The Films of 2020: The Night Clerk (dir by Michael Cristofer)


“Tye Sheridan Is …. THE NIGHT CLERK!”

That’s not how The Night Clerk was advertised, though perhaps it should have been.  This is one of those overheated melodramas that’s so sure that it’s making a bigger statement than it actually is that it becomes somewhat fascinating to watch.  Usually, when we say that a film is fascinating to watch, we mean that it’s either fascinatingly good or fascinatingly bad.  The Night Clerk is fascinatingly middle-of-the-road.  It has opportunities to be good, largely due to the performances of Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas.  And it has opportunities to be bad, largely due to the direction and script of Michael Cristofer.  Try as it might, the film never becomes truly good and yet it’s never truly bad, either.  It’s just kind of there.

The title character is Bart Bromley (Tye Sheridan), a young man who has Asperger’s syndrome and who works as a night desk clerk at a hotel.  He’s hidden cameras all over the hotel, so that he can observe the guests in their rooms.  He even watches the guests when he returns to the home that he shares with his mother, Ethel (Helen Hunt).  That’s undeniably creepy but we’re not supposed to hold that against Bart because he’s only watching the guests so that he can learn how to talk and communicate with other people.

(To be honest, the film is very lucky that Tye Sheridan was available to play Bart.  As written, Bart is not a particularly sympathetic character.  But Sheridan is such a likable actor and has such an appealing screen presence that you’re willing to overlook a lot of narrative inconsistencies where his character is concerned.)

Anyway, Bart ends up taking an interest in a guest named Karen (Jacque Gray) but, when Karen’s murdered, Bart becomes the number one suspect.  Even though Bart knows that Karen was killed by a mysterious man who had a distinctive tattoo, he can’t reveal how he knows that information.  When Bart is assigned to another hotel, he meets Andrea Riviera (Ana de Armas).  Andrea seems to take an interest in Bart but is she sincere or is she somehow involved with the murderer herself?

Do I really need to answer that question for you?

And again, the film is lucky that Ana de Arams was available to play Andrea because Andrea is another character who wouldn’t be particularly sympathetic if she had been played by a less appealing performer.  The film can never seem to make up its mind whether she’s a calculating femme fatale or a naive victim and it’s somewhat amazing that de Amas is able to give a good performance considering how badly Andrea is written.

The Night Clerk is one of those films that holds your interest while you watch it but it tends to fade from the memory as soon as it ends.  Sheridan and de Armas are appealing actors but the film’s central mystery isn’t a particularly interesting one.  When the mystery is finally solved, I was so underwhelmed that I kept waiting for another twist to suddenly pop up.  Surely, I kept saying, it can’t be that simple.  But yes, it is.  Though the hotels are impressively trashy, the film itself has a rather flat, uninteresting look and director Michael Cristofer never really brings the story together.  It’s a mess of a film but it does work as a testament to the talents of Tye Sheridan and Ana de Armas.

The Things You Find On Netflix: Sergio (dir by Greg Barker)


Sergio, which dropped on Netflix last Friday, is a biopic of the Brazilian diplomat, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.  Sergio spent 34 years as a diplomat with the United Nations, going to some of the most dangerous places in the world and trying to negotiate with people who were determined to kill one another.  Sergio was so respected within the UN that he was seen as a likely candidate for Secretary-General.  Instead, in 2003, Sergio was killed in a terrorist attack while he was in Baghdad, observing the American occupation of Iraq.

Starring Wagner Moura in the title role, Sergio opens with Sergio arriving in Baghdad.  For the majority of the film, he’s buried in the rubble of his blown-up office, thinking about his past life while an American soldier (played, with quiet authority, by Garret Dillahunt) tries to dig him and his assistant, Gil (Brian F. O’Byrne) out.  Through the use of flashbacks, we watch as Sergio negotiates peace in East Timor and argues against the occupation of the Iraq.  We also watch as he meets and falls in love with Carolina (Ana de Armas), pursuing a passionate affair with her despite being married.

Sergio is a rather staid biopic.  If you’re expecting to see an Adam McKay-style screed about international diplomacy and American war crimes, that is not what this film is and we should be happy for that because, seriously, have you tried to watch The Big Short or Vice lately?  Instead, Sergio is more like a Jay Roach film without the attempts at humor.  It’s a blandly liberal biopic that is conventionally structured and a bit too convinced that the audience is going to automatically agree with its points.  Indeed, one of the film’s most glaring flaws is that it assumes that we’re all as enamored with the UN as it is.  Instead of making a case for why the UN should be taken seriously, Sergio just assumes that it is.

The other big problem with the film is that it’s just boring.  There’s nothing interesting about the film’s structure and, as portrayed in the rather bland script, both Sergio and Carolina come across as being ciphers.  We’re constantly told that Sergio is charismatic and controversial but we really don’t see much evidence of it.  The film itself doesn’t seem to know what made Sergio tick but what’s even worse is that it doesn’t seem to be particularly interested in finding out.  There’s not much interest in digging into Sergio’s mind or his motives,  The film forgets that you can portray someone as a hero and celebrate their accomplishments without necessarily idealizing them.  With the exception of one or two scenes (and there is an effective moment where one of Sergio’s assistants does call him out for putting everyone’s life in danger by refusing to accept protection from the U.S. army), Sergio is portrayed in such an idealized that he comes across as being a bit dull.  Wagner Moura is an appealing actor but there’s no depth to his performance.  Meanwhile, Ana de Armas is reduced to playing the stock girlfriend with a social conscience role.

All that said, I almost feel guilty about not liking Sergio.  The film was made with good intentions but good intentions don’t necessarily translate to compelling storytelling.

 

Here Are The 2019 Nominations of the Detroit Film Critics Society!


Earlier on Friday, the Detroit Film Critics Society released their nominations for the best of 2019!

Now, back in 2018, the DFCS honored some great films that were overlooked by the Academy, films like Eighth Grade, A Quiet Place, and First Reformed.  I mean, I really, really loved the 2018 DFCS awards.  And you know what?  I’m pretty happy with what they came up with for 2019 as well!  I especially like the nomination for Anna Paquin in The Irishman.  With all the overblown controversy about how many lines she spoke in the film, it is often overlooked that she gave a great performance and, with just the power of her withering glare, pretty much transformed Peggy into the conscience of the film.

Here are the DFCS nominees for the best of 2019!  The winners will be announced on December 9th!

BEST PICTURE
The Irishman
Jojo Rabbit
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST DIRECTOR
Noah Baumbach – Marriage Story
Bong Joon-ho – Parasite
Martin Scorsese – The Irishman
Quentin Tarantino – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Taika Waititi – Jojo Rabbit

BEST ACTRESS
Scarlett Johansson – Marriage Story
Julianne Moore – Gloria Bell
Lupita Nyong’o – Us
Charlize Theron – Bombshell
Renee Zellweger – Judy

BEST ACTOR
Robert De Niro – The Irishman
Adam Driver – Marriage Story
Robert Pattinson – The Lighthouse
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
Adam Sandler – Uncut Gems

SUPPORTING ACTOR
Willem Dafoe – The Lighthouse
Tom Hanks – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Joe Pesci – The Irishman
Brad Pitt – Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Sam Rockwell – Richard Jewell
Wesley Snipes – Dolemite Is My Name

SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Kathy Bates – Richard Jewell
Laura Dern – Marriage Story
Scarlett Johansson – Jojo Rabbit
Anna Paquin – The Irishman
Florence Pugh – Little Women

BEST SCREENPLAY
The Irishman
The Lighthouse
Marriage Story
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST ANIMATED FILM
Frozen II
How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World
I Lost My Body
Klaus
Toy Story 4

BEST USE OF MUSIC
1917
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Rocketman
Uncut Gems
Wild Rose

BEST ENSEMBLE
Dolemite Is My Name
The Farewell
The Irishman
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
Parasite

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Amazing Grace
Apollo 11
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror
Knocking Down the House
Rolling Thunder Review: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese

BREAKTHROUGH
Ana de Armas – actress (Knives Out, The Informer, Yesterday)
Jessie Buckley – actress (Wild Rose, Judy)
Kaitlyn Dever – actress (Booksmart, Them That Follow)
Aisling Franciosi – actress (The Nightingale)
Paul Walter Hauser – actor (Richard Jewell)
Florence Pugh – actress (Fighting with My Family, Midsommar, Little Women)
Lulu Wang – director (The Farewell)
Olivia Wilde – director (Booksmart)

James Bond returns in the No Time to Die Trailer


Daniel Craig’s final outing as James Bond is almost upon us. With True Detective’s Cary Fukunaga taking over the direction this time, No Time to Die brings a mix of new faces and returning favorites. Though not much is truly known of the story, it looks like Bond’s relationship with Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) may be on a rocky road, enough to bring him back into service.

Rami Malek is also on board as the villain, which I’m personally excited for, and Ana de Armas (Knives Out) teams up again with Craig, though we’re not exactly sure who’s side she’s on. Lashana Lynch (Captain Marvel) looks to be a new member of the Double O ranking. Coming back are Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear, Jeffrey Wright, and Naomie Harris.

No Time to Die opens in cinemas in April 2020.  Enjoy!

The Satellites Really Like Ford V Ferrari


The Satellite Nominations were announced earlier today and they appear to really, really like Ford v. Ferrari.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Who gives out the Satellites?”  They are awarded by the International Press Academy.  They should not be mistaken for the Golden Globes, which are given out the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.  Instead, the Satellites should probably be considered the Golden Globes’s less popular cousins.  Unlike the Globes, they haven’t really proven themselves to be reliable as a precursor.

Anyway, here are the Satellite Film Nominations.  If you want to see their television nominations, click here!

ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE DRAMA

  • Alfre Woodard, “Clemency”
  • Charlize Theron, “Bombshell”
  • Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
  • Helen Mirren, “The Good Liar”
  • Renee Zellweger, “Judy”
  • Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”

ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE DRAMA

  • Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
  • Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
  • Christian Bale, “Ford v Ferrari”
  • George MacKay, “1917″
  • Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
  • Mark Ruffalo, “Dark Waters” 

ACTRESS IN A MOTION PICTURE, COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • Awkwafina, “The Farewell”
  • Ana De Armas, “Knives Out”
  • Constance Wu, “Hustlers”
  • Julianne Moore, “Gloria Bell”

ACTOR IN A MOTION PICTURE, COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • Adam Sandler, “Uncut Gems”
  • Daniel Craig, “Knives Out”
  • Eddie Murphy, “Dolemite Is My Name”
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
  • Taron Egerton, “Rocketman”
  • Taika Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit”

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Jennifer Lopez, “Hustlers”
  • Laura Dern, “Marriage Story”
  • Margot Robbie, “Bomshell”
  • Penelope Cruz, “Pain and Glory”
  • Nicole Kidman, “Bombshell”
  • Zhao Shuzhen, “The Farewell”

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

  • Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
  • Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
  • Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
  • Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in The Neighborhood”
  • Willem Dafoe, “The Lighthouse”
  • Wendell Pierce, “Burning Cane”

MOTION PICTURE, DRAMA

  • 1917 Universal Pictures
  • Bombshell Lionsgate
  • Burning Cane Array Releasing
  • Ford v Ferrari Twentieth Century Fox
  • Joker Warner Bros.
  • The Lighthouse A24
  • Marriage Story Netflix
  • Two Popes Netflix

MOTION PICTURE, COMEDY OR MUSICAL

  • Hustlers STX Entertainment
  • Knives Out Lionsgate
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Columbia Pictures
  • Rocketman Paramount
  • The Farewell A24
  • Uncut Gems A24

MOTION PICTURE, INTERNATIONAL

  • Atlantics, Senegal
  • Beanpole, Russia
  • Les Miserables, France
  • Pain and Glory, Spain
  • Parasite, Korea
  • Truth and Justice, Estonia
  • Portrait of a Lady on Fire, France
  • The Painted Bird, Czech Republic

MOTION PICTURE, ANIMATED OR MIXED MEDIA

  • A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon Netflix
  • Alita: Battle Angel Twentieth Century Fox
  • Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles GKIDS
  • How to Train Your Dragon 2: The Hidden World Universal Pictures
  • The Lion King Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
  • Toy Story 4 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
  • Weathering With You GKIDS

MOTION PICTURE, DOCUMENTARY

  • 63 Up BritBox
  • Apollo 11 Neon
  • Citizen K Greenwich Entertainment
  • Honeyland KJ Films
  • One Child Nation Amazon Studios
  • The Apollo HBO Documentary
  • The Cave National Geographic Documentary Films
  • FOR SAMA PBS

DIRECTOR

  • Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”
  • James Mangold, “Ford v Ferrari”
  • Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”
  • Pedro Almodóvar, “Pain and Glory”
  • Sam Mendes, “1917″
  • Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”

SCREENPLAY, ORIGINAL

  • Bong Joon Ho, “Parasite”
  • Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Jason Keller, “Ford v Ferrari”
  • Lulu Wang, “The Farewell”
  • Noah Baumbach, “Marriage Story”
  • Pedro Almodóvar, “Pain and Glory”
  • Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”

SCREENPLAY, ADAPTED

  • Anthony McCarten, “The Two Popes”
  • Edward Norton, “Motherless Brooklyn”
  • Matthew Michael Carnahan, Mario Correa, Nathaniel Rich, “Dark Waters”
  • Steven Zaillian, “The Irishman”
  • Taika Waititi, “Jojo Rabbit”
  • Todd Phillips & Scott Silver, “Joker”

ORIGINAL SCORE

  • Thomas Newman, “1917″
  • Marco Beltrami & Buck Sanders, “Ford v Ferrari”
  • Randy Newman, “Marriage Story”
  • Robbie Robertson, “The Irishman”
  • Terence Blanchard, “Harriet”
  • Hildur Guonadottir, “Joker”

ORIGINAL SONG

  • Don’t Call Me (Angel), “Charlie’s Angels”
  • Into the Unknown, “Frozen II”
  • (I’m Gonna) Love Me Again, “Rocketman”
  • Spirit, “Lion King”
  • The Ballade of the Lonesome Cowboy, “Toy Story 4”
  • Swan Song, “Alita: Battle Angel”

CINEMATOGRAPHY

  • Dick Pope, “Motherless Brooklyn”
  • George Richmond, “Rocketman”
  • Lawrence Sher, “Joker”
  • Phedon Papamichael, ASC, GSC, “Ford v Ferrari”
  • Rodrigo Prieto, “The Irishman”
  • Roger Deakins, “1917”

FILM EDITING

  • 1917
    Lee Smith, ACE
  • Ford v Ferrari
    Michael McCusker, ACE
    Andrew Buckland
  • Joker
    Jeff Groth
  • Marriage Story
    Jennifer Lame, ACE
  • Rocketman
    Chris Dickens
  • The Irishman
    Thelma Schoonmaker

SOUND (EDITING AND MIXING)

  • 1917
    Oliver Tarney
    Stuart Wilson
    Scott Millan
    Mark Taylor
  • Avengers: Endgame
    Shannon Mills
    Daniel Laurie
    Tom Johnson
    Juan Peralta
    John Pritchett, CAS
  • Ford v Ferrari
    Donald Sylvester
    Paul Massey
    David Giammarco
    Steven A. Morrow, CAS
  • Joker
    Alan Robert Murray
    Tom Ozanich
    Dean Zupancic
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Wylie Stateman
    Mark Ulano, CAS
    Michael Minkler, CAS
    Christian P. Minkler, CAS
  • Rocketman
    Matthew Collinge
    John Hayes

VISUAL EFFECTS

  • Alita: Battle Angel
    Joe Letteri
    Eric Saindon
  • Avengers: Endgame
    Dan DeLeeuw
    Matt Aitken
    Russell Earl
    Dan Sudick
  • The Lion King
    Robert Legato, ASC; Andrew R. Jones
    Adam Valdez; Elliot Newman
  • Ford v Ferrari
    Olivier Dumont
    Mark Byers
    Kathy Segal
  • Joker
    Edwin Rivera
    Mathew Giampa
    Bryan Godwin
  • The Irishman
    Pablo Helman

ART DIRECTION & PRODUCTION DESIGN

  • 1917
    Dennis Gassner
    Lee Sandales
  • Ford v Ferrari
    François Audouy
    Peter Lando
  • Joker
    Mark Friedberg
    Laura Ballinger
  • Motherless Brooklyn
    Beth Mickle
    Michael Ahern
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
    Barbara Ling
    Nancy Haigh
  • The Two Popes
    Mark Tildesley
    Saverio Sammali

COSTUME DESIGN 

  • Dolemite Is My Name
    Ruth E. Carter
  • Joker
    Mark Bridges
  • Judy
    Jeny Temime
  • Rocketman
    Julian Day
  • The Two Popes
    Luka Canfora
  • Downton Abbey
    Caroline McCall
    Anna Robbins
    Susannah Buxton
    Rosalind Ebbutt

Horror Film Review: Knock Knock (dir by Eli Roth)


 

Knock Knock starts out as a satire of vapid male fantasies before then becoming a vapid male fantasy.  It then transforms itself into a satire of vapid torture porn before then becoming vapid torture porn.  And, in the end, your main response will probably be, “Eh, who cares?”

Keanu Reeves plays Evan, an architect who has a nice house, a nice family, and a nice dog.  He also has an injured shoulder, which leads to him staying home while his wife and children spend the weekend at the beach.  Evan is looking forward to having the house to himself, especially when it starts to rain.  I mean, who wants to be at the beach in the middle of storm, right?  That night, Evan is relaxing in his home when he hears someone at the door.

Knock knock.

Two young women, Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Anna de Armas), are standing on his front porch, soaked.  They tell him that they’re looking for the address of a party and that their phone has gotten wet and could they please come inside for just a few minutes and get online and find the correct address?  Evan agrees.  Genesis and Bel enter the house.  They tell him that they’re models.  They tell him about their girlfriends.  They talk about their sex lives and Evan responds with a goofy smile.  They ask if they can take off all their clothes and toss them in a dryer.  Evan agrees.  “Uh, I’ve got some robes,” Evan says and it’s a funny line because Keanu Reeves sounds sincerely bewildered when he says it.

Anyway, you can tell where this leading.  It starts with a threesome and then it ends with the house getting destroyed and people getting buried alive and, to be honest, it gets a little bit boring after a while.  Perhaps if Evan was truly a loathsome character, as opposed to just an awkward Keanu Reeves, there would be some sort of joy in watching Genesis and Bel taunt him while destroying his home and destroying his wife’s artwork but instead it just amount to a bunch of repetitive taunting.  Despite all of their talk about how Evan represents the 1% and how quickly Evan was willing to cheat on his wife and potentially destroy his family, Genesis and Bel don’t come across as being revolutionaries or avenging angels.  Instead, they just seem to be overcaffeinated with no real reason for doing what they’re doing beyond the fact that there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise.

Keanu Reeves gives a strange performance in this film.  At the start of the film, he actually seems like he’s perfectly cast.  When Genesis and Bel first show up at his door, there’s some genuine wit to found in his confused reaction to the two girls.  But then, as the film progresses, Reeves has to start pretending to be desperate and that’s never really been his strong suit.  Perhaps because he’s trying to keep up with the hyper performances of Lorenza Izzo and Anna de Armas, Reeves starts to shout every single line and it just becomes rather humorous before then becoming rather dull.  “STOP IT!  I COULD GO DEAF!”  he shouts when the girls force him to listen to loud music.  Later, when he curses the girls, he sounds like a cartoon character talking about how much he hates Bugs Bunny.  I like Keanu Reeves but he’s just not a very good shouter.

I’ve defended Eli Roth in the past and I imagine that I’ll do so again in the future but it’s best to keep the door closed on Knock Knock.

Rian Johnson unsheathes the Knives Out Trailer


A filmmaker is sometimes only as good as their last film. If you mentioned director Rian Johnson’s name around 2012, it was probably met with wild applause. After all, he gave us the time travelling thriller Looper, with Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Mentioning Johnson now breeds a bit of contempt after his outing on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film was hit with reviews ranging from daring to awful, and most of the Star Wars fanbase don’t think of what he’s done there.

With his newest film, Knives Out, Johnson looks like he’s moving forward. The film appears to be a classic whodunit with a fantastic cast. Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Daniel Craig, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Katherine Langsford, and Jaeden Martell round out the cast list, which is pretty great overall. The story seems to cover the murder of a patriarch, and a family of suspects which reminds me of the classic Infocom game, Deadline.  Hoping for the best with this one.

Enjoy.