perusing the collection that much easier (There is also a nice joke when Nicholas compliments him on his flat, then notices the unpacked boxes and asks, "When did you move in?" "Five years ago," is Butterman's response. I laughed harder than usual because my flat is in a similar state after living there about as long). Pegg and Frost are long time friends, with their acting partnership dating all the way back to the U.K T.V series Spaced, which they also worked on with Edgar Wright. They have a fantastic chemistry with one another that comes through with their characters here as well as they bond and Danny helps Nicholas unwind a bit. The script for the film originally included a love interest for Nicholas but they eventually discarded them and gave all the lines to Danny, adding an interesting, if slashy, new level to their friendship as well. Timothy Dalton shows up as the manager of the local supermarket, and potential murder suspect, and gives a wonderful comedic performance nailing every gag he can. 

The film contains numerous references and homages to other action movies. The main references are to the extreme sports action epic Point Break and the over the top action stylings of Bad Boys II. But over the course of the film there are also references to the likes of Die Hard, Dirty Harry, and Lethal Weapon among many, many others. In fact, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's action movie nerdiness runs so deep, a scene where Nicholas and Danny discover a farmer's giant cache of firearms is scored with the music from the trailers to all four Lethal Weapon movies. That really impressed me because of course I recognized it immediately.     

Hot Fuzz forms the middle chapter of the "Cornetto Trilogy," three films partnering Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. The films are loosely connected by the similar casts and running gags between the films, although narrative-wise there is no connection between the films. The name is derived from a brand of Sundae Cones in Great Britain, with each film's genre inspired by the color of the wrapper of a flavor of Cornetto, this one being Blue, hence Police. The previous one was the Red wrapper (or Strawberry flavor), signifying the zombie film Shaun of the Dead and the third entry was the Green wrapper (or Mint flavor) with the Sci-Fi The World's End closing out the trilogy (more on that one to come).   

It's hard to believe it's already been 10 years since this movie came out. It's probably my favorite of the trilogy, although I love all three dearly for different reasons. I think in part it's because I grew up on the action movies that Wright and Pegg are so lovingly lampooning while creating a satisfyingly unique action film of their own. For that alone, it ranks among my favorite movies of all time. From the fantastic humor to the great performances from Pegg and Frost to the solid direction from Edgar Wright, there is plenty to love with this one. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Book of Henry

I was looking forward to seeing The Book of Henry ever since I first saw the trailer. It had an intriguing premise and I was a big fan of the director Colin Trevorrow's previous two films, Safety Not Guaranteed and Jurassic World, so I was stunned when it was getting all these bad reviews. Not just mixed bad, more of they hated, hated, hated this movie bad. Armed with a free pass and nothing to lose but 100 minutes of my life, I decided I needed to know if it really was that terrible. And you know what? I don't think it was. 

Henry Carpenter (played by Jaeden Lieberher) is a young boy with amazing intellect and intelligence as well as a caring and compassionate person. He has the presence of mind to know that overall he would function better in a regular school than a gifted one as it offers him more social development. He oversees his family's finances and is so good at it, his mother Susan (played by Naomi Watts) wouldn't have to work if she didn't want to. He lives with his mother and younger brother Peter (played by Jacob Tremblay) and for the most part have a relatively happy life. The illusion of happiness is shattered when Henry realizes that the girl next door, Christina (played by Maddie Ziegler), is being abused by her stepfather, Glenn Sickleman (played by Dean Norris). At first, he tries to go to the authorties but reaches a dead end as Glenn is the Police Commissioner and no one believes the accusations (also Sickleman's brother oversees Child Protective Services, which doesn't help). Seeing no other option, Henry develops a bold and daring plan to take out Glenn Sickleman for good and one that Susan finds herself at the center of since Henry can't carry it out all on his own.

After the big and epic Jurassic World, this film is a return to form for director Colin Trevorrow as he works on a smaller and more intimate canvas from a script by Gregg Hurwitz. The film is ambitious in it's own way, juggling several different genres at one, going from whimsical, offbeat family comedy to very dark thriller along with another I won't mention due to my desire to keep this as spoiler free as possible. They damn near get away with it to, although some may find the shifts in tone more jarring than others if the critical response is anything to go by. Still, there are moments in the film when things just go a little to much to plan that had even me, one of the most forgiving moviegoers ever, thinking, "Oh come on!" The film really does stretch the limits of suspension of disbelief, especially during the climax of the film that Henry has set up and Susan is carrying out, with prerecorded instructions from Henry guiding her along the way that she frequently responds to. Henry's planning works out almost exactly as dictated and it would've been nice and more suspenseful if maybe things didn't quite go to plan and Susan had to think on the fly instead. Yes, Henry is a very clever boy but you can't predict human behavior that exactly and it would have been a nice twist if it hadn't gone exactly as planned. 

Still, it's the performances that really save the show. Naomi Watts is fantastic as Susan, who works as a waitress and is also an aspiring children's book author. Also, since Henry takes care of many of the household responsibilities, she is a bit more of a free spirit as she plays video games after work and hangs out with her friend and co-worker Sheila (played by Sarah Silverman). Even though chronologically she's the adult, in many ways Susan is another one of the kids as well and over the course of the events of the film grows up a lot, which made for an interesting story arc. Jaeden Lieberher is an actor I've been seeing turning in some great performances as well and is great here as well as Henry. He is able to convey Henry's intelligence but also his incredible compassion in a very touching performance. Jacob Tremblay was also quite good as younger brother Peter, who looks up to Henry and wants to be more like him. I also liked Dean Norris' performance as Glenn Sickleman, resisting the urge go outright villainous with his role, making the plot point of the authorties shrugging off the accusations against him seem at least somewhat plausible. Lee Pace shows up as a neurosurgeon Susan meets and the film does seem to imply some romantic interest there, but it doesn't really develop much. Despite a few endearing scenes between Pace and the two boys, he's a bit wasted here which is a shame. Still, a movie with token Lee Pace is better than a movie with no Lee Pace in my book.

Yes, The Book of Henry is a flawed film. But it's not the trainwreck the critics so viciously made it out to be. The story strains credibility and the ending probably works out just a little too neatly. But the film contains some fantastic performances and some genuinely beautiful cinematography. Besides, at it's core it holds a bold new idea for a movie. For all it's flaws, it was something that I had not seen before. In an era of endless sequels, remakes and "re-imaginings", I welcome anything that is original regardless of it's imperfections. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Imagine Me & You

It's actually nice to know that every once and awhile, even the LGBT community can get a frothy, British rom-com full of beautiful London scenery and posh accents. Imagine Me & You fits nicely in that particular genre. While it doesn't reach the levels of a Richard Curtis film, it does have it's own charms as well.  

Rachel (played by Piper Perabo) is newly married to her loving husband Heck (played by Matthew Goode). Things are going along well it seems and the couple strikes up a bit of a friendship with florist Luce (played by Lena Headey), who they met when she provided the floral arrangements for their wedding. They try to pair her off with Heck's womanizing friend Cooper (played by Darren Boyd), but that takes a turn when Luce lets them know she is a lesbian. Still, Rachel and Luce remain friends and go on outings together. Things become complicated when Rachel starts developing feelings for Luce that are reciprocated by Luce. This leaves Luce with an agonizing decision: does she stay with Heck or give into her feelings for Luce, with whom she may share a deeper and more fulfilling connection with. 

The film was written and directed by Ol Parker, who attempts a difficult narrative balancing act with this film that mostly works. The film opens with the wedding of Rachel and Heck, who appear to be by all indications a happy couple. Then he has Rachel falling in love with someone else, in this case another woman, and the film wants me to root for Rachel and Luce but there was still a part of me feeling very sympathetic to Heck. Now, Ol Parker does try to suggest that Rachel and Heck are not the perfect match that it would seem. But he's still a totally decent guy, as the film makes clear. Ultimately, the film does resolve these plot points, but more than anything this was the plot point that I struggled with the most in this movie. But, on the other hand it does add more emotional weight to the film as you feel how serious Rachel's dilemma is as opposed to if Heck was a bit of a jerk, so it does add some more depth to the movie than is common for the genre.

The performances in the movie are decent. Piper Perabo and Matthew Goode both turn in endearing and appealing performances. Perabo does a great job playing Rachel's dilemma and you really feel for the character. Likewise, Matthew Goode is quite charming as Heck, which made me feel for his character as well as the story went on.  I really liked Lena Headey as Luce though and thought she did great in her role. She has great chemistry with Perabo and the two were really great together, with the scene where they play Dance Dance Revolution together in an arcade being a standout as possibly the cutest scene of the film. As a long-time Buffy fan, I did appreciate Anthony Stewart Head turning up as Rachel's quirky father as well and he gave an amusing performance.

Overall, Imagine Me & You is a cute and funny romantic comedy, with some surprising depth to it as well that makes it a bit more memorable. Critics didn't think much of it when it came out in 2005 but I feel it has aged better than most. It's nothing earth shatteringly new, but within the rom-com genre, I've seen much worse too.      

Monday, June 12, 2017

Big Eden

I have long considered Montana to be my second home despite growing up in Minnesota. It's a fantastic state that I have always loved visiting. So, naturally Big Eden, which takes place in the Big Sky Country, holds a lot of appeal for me. 

Henry Hart (played by Arye Gross) is an artist living in New York City when he receives a call that his grandfather, Sam (played by George Coe) has fallen ill. Henry rushes home to the small town of Big Eden, Montana to help take care of him. He's greeted by family friend Grace (played by Louise Fletcher) who helps him get settled. Since neither Henry nor Sam is much of a cook, she recruits the owner of the local general store, the shy and introverted Pike Dexter (played by Eric Schweig), to deliver dinner to Henry and Sam each night, which was prepared by Widow Thayer (played by Nan Martin). Henry quickly discovers that his old high school crush, Dean (played by Tim McKay) is also back in town, divorced and with two young kids in tow. Meanwhile, Pike has been secretly crushing on Henry and begins secretly substituting meals he prepared for the ones Widow Thayer has been making, even recruiting his friends who hang out in his shop to help. When some of the town locals catch wind of what Pike is up to, including Widow Thayer, they come together to help Pike win Henry's heart.

Thomas Bezucha wrote and directed the film and infuses the entire film with a warm sentiment without being sappy. He manages to craft a group of characters to populate this small Montana town. The story does take on a sort of fable quality as the film goes on and noticeably omits any sort of homophobic character, which I actually appreciated in the film. Some people have criticized the film for that aspect, saying it was unrealistic that there wouldn't be in a place like small town Montana, but as someone who has spent a fair amount of time there, I don't feel like they're giving Montanans enough credit. In my experience it's always been a very live and let live attitude for the most part. Bezucha shot the film in Montana, primarily around Whitefish and Kalispell and uses the surrounding scenery to beautiful effect, creating and idyllic backdrop for the film to unfold.

This film has a fantastic cast for what is really a rather low-budget film and uses them to wonderful effect. Arye Gross is great as Henry, doing a great job portraying his character, a man at a crossroads in his life trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life. Part of him feels like his time in Big Eden is only temporary, but part of him wants to stay as well and is looking for a reason to stay, especially as weeks turn into months. Louise Fletcher is great as Grace, exuding a great, maternal warmth in all her scenes (so very un-Nurse Ratched then). Eric Schweig is great as Pike, who is very shy and has trouble expressing himself and Schweig does a great job making the character quite endearing. I also have to single out Nan Martin as the Widow Thayer, who makes the town busybody an absolute delight with her deep throat voice and animated expressions. Over the course of the film she sets up singles gatherings to try and pair up Henry with someone, first with girls and then when she realizes he's gay brings about another group of single guys until she finds out what Pike is up to and switches gears to help him instead.          

There is a lot to love about Big Eden. It's a wonderfully directed and acted romantic story, filled with lovable characters with plenty of humor and warmth. And every time I watch it, it makes me want to go back to Montana again. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

It Comes at Night

Sneaking into theatres along with the big budget blockbusters currently screening is a film that might just be better than any of them (ok, maybe not Wonder Woman, but it's close), It Comes at Night. Frightening and scary in a very grounded and real way, this is a thriller that will stick with me for a long time.

A small family of three, Paul (played by Joel Edgerton), Sarah (played by Carmen Ejogo) and their son Travis (played by Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), are holed up in a large cabin in the middle of the woods. There is a global pandemic going on that has thrown the world into chaos and they have isolated themselves from society in a bid for survival. They have boarded up all the windows and the only way into the cabin is though a triple bolted door, ominously painted red. One night, the family is jolted awake by a man, Will (played by Christopher Abbott) trying to break into the cabin. Paul is able to subdue him and take him outside, tying him to a tree. Paul then proceeds to leave him there for 24 hours in an attempt to determine if Will is alone. Satisfied, Paul then goes out and questions Will. Will explains that he tried breaking in only because it looked abandoned (to be fair, it does) and otherwise wouldn't have if he knew a family was living there. He explains he has a wife and kid himself stashed away in an abandoned house not far away and can trade with them for supplies. Instead, Paul invites them to come stay with them at the cabin in part because he fears that if they leave, word will leak out about where they are. From there a tentative friendship begins between the two families as they combine resources. But slowly doubts, fears and paranoia begin to come in as each family begins to wonder who the other really is.  

The film was directed and written by Trey Edward Shults who crafts a startlingly real portrait of two families trying to survive in a world gone completely off the rails. He creates a very realistic depiction of what people might do to try and survive a global pandemic and also how a situation would push a person to do things they would never normally think themselves capable of doing, all in the name of keeping their family safe. Each moment of storytelling in the film and the decisions of the characters makes sense from a "What would I do?" perspective. I totally got that Paul, Sarah and Travis wanted to help Will and his family, but at the same time they have to take some severe precautions to make sure they stay safe, not only from looters but from infected people as well. The film does a good job of tapping into human nature, especially with feelings of fear and mistrust. The question of how well does anyone really know someone? It really taps into the nature of fear and paranoia and how it can affect someone, with that being the "It" of the title. Throughout the day, everyone is keeping busy and bonding. Will teaches Travis how to split firewood while Paul keeps watch. The wives bond while doing their chores. The two families bond while playing board games. But, alone at night when the house gets quiet and each person just has their thoughts, those fears come creeping in again. 

The acting is strong across the cast of the film. Joel Edgerton brings a lot of balance to Paul, a man willing to do whatever it takes to keep his wife and son safe. He is able to show both the regimented strictness that his character has is designed with safety in mind in a world gone mad and offset that with the more compassionate side of the character. Will is a very similar character trying to get his family to safety and under normal circumstances, Paul and Will very much could have become friends. It's a smart decision on the actors and the director to not try and make either character seem outright villainous because neither one is, but rather their own insecurities and paranoia escalating the tenuous partnership between the two. The other performance that really impressed me was Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Travis. He does a great job portraying a young teen forced to grow up fast and how everything that has happened is really starting to effect him mentally. He's having trouble sleeping and having increasingly intense nightmares (this movie is one of the rare times I didn't mind the whole "it was all a dream" trope). It's a rather understated and realistic performance that also conveys what effect the stress of their lives is having on him. 

It Comes at Night is a unique thriller that takes a nightmare scenario and plays it out in very realistic terms, which in turn makes it all that much scarier. By presenting us with two relatable, everyday families and watch them as they try to survive a global plague, isolated from the rest of society as their own paranoia and fears about one another threaten to tear them apart. The film works largely because it feels so real and it's not hard to relate to the characters and wonder if you'd do anything different in the situation. The really scary part for me is realizing there probably was not.