‘Knock at the Cabin’ and ‘To Leslie’

Knock on the cabin isn’t it M. Night Shyamalan’s worst movie (we’ve already seen a couple of those). However, however skillfully it is made, it is also a bit boring, and – a handicap in a horror film – it is not even scary. The picture is based on the 2018 novel by Paul Tremblay, from a screenplay by Steve Desmond and Michael Sherman that Shyamalan rewrote. Why did he neglect to grasp the word Door at the end of the title is a problem that will have to be solved between him and his god (please bear with me, people).

Tremblay’s story has been adapted for audience-pleasing purposes, but the gist remains the same. A pair of gay fathers named Andrew (Ben Aldridge) and Eric (Jonathan Groff) have rented a luxury lakeside cabin for a vacation with their adopted seven-year-old daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui). The little girl was playing outside when suddenly a very large and heavily tattooed man appeared. His name is Leonard (Dave Bautista in full gentle giant mode), and he’s soon joined by three other strangers: a couple of women named Sabrina and Adriane (Nikki Amuka-Bird and Abby Quinn) and a hot ex-convict named Redmond (Rupert Grint). .

After breaking into the cabin to talk to Andrew and Eric, the four uninvited visitors explain what’s on their minds. They are doomsday men, gathered in the feverish swamps of the Internet and driven in this direction by a force they cannot name. The only thing they are sure of is that the apocalypse is on the horizon and very soon the oceans will rise, the sky will fall and eternal darkness will descend. But they also believe that all of this can be avoided if dads and their daughters volunteer to sacrifice one of their lives for the common global good. Leonard and his co-workers are a little vague about it all, and Andrew loudly scoffs at their concern. But after the big man turns on the TV in the cabin and we see reports of devastating tsunamis and deadly virus outbreaks pouring in, Eric starts munching on the Kool-Aid and wondering if maybe something biblical is going on here.

This is quite a Shyamalan twist. What we fear most here is not traditional rites of torture, but the intrusion of ancient irrationality into our orderly modern lives. Shyamalan doesn’t want to go all supernatural though (that didn’t work well in his last film, the awful Old), so he doesn’t dramatize the roles in the story in a flabby, satisfying way. It’s also odd that, given the film’s R rating, it does its best to act like a PG-13 picture, averting its eyes whenever a throat needs to be slashed or a leg stomped on. Unfortunately, this restraint doesn’t spare us the discomfort of a television commercial for chicken featuring – who else? – unfortunately the indomitable Shyamalan himself.

For Leslie

The Oscar races are basically a series of very expensive awards campaigns that take place at various critics’ polls and film festivals around the world. By this point in the process—we’re now about six weeks away from the Oscars, which are scheduled to take place in Los Angeles on March 12—most of the favored pictures and players have become famous through mere talk-show cramming. However, when this year’s nominations were announced last week, no one expected Andrea Riseborough’s name to appear among such rich actresses as Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Williams and Ana de Armas. And very few people, even in the industry, had even heard of the film for which Riseborough was nominated—the so-called. For Lesliewhich tiptoed into theaters last October and then tiptoed back after grossing a measly $27,000.

This could have been the start of an exciting underdog story – except that Riseborough and her film had valuable word-of-mouth help from such well-placed parties as Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet and Edward Norton. This quickly prompted accusations of dishonesty and even racism (see story here). Only now, with For Leslie available to rent on Amazon Prime, many people finally watch it—and discover that it’s a pretty great movie, and Riseborough is sensational in it.

The picture is about a battered Texas drunk named Leslie (Riseborough), who once won $190,000 in the lottery and then spent every penny, mostly on booze and lots of thirsty friends. As the film opens, six years later, Leslie is evicted from a cheap motel and is forced to turn to her estranged teenage son, James (Owen Teague), for support. James tries, but Leslie screws up, as usual, and soon has to hand her over to a pair of former friends, Nancy and Dutch (Allison Janney and Stephen Root), who now despise her. Luckily, she eventually ends up on the doorstep of a good-natured motel manager named Sweeney (Marc Maron), and together they make their way to the film’s inevitable (so what?) happy ending.

For Leslie is a lively low-budget example of what can be done with talent and determination and not much else. Riseborough is excellent, never stumbling or bumbling to illustrate the toll of alcoholism, but subtly pulling back the curtain on the spiritual misery it has created in Leslie’s life. Actress and first feature film director Michael Morris (TV veteran known for series like Better call Saul and 13 reasons why) shape scenes with an intuitive touch that is magical to behold. Meanwhile, Marc Maron is staying busy making every possible argument for his own Best Supporting Actor award. This is a bare-bones film, but it’s richly made and filled with heart and wonder.

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