Midnight Special

“I was in NYC this past weekend (relative to writing, not posting). Somehow in between a matinee of She Loves Me and an evening show of Hamilton (!!!!!) (My five year anniversary present from work) I had just enough time to get in a screening of Midnight Special. Sucked having to run over ten blocks from Studio 54 in order to make it to the Times Square AMC in time, but it worked. And I had half of that morning’s rainbow bagels in my bag to feed me. In the dark, I wiped off the excess cream cheese, concerned it had spoiled in the couple hours they’d been hidden away, as I sat and watched what was such a fun movie that was right up my alley.

The movie stars a superb Michael Shannon as the father of a mysterious boy with special powers. With the help of a friend, Joel Edgerton, they are on the run from the cult-like ranch the boy and father once called home. They’re being pursued by the authorities, including an NSA operation led by Adam Driver. The whole thing is question after question after question. Who is this boy and what can he do and why? Where are they trying to get to? Why does do the people at the ranch see him as their savior?

I’m not sure if I walked in at the exact minute it was starting, or if I missed something. If I did miss something, I don’t think it was anything that would have answered those. But it was just the right level of questions. Not so unknowable that left me lost, but instead keeping me hanging on that perfect balance. More Donnie Darko or Birdman than Southland Tales or Mulholland Dr. I almost didn’t want to know the answers because I didn’t want to ruin the illusion. When this type of story telling is executed as expertly as it was here, I eat it all up (and no, I’m not talking about the rainbow bagels again).

The film was written and directed by Jeff Nichols, who’d previously teamed up with Shannon for Take Shelter and several other films. Nichols really knows how to best use Shannon’s talents and the two have a strange but effective magic together. Shannon is very much a favorite of mine, but with the exception of his Oscar nominated turn in Revolutionary Road under Sam Mendes, Nichols seems to be the only director who knows how to get the best out of this guy. Also, watching this film, I realized that sometime recently I must have grown up quite a bit because I found myself really attracted to how his character is so protective and attentive to his son. That’s a big step for someone who typically pines for the pretty boy in any movie. Buuuuut let’s just leave that thought and move on.

Nichols has said he drew a lot of inspiration from Spielberg and ET, and it definitely shows. Midnight Special has some of that same sense of wonder, by which I don’t mean that you’re wondering what’s going on. I mean, you are, but there’s a calm about it, not a confusion. In a time when so many films out there are just cookie cutter copies of each other, it’s nice to have something that truly feels different.

Midnight Special – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Stop-Loss

“Ryan Phillippe. Channing Tatum. Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Do I need any more reason to wanna see this movie? I’d missed it when it initially came out (those names didn’t mean as much to me eight years ago), but a couple years back when this movie returned to my radar, I spent some time tracking it down because I just had to see these boys together. And yeah, for fans of any of them, it’s certainly worth a watch.

Stop-Loss is a term that means that someone in the military who is expecting release, is instead called back to serve an additional amount of time. It’s a clause in their contracts that’s executed in wartime to keep a sufficient amount of personnel available. In the movie, we follow a group of friends who have just returned from serving in Iraq. They are each having their own difficulties in adjusting to civilian life and obstacles they need to overcome.

In the A storyline, Phillippe is a soldier who has been stop-lossed. Having served his time and not wanting to have to go back for another tour, we follow him as he considers the various extreme (and unpleasant) options before him. He’s a soldier who is done fighting, and no longer believes in the fight that is continuing.

His buddies, on the other hand, have different reactions. Tatum is a soldier through and through, who is having trouble letting go of the fight. He puts his commitment to serving his country above all else, including his longtime fiance left behind in their small hometown. JGL is facing depression, PTSD, and other mental issues that often plague our servicemen when they’ve left the battlefield. His wife is afraid of him and he can’t find a place for himself in the town he called home.

I like that we have these three distinct but entwined reactions. I wish we spent some more time on the B and C story intead of focusing on the A, though. Unfortunately, the film sort of lays it on thick, hitting you over the head with its message of how we need to support our returned troops. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a message I very much agree with. I just think it would have been more effective if it had a gentler, more subtle approach. Let the characters speak for themselves through their actions and don’t spell everything out in detail. Still, it’s a very moving film. Maybe not quite up to par with American Sniper (which deals with issues similar to our secondary guys), but it does have an important statement to make.”

The Big Lebowski

“I’m sure I’ve mentioned this somewhere along the way, but every year I go on a pub crawl with some friends along(ish) the freedom trail. For a few years, we had a game that involved randomly picking nametags that we had to answer to for the day. One year, I was “”The Dude””. All day, friends would ask whether or not I abide. My affirmative answer was met with cheers.

But I wasn’t always a fan of The Big Lebowski. In fact, I think it’s that day that may have convinced me to reconsider. The film was a hall favorite back at my dorm, and was often on in our tv lounge. For whatever reason, whenever I’d walk in on it playing, it was always the funeral-esque scene. That, and I recall often hearing someone say “”Shut the \m/ up, Donny””, which was occassionally jokingly directed at me, playing off our name similarity.

Revisiting The Dude, I’ve learned to compartmentalize the film a bit. I think what mostly turned me off before were the weird dream sequences and just the absurdity of the plot. Now, I just sorta ignored those elements, focused more on the Dude and his interactions with his buddies. That’s where the magic is. Just don’t try to think about it too much, which was my problem before. Simply abide.”

Eye in the Sky

“This was the perfect palate cleanser for the week’s previous mess of a movie. It expertly delivered everything I want in a movie: compelling story, top notch cast, gripping suspense, and it’s one of those that stays with you as you leave, haunting the trek home. Everything.

The movie is about a military operation, a join effort between Britain and the UK that has the opportunity to use a drone strike to take out a pair of suicide bombers, and 3 of the most wanted people in the region. The problem is that the potential collateral damage, includes a young girl, unknowingly parked right outside the blast zone. So what do you do in this situation? Do you risk the one child, knowing you’re saving at least dozens other men, women, and children? Or do you pull the trigger, sacrificing the one for the many? And what if there are also politics getting in the way?

I haven’t felt that level of suspense and tension in a while. Constantly on the edge of my seat, not knowing what was going to happen, or even what I wanted to happen. And the packed art house theater was right there with me. Gasps of surprise and sighs of exasperation and moments of pin drop silence abounded.

Let’s take a minute to talk about that cast, each actor greater than the next. Leading the charge was the glorious screen queen Helen Mirren. In a role that was initially intended for a man, she’s the colonel on the British side, wanting to execute the strike. I think this is one of her best roles. She commanded the screen with such authority, whoever decided to cross cast the role is genius. Her performance alone is worth watching.

Then there’s Aaron Paul, as the US airman guiding the drone that would be the one to release the weapon. Such intense emotion from him, he was certainly the heart of the movie. And a pleasant surprise to the cast, Barkhad “”I am the captain now”” Abdi, as the covert man on the ground. It’s wonderful seeing him getting work again, especially in a film of this calibur and he added some weight to what could have been an overlooked role.

Warranting his own paragraph, Alan Rickman as the British general overseeing the operation, in his final on screen role (he’s got one more film coming up, but it’s all voice work). That loud restraint that conveys so much with so little that he’s well known for was put to good use here. It’s a memorable and worthy role for him to go out on. Best part of the whole movie, one of his final lines lets him unleash as the badass we all know he is as he puts a colleague in their place and defends the reputation of servicemen everywhere. Uh-may-zing.

I cannot recommend this movie enough, and I’m sure we’ll see it landing on my year’s best list come January. It’s one of those “”This is why I go to the movies”” movies.

Eye in the Sky – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

Teeth

“Heh, so continuing off the afterthought about my name from my last post. Dawn is just common enough that it’s familiar, but it doesn’t really come up too often. This is true in life (while I’ve been in the same room as another Dawn, to my knowledge I’ve never actually interacted with one), and in films. Our protagonist here in Teeth is a Dawn, and I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this being one of my few namesakes.

On the one hand, yay strong female protagonist, and yay for quirky cult classic. On the other, she’s got quite a unique, um, trait that I don’t know that I wanna be associated with (and does it maybe scare the boys away, explaining my bad luck on the dating front?)

Right, I should probably explain for those that don’t know the premise. It’s about where the titular teeth are. At the risk of sounding prudish for not wanting to risk being vulgar by coming right out and saying it (as I wonder how many of my co-workers I’ve directed to this blog…), men are probably far more likely to be scared by this horror than the girls are. Yeah, that’s where those teeth are hidden….

Again, more horror in tone and genre than flat out scares, at least not that kind of scary for half of this world’s population.

Now what I’m finding scary is how much Dawn’s attitudes in the early film mimic the very Church-centric world I grew up in. Is that what we all sounded like? No wonder I had no friends in high school. And maybe this Dawn at that age had more in common with that Dawn than I realized (or remembered from the last time I saw this).

Eww. *Squelching sound* is what the subtitles said at a certain key event. I’m not gonna get that image (with audio effects) out of my head any time soon am I?

Ultimately, the movie is really about a young girl conquering and understanding her sexuality. The story just takes a really unconventional route to get there.”