The Night Clerk

Release: Friday, February 21, 2020 

→Netflix

Written by: Michael Cristofer

Directed by: Michael Cristofer

The problem with The Night Clerk is not its depiction of a developmental disorder or that it tries to be two movies in one. It’s that those two elements — character study cum genre film — don’t properly coalesce. It works actually quite well as the former but the crime mystery aspect leaves a lot to be desired. Yes indeed, there will be no mistaking this for a Hitchcock thriller.

In fact it works so much better when considered as a character piece that any other label feels like an irresponsible misnomer. If I were compelled to review this movie accordingly (that is, as a crime drama/mystery), then writer/director Michael Cristofer has just redefined the slow-burn with The Night Clerk‘s super-cautious, almost tedious tip-toeing toward exculpation. Viewed through this lens this Netflix film becomes quite possibly the most uneventful crime drama you’re going to see for some time.

Bart Bromley is our conflicted main character, a hotel clerk with Asperger’s played by Tye Sheridan, a young actor seemingly born for stardom having graduated from high-quality dramas such as The Tree of Life and Mud into full-blown Spielbergian spectacles. The Night Clerk offers him a chance to strut his stuff as a legitimate leading man and Sheridan does not waste the opportunity, providing a complicated protagonist whose humanity extends beyond a neurodevelopmental condition many movies have been guilty of identifying as their character’s most significant trait. He pours into the performance a sincere commitment to the details: struggle with eye contact; lots of long-winded, one-sided conversations; a level of self-awareness that nods toward him falling on the high-functioning end of the spectrum.

After what is basically another routine shift change — save for the fact his co-worker, Jack (Austin Archer), arrives 15 minutes early to relieve him, something Bart’s endearing meticulousness does not allow to go unnoticed — he witnesses the woman he recently checked in getting assaulted by an unidentified man who comes to her room. He’s privy to the drama due to his rigging up of small cameras around the room, which he has linked to half a dozen monitors back at home in his basement-level bedroom and through which he studies other people’s behavior so as to improve his own social interactions. Bart’s reaction to what he sees sets the action, as it were, into motion and a criminal investigation follows.

The Night Clerk is driven more by mood and feeling than mysterious twists and shocking reveals (the movie does present some of those, though shocking might be putting it too strong). Cristofer’s screenplay really drills into the loneliness, creating an environment in which Bart’s relationships with everything are fleeting and mostly experienced at a distance. It’s a tough circumstance because if Bart’s voyeuristic approach seems creepy, it definitely is, and yet the more direct route to getting to know people, learning how to “blend in,” is often barricaded by the insensitive, ignorant attitudes of others.

The humanity it seeks justifies both The Night Clerk‘s glacial pacing and its flirting with the basic structure of a crime mystery. While it has some activity going on in the background the story spends most of its time inside Bart’s head and heart as he wrestles with his increasingly strange predicament. To Detective Espada (John Leguizamo) the body language and passionate over-explaining are big red flags. To Ana de Armas‘ beautiful and mysterious Andrea Rivera, the movie’s great anomaly who accesses Bart in a way not even his mother (Helen Hunt) has been able, his social awkwardness is more charming than off-putting.

The Night Clerk manages to strike some poignant notes in its observation of a life lacking the nutrients of social connection. It plays with morality and culpability in some interesting ways, not quite absolving anyone from some kind of guilt. Everyone in this movie does something wrong. As far as unraveling the sordid crime, it’s nothing a gumshoe couldn’t solve. The worst thing about The Night Clerk, as is often true in social situations, is the inaccurate labeling.

What is this pain in my heart?

Recommendation: If complicated resolutions are what you seek, you should probably avoid checking in with The Night Clerk. For a great performance from Tye Sheridan and a rare sighting of Helen Hunt (!) you might want to pay attention to the details here. It’s a good movie, and even better if you just don’t think of it as a crime drama. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 90 mins.

Quoted: “That’s a very complicated question.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: IMDb

Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Scouts Guide movie poster

Release: Friday, October 30, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Christopher Landon; Carrie Evans; Emi Mochizuki

Directed by: Christopher Landon

Where will you be when the apocalypse happens? With any luck, within reach of your trusty Swiss Army Knife!

Yes, I saw this film and yes I chose to watch it in a theater. Now that you’re doubting my credibility, I’ll try and stage a comeback here by arguing that watching zombies getting their heads lopped off by a trio of high school-aged scouts on a big screen carries with it a certain level of satisfaction. Satisfaction of the oh-man-I’m-pretty-buzzed-right-now-and-this-movie-is-already-better-because-of-it variety. Wait, I guess you can still do that at home. But the big screen. Okay, yeah, that’s my saving grace. It’s just on a bigger screen.

The film’s title leaves little to the imagination, which isn’t much of a surprise. What’s even more clear is how time-sensitive a film it is. Clearly pumped out just in time to make a beeline for the wallets of any teen who’s grown out of the trick-or-treating phase, Scouts Guide still manages to fall short of its potential. And this was a potentially very fun movie.

Christopher Landon (who’s behind Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) settles for a nonchalant, dare I say inept, style of directing that neither allows his talented cast nor interesting premise (I’m getting ahead of myself — potential premise) to flourish. Instead of gritting its teeth and plowing headlong into the realm of the ridiculous, his film instead retreats into yet another all-too-comfortable suburban tale of a group of innocent high schoolers who end up becoming the least-likely saviors of a very small town. I take less of an issue with the scope of the outbreak as I do with how pedestrian this affair becomes.

I’m complicit in this too, though: I bought a ticket. I gambled too much on the unique title.

Long time friends Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Augie (Joey Morgan) are out on a camping trip as the last of a dying breed at their high school. They’re seemingly the only ones interested in Boy Scouts, but it’s Augie who is all gung-ho about the experience. The other two have resigned themselves to simply giving Augie moral support as neither of them believe in their extracurricular activities anymore, particularly when being led by Supreme Dork Scout Leader Rogers (David Koechner). During their camp-out the three have a semi-falling out when Augie catches the others sneaking off in the middle of the night to attend a party. Because, high school.

Soon weird things start happening, weird things that have been alluded to from the film’s ridiculous opening, a scene featuring Blake Anderson in an amusing but all too brief cameo. Inexplicably the gang are caught off-guard by a hoard of zombies who were, presumably, regular, tax-paying citizens. They form an alliance with a cocktail waitress — not a stripper (played with refreshing honesty by Sarah Dumont) — and begin fending off waves of lame zombies. They retreat away from the very convenience store they were earlier trying to dupe into selling them alcohol using a random drunk to do the dirty work, seeking shelter in a neighborhood that may or may not be relevant. Who cares.

Simultaneously the film retreats into formulaic self-defense strategy quicker than you can say ‘Cloris Leachman.’ (She’s a highlight of the film, receiving a juicy zombie part where she gets to bite poor Augie in the ass.) I am fully prepared to admit this moment is worth the watch. It’s priceless. For everything else this gimmicky titled production promises, there’s MasterCard.

That doesn’t even make sense. Neither does the Britney Spears rendition in the middle of the movie, nor the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it homage to The Thing. Nor the movie as a whole. Sometimes that’s enough to be entertaining, but when the overall direction is so lackluster, a lack of logic is more apocalyptic than anything.

Recommendation: Falling well short of its limited potential, Scouts Guide is a mixture of lame acting, special effects, some boobs, and limited roles for both David Koechner and Blake Anderson. Film does feature a strong female lead in Sarah Dumont, and that is certainly worth mentioning. Everything else though is uninspired, quickly thrown together for those hungover on the day after Halloween. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 93 mins.

Quoted: “Why the f**k do you think everyone’s eating each other?”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.collider.com; http://www.imdb.com

Mud

Mud Banner Poster

Release: Friday, April 26, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

You can just call him ‘Mud.’

Sporting a tattered white collar tee shirt, ripped jeans and a hairdo that hasn’t been attended to in some time, Matthew McConaughey delivers a performance that might have single-handedly won me over as a fan. His work of the past, while I’d never describe it as ‘bad,’ has just not interested me all that much — even his involvement in the spectacularly inane Tropic Thunder. McConaughey has just been so-so to me for years.

Well, along comes May 2013 and I’ve been proven wrong about at least one of his roles.

In this humble slice of Southern living, McConaughey resorts to the bare necessities as a man on the lam having shot and killed a man somewhere else — presumably not in the near vicinity. He’s managed to survive in the woods with little more than his confidence and a boat that somehow has been lodged high up in a tree. When two youngins, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) discover the brilliant new ‘treehouse’ on this island that’s pretty far down river from where they both live, they also discover a man living in it.

Mud succeeds on a number of levels. As a character study, it is the most successful. The entire cast turn in performances worthy of an Oscar — the young Sheridan and Lofland are especially enjoyable, possibly even break-outs. The character development that occurs is remarkable and intimately documented, and this is helped by the boys’ precocious nature and the fact that they are suddenly interacting with a homeless man named Mud.

He has stories to tell out the wazoo, and along the way can’t help but try to impart upon the boys some of his rusty (or is that, rustic?) knowledge about getting along in life. His plight — he tells them while rigging up some kind of fishing device — involves meeting up with his long-time girlfriend (or perhaps ex by now, it’s not ever very clear) and escaping the island he’s currently living on and to go live in peace, away from everything. What exactly ‘everything’ means here, you’ll have to wait and find out. While Neckbone and Ellis are keen to listen to this, they continue to dart between trusting and doubting the man’s intentions.

But not only are these three great to watch, the strong silent type presents itself in the form of one Sam Shephard, who plays Tom Blankenship, a widower who lives across the river from Ellis. He’s simply wonderful as the quiet, mysterious neighbor, who turns out to be as much of an enigma as Mud himself.

Reese Witherspoon, while not as involved, turns in a solid performance as the tattered and torn Juniper, the love interest for the estranged Mud.

The film is also intimate in its setting and beautifully shot. Along the gentle curves of the mighty Mississippi we focus in on one particular branch where Neckbone, Ellis and Tom live, and so we never are distracted by the outside world, as it were. The fast-paced and technologically-dependent city life is shrouded by the Southern tincture of Mud. It is even actively avoided.

The crux of the boys’s stories revolves around their current lifestyle. When Ellis’ father is concerned that the government may come and seize their property on the water following an impending divorce, he tells his son that he may have to go live with his mother for awhile, who will now be in town. Ellis hates the idea and is fully opposed to moving off the water. Not only that, but the main conflict of the film (without revealing anything, of course 🙂 ) is coming from out of town. But we only get the part of this that occurs locally, we almost never leave the river. We feel as if we too, are neighborly.

Even if what concerns the boys is still only a subplot to what’s going on with Mud, the directorial treatment that both are given make the stories of Neckbone, Ellis and Mud become so naturally intertwined it was as though footage of real life were unfolding. What ultimately faces Mud will test the mettle of the unlikely friendship that has formed on the muddy banks of the Mississippi. It is a wonderful, fully-focused story that asks important questions about the true meaning of friendship, maturity and doing what’s right.

mud-1

4-5Recommendation: For the many Matthew McConaughey doubters that are roaming around out there, it’s high time you wander into a theater and check out this film. It’s one of the official selections of  the Cannes International Film Festival, one of the best from director Jeff Nichols, and certainly far and away the best featuring McConaughey. I know I’m saying it quite a lot here, but if you don’t go see this film you likely won’t ever understand my gushing. . . .

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 130 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.comhttp://www.imdb.com