IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Violence, Disturbing Images, and Language

Directed by: Trey Edward Shults

Written by: Trey Edward Shults

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Riley Keough, Griffin Robert Faulkner & David Pendleton

Going into 2017, IT COMES AT NIGHT was one of my most anticipated films of the year. The posters and teaser trailer looked rock solid, while the premise sounded right up my alley. The marketing and early reviews increasingly had me hyped to see a new horror flick that looked genuinely frightening. Then the backlash arrived because the film that A24 had been advertising wasn’t tonally accurate to the film that Trey Edward Shults made. IT COMES AT NIGHT is barely a horror movie. To describe it more accurately, this film is more like a depressing post-apocalyptic drama and it’s not a very good one at that.

Some vague apocalyptic event has hit the world and a contagious sickness means certain death for all those who contract it. Lucky for husband/father Paul (Joel Edgerton), mother/wife Sarah (Carmen Ejogo), and their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), this family of three has taken up residence in an isolated cabin that has plenty of food and clean water. When intruder Will (Christopher Abbott) breaks into their home, Paul ties the mysterious stranger to a tree and learns that Will was looking for supplies for his wife Kim (Riley Keough) and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). Being good Samaritans, the family of three becomes a newfound group of six…until strange things occur around the property and rampant paranoia threatens to give way to darker survival instincts.

Nearly all of IT COMES AT NIGHT’s horror is regulated to a handful of nightmare sequences. Director/writer Trey Edwards Shults might be trying to show the viewer how these character’s mindsets were unraveling through these dream sequences, but this was a disappointing approach to the material. The dream sequences really add nothing much to the proceedings other than padding out the run time with spooky imagery that would have been so much cooler in the world of the movie and not the dreams of a character. Of course, the trailer milked the hell out of these nightmare sequences to sell the audience on a film that was never a balls-to-the-wall horror flick and makes the entire affair even more disappointing.

Even when taken as a depressing post-apocalyptic drama, IT COMES AT NIGHT is a mixed bag. There are good ideas here, but these are rarely fleshed out to a satisfying extent. The characters are well developed (more on that in a moment), but the events and plot points range from being too ambiguous for their own good to feeling way too rushed to leave an emotional impact on the viewer. The climax is ridiculously fast-paced and blows its load too soon after a relatively intense bit of set-up, leaving a couple of last minute twists to feel like half-hearted shrugs.

IT COMES AT NIGHT’s ambiguity will likely frustrate the hell out of most viewers. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not someone who needs every piece of information spoon fed to me and I love when movies have scenes that can be read in many different ways. However, Trey Edwards Shults seems to be feeling too damn artsy for his own good and his film will likely leave a majority of its viewers underwhelmed in one way or another. We never find out the answers to big questions and we aren’t given enough clues to form our own theories. Shults apparently made the decision to leave the audience in the dark based on the idea that we’d know just as much as the clueless characters, but that doesn’t always make for good storytelling and it also knocked what might have been a great movie down to being a dreary disappointment.

While IT COMES AT NIGHT is not a good movie, it’s not for a lack of quality acting. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is convincing as teenage son Travis, who has a large role in the proceedings from both his hormones and naïve nature. Carmen Ejogo is good as Travis’s protective mother and Paul’s loving wife. Christopher Abbott and Riley Keough are believable as the new couple/parents in Paul’s home. Meanwhile, Joel Edgerton is fantastic (as usual) in the role of Paul. He plays a survivalist with good intentions and sometimes those intentions cause him to make rash decisions.

IT COMES AT NIGHT is a so-so post-apocalyptic drama and barely a horror movie at all. Loads of people will be disappointed by this film and it’s not hard to see why. I think that Trey Edwards Shults clearly had some cool ideas, but failed to fully implement them in ways that were heart-pounding, terrifying, and (most times) compelling. The acting is easily the film’s strongest aspect and the technical aspects are professional for a sophomore effort. Still, the film definitely isn’t for everyone and my overall thoughts about it are mixed. IT COMES AT NIGHT is okay at best, which is a real shame because this one could have been something special.

Grade: C+

THE MUMMY (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Action and Scary Images, and for some Suggestive Content and partial Nudity

Directed by: Alex Kurtzman

Written by: David Koepp, Christopher McQuarrie & Dylan Kussman

Starring: Tom Cruise, Annabelle Wallis, Sofia Boutella, Jake Johnson, Courtney B. Vance, Marwan Kenzari & Russell Crowe

To be perfectly honest, I consider 1932’s THE MUMMY to be the worst Universal Monster movie (right below the missed opportunity that was THE INVISIBLE MAN). More honesty, I love the 1999 Brendan Fraser reboot and even like THE MUMMY RETURNS. I was looking forward to Universal’s new reboot of THE MUMMY and appreciated they were sticking to a more action-oriented approach. However, 2017’s THE MUMMY is not so much its own movie as it is a prologue that lays groundwork for future films in Universal’s so-called Dark Universe (interconnected reboots of classic monsters). I’m sad to say that this new MUMMY isn’t much fun at all and easily ranks as the worst big screen outing I’ve had since 2015’s FANTASTIC FOUR.

In Iraq, thief/soldier Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his bandit buddy Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) accidentally uncover a hidden tomb. Inside the underground burial site, there’s treasure, camel spiders and one mercury-covered sarcophagus. Much to the dismay of his archeologist love-interest Jennifer Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), Nick shoots a chain and awakens a cursed mummy. The mummy is Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) and she’s “chosen” Nick to be her future vessel for Egyptian god of violence Set. Jennifer and Nick desperately try to break the curse before it’s too late, all while Ahmanet raises rotting henchmen and tries to piece together a cursed dagger to bring about her evil plan. Also, Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (Russell Crowe) pops up as a Nick Fury type character…for some reason.

One might hope that Tom Cruise’s sheer charisma might save THE MUMMY from being absolutely insufferable to sit through, but you’d be terribly mistaken. Cruise is playing his role on auto-pilot, lacking a single ounce of his usual action-hero swagger or one believable emotion. THE MUMMY is easily the worst film in Cruise’s rather good filmography. During many points, Cruise just seems to be trying to imitate Brendan Fraser’s character from the 1999 version and failing to understand why Fraser was so good in those movies. Every time Cruise attempts a bit of off-kilter humor or a one-liner, it hits with a dud and winds up being shockingly unfunny.

However, Cruise’s performance seems award-worthy when compared to costar Annabelle Wallis, who comes off like the discount version of Emily Blunt. She’s bland, wooden, and lacks any charm whatsoever, though she attempts to be funny at certain points too and even tries (and fails) to inject emotional stakes into the proceedings. Jake Johnson is annoying as Cruise’s partner, who pops up in a gimmick that’s ripped off from the decaying friend in AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Also, Russell Crowe is in this movie as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde…for some reason.

Finally, there’s Sofia Boutella as the titular monster herself. This actress was fantastic as the blade-legged baddie in KINGSMAN, so I was hoping she would deliver a cool villainess here. I was sadly mistaken because Princess Ahmanet can’t seem to do a damn thing for herself. She kisses people to death and has a lame final confrontation, but that’s about it. Her other scenes typically involve undead henchmen helping her, alongside poorly rendered CGI sand storms and occasional spiders/rats.

Speaking of which, THE MUMMY’s effects are piss poor to the point where they resemble something from 2004’s horrid VAN HELSING or a typical Syfy channel movie. The worst example of this comes in Mr. Hyde, who’s just a grayish cross-eyed CGI version of Russell Crowe. There’s also a monster in the film’s finale that’s cartoonishly awful and somehow Universal expects to re-incorporate this effect into their later Dark Universe installments. This all being said, I did have brief fun watching Cruise fight Ahmanet’s mummified henchmen in two scenes and that alone saves this movie from being a complete failure.

THE MUMMY’s biggest sin is that it’s barely a movie and plays more like a feature-length prologue for other movies in the Dark Universe line-up (the next being 2019’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN). That Dark Universe now seems highly unlikely, given that this film has underperformed at the box office and received negative responses from both critics and audiences alike. There was not a single gasp, cheer, scream, laugh or emotional response to be found from the audience I saw this film with. THE MUMMY is a dull piece of non-entertainment, in which story, scares, and fun all take a backseat to set up future installments in a series that probably won’t even happen. THE MUMMY is everything wrong with modern Hollywood because it treats the audience like idiots, recycles material without ever realizing what made it work in the first place, and hopes that viewers will be suckered into coming back for the next chapter in a cinematic universe. You should treat this film like an ancient Egyptian curse and avoid it!

Grade: D-

47 METERS DOWN (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Intense Peril, Bloody Images, and brief Strong Language

Directed by: Johannes Roberts

Written by: Johannes Roberts & Ernest Riera

Starring: Mandy Moore, Claire Holt, Chris J. Johnson, Yani Gellman, Santiago Segura & Matthew Modine

Summer and sharks go together like JAWS and an irreparable fear of the ocean. Think about it for a second. Every July, Discovery Channel dominates with “Shark Week” and Syfy Channel further banks on that with an annual SHARKNADO movie. To boot, sharks have always done well at the summer box office. JAWS created the summer blockbuster, 1999’s DEEP BLUE SEA more than doubled its budget, 2003’s OPEN WATER banked with adult audiences, and last year’s THE SHALLOWS was an unexpected hit. I was looking forward to 47 METERS DOWN for a few reasons. The biggest one being its crazy premise, but another being the film’s unusual transition from originally being intended as a video-on-demand release to a nationwide theatrical outing. Turns out, 47 METERS DOWN is a pretty cool flick with enough positive qualities to warrant a recommendation.

After a painful break-up with her boyfriend, Lisa (Mandy Moore) and her sister Kate (Claire Holt) are vacationing in Mexico. Looking to do something adventurous, the sisters decide to take an impromptu shark-diving trip on a rickety old boat. After the sisters see some underwater sights and the cage begins lifting back up, the cage’s rope snaps and the sisters are plunged 47 meters down onto the ocean floor (hence the title of this movie). With a limited supply of air in their tanks and hungry sharks hiding around every corner, the two amateur scuba divers must find a way to reach the surface…as opposed to either suffocating or becoming fish food.

47 METERS DOWN has one hell of a premise. Viewers who are afraid of the ocean and sharks will likely be mortified while watching this film. Though the plot has a flimsy set-up in its opening 10 minutes (which are borderline painful to sit through) and there are clichés, 47 METERS DOWN has gripping sequences of suspense and actually made me jump a few times. Director Johannes Roberts (who’s made more than his fair share of crappy horror flicks) milks this film’s tension for as long as he possibly can. Though we definitely receive jump scares that are accompanied with musical stingers, the minor heart attacks I experienced were earned…because well, there are sharks attempting to make a quick snack out of two divers.

Speaking of which, the two leading performances in this film are mostly subpar. Mandy Moore plays the dorky sister who’s afraid to take risks and then regrets taking a risk for the rest of the film’s running time. She also screams a lot and makes a few bone-headed decisions. Claire Holt isn’t much better as her adrenaline-junkie sister who’s placed in increasingly perilous situations as the plot moves forward. Whereas I was rooting for Blake Lively to make it off the rock in THE SHALLOWS and the three main characters to kill the shark in JAWS, I really didn’t care if Moore or Holt lived or died. The only thing keeping me invested in this film was the beyond intense situation and well-executed scares.

Without spoiling anything, I will bring up a compliment and a complaint that I have with 47 METERS DOWN’s conclusion. This film pulled a fast one on me and I appreciated that until the final two minutes arrived. There’s a nifty twist that slaps the viewer upside the head and I thought the ending was going to be far darker than I originally expected (which would have boosted this film to a “B”). Instead, the script takes a clichéd way out and soils the rather solid twist in a dumb way. I dug most of this ending and then hated the last two minutes of it.

47 METERS DOWN suffers from crappy performances and a few lame decisions (e.g. a flimsy motivator to get the ball rolling), but it makes up for those flaws with effective scares, surprisingly solid effects, and 3/4ths of a really cool ending. The premise is also more than just a shark horror movie, because the two characters constantly have to be wary of running out of oxygen and other scuba-related threats (they can’t ascend too fast or they’ll get nitrogen bubbles in their blood). As a whole, 47 METERS DOWN is entertaining enough to recommend as a fun little scarefest.

Grade: B-

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Graphic Violence and some Language

Directed by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Written by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

(based on the novel NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by Cormac McCarthy)

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem, Kelly Macdonald, Woody Harrelson, Garret Dillahunt, Tess Harper, Barry Corbin, Beth Grant & Stephen Root

Throughout their filmography, the Coen brothers have written and directed plenty of great films. It wouldn’t be a stretch to list them amongst the greatest filmmakers working today and their crowning cinematic achievement will likely go down as their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. This ultra-bleak cat-and-mouse thriller won four Academy Awards and is frequently listed as one of the best films of the 2000’s. As a fan of the Coen brothers, a person who frequently indulges on dark thrillers, and an admirer of cinema as art, I have to say that NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is one of my favorite films.

In 1980’s Texas, Vietnam war veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) is hunting when he stumbles across a drug deal gone bad. Amongst the blood, corpses and bullet shells, Llewelyn finds two million dollars and one thirsty survivor. After he steals the money and feels guilty about leaving the dehydrated man behind, Llewelyn returns to deliver a gallon of water and finds himself on the run from very dangerous people who want their stolen cash back. Though gun-wielding Mexicans and a good ol’ boy bounty hunter (Woody Harrelson) are searching for Moss, his main hunter is psychopathic Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem). Moss and Chigurh find themselves in an increasingly deadly game of cat-and-mouse, all while aging Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) chases both men.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN has many amazing qualities, one of the biggest easily comes in stellar performances across the board. Josh Brolin makes Llewelyn Moss into a likable protagonist, even if he makes a few bone-headed decisions. The entire plot is thrust forward by Moss making one giant mistake and it becomes a blood-soaked cautionary tale. Tommy Lee Jones delivers the most restrained performance of the film as the close-to-retirement sheriff, who’s sickened by the increasing violence and crime of the world. The film’s title mostly derives from Tommy Lee Jones’s character’s sullen storyline and the plot’s heavier philosophical content is packed into his scenes.

Woody Harrelson is charismatic as the cocksure bounty hunter, while Kelly Macdonald is convincingly naïve as Moss’s wife. The film’s scariest performance arrives in the form of Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh. This lunatic kills unfortunate souls in unique ways (e.g. cattle-gun, handcuffs employed as a deadly weapon, sound-suppressed shotgun) and is 100% terrifying. Bardem’s deliberate line delivery and dead-eyed stare create a foe that’s simply hard to read, which makes him even scarier. Chigurh also has a twisted set of principles that are never fully revealed to the viewer, but we see life-or-death coin tosses and chance encounters that end on quietly menacing notes (the “do you see me?” scene sends chills down my spine).

Though its set-up is simple, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN packs in plenty of deeper meanings, careful background details, and parallels between characters that are likely to be analyzed by viewers in many different ways. The quiet ending (that seemingly arrives out of nowhere) is sure to throw a few people for a loop, but I really enjoy how it book-ends the film alongside opening narration that sets up the violence to come. As far as background details go, small things like wires that resemble like nooses in a convenience store owner, Chigurh’s cattle-centric main weapon of choice, and a phone ringing as a symbol of death calling come into play. There’s also one distinct scene that’s repeated between Moss and Chigurh that surely means something, though I’m not entirely sure what.

Besides being pure pleasure for arthouse-loving cinephiles, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN functions just as perfectly as a modern western thriller. The violence is shocking and the tension is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. Most of NO COUNTRY functions without a musical score, which makes the stellar sound design and every line of cleverly constructed dialogue stick out that much more. The film also takes ambiguous turns that let the audience fill in the blank. There are moments that may not suit every viewer’s cinematic cravings, but NO COUNTRY’s unconventional storytelling seems to work for a bigger audience than most arthouse dramas would typically appeal towards.

When I was in high school, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN was one of the most intense books I ever read. Through sheer filmmaking prowess and careful eyes behind the camera, the Coen brothers masterfully translated Cormac McCarthy’s simple-yet-profound tale into a masterpiece of a movie. The suspense and fast-paced action will please those who want a modern western thriller, while the deeper meanings and carefully placed dialogue will thrill serious film lovers. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is easily one of the best films from the 2000s and definitely belongs somewhere in my top 20 all-time favorite movies!

Grade: A+

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sequences of Adventure Violence, and some Suggestive Content

Directed by: Joachim Ronning & Espen Sandberg

Written by: Jeff Nathanson

Starring: Johnny Depp, Javier Bardem, Brenton Thwaites, Kaya Scodelario, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Golshifteh Farahani, David Wenham, Stephen Graham & Orlando Bloom

In theory, the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN series never should have worked. It’s based on a theme park ride and had a goofy premise from the start, with Johnny Depp putting in a shamelessly over-the-top performance that baffled studio heads. However, 2003’s CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL was a huge hit amongst both critics and audiences. I consider that film to be a glowing example of big budget summer entertainment done right. DEAD MAN’S CHEST was an okay sequel, while AT WORLD’S END was a tired slog to sit through. ON STRANGER TIDES was a marginally better fourth entry that attempted to steer this swashbuckling series back into Captain Jack’s fantastical ocean adventures. How does the fifth(!) installment in this long-running theme-park-based franchise fare? Well, let’s just say that I enjoyed almost every other PIRATES film more than DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES.

Henry Turner (Brenton Thwaites), son of the Flying Dutchman’s captain Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), is desperate to break the curse that holds his father to the sea. To do this, he needs to find Poseidon’s legendary trident…and for that, he’ll need the help of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). Henry and Jack get off to a rocky start, as they’re accompanied by intellectual Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) and her ability to read a map in the stars. Their journey only gets rockier as the Jack’s crew encounters Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), evil British Lieutenant Scarfield (David Wenham), and ghostly Spaniard Captain Salazar (Javier Bardem). The only hope for breaking Will’s curse and saving Jack’s life is to find/steal the fabled trident!

DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, much like the series’ previous installment ON STRANGER TIES, clearly has Disney trying to steer this pirate franchise in new directions. This time, they’re aiming to bring in a new generation of moviegoers by having two fresh-faced, younger characters as leads. Henry Turner and Carina Smyth are clearly supposed to be hipper, younger stand-ins for Orlando Bloom’s hero and Keira Knightley’s heroine from the original trilogy. Unfortunately, Brenton Thwaites and Kaya Scodelario are poor substitutes in acting ability, on-screen charisma, and character development.

In his fifth outing as Captain Jack Sparrow, Johnny Depp gets a fair amount of laughs and also grates on the viewer’s nerves in equal measure. I thought Depp was easily the best part of the first two PIRATE movies, but he’s slowly become more and more of a cartoon character as the films have gone on. The same can be said of DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES, which sees Captain Jack jumping from cannon to cannon in a ship battle and making plenty of goofy faces. His best scene easily involves a guillotine though and this got plenty of laughs out of myself (and everyone else in the theater). Geoffrey Rush fares much better as the returning Barbossa, while Orlando Bloom has a glorified cameo.

As two new antagonists in the series, David Wenham and Javier Bardem are on opposite ends of the villain totem-pole. Wenham (though a more than capable actor) isn’t given much to do as the evil British Lieutenant and his entire subplot wraps up in the most anti-climactic way possible (even worse than the giant witch from the third movie). Javier Bardem serves as a solid baddie though. I loved the look of his villain and the murderous grudge he holds against Sparrow. More screen time should have been dedicated to the conflict between Depp’s Sparrow and Bardem’s Salazar as opposed to far too many subplots that invasively take away from the film’s more interesting plot points.

As far as spectacle goes, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES has its fair share of entertaining bits and cool moments. There’s an opening bank robbery that recaptures the humor that made the first two installments so enjoyable and, of course, there’s effects-driven chaos that one would expect to see in a PIRATES movie. Most of the film’s awesomeness involves Bardem’s ghostly villain and his strange powers, including using decaying sharks as creative weapons. The special effects look great, though you’d expect them to be that…with a price tag of over 200 million dollars. However, the finale is where things become a little too eye-rollingly silly in the plot’s over-the-top, anything-goes nature. I was not having nearly as much fun as I should have been, especially considering that the film goes for a “kitchen sink” approach in its final third.

DEAD MEN’s script is where most of this film’s many problems lie. The beyond convoluted plot feels like it’s trying to cram entirely too much into one movie. We have loads of new characters, meaning that our main ones of importance wind up underdeveloped and forgettable. Certain story arcs come right the hell out of nowhere with little rhyme, reason, or emotional resonance. One twist feels like a last-minute thought and becomes useless in the overall scheme of things. Meanwhile, a few subplots are completely pointless…like the British villain who goes nowhere and (again) has an infuriatingly stupid final scene.

DEAD MEN is only marginally better than AT WORLD’S END and falls far lower than the second and fourth installments. If the stinger after the end credits is any indication, we’ll likely be getting an unnecessary sixth film in the franchise…because why not render an ending that seemed to wrap up the entire series as pointless in the space of five minutes? There are a handful of great moments in DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES and I really enjoyed Bardem’s undead villain, but the film suffers from too many unfocused subplots, lazy writing, and two bland leads. As a result, DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES is the second-worst PIRATES movie and lackluster attempt at summer blockbuster entertainment.

Grade: C-