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‘Red Sparrow’ Is Yet Another Misfire For Jennifer Lawrence

Red Sparrow

It’s fair to say the target audience for Red Sparrow almost solely includes the latter half of Jennifer Lawrence fans undeterred by the grotesque odd-brain of mother!

But at least mother! wasn’t this boring.

Go on…‘Red Sparrow’ Is Yet Another Misfire For Jennifer Lawrence

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‘It Comes At Night’ Tries Way Too Hard To Make You Think It’s A Horror Movie

It Comes At Night

It Comes At Night is yet another horror film from A24 that promises to wrap viewers up in an atmospheric resurgence of creepy tales that rely less on jump scares and more on pure dread. Unfortunately, It Comes At Night falls slightly short of both.

 Any film that can transport me into a creepy setting I haven’t thought of in a while, even for a few short moments, is enough to praise the director for pulling off one of the horror genre’s greatest challenges. Trey Edward Shults (Krisha) wrote and direct It Comes At Night, which mostly delivers on what I love the most about these movies. I felt like I was alone in the dark of the woods, or the flashlight brazed wooden hallways of the main house. The fact that this film is centered around a lone survivalist family living in a large house in the woods while an undefined virus wipes out humanity in the nearby cities is just a bonus.

Joel Edgerton plays Paul, the patriarch with the keys to the house wrapped safely around his neck, making the rules for his wife and son and taking as few risks as possible to ensure their safety. Shults mines a lot of symbolism and relatability out of this simple premise, especially when a new young family shows up and is allowed to share the house with Paul, Sarah, and Travis. The growing paranoia that inevitably becomes a boiling point between the two families is wonderfully set up and established, in no small part thanks to Travis’s frequent nightmare sequences that serve as mini-prophecies that effectively delay the climax.

Only when the climax does come, it’s revealed that the entire movie is essentially a misdirect. Though some in the audience will welcome this, if only because they were too caught up in the real movie in front of them, many more will feel let down by quite a few things. The title, It Comes At Night, is an intentional prank. Though it can be stretched to fit what’s truly to come, you’ll feel less convinced as Shults places extraneous scenes of suggestive catastrophe that receive no payoff within their own terms.

It Comes At Night

It’s almost impressive how overstuffed the film feels anyway with its ambiguous visual storytelling, a highlight at times, while maddening the next. At one moment, you might be trying to understand the significance of the red door, the only way in and out of the house. Is it meant to invoke Passover, or some type of paradox in how it means “Welcome?” The film doesn’t offer its own stance and instead  rushes to an equally ambiguous ending that at first glance leaves many questions unanswered.

For this reason, It Comes At Night feels like a mandate to give it multiple viewings and a wide array of interpretation for the full effect. Though I never felt at any point during the runtime that this is the main draw, deservedly. What could have been an unconventional post-apocalypse narrative drenched in nihilism instead comes off as one of the Walking Dead episodes that tries to be more meaningful than it really is. It’s a passable (albeit beautiful) thriller infatuated with horror, while never bothering to commit.

Grade: B


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Review: ‘Midnight Special’ Delivers Superb Sci-Fi For all Ages

midnight special review

The modern blockbuster is beholden to many rules that put a greater emphasis on writing, dialogue, and pure spectacle. While Midnight Special doesn’t eschew these typical cornerstones, it’s also not a slave to it. The movie feels intentionally transported from the late 70s and early 80s (specifically Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T.), when character moments were given more care than exposition, and spectacle was usually just a means to an end.

The film’s initial conceit is to prove how little it needs expository dialogue to win viewers over, handily laying out the motivations of almost every key player with subtle, digestible sequences. This includes a riveting midnight car chase down back roads without any headlights, carefully balancing the film’s sheer momentum with an air of mystery.

Beginning in Texas, two adult men (played by Joel Edgerton and Michael Shannon) secretly transport a missing child by night in a beat up Chevelle. The child, Alton (played Jaeden Lieberher), brandishes goggles and peruses comic books the whole way, and it’s quickly revealed that one of these men (Shannon) is his biological father.

midnight special review

To describe the reasons for why these characters are on the run would spoil many of the engrossing twists that keep the audience guessing, but it’s obvious to say that the boy himself is someone special. A messiah to cult leaders, he wields strange, otherworldly powers that manifest in unexpected ways throughout the film, and his relationship with Shannon and another character played by Kristen Dunst later on, is probably even more intriguing than his mysterious origins.

Midnight Special raises a lot of questions that don’t get answered, somewhat to the film’s detriment. Though the NSA agent, played by Adam Driver, is one of the film’s stronger key players, most of his deductions and motivations are bewildering, to say the least. If only because director Jeff Nichols cares so much about preserving the film’s theme of in media res, in that it doesn’t take much time to explain what happened before the opening scenes unless it’s truly warranted.

This is a unique stamp of the filmmaker, as we’ve also seen in his last movie with Shannon (Take Shelter), and it’s entertaining to see a side character starting to explain his own backstory, only to be interrupted by more interesting matters. For some curious viewers, this will probably be utterly frustrating, but Nichols is begging for the audience to ignore their own questions and dwell on these character performances.

midnight special review

And that’s easy to do considering the more obvious heart underneath the film’s glossy exterior. Shannon consistently moves on this journey sacrificing everything for his son, despite the inevitability that their time together will be brief. It’s not a subtle allegory for parenting, but that’s why it will be more effective for mothers and fathers over everyone else.

Though Midnight Special sports a modest budget, most of its special effects are serviceable at best. Its best visual moments truly come with the sophisticated art direction of one particular scene taking place in a government bunker, where Adam Driver’s character comes face to face with one of the film’s central mysteries. It’s not a scene that relies on CGI or surreal or imagery to make its case, unlike another great sci-fi movie of recent years, Ex Machina. Which is why it’s unfortunate that some of the final scenes in the film fall somewhat short of the promise the film sets up.

But for most viewers, they’ll be too enthralled to take notice.

Grade: A-

Extra Credits:

  • Like the headline implies, I’m fascinated by how kid-friendly this movie is. It’s serious subject matter, for sure, but it’s absolutely a movie I would let my own children (if I had any) watch.
  • Seriously, it seems like Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon can do no wrong when working together.
  • You may recognize young Jaeden Lieberher from the underrated comedy, St. Vincent back in 2014, as well as Masters of Sex.
  • My companion for this movie, Kayla Savage, was sobbing at the very end. In a good way.
  • I forgot to mention how reminiscent Midnight Special is of John Carpenter’s work as well, at least in the Americana imagery. It’s not a horror film, but it can be just as tense as satisfying.
  • There’s no post-credits scene, but pay very close attention to the last frame. It might redeem the movie for any of the naysayers if you catch it.

I’m Jon and thanks for reading this. You can subscribe to my posts by clicking “Follow” in the right sidebar. Or just say hey on Twitter! @JonNegroni

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