You Should Be Watching: June 21-27

Welcome to You Should Be Watching, my weekly opportunity to introduce you to a variety of great films, gems of the past and present, available for you to stream from Netflix, Amazon Prime, FilmStruck, and anywhere else streams are found.

This week, I’m recommending a film about a conversation starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson, a creepy psychological thriller featuring Joel Edgerton as writer, director, and actor, and the little-seen debut film by none other than the great Christopher Nolan. Also, among the heavy hitters, it’s your last chance to see Captain America: Civil War on Netflix, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi arrives there. It’s also your last chance for last week’s featured films, Room and the Human Condition Trilogy.

 


STREAMING PICKS OF THE WEEK


The Sunset Limited

Year: 2011

Director: Tommy Lee Jones

Genre: Drama

Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson

 

Based on a play written by Cormac McCarthy (The Road, No Country for Old Men), The Sunset Limited consists of a conversation between Black (Samuel L. Jackson), an ex-con believer, and White (Tommy Lee Jones who also directed), a suicidal atheist professor. While a film with no action that takes place in a single room may sound dull, believe me when I say this conversation is utterly riveting from the first words to the last, and the film is as dramatic, entertaining, emotional, and thought-provoking as any blockbuster.

Jackson and Jones play off each other with seeming ease and the nuance that comes with being experts in their craft. It’s fascinating to see ebb and flow of the dialogue as either Black or White finds his groove and pursues it. Likewise, the emotional beats affect how each carries on, whether in quiet introspection, attempts at humor, or bouts of indignance. Black’s eagerness to see White find hope and come to believe as he does while also being humorously honest about his own doubts is particularly refreshing.


 

The Gift

Year: 2015

Director: Joel Edgerton

Genre: Thriller, Drama, Mystery

Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Allison Tolman, Tim Griffin, Busy Philipps, Adam Lazarre-White, Beau Knapp, Wendell Pierce, Mirrah Foulkes, Nash Edgerton, David Denman, Katie Aselton, David Joseph Craig, Susan May Pratt, P. J. Byrne, Felicity Price, Melinda Allen, Beth Crudele

 

Simultaneously showing off Joel Edgerton’s talents as a writer, director, and actor, The Gift is a surprisingly effective creepy suburban mystery thriller that keeps you on edge and off balance throughout and might have you a little paranoid yourself coming out of it, but you’ll want to go in as blind as possible.

The story centers around married couple Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall), who following a miscarriage have moved back to near where Simon grew up in an attempt to leave the pain behind and get their relationship back on track again. Shortly after arriving, Simon has a chance but polite and friendly encounter with Edgerton’s character Gordo, who claims to know him from high school. But then a series of unnerving events start occurring that drive dread and paranoia into this already fragile marriage. This isn’t the funny Bateman, but it is the uncomfortable one and with an edge at that. The tale Edgerton has crafted is fiendishly clever and explores the power of fear and the importance of character and the nature of both in the context of a marriage.


 

Following

  

Year: 1998

Director: Christopher Nolan

Genre: Thriller, Crime, Drama

Cast: Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, John Nolan, Dick Bradsell, Gillian El-Kadi, Jennifer Angel, Nicolas Carlotti, Darren Ormandy, Guy Greenway, Tassos Stevens, Tristan Martin, Rebecca James, Paul Mason, David Bovill

 

Christopher Nolan has proven himself to be one of the world’s premier filmmakers with every one one of his films becoming appointment theater. Anyone that enjoys his work should definitely see the film that started it all. Despite its low budget, Nolan’s full-length debut is a tightly scripted and masterfully edited surprise, full of the seeds of his later work. It’s a crime thriller that though using an entirely different story acts as something of a test-run for the time-bending mind-bender Memento that put him on the map.

From the opening scene, the tone is set with a bit of now-familiar percussive score full of energy and tension as we’re introduced to the main character, who’s found himself in a bit of as-yet-unexplained trouble. It also soon becomes apparent that Nolan was exploring interweaved, out-of-order chronology even at this very early stage, and he thrives on misdirection and refusing to spoon-feed any details. Instead, he forces the viewer to pay attention to dialogue and visual cues such as a haircut and puffy eyes to alert the viewer to shifts in time. Quite bluntly, if you’re a Nolan fan, you need to be watching Following.

 


COMING AND GOING


LAST CHANCE (last date to watch)

NETFLIX

June 24
Captain America: Civil War (2016)

June 29
On Golden Pond (1981)

June 30
An Honest Liar (2014)
Before Midnight (2013)
King Kong (2005)
Michael Clayton (2007)
Tropic Thunder (2008)
V for Vendetta (2005)

From the Lethal Weapon Collection:

Lethal Weapon (1987)
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

 

AMAZON PRIME

June 23
Room (2013)

June 29
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (2016)
Basic Instinct (1992)
Friday the 13th (1980)
Marathon Man (1975)
The Music Never Stopped (2011)
A Simple Plan (1998)

June 30
Escape from New York (1981)
The Karate Kid (1984)
Mystic River (2003)
Sleepers (1996)

 

FILMSTRUCK

June 22
An American in Paris (1951)
An Angel at My Table (1990) *
The Human Condition I: No Greater Love (1959) *
The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity (1960) *
The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer (1961) *
The Piano (1993)

June 29
History Is Made at Night (1937)
The Italian Connection (1972)
The Music Man (1962)

From the Lars Von Trier collection:

Breaking the Waves (1996) *
Dogville (2003) **
Europa (1991) *
The Five Obstructions (2003)

June 30
Caliber 9 (1972)
It Happened One Night (1934)
The Ladykillers (1955)
Uptight (1968)

July 6
Husbands and Wives (1992)
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

July 8
Together (2000)

July 13
Losing Ground (1982)
Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

*  Remaining on the Criterion channel
** Remaining on the FilmStruck channel

 

HULU

June 30
Zodiac (2007)
Stories We Tell (2012)
A Simple Plan (1998)
Project Nim (2011)
Marathon Man (1976)
A League of Their Own (1992)


 

JUST ARRIVED

NETFLIX

In Bruges (2008)
A Little Princess (1995)
Set it Up (2018)

 

AMAZON PRIME

After Tiller (2013)
Duck, You Sucker (1971)
The Great Silence (1968)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
The Last Seduction (1994)
Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
Yellow Submarine (1968)

 

FILMSTRUCK

Ninotchka (1939)
Running on Empty (1988)
Queen Christina (1933)

 

HULU

Middle of Nowhere (2012)
Primal Fear (1996)
The Second Mother (2015)
Smoke (1995)
Tell Them Anything You Want: A Portrait of Maurice Sendak (2009)
The Untouchables (1987)


 

COMING THIS WEEK

NETFLIX

June 22
Brain on Fire — NETFLIX FILM (2016)
Us and Them — NETFLIX FILM (2018)

June 23
Tarzan (1999)

June 26
Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

 

AMAZON PRIME

June 26
Shutter Island (2009)

 


Jacob Neff is a film enthusiast living east of Sacramento. In addition to his contributions as an admin of the Feelin’ Film Facebook group and website, he is an active participant in the Letterboxd community, where his film reviews can be found. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with his latest thoughts and shared content.

Episode 105: Warrior

We square off in the octagon (aka Google Hangout) this week to talk Gavin O’Connor’s incredibly powerful fight film, Warrior. Its story of brothers chasing the same goal for very different reasons is told with an emotional depth that makes it stand out among similar films and evokes a powerful response from us both.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:29

(Aaron – Michael Mann and anime fever)
(Patrick – Jiro Dreams of Sushi)

Warrior Review – 0:20:22

The Connecting Point – 1:09:30


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Music: Going Higher – Bensound.com

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What We Learned This Week: March 11-17

LESSON #1: GIRLS SHOULD PLAY TOO— Setting off a firestorm of action on a Feelin’ Film Facebook group post this week was the announcement of a Rotten Tomatoes alternative specializing in female film critics.  Underserved and underrepresented, I’m all for a platform to celebrate and highlight different voices in film criticism.  The more the merrier.  Gender inequality is a rampant problem and opportunities like Cherry Picks (I hope a better name is coming) can only help the topic and add to the discussion.

LESSON #2: CAN WE BAN THE TERM “MADE IT FOR THE FANS” PLEASE?— Speaking of RT, over these recent ’10s years of Rotten Tomatoes gobbling up more public attention, the perceived backlash against low RT scores has set off soundbites from several stakeholders.  A prominent reaction a few years back was director David Ayers after Suicide Squad (video).  The latest is actor Joel Edgerton pushing back against the negative reviews bestowed upon the Netflix release Bright.  Both gentlemen used the term “made it for the fans” as a shield of righteousness for what they say was the intended purpose of their films.  Breaking news, Joel and David, critics are fans too.  They just have a wider and more published platform to voice their opinion.  Not all fans are going to like crappy films.  Want more fans, and therefore more critical, support? Make better films and earn more fans.

LESSON #3: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A DANNY BOYLE JAMES BOND FILM?— With director Sam Mendes not slated to return to the James Bond world after Spectre, audiences and news writers have been in a three-year guessing game of who will take over the helm of the spy franchise.  Word is that man could be Slumdog Millionaire Oscar winner and Trainspotting leader Danny Boyle.  Coupled with Trainspotting screenwriter John Hodge, I think the pair is an exciting fit for Bond.  Fun fact: Boyle directed Daniel Craig in a Bond-esque role opposite the Queen in his Opening Ceremony program of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.  Boyle and Hodge can add a pulpy edge and a different speed of kinetic energy to push the action and the character forward in interesting directions.  Whatever they concoct, you know it sure won’t be boring.

LESSON #4: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT A JON FAVREAU STAR WARS SERIES OR EVEN A GAME OF THRONES-ESQUE ONE?— In similar news, news landed that Iron ManThe Jungle Book, and current Lion King director Jon Favreau has been brought on to write and executive produce a live-action Star Wars series in the near future.  Favreau follows the February announcement of Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss being tapped to write and produce a new film series.  Like Boyle, I think the powers that be have found great hires.  Favreau brings of engaging storytelling, humor, and blockbuster know-how while the Benioff/Weiss team brings edginess and world-building strengths. All of the qualities can have an effective place in this universe.  The task now is for Disney not to micro-manage and fire them like the other top-notch talent they’ve brought in before.

LESSON #5: DISNEY IS THE HOLLYWOOD PLAYGROUND BALL HOG— Why are they the selfish superstar that doesn’t pass? Because they can be.  This month, Disney announced the calendar of their intended release dates for the next five years.  Disney has retained Marvel’s traditional reservation of the first weekends in May, the Star Wars pre-Memorial Day tradition, Pixar’s usual third-week-of-June slot, and their own Thanksgiving animation slot.  More and more, they are squeezing for the Fourth of July weekends, that magical Presidents Day/Valentine’s Day weekend in February (thanks, Black Panther), and bigger chunks of Christmas.  Disney is Kobe Bryant, the “seat’s taken” kids from Forrest Gump, the manspreading subway rider, and bank-buying billionaire all rolled into one with zero f–ks given.  When they show up, everyone else runs for cover.

LESSON #6: NETFLIX DOESN’T HAVE ANY QUIT RIGHT NOW— Ambition is one thing.  Resources is another.  The wild thing is when a creative outlet has both.  That’s Netflix right now.  The volume of original content they are putting out is downright insane.  You would think they can only get so much be money to be had from new subscribers.  That number has to level out and slow production, right?  Not anytime soon, according to Netflix.  They’re booming to have around 700 original shows and movies in the 2018 calendar year.  That’s beyond machine-like.  You wonder how much is too much or how much isn’t profitable.

LESSON #7: THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF AUDIENCE RESPONSIBILITY VERSUS STUDIO ACTIONS— Speaking of Netflix, Annihilation, filmmaker Alex Garland’s tepid box office loser and follow-up to Ex Machina, landed on Netflix only a few short weeks after a theatrical bow from big studio Paramount.  Indiewire’s Zach Sharf wrote an interesting take on the matter citing that part of the fault for the film’s failure is on the audience as much as it’s on Paramount.  He talks about “hard sells” and he’s right.  The general moviegoing audience pays for a more simpler fare than Annihilation.  That’s not a bad thing entirely, but that’s what’s making money.  Any diligent corporation should find the best scenario for earning and profit.  With Netflix throwing its money around, Paramount made an appropriate business decision and one, as it turns out, made more money than failing in the theaters.  I hate to say, but get used to these kinds of decisions and deals.  That’s the landscape.  They only people that can change that are the consumers and it’s going to take quite the unified and concerted effort to change trends.  Stop paying for Transformers films and give that money to risks like Annihilation if you want better products.  I’ve said this many times in this column and in the Feelin’ Film discussion group.  Whether we like it or not, this is a business first and an art exhibition second.


DON SHANAHAN is a Chicago-based film critic writing on his website Every Movie Has a Lesson.  As an elementary educator by day, Don writes his movie reviews with life lessons in mind, from the serious to the farcical.  He is a proud member and one of the founders of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle.  As a contributor here on Feelin’ Film, he’s going to expand those lessons to current movie news and trends.  Find “Every Movie Has a Lesson” on FacebookTwitterMedium, and Creators Media.

 

MOVIE REVIEW: It Comes At Night

Each time Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr., Birth of a Nation) picks up his lantern to wander the dark halls of his family’s  boarded up home, he strikes the image of a ghost- perhaps of a weary railroad conductor making his rounds. Tension builds with each creak of the floorboards, and the lengthening of shadows indicate that something ominous lurks. In his sophomore feature length effort, It Comes at Night, writer/director Trey Edward Shults proves sometimes less is more with horror.  Sometimes, what we don’t see is as unsettling as actually revealing the monsters that hunt us.

The audience isn’t given a lot to work with in regard to world building. There is the aforementioned house and the surrounding woods.  Nothing more is required.  The presence of gas masks posit some sort of airborne virus exists, and the gruesome illness that has befallen Travis’ grandfather indicates said virus isn’t screwing around.  Besides Travis, the house is occupied by his parents, Paul (Joel Edgerton, Loving) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo, Alien: Covenant), and the family dog.  Paul’s day-to-day routine is militaristic in nature- designed with safety and survival as priority.

When that safety is threatened, Paul is forced to make some uneasy decisions that will alter the dynamic he’s worked hard to sustain.  The fly in the ointment here is Will (Christopher Abbott, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), a survivor who attempts to break into the home in search of supplies for his family.  Will eventually convinces Paul that his intentions are honest, and with some prodding from his own family, Paul consents to bring Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough, American Honey), and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to live in the house and share resources.

Shults keeps traditional horror tropes at arms length.  He has no interest in burdening the audience with cheap jump scares or semi-visible ghoulies scurrying about.  The tension in It Comes at Night stems from the atmosphere Shults has created.  Most of the film is shrouded in a suffocating darkness- the fear of falling victim to the unseen virus keeping everyone on edge.  Shults doubles down on the uneasiness through his characters’ interactions.  Trust  between the families is paper thin, and one sideways glance can send the new household dynamic into chaos.

Our perspective of this story comes primarily from Travis.  The mood set by Harrison Jr.’s often unmoving gaze provides us a glimpse of a devolving world- a human condition that is gradually unraveling, fed by a lingering deceit and burgeoning mistrust.  The graphic nightmares Travis endures, perhaps symbolic of the film’s title, show us a consequence of the withering psyche of Travis as an individual that’s clearly seen too much.  Harrison Jr. sells all of it, and although we as the audience aren’t privy to any real context of what is happening in this world, the deconstructing of this one small segment of it is enough to earn our attention.

When we aren’t living in Travis’ worldview, the film treads along the interactions of Paul and Will.  Edgerton and Abbott volley their mistrust of each other back and forth, threatening their uneasy alliance almost minute by minute.  As an audience, we wait idly by for something to break.  Both actors succeed in playing off each other’s skepticisms, but each is bound by a sense of personal duty to do right be their family.  Alas, Ejogo and Keough serve little purpose beyond looking frightened and succumbing to direction from their men.

So what is Shults really playing at in It Comes at Night?  Is the virus used as a macguffin to get at a more intimate portrait of social constructs?  Does it really matter whether any of the characters fall victim to unseen horrors when the clear and present danger presents itself within their own interactions?  A lot of time is spent worrying about what lies on the other side of a creepy red door, when the true horrors may reside on the same side as the people who are doing the worrying.

No doubt there are people who will walk away confused, or perhaps even angry.  It’s a consequence of ambiguity. The ending is not conducive to filmgoers needing answers, but that doesn’t mean answers can’t be had.  Monsters don’t always need to be tangible things with sharp teeth and fangs.  But just because we can’t always see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  Paranoia is a big motivator, and it hangs like a thick fog over this story.  How you reconcile the themes within the film, and especially the ending, probably depends on the way your own life mirrors certain aspects within- the losses you’ve been dealt- the people you’ve had interactions with.  It Comes at Night dares to play with those subconscious thoughts and invites you to explore them for yourself.  Sometimes the true horrors lie within us.

Rating:

 

Episode 5: It Comes at Night

Raw, fully spoiled, instant reactions after leaving the theater. This film is not what trailers made it seem. Instead it is a deep, psychological family drama that had the potential to leave viewers seriously confused. Aaron and Don talk through their emotions and try to figure out exactly what this film means.

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Intro/Outro Music – “Seeing the Future” by Dexter Britain

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