Tag Archives: sam shepard

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

Advertisements

The Right Stuff – Review

8 Mar

To me, the idea of going into space is like the worst thing ever. I’m quite comfortable staying down here on good old planet Earth for the rest of my life. For some people however, that just isn’t enough. Take for example the Mercury Seven, the American astronauts that were some of the first people to go to space, and the very first people to orbit the Earth. This is the story of The Right Stuff, a movie by Philip Kaufman based off of the book by Tom Wolfe. It’s a very interesting and adventurous movie that tells the stories of these astronauts very well, and for that I applaud it. On the other hand, this movie is goes on for what seems like forever and could have been either trimmed down or made into two separate movies.

Right_stuff_ver1

The story begins back in 1947 when there was a belief that it was impossible that it was impossible to reach the speed needed to surpass Mach 1 and break the sound barrier. That is until UNSAF pilot Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) stood up to the challenge and pushed the Bell X-1 jet faster than any before it and broke the sound barrier. This opens up many doors for scientific aeronautic progression for the United States, and pressure begins building as the United States enters the space race with the Soviet Union. The rest of the film follows the Mercury 7 astronauts (Dennis Quaid, Ed Harris, Scott Glenn, Lance Henriksen, Scott Paulin, Fred Ward, and Charles Frank) and their different experiences training, finally going into space, and the effect it has on their social status and families.

No one can really deny that the story of The Right Stuff may be one of the greatest stories ever told. In all aspects, it’s a story of bravery, camaraderie, and love all woven together by historical truths and the knowledge that most of what we see really happened. The events shown in this movie are crucial scientific breakthroughs, and that being said, I wish this was a longer movie. Well, sort of. Watching this film in one sitting was pretty daunting, and by the end I was ready for it to be over. What I mean is that this is another one of those movies that would’ve have been a lot better if it was turned into a mini series. There’s so much history in The Right Stuff that sometimes feels glazed right over. Despite it’s run time of three hours and fifteen minutes, I still felt that there was more of a story to tell.

the-right-stuff-1024x576

The Right Stuff got its limited release in October of 1983, while Return of the Jedi got released in May of that same year. I’m saying this because I want everyone to have an idea of what sort of special effects could be accomplished at that time. For 1983, The Right Stuff had some pretty incredible special effects that still hold up today. Using practical effects like models, stock footage, and other unique effects, the effects in this movie gave it a very authentic feel. I also have to mention Caleb Deschanel’s beautiful cinematography that helps bridge the gap between authentic and cinematic.

It’s impossible to talk about The Right Stuff without mentioning its truly all star cast. Not only is it a very large cast, but its a cast that does their jobs very well. My personal favorite performances come from Ed Harris as John Glenn and Dennis Quaid as Gordon Cooper, although Scott Glenn’s portrayal of Alan Shepard is also memorable. They’re all just so into their characters, and Ed Harris especially could be John Glenn’s doppelgänger. The only person I feel is underused is Lance Henriksen. I’m a big fan of Henriksen, so the more I see of him the better.

The Right Stuff may feel like it goes on forever and it may get kind of cheesy with its over the top patriotism, but it is still one hell of a movie. The special effects, performances, music, and cinematography are all top notch and it tells a really great story, even if some of it isn’t all too accurate. While it wasn’t met with much attention when it was released, The Right Stuff is now regarded as a landmark film of the 1980s, and I can certainly understand why and wholeheartedly agree.