Salty Air

Linklater’s latest, P’town fest and more – Play It Again, Tim

Sing Sing
Written by Tim Miller

I once decided I would try to be James Coburn.

You know. Cool.

It lasted about 10 minutes – until, while trying to eat sushi while driving, I accidentally knocked off my glasses with the chopsticks.

Not cool.

Still, director Richard Linklater’s new crime comedy, “Hit Man” (R, 115 minutes, in theaters and on Netflix), based on a true story, suggests that you can change your personality if you try hard enough.

Hit Man

Glen Powell and Adria Arjona star in Richard Linklater’s “Hit Man.” (Netflix Studios)

The film’s central character, Gary Johnson (Glen Powell), goes through such a transformation. Mild-mannered Gary teaches psychology and philosophy at the University of New Orleans while also working in undercover operations for the New Orleans Police Department. He initially works on a computer in a van for the undercover unit, until an emergency requires that he pose as a hit man. Gary suddenly must take on a different personality to make a convincing killer.

He’s successful – so successful, in fact, that he becomes the unit’s full-time bogus assassin, adapting his demeanor and appearance to fit each “client.”

All goes (comically) well, leading to a string of arrests, until Gary meets Madison Master (Adria Arjona), who wants to have her husband eliminated. Madison isn’t like Gary’s other clients, however. The husband is abusive; she says this is her last resort to get away from him. Gary breaks with protocol and talks her out of the hit, suggesting she just escape the situation. She takes his advice, but in the meantime they connect romantically, which, predictably, leads to complications.

The exact nature of those complications, however, isn’t clear. Is Madison for real, or are we heading into “Double Indemnity” territory that will lead to Gary’s destruction? Linklater manages to keep things relatively light despite the dark turns the story takes.

The film’s at its best in the funny early sequences, as Gary successfully takes on the tough, assured hit-man persona and fools a variety of customers into revealing their deadly intentions during restaurant meetings. The emphasis then shifts to the romantic sparks created by Gary and Madison (thanks to the chemistry of Powell and Arjona), before hitting the homestretch as the plot thickens.

Somewhere along the line, the movie loses some, though certainly not all, of its early steam. It’s still entertaining, but it doesn’t live up to its early promise.

Still, it did make me wonder: Should I try to be James Coburn again?

Nah. *** (out of four)

They see you when you’re sleeping …

Ishana Shyamalan has obviously been influenced by her dad, M. Night Shyamalan. Her feature-film directorial debut, “The Watchers” (PG-13, 102 minutes, in theaters), has a lot in common with Dad’s creepy, twisty horror efforts.

Not his best efforts, mind you, from more than 20 years ago: “The Sixth Sense,” “Unbreakable,” “Signs.” More like his so-so so-called shockers of late: “Old,” “Knock at the Cabin.”

In other words, “The Watchers” is watchable, but that’s about it. You’d be better off catching an old “Twilight Zone” episode.

The Watchers

Stop, hey, what’s that sound? Mina (Dakota Fanning) finds herself in the forest in “The Watchers.” (Warner Bros.)

Dakota Fanning plays Mina, an American living in Ireland. While she’s driving through a forest, her car breaks down, and she winds up in a remote cabin. Actually, she’s trapped in the cabin, with three other people – old woman Madeline (Olwen Fouere), young woman Ciara (Georgina Campbell) and boyish young man Daniel (Oliver Finnegan) – who have been there awhile.

The others explain to Mina that there are mysterious, deadly creatures outside who watch them at night through a kind of magic wall. “Just be yourself,” Mina is told. “That’s all they want.”

That’s not exactly correct, though. There are other rules. If the humans leave the cabin at night, their creepy fans will probably rip them apart. The captives can walk around the forest in the daytime, but there’s no way they can get out of the forest before nightfall, so it’s curtains for them if they go out too far.

They’re stuck.

It’s like a season of “Big Brother,” only without host Julie Chen Moonves, the lame competitions among houseguests, or much hope of ever getting back to the real world. There’s also a touch of “Dracula” (you know, the bad guys only come out at night and there’s a damsel named Mina) and a fairly healthy helping of “The Blair Witch Project” (you can get into the woods, but you can’t get out).

If all of this led to a big, scary payoff (like “Blair Witch”), “The Watchers” might have been something special. But it’s mostly all buildup without a knockout punch.

The best you can say is it’s somewhat creepy – you know, like “Big Brother.” **

‘Treasure’ not quite a gem

Some people can’t let go of the past. Some people want to move on.

That’s the situation in “Treasure” (R, 112 minutes, in theaters starting June 13), about a father-daughter trip that brings back memories of the Holocaust.

It’s 1990, and Rolling Stone writer Ruth (Lena Dunham), who’s 36, persuades her widower father, Edek (Stephen Fry), to travel with her to Poland.

“What Jew goes to Poland as a tourist?” Edek, a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, asks his daughter. But Ruth is determined to visit her father’s old home, which was taken from his family, and seek out other places where he lived, including the camp. Edek reluctantly joins her, but tries, without success, to steer her away from the places that bring both of them misery.

She thinks it’s important to confront the past. Edek figures he had enough of the past when it was the present, and would rather get on with his life.


Stephen Fry and Lena Dunham play father and daughter in “Treasure.” (Bleecker Street/FilmNation)

Directed by Julia von Heinz and adapted from a novel, “Too Many Men,” by Lily Brett, the film is “inspired by” a true story (Brett is a former music writer whose parents were Holocaust survivors).

While the conflicting views about how to deal with the past are potentially interesting, “Treasure,” which has been described as a tragicomedy, isn’t as moving, or as amusing, or as enlightening, as it’s apparently trying to be. Despite the heavy subject matter, you never get entirely pulled into the story; you’re always aware that it’s just a movie, that Dunham and Fry are just playing characters, regardless of whether they’re based on real people. Something’s missing here: the ring of truth. **½

Destination: Provincetown

Yep, it’s that time again:

The 26th annual Provincetown International Film Festival kicks off on Wednesday, June 12, and runs through Sunday, June 16. More than 80 movies are on tap this year, along with other events – including a special poolside showing of “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” the funny 1997 comedy starring Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow.

Sing Sing

Colman Domingo, foreground, stars in “Sing Sing.” Domingo will be honored at the Provincetown International Film Festival, which will also screen the film. (A24)

Director Andrew Haigh (“All of Us Strangers,” “45,” “Lean on Pete”) will pick up this year’s Filmmaker on the Edge Award, while Colman Domingo (“Rustin,” HBO’s “Euphoria”) will receive the Excellence in Acting Award. The new prison drama “Sing Sing,” starring Domingo, will screen at the festival, along with “Daddio,” starring Sean Penn and Dakota Johnson; “My Old Ass,” with Aubrey Plaza; and documentaries on Noel Coward, Liza Minnelli, Luther Vandross, Ani DiFranco, and the filmmaking team James Ivory and Ismael Merchant.

I plan to check out as much as possible, and will report on what I see.

More information:

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller, Movie Critic

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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