Tag Archives: jeff nichols

Midnight Special – Review

1 Jul

Science fiction is probably my favorite genre of film and literature because it can form such a huge spectrum of stories to be told. Recently, there’s been a huge influx of space films like the resurgences of Star Trek and Star Wars, but also completely original ideas like Christopher Nolan’s excellent work with Interstellar. If not space, the market seems flooded with science fiction via superhero films. What I don’t see a lot of are smaller films that still have a grand story to tell without all the bells and whistles of major Hollywood productions. This is partially why I was so interested with Jeff Nichols’ film Midnight Special, along with the fact that it stars my favorite actor, Michael Shannon. With my expectations raised pretty high, I’m thrilled to say that Midnight Special did not disappoint.

On a seemingly quiet night, and AMBER alert is issued for an 8 year old boy named Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher). It’s revealed that he’s safe and sound in a motel with his father Roy (Michael Shannon) and Roy’s close friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton). As the trio hit the road during the darkest hours of the night, the FBI raid a religious cult’s farmland to interrogate its founder, Pastor Calvin (Sam Shepard), who raised Alton since Roy and his wife, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), left the compound. The main interrogator is NSA communication analyst Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) who is more interested with how Calvin was able to get highly classified satellite communications through Alton. It’s soon revealed through Roy’s travels with Alton with the FBI and members of the cult hot on their tails that Alton may not be of this world, and while his origins are unknown to all parties involved, it’s evident that he’s about to reveal something that will change the world forever.

Let me just say, the way this story is told is fantastic. The structure that this narrative falls into is really the only way this story can be told. The film begins in medias res with Roy, Lucas, and Alton on the run and we as the audience don’t know why. This first part of the movie is so riveting because I really hadn’t the slightest idea of what everything meant. Was Alton an alien or some sort of experiment gone wrong? What was the deal with the religious cult? How powerful is Alton and what are his weaknesses. Nichols knows that with a story like this, there’s going to be some major questions and he uses that to the film’s advantage and creates this mysterious thread that totally morphs into a web. The atmosphere of science fiction blends well with the rural roads our travelers call home during the night, and the mystery of what is actually going on had me hooked from beginning to end.

My last review was of J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call, and I really liked that movie except for a problem with certain characters and their relevancy to the story. As much as I really liked Midnight Special, I feel like this film is a bigger offender of the same problem. Early in the movie we get introduced to the religious cult Alton comes from and its charismatic leader, Pastor Calvin. I really liked this element of the story in the way that it seemed to be blending science fiction and religion. It’s a theme that’s seen pretty frequently in the genre, but it felt really down to earth in this film. Unfortunately, this cult doesn’t really amount to much and the only impact they have on the story lasts a few scenes, one of them being quite intense. Still, I would have liked to see a lot more from the cult and especially from Sam Shepard’s character, Calvin, because he was really selling that role well.

Like I said, Midnight Special is science fiction brought down to earth. It’s something I felt like could be happening at this very moment, and I even thought about if I’ve ever driven past someone on a dark highway going through some extraordinary even like this, and I would never know. With these huge science fiction films taking us to different worlds and galaxies, it was refreshing to see a movie that just spans a couple of states with a story that deals with real people. While this movie isn’t action packed, it still has plenty of really unique special effects that I will forever associate with this film and some larger than life ideas that I feel pay off very well.

Midnight Special is truly just a wonderful story and I have to give Jeff Nichols credit for once again leading me down a road where I couldn’t have guessed the destination. This film works as science fiction, family drama, and as a mystery that’s wrapped in a very well shot and paced film. The only gripes I have come from some characters that feel underused or just completely forgotten. Still, this is some excellent science fiction that deserves more praise than it gets.

Final Grade: A

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Mud – Review

10 Sep

One of the things I’d love to do with my life is to be able to teach film, wether it’s film history, writing, or anything really. That being said, there are times where I watch a movie and I think, “That’s one that I would teach.” This is where Jeff Nichols’ film Mud comes in. Without a great screenplay, there’s no way for a movie to achieve true greatness, but when I say the screenplay for this movie is the best I’ve seen in a long time, I would not be exaggerating. It may be a slow moving story, but it is full of mystery, true to life characters, and a strong sense of pacing.

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Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) are two 14 year old boys growing up in De Witt, Arkansas. One day while investigating a boat stuck on the branches of a tree on an island on the Arkansas River, they meet a man named Mud (Matthew McConaughey) who is apparently using the boat and the island as a hide out. According to Mud, he is waiting there for his girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), to meet him there and start the rest of their lives together. The two boys become so enraptured by Mud’s tale of love and adventure that they start bringing him food and helping him get the boat down from the tree to get away on, but little do they know the danger that lurks from Mud’s past and the trouble that their curiosity might get them into.

When I say the screenplay for Mud is some of the best writing I’ve ever seen, I don’t think I’d be kidding you or myself.Everything that is said or done over the course of the movie is important in some way. Not only that, but this movie works great as both a coming of age drama and a suspenseful work of mystery. The mystery begins right away when the boys find a boat in a tree, which is a really intriguing plot device. to begin with. Thing get even more complex and interesting when they meet Mud and he begins telling them what his life has been like and why he’s hiding out like he is. The thing is, Mud can’t really be trusted and the fact that we’re seeing all this through the eyes of a fourteen year old boy makes it more questionable.

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Having this movie’s story told from the perspective of a fourteen year old is a very important element to the plot. When you’re fourteen, the world seems huge, but you’re ready to face it head on. I know that when I was fourteen, I would hear something and believe it no matter what anyone else told me. This makes the character of Ellis so complex, because he can be so easily molded by what’s around him. This also makes his interactions with Mud more intriguing and mysterious, because even I didn’t know what to make of Mud or how much to believe him. I feel like I’m ranting now. What I’m trying to say is that Mud is a super deep film with themes that span from adulthood to love and to truth, just to name a few.

This was shot during McConaughey’s big comeback. Before this there was Killer Joe and The Lincoln Lawyer, then there was Mud and finally Dallas Buyer’s Club for which he won the Academy Award. Needless to say, McConaughey gives a fantastic performance as Mud, who is both likable and, in a way, reprehensible. Even the kids give good performances. Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland have great chemistry and seem to have a great understanding of their characters. The only person I feel was underutilized was Reese Witherspoon. The scenes that she’s in are great, but she really isn’t in the film all that much.

Mud is one of the most well written movies I have ever seen, and anyone can feel free to disagree with me. It’s a deeply layered story of growing up and learning the truth from the adults around you, who are both liars and honest. I’ve seen comparisons to the works of Stephen King and Mark Twain, and I almost see this as a combination of their works. The only thing that doesn’t work is a tacked on ending that I don’t want to really get into. The bottom line is that Mud is a must see for the acting, the story, and the layers of the screenplay.