Category Archives: Now Showing


Producers: Anthony Bregman, Charlie Kaufman, Robert Salerno and Stefanie Azpiazu   Director: Charlie Kaufman   Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman   Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis, Gay Boyd, Hadley Robinson, Gus Birney, Abby Quinn, Colby Minifio, Anthony Grasso, Teddy Coluca, Jason Ralph, Oliver Platt, Jason Ralph, Frederick C. Wodin, Ryan Steele and Unity Phelan   Distributor: Netflix

Grade:  B

As was the case with Spike Jonze’s 2002 “Adaptation,” ostensibly a film version of Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief,” screenwriter Charlie Kaufman—who also directs here—has employed Iain Reid’s novel more as a springboard for his own fancies rather than a source to be followed slavishly.  The operation isn’t as radical this time around—Kaufman doesn’t turn the original into the story of a struggle to write a screenplay rather than an adaptation in any real sense—but it is substantial, reworking the material into something expressive of his own obsessions: while preserving to a great extent the skeleton of Reid’s book, Kaufman has made it his puzzle as much as the author’s.

The result is a film that will fascinate—though perhaps also infuriate—admirers of Reid’s work.  But it’s also likely to exasperate many Netflix subscribers who might tune in to it nonchalantly.  It’s a good thing the service apparently count as viewings any call-ups that last for only a few minutes, but one can easily imagine a lot of impulse viewers bewildered after five or ten minutes and clicking over to something else.  For them, the title might become something of a suggestion—“I’m Thinking of Ending This.”  But giving up on it would be a mistake, though at over two hours the film will tax your patience as well as your ability to decipher obscure clues.

The first act involves a long drive through a snowstorm to a remote farmhouse.  The driver is Jake (Jesse Plemons), a talkative, if somewhat insistent fellow who might be a teacher, given his occasional mention of students.  His passenger is a “young woman” (as she’s identified in the closing credits) whose name changes throughout the film (it’s usually, but not always, Lucy) as also does her profession (at one moment she’s identified as a biologist, at another a painter or poet, and at one point a gerontologist).  She’s the person who’s thinking about ending things with Jake, whom she’d met only a few weeks back at a trivia contest (at least in one version—elsewhere she’ll offer several different accounts, one in particular much less positive).  And he seems to intuit what she’s thinking. 

When they arrive at his childhood home, Jake insists on first showing her around the frigid barn, where she observes a pile of dead lambs among the sheep and Jake tells her a gruesome story about the pigs, which died after becoming infected with maggots.  Finally they go in to meet his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis).  She’s high-string and hard of hearing; he vacillates between being overly friendly and abrasive, and boasts a British accent that’s wildly out of place.  Throughout the evening—especially at dinner, where nobody seems to eat a bite before the guest begins clearing the table—Jake is irritable and nonplussed over his parents’ gushing over him, often getting their stories wrong.

But most extraordinary is the fact that mom and dad grow older and younger over the course of the visit.  At times the father is relatively spry and dark-haired, at others grey, doddering and Alzheimer-ridden.  In her younger self the woman is imperious, demanding her guest help with the laundry; then she’ll be bedridden and near death.  The conceit might remind you of the finale of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and the theme of time shifting is italicized by the fact that at one point a television is shown playing an old Mr. Peabody and Sherman cartoon. 

Meanwhile the guest investigates Jake’s childhood room.  She finds there a book of poetry which includes the very work that she’d recited on the drive up as her own latest composition.  She also spies a collection of film reviews by Pauline Kael; and one might also glimpse a DVD of the Ron Howard movie “A Beautiful Mind.”  Later, when she visits the basement—the door of which is marked by deep scratches, as if someone has desperately clawed at it—she sees on calendars paintings that, at dinner, she had called up on her phone and identified as her own.

Eventually the young couple leave, after Jake has laboriously put on the tire chains he’s frequently mentioned as insurance that they’ll be able to get back to the city that night, since she has work in the morning.  During the drive they get into a quarrel over a film—John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence,” which she denigrates in words drawn from Pauline Kael’s vitriolic review, though she gives no notice that she’s quoting it.  Jake insists on stopping at an isolated ice cream drive-in called Tulsey Town, whose jingle the two sing while an old TV commercial for the place plays on the windshield. 

The three girls managing the joint—two giggly blondes (Hadley Robinson and Gus Birney) and a somber brunette (Abby Quinn) who claims to be scared—seem oddly situated at the deserted store, and Jake hangs back as his girlfriend orders their smoothies.  Once back in the car, they argue again whether the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is about rape (on the way up they’d disagreed over the subtext of “Many A New Day” from “Oklahoma!,” which gave Jake an opportunity to show his knowledge of Broadway musicals—until he suddenly wants to find a trash can to deposit the smoothies in, afraid they’ll slime up his cup holders.

That takes them down a snowy side road to Jake’s old high school, where he insists on going in after claiming to see someone watching from a window.  Eventually the girl, who’s been insisting they hurry their drive back, follows him inside.

There she encounters a character we’re been seeing periodically throughout the film—a dour old janitor, who mops up the high school hallways as students drift by.  We also observe him eating lunch while watching a “Robert Zemeckis” romantic comedy on TV—which relates a “cute meeting” of a couple that’s suspiciously familiar.  Elsewhere he happens on a rehearsal of a number from the annual student musical—none other than “Oklahoma!”—featuring two girls we meet elsewhere. 

Now our heroine finds the janitor in the school when she goes looking for Jake.  She angrily tells another tale about how they met, and then suddenly she (now played by Unity Phelan), a younger version of the janitor (Frederick C. Wodin) and a far handsomer Jake (Ryan Steele) are caught up in a performance of the dream ballet from “Oklahoma!” which is in turn followed by a sequence in which a much older Jake (Plemons again) is receiving an award for service in which appears to be a huge retirement celebration, with an audience consisting of virtually everyone we’ve met before, most aged too.  He gives a tearful speech that you might have heard before, and then walks onto the set of “Oklahoma!” to sing one of its songs—the painful lament “A Lonely Room,” sun in the show by Jud Fry, the third dancer in the dream ballet.  We then cut back to the old janitor, who goes out to his truck and strips before being led back into the building by another bout of animation—a talking pig, dropping maggots as it goes. Or at least he imagines this. 

It might take more than a single viewing to tease out what all of this (and much more) is designed to convey (in fact, two or three might not do it): as it turns out, the gist is not unlike Reid’s, but it’s much embellished.  Kaufman poses existential questions about past and present, reality and illusion, memory and fantasy, love and its absence in the form of a giant puzzle with moving parts and esoteric reveals sprinkled along the way.  You might complain that, in the end, his script is much about relatively little—that the message it ultimately presents is less profound than Kaufman intends.  Or you might find it philosophically deep.  It’s certainly funny in places and very sad in others.

Whatever the case, though, if you give yourself over to it, you should find the film worth the effort, simply for the pleasure of trying to connect the dots—and even if you can’t discern what some of them mean.  Certainly the performances are superb down the line, with Plemons—looking and sounding increasingly like Philip Seymour Hoffman—and Buckley (“Wild Rose”) both extraordinary and Thewlis and Collette not far behind. The physical production—Molly Hughes’s production design, Łukasz Żal’s cinematography, Robert Frazen’s editing,  Jay Wadley’s score, Peter Walker’s ballet choreography, Rosa Tran’s animation—is impeccable.  The actors and craftspeople have collaborated with remarkable discipline and dedication to realize Kaufman’s vision, though it’s one that might send many viewers away scratching their heads.

Incidentally, the Pauline Kael review the girlfriend quotes from doesn’t appear in the book that she finds in Jake’s old bedroom.  The Kael anthology it’s actually reprinted in is one entitled “Reeling,” which is what “I’m Thinking About Ending Things” is likely to leave you doing, love it or hate it.  Like all of Kaufman’s films, it’s a cerebral challenge, but unlike most of them, it’s a challenge worth taking on. 


Grade: C

In the aftermath of the enormous success of “Jaws,” a cascade of movies about dangerous predatory animals chowing down on people followed; one was “Alligator,” a 1980 effort bolstered by a clever script from John Sayles that balanced shocks with a tongue-in-cheek approach. (A dreadful sequel came ten years later.) Alexandre Aja’s latest is a throwback to that era, but though it might be the director’s best movie to date, that’s not really saying much. An efficiently-made but progressively more absurd genre exercise, even at less than ninety minutes it wears out its welcome well before the predictable close.

Though actually shot in Serbia, the story by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen is set in Florida, as the state is at the point of being battered by a hurricane named Wendy. Haley Keller (Kaya Scoledario), who’s on a swimming scholarship at Florida State but is having trouble concentrating because her parents have separated, gets a call from her sister about not being able to reach their father Dave (Barry Pepper); could Haley check on him?

Haley finds Dave’s apartment empty save for his dog Sugar (Cso Cso)—which she considerately takes along—and, ignoring instructions from kindly local cop Wayne (Ross Anderson), drives through police barricades to reach the old family homestead and search for dad; she might be estranged from him now, but they were extremely close when she was a kid (played by Tina Pribicevic in flashback) and he was her coach. She locates him trapped in the crawlspace under the house, where he was injured putting up protection for the pipes, and now must try to free him before the storm hits with full force and the rising waters flood the place. But as she struggles to extricate him, not only do the waters come, but a couple of huge alligators worm their way in through a drainage pipe.

The rest of the movie is just an extended series of hair’s-breadth escapes from the jaws of death, complete with lots of gotcha moments as the gators periodically lurch into the frame with teeth showing, although Haley does suffer some nasty bite marks in the process, and in order to become ambulatory again, Dave has to reset a bone in his leg—a pretty gruesome operation Aja and his cameraman Maxime Alexandre shoot up close. Of course since the the episodes have to escalate in intensity, the ridiculousness quotient goes up at each step, until finally a tidal surge (apparently from a dam) forces Haley and Dave to scramble up to the roof to avoid the raging waves. Since both of them make some pretty boneheaded moves along the way (Haley ventures into danger to retrieve her cellphone, Dave keeps yelling out stuff like “You can do it!”), you might find yourself occasionally inclined to root for the gators.

Because it would be inconceivable to allow either of our heroic protagonists—the spunky girl or the father she’s trying to reconnect with—to bite the dust (or get gobbled up), the makers have to insert others to act as gator grub; you can’t have a horror movie of this sort without a few gory deaths, after all. So at one point three looters show up to drag an ATM and whatever else they can carry from a nearby convenience store, and at another Wayne and his partner come by to check on Dave and Haley. You can guess what happens to them all.

It must have been a difficult shoot for Scoledario and Pepper, thrashing about in mud and water as they must, and they get through it all right, even if their characters are—as is so often the case in movies like this—paper-thin. The other humans are even blander, but Cso Cso puts up with everything like the good doggie s/he is (which is not unimportant, given that Aja and editor Elliot Greenberg are pretty shameless about inserting reaction shots of the animal at every opportunity). The survival of the canine will be more important to some viewers than that of the pet’s owners, of course, so the makers are careful to keep Sugar’s safety along the way a primary concern.

More important, of course, are the alligators, who appear early and often. The effects, which presumably involved the use of plastic mock-ups and CGI (with perhaps an occasional shot of a real critter to add a note of pure realism), are okay, if sometimes a bit risible—the fault of a screenplay that too frequently demands a suspension of disbelief greater than what’s possible. That goes for the storm and water visuals too, though the final wall of waves that nearly submerges everything smacks of old-fashioned model work that Alexandre and Greenberg can’t entirely disguise. (Incidentally, would helicopters really be flying overhead at the height of a hurricane?) Generally speaking, the Serbian locations are reasonably good stand-ins for Florida, decked out as they’ve been with American signage, but the set decoration sometimes goes to extremes in the clutter department (Alan Gilmore was production designer).

Throughout “Crawl” the laughs are entirely unintentional—Aja plays things out with utter, grim seriousness. It’s therefore a jolt when he abruptly replaces the brooding score by Max Aruj and Steffen Thum with the goofy fifties pop tune “See You Later, Alligator” over the final credits. It was fine when one of the “Nightmare on Elm Street” pictures switched on “Mr. Sandman” at that point because those movies always had a jokey undertone, but here the choice seems designed to persuade viewers that the movie was always intended as a lighthearted riff rather than a genuine thriller. It seems that Aja is hedging his bets–as well he might, given how old-fashioned, despite its modern effects, the movie is.