Movie Review ~ Mother’s Day

mothers_day

The Facts:

Synopsis: Three generations come together in the week leading up to Mother’s Day.

Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Britt Robertson, Timothy Olyphant, Hector Elizondo, Jack Whitehall

Director: Garry Marshall

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 118 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (1/10)

Review: At one point not too far into the two very long hours of Mother’s Day I became convinced the movie was created by space aliens branching out into the film industry. No, really. I mean, how else to explain away this stinker which is an utter black hole of laughs, common sense, and good taste? The third of director Garry Marshall’s ensemble movies comes after the equally stinky Valentine’s Day and the dead on arrival New Year’s Eve; one shudders at the thought of Bastille Day getting the greenlight in a few years.

I’m a fan of ensemble movies that weave together multiple storylines to show the cross currents of life for a group of people. Robert Altman did that to perfection in Short Cuts and I’ve always had a fondness for Willard Carroll’s surprisingly wise Playing by Heart. Marshall, on the other hand, is no Altman and aside from snagging two solid leading ladies to roll around in this slop fest he’s compiled a cast of questionable talent ranking high on the nepotism meter. Stick around for the credits, not just for bloopers much funnier than anything that came before it but to count how many Marshalls show up in the cast roster.

If the acting is overall dreadful, the script from Anya Kochoff-Romano, Matt Walker, & Tom Hines is a poo-ey potpourri of archaic lameness, saddling Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Secret in Their Eyes) with meeting the daughter (Britt Robertson, Tomorrowland) she gave up for a career and somehow making her seem like a “less-than”, and having poor Jennifer Aniston (Cake) play yet another divorcee with an ex-husband that’s married a younger woman worried about losing the affection of her kids to her barely legal replacement. Jason Sudekis (on his fourth outing with Aniston after We’re the Millers) is a widowed dad of two girls that’s shocked when his eldest daughter asks him to buy tampons…nevermind that their mom (played in an embarrassing cameo by someone that’s already had a pretty tough year on the marriage front) has been dead for nearly a year.  Did she just have a box from Costco that lasted that long? Let’s not forget Kate Hudson (The Reluctant Fundamentalist) being surprised by her backwards-thinking parents who blaze into town in a Winnebago, only to find one daughter (Sarah Chalke) is a lesbian and their other daughter has married a, wait for it, “towelhead”.

There’s no reality or time to speak of in Marshall’s fantasy-land where people can not only select, finance, and purchase expensive cars overnight but have personalized license plates made (at the all-night license plate store?) and don’t even get me started on how a character living in Las Vegas can fly to Atlanta in under an hour. Then there are the extravagant parties planned in the time it takes to boil water, the curated wedding that happens mere moments after a proposal, the appearance of Kate Hudson’s gigantic ear, and that famously terrible wig Roberts is sporting.

No doubt about it, this is one surreally awful film and likely (hopefully?) the last time Marshall will sit in a director’s chair. From the annoyingly bouncy soundtrack, obviously produced by someone who last picked out the tunes for a JC Penney’s in Tucson, to the outright gaffes that show how rushed this film was, I’m constantly reminded what a hack director Marshall is…when he does get a film right (Beaches, Pretty Woman) it almost seems like a mistake. The only mistake you can make here is seeing this…and I’ll say this right now: if you take your mom to this you’re a terrible child.

Movie Review ~ Green Room

1

green_room_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: After witnessing a murder, a punk rock band is forced into a vicious fight for survival against a group of maniacal skinheads.

Stars: Patrick Stewart, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots, Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Callum Turner, Mark Webber, Eric Edelstein, Macon Blair, Kai Lennox

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: This is how I know I’m getting old. When I watch America’s Funniest Home Videos, I cringe when people fall down instead of rolling on the ground laughing like I used to. At amusement parks, I think about hurting my back when considering a towering rollercoaster. And overly gory films cause me to yelp and cover my eyes as I squirm in my seat instead of satisfying the demented cinematic bloodlust that drove me directly to the horror section of any video store I ever entered as a youth.

So you have to understand why Green Room was such an uncomfortable, yet thrillingly visceral, experience for me. Following a punk rock band of stoned out millennials into a backwoods neo-Nazi bar where they find themselves targeted for extermination, Green Room is one of those films you must steel yourself up for. The violence is shocking and sickening, not just because it comes out of nowhere but because it feels like some taboo boundaries of taste are being broken. Stomachs are slit open, throats are mangled, limbs nearly severed…and that’s just the tip of the bloody iceberg director Jeremy Saulnier has in store for audiences that dare to enter.

It’s safe to say that any film that boasts Patrick Stewart (The Wolverine) as its headline star has some level of sophistication and for all the entrails spilled and bones broken it’s a handsomely made picture, well-designed to feel contained yet not claustrophobic. Dimly lit interiors go nicely with the stark solemnity of the northwest forest that surrounds the club and the band as they spend a night trying to survive Stewart and his gang of skinheads.

With a breaking voice that sounds like he’s just getting it back, Anton Yelchin (Only Lovers Left Alive) is a gangly hero that spends the first twenty or so minutes in a quiet daze only to be jolted into the present by the very unfortunate circumstance he finds himself in. Alia Shawkat (The To Do List), Joe Cole (Secret in Their Eyes), and Callum Turner (Victor Frankenstein) are his bandmates, all distinctly written by Saulnier even without an excess of defining dialogue.

Who lives and who dies isn’t as clearly telegraphed as you may think, with allies popping up in unlikely places only to not be the saviors we think they are. Sporting a new wave mullet, Imogen Poots (That Awkward Moment) glums around the perimeter of the action and is barely a presence until she’s called into action. Saulnier isn’t afraid to dispatch characters with little fanfare or reverence, yet the sadness of their violent deaths weighed heavily on my mind for days after.

It’s a fairly haunting film overall, with no real satisfaction gained when the credits roll. What gratification is present is seeing a director making the most out of his remaining time helming indie-ish projects. After the success of Blue Ruin and now this razor sharp crime thriller, it’s clear that while the characters he writes go down hard, Saulnier is only going up.

Interview ~ Ryan Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, & Blake Jenner from Everybody Wants Some!!

1

12961689_10154754863242729_4074908094214299707_n

Though I’d always been interested in movies and how they are made, I’ve strangely never felt the need to be the one that sits down and talks to filmmakers, actors, and production crew to get the skinny on what efforts went into making the film.  I figured I’d leave that to those with a bigger vocabulary, better follow-up questions, and less inclination to get too star-struck.  However, in my time as a Midwest movie critic I’ve had several opportunities to have some face to face conversations with the actors and/or creative personnel and found that I’ve started to enjoy the chance to ask the questions I, as a critic and more importantly a fan, wanted to know.

This latest interview with three of the stars of Everybody Wants Some!! felt like I had snagged an invitation to the cool kids table.  Here were three handsome actors on the rise that had a unique experience in making the film and though one of them appeared a little sleepy (understandably so) when they stopped by the Hard Rock Cafe in the Mall of America, all three were gracious with their time and thoughtful in their responses. They may have been asked similar questions on their whirlwind promotional tour but they sure made their answers feel individualized and not the least bit like a canned reply dictated by their studio.

In a group interview with fellow local critics Ryan Sanderson of Minnesota Connected,  Paul McGuire Grimes of Paul’s Trip to the Movies, and Jonathon Sharp of WCCO, Ryan Guzman (The Boy Next Door, Jem and the Holograms), Tyler Hoechlin (best known for MTV’s Teen Wolf), and Blake Jenner (TV’s Glee and Supergirl) reflected on their time on the set of Everybody Wants Some!!, what it was like to work with director Richard Linklater, how they prepared for their roles as college kids in the days before school begins, and what they took away from the process.

Everybody Wants Some!! is being promoted as a “spiritual sequel” to Linklater’s cult favorite from 1993, Dazed and Confused.  While Dazed takes place on the last day of high school in 1976, EWS!! follows a team of college baseball players over the course of a long weekend in 1980 before school starts up again.

Asked about the different approach Linklater took between high school and college, Guzman responded “I think high school is more ‘succumbing to the man’, being told what to do, living under a regime. College is more of a free experience, finding out what you’re capable of. Two different experiences, two different time periods, two different ways of telling a story.” Much of the cast isn’t that far removed in age from the characters they’re playing, though living three decades after the film takes place means there were different take aways for each guy.  Jenner commented that “with all of the distractions there are today with social media, Twitter, Instagram, everything’s so abrupt and direct and immediate. You find yourself thinking about the past and the future a little bit more than you should. I think what this movie does so well is teach everyone to live in the now, and be grateful for the first three days of something because it could affect you for the rest of your life. You might look back on it and write a movie about it.”  Guzman added, “I think there are many messages throughout the whole film. There’s a couple that stick out to me. One is letting your inner strange out, not letting judgment force you or put you in a corner. Just being true to yourself and going that route, among other messages.”

As the more senior member of the trio, Hoechlin reflected that he loved “the way Rick {Linklater} can have a movie that’s this much fun but have so many moments that are profound. You sit there and think, “Oh wow, that makes me think and feel something.” One of my favorite scenes is where Wyatt Russell’s character is speaking with Blake’s character and says ‘just be weird’ and when you do that you bring who you are and never who they want and that’s when it’s fun. There’s something great about that. It’s just so much more fun when you stop trying to be something that’s an expectation as opposed to embracing what you are and running with it.”

Everybody Wants Some - Movie Trailer Review - Visit MovieholicHub.com

In reading the press notes before the interview, I noted that all three of the guys had some history with sports before the acting bug bit (or in the case of Hoechlin who started acting at 9 before focusing on a baseball career, re-bit).  Since the movie deals so much with sports and the camaraderie between players, I wanted to know how their history with sports influenced their acting. Hoechlin felt that “Baseball, specifically, is such a game of failure, and you learn more from your failures than success. It definitely helps with being persistent. You have a bad game, go 0-4, and you have to get up the next day and play again. It’s the same thing with acting. You have a lot of auditions, and you get a few of those jobs. I think the mental aspect to just brush it off and keep going has been the most helpful thing for me.  Guzman was a pitcher in college and learned that you have to take it “second by second. A good hitter these days is hitting .300. He’s only getting 3 out of 10. That’s kind of crazy, so the competitive aspect too. I always compete with myself rather than anyone else. The second I try to outdo someone else’s performance; I take away from my own. There are different things to take and give from the athletic word to the theatrical world.”

What struck me the most about the movie was how well cast it was and how it seemed to me like everyone had formed a backstory of relationships that came across throughout the film.  After the audition process which, Jenner remembered, consisted of “an interview talking about yourself, your hobbies, what you liked to do, what kind of person you are. After that, we were invited back to play with some dialogue. We were asked to put a baseball tape together of our baseball experiences/talent. Then after that, a couple of more auditions and that was it,” Linklater gathered all of the men at his Texas compound for a few weeks of male bonding where the group would watch movies (Animal House was a favorite, as were documentaries on baseball legends Doc Ellis and Augie Garrido), play baseball, and workshop the script in which they ultimately helped shape their characters (they even selected items from a make-shift costume shop to pick clothing they felt their characters would wear) .  All three found this process to be most unique, as Hoechlin recalled that “we had three weeks of rehearsal beforehand, and then we would go have a script reading every day. Some days we would work more on the page but he would encourage us to talk about different ideas away from the reads to see what we would come up with. Some days he would say, ‘Feel free to try some stuff this time,’ and if he liked it, he would make notes and it would be in the next draft of the script. We worked it out really well. Every once in a while on set something would happen, and he always encouraged that if an accident happened to go with it to see where it goes.”  “We lived together for two and a half weeks at Rick’s place in bunk beds,” recalled Guzman, “We were literally sleeping on top of each other and just hanging out. Anytime we weren’t working, we would come to set and hang out and watch, cheer the guys on. Those were some of the best times I’ve ever had being part of a production.”  Jenner agreed, “I always say 100% that some of the most important homework we could have done was living together for two weeks so we could really get to know each other and really got to form a bond. We got to form our own little inside jokes. I’m totally grateful for that time.”

Fans of Linklater’s previous films, when asked to single out their favorite it turned out that each guy had their own unique choice among their director’s roster.  Hoechlin favors Linklater’s landmark 2014 film that was nominated for six Oscars, “I really loved Boyhood. I thought that was such an amazing accomplishment. I love the fact that it’s one of those movies that over the course of that many years, you would assume that there would be that one moment in the movie that would be that life-shattering altering moment, and I loved that by the end of it, it was just these little moments and conversations in life that can shift it and that can skew your opinion about something and make you who you are. I loved it. Absolutely loved that about the movie.”  Guzman couldn’t land on just one so he gave us three, “Dazed and Confused. I love the Before series (Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight). A Scanner Darkly.”  Jenner is surprised no one mentioned School of Rock but even though he has a musician’s past, it’s not Jenner’s favorite but “it’s one of them. One that I really enjoy watching is Waking Life. I really dig that; tapping back to what I said about living the now. There’s something a little different that anyone could take away from it when they watch it.”

With the film wrapped and the guys on to new projects (Hoechlin will appear in the two sequels to Fifty Shades of Grey while Jenner is onboard September’s The Edge of Seventeen), Hoechlin was asked to reflect on how his time on the set compared to working with Paul Newman and Tom Hanks on the 2002 Sam Mendes film Road to Perdition. “What was great on that set was that those guys were, in a weird way, similar to Rick in that they were very much trusting that I was able to do what I was supposed to do and needed to get done. So really what I got was through observing. They were more than happy to have a conversation about whatever would come up, but it didn’t feel like I was being watched and judged by my coaches. That’s what we were doing here too, just trying to find a way to make a great movie.”

CgGgQ9qUsAAQJDN

Read my review of Everybody Wants Some!!

 

 

Movie Review ~ Everybody Wants Some!!

everybody_wants_some_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of college baseball players navigate their way through the freedoms and responsibilities of unsupervised adulthood.

Stars: Blake Jenner, Tyler Hoechlin, Wyatt Russell, Ryan Guzman, Juston Street, Glen Powell, Temple Baker, J. Quinton Johnson, Will Brittain, Zoey Deutch

Director: Richard Linklater

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: Everybody Wants Some!! is being promoted as a “spiritual sequel” to director Richard Linklater’s cult favorite from 1993, Dazed and Confused.  While Dazed takes place on the last day of high school in 1976, EWS!! follows a team of college baseball players over the course of a long weekend in 1980 before school starts up again.  Even though there are no overlapping characters between the films, it’s not hard to imagine Blake Jenner’s leading player in EWS!! as a college-ready version of the character Wiley Wiggins played in the earlier film.

For EWS!! to play well as an almost sequel to a much loved near-classic that’s now become almost as much of a cinematic rite of passage as the various hazing sequences it showcases, it has to have something that sets it apart.  Once again, Linklater (Bernie, Boyhood, Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight) shows his knack for perfect casting by bringing together a host of handsome stars on the rise to populate his otherwise plotless observances of the last days of summer for a college baseball team.

Incoming freshman Jake Bradford (a winning, mellow Blake Jenner), arrives at his off campus housing on a Friday and spends the next three days getting to know his teammates, his surroundings, and himself.  Clearly influenced by Linklater’s own life, the character isn’t your typical meek newbie nor is he a loutish oaf that scores high on the d-bag meter.  Actually, even with its brief divergences into misogyny (there’s but one female role in the film that isn’t there to bed or bitch about), the film largely avoids the stereotypical frat boy trappings by providing actual personalities for its competitively horny young males.

Originally brought into the fold by team captain McReynolds (Tyler Hoechlin, reminding me of a young Matt Dillon), Jake starts to learn the ropes from teammates like Glenn Powell’s (The Expendables 3) Finn, who can talk about anything from girls to gentrification and Wyatt Russell’s (22 Jump Street) Willoughby, a stoner that encourages everyone to “just be weird”.  There’s also the requisite dimbulb (Temple Baker), the sensible voice of reason (J. Quinton Johnson), a county-fried roommate (Will Brittain), and an easily provoked pitcher (Juston Street, the only faulty bit of character machinery in Linklater’s otherwise smooth engine of a movie) that pop up throughout the film to join in the weekend hijinks.   As the lone prominent female, Zoey Deutch (Vampire Academy) more than holds her own as a matched equal to Jake that isn’t your typical co-ed. It’s not hard to picture Deutch’s mother Lea Thompson playing the same role had the film been made thirty years ago.

Since the casting is top notch, that means the acting is skilled too and the three weeks the actors spent rehearsing all day at Linklater’s Texas compound pays off well because you walk away totally buying the characters you just watched, flaws and all.  It has the same sharp wisdom and warm hope Linklater is so good at injecting into his films and pleasantly goes against the structural norm of these college set film by following these guys only up until the first bell rings on Monday morning.

It’s not often I leave a theater already figuring out when I can swing by and catch it again but I left EWS!! plotting a return visit.  I appreciate that Linklater has a way of making his films so accessible that it’s easy to watch them over and over again and, even if you don’t get anything new out of each watch, still be entertained.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl on the Train

girl_on_the_train

Synopsis: Rachel spends her daily commute fantasizing about the seemingly perfect couple who live in a house that her train passes every day, until one morning she sees something shocking happen there and becomes entangled in the mystery that unfolds

Release Date:  October 7, 2016

Thoughts: For several years now I find myself thinking at the end of most movies “Emily Blunt should have been in this…Emily Blunt makes everything good.” and it’s an opinion I hold fast to. Luckily, Blunt (Into the Woods) is front and center in this new trailer for the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the bestselling novel The Girl on the Train.  Sure it shares not only an October release date but a plot kinship with 2014’s nice and twisted Gone Girl, but if this first look is any indication (and, I know, it’s not) Blunt could find herself with an Oscar nomination like Rosamund Pike did for Gone Girl.  Plus…I mean, look at the cast: Allison Janney (The Way, Way Back), Justin Theroux (Wanderlust), Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation), Lisa Kudrow (Neighbors)…just a roster of dependable, stellar talent. October is a great month for mystery and I’m ready for my ticket to ride this Train.

Movie Review ~ The Boss

boss_ver2

The Facts:

Synopsis: A titan of industry is sent to prison after she’s caught for insider trading. When she emerges ready to rebrand herself as America’s latest sweetheart, not everyone she screwed over is so quick to forgive and forget.

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage, Kathy Bates, Ella Anderson, Tyler Labine, Cecily Strong, Timothy Simons

Director: Ben Falcone

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: I think I’ve finally figured out what makes a Melissa McCarthy movie good…humanity. After grimacing through The Heat and fighting the urge to flee from Tammy, I started coming around to McCarthy again in 2015’s Spy. Now comes The Boss and though early previews were, I admit, fairly entertaining with some laughs on a level that few trailers can drum up, I was still mighty suspicious. McCarthy was re-teaming with her husband, Ben Falcone, who would direct her in a film from a script the two of them wrote with Steve Mallory. Could it be another Tammy waiting to happen?

Thankfully, it’s not and it’s largely because, like Spy, McCarthy’s isn’t playing a dim-wit monster that growls and gnaws her way through the film. No, she’s playing an actual human being that’s drawn with some fairly nuanced broad strokes. Though it’s far from being the kind of solid material that earned her an Oscar nomination in Bridesmaids, The Boss finds McCarthy continuing her ascent into figuring out what kind of roles she not only succeeds with, but that audiences respond favorably to. As in Tammy, she’s playing a fairly irksome character, but it’s one grounded in a kind of savvy reality that Tammy never could capture.

Abandoned at birth and by several adoptive families along the way, Michelle Darnell (McCarthy) has risen to the top as a motivational guru that prides herself on empowering women to take what they want without apologizing for it. Her past disappointments in people have kept her cold though, and she’s brazenly rough with anyone that tries to get close. Her long-suffering assistant Claire (Kristen Bell, Frozen) is tired of her antics but as a single mom she needs the job, no matter how frustrating her employer is.

When an old-flame now business rival of Michelle’s (Peter Dinklage, Pixels) turns her over to the government for insider trading, Michelle loses everything as she spends six months in jail for her crimes. After she gets out, she moves-in with Claire and her young daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) and before long has started her own empire to rival a Girl Scout-like troupe.

Performance wise, as I said before McCarthy resists the urge to snarl her way through the movie in favor of showing that Darnell’s nastiness comes from a place of personal protection…if she makes sure people know she doesn’t give two hoots, then they can’t hurt her.  As is typical, McCarthy isn’t afraid to throw herself into the physical comedy bits, which means that Darnell trips and crashes down stairs, gets tossed into a wall by a sleeper sofa, and brawls with a gaggle of young girls and their mothers.

Bell does exasperated well and plays nicely as second banana and straight woman to McCarthy.  The actresses have a nice rapport and during the gag reel at the end of the movie they seem like they genuinely like each other as well.  There’s nice supporting turns from Anderson as one of the rare child actors that can actually act without being obnoxiously precocious and Tyler Labine (Monsters University) makes for a nice romantic interest for Bell, though the film really doesn’t need the extra distraction.  Kathy Bates (Titanic) shared the best scene with McCarthy in Tammy and parlays that into a brief but memorable cameo as a former mentor of Darnell’s. I feel like there was more of Bates performance left on the cutting room floor, but I guess we’ll have to wait for some deleted scenes to see if it was wise to excise them.

I’m going to go on record now and say that I do not now and have not ever liked Dinklage.  His mock seriousness only goes so far and while I gave him some slack in Pixels, he’s easily the worst thing about The Boss.  Playing a mix of Derek Zoolander and Dr. Evil, Dinklage is in a totally different movie and doesn’t seem to care. Seeing the impish Dinklage fawning over the large and in charge McCarthy is more of a sight gag than anything else and it’s one that wears off almost immediately.

Though the film doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, it could be 15 minutes shorter and exist as a much tighter comedy…but too often McCarthy, Falcone, and Mallory don’t know when to quit or cut as gags go on too long and some conflated dramatic tension is introduced for no real reason other than because the Screenwriting 101 book must have said so. When the film hits its target, it’s a solid bullseye for laughs but when it misses it’s mark it starts to be the worst thing a comedy can be…boring.

The Boss isn’t as fun as Spy but it does have its moments where the time spent feels worth it. If anything, it shows that McCarthy is capable of writing herself a character that’s from planet earth.  It’s silly entertainment…but it’s entertainment all the same.

The Silver Bullet ~ Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

star-wars-the-force-awakens-teaser-poster1

 

Synopsis: Rebels set out on a mission to steal the plans for the Death Star.

Release Date: December 16, 2016

Thoughts: Man, the people over at Disney/Lucasfilm are not messing around. The same week that Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, the biggest movie of last year (or the last several years), is released for home viewing consumption, they release the teaser trailer for December’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  Set years before Episode 4, sure it’s another origin story and it looks squarely in the popular 80s story model of rebellious youth becoming a hero/leader…but it also carries that same old school exciting feel that so very few movies can capture as a full feature, let alone a trailer that runs under two minutes.  Starring Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything), Forest Whitaker (Southpaw), Ben Mendelsohn (The Dark Knight Rises), and Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale) and directed by Gareth Edwards (Godzilla), December should prove another good month in 2016 for a Star Wars tale.

Movie Review ~ Midnight Special

midnight_special
The Facts
:

Synopsis: A father and son go on the run after the dad learns his child possesses special powers.

Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher, Sam Shepard, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Paul Sparks

Director: Jeff Nichols

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 111 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review: Hot on the heels of 10 Cloverfield Lane comes another film where spoilers and too much information will pretty much ruin your enjoyment.  My best advice, dear reader, is to go in to Midnight Special with the least amount of knowledge available.  Even if that means you bookmark this page and come back to it after you see it, I won’t mind because I want you to get the maximum impact out of the newest feature from Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter).

OK…you’re either brave enough to trust in my spoiler-free pledge or you’ve just returned from seeing Midnight Special…either way…thanks for being here!

Let’s start off with what I can divulge, which is that Midnight Special is one of those rare movie-going experiences where the filmmakers are wise enough to not let audiences get too far ahead of the events that transpire.  In fact, don’t be ashamed to admit when the movie starts you have no clue what’s going on…it’s ok…I felt the same way.  Nichols plunges you right into the middle of the cross-country pilgrimage of a father (Michael Shannon, Man of Steel) and his son (Jaeden Lieberher, St. Vincent, Aloha) that turns out to be a trek into the unknown.

Nichols draws on elements from old-school paranoid chase films and Steven Spielberg’s late 70s/early 80s sensibilities to fashion his tale of a boy who may or may not possess special powers that the government wants to exploit and who members of a religious cult in the Texas boondocks use to guide their sermons and instruct their belief system.  Shannon has taken the boy from the cult and roped in his childhood friend (Joel Edgerton, The Great Gatsby) to help transport them both to an unnamed location only the boy seems to know.

Picking up the boy’s estranged mother (Kirsten Dunst, Bachelorette) and avoiding a curious NSA analyst (Adam Driver, Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens) along the way leads to more unexplained phenomena that keep the military and spiritual disciples in hot pursuit.  Through it all Nichols never tips his hand as to what the outcome will be, throwing in multiple surprise moments that act as nifty curveballs in an already eventful ballgame.

Nichols is making his large studio debut with Midnight Special and it would have been easy to style an easily accessible commercial feature and pick up a swell paycheck.  Instead, Nichols has produced a crowd-pleasing sci-fi drama that’s exciting, entertaining, and downright refreshing in its execution.  Even the ending, which could have gone oh so wrong and still may be hard to swallow for the more jaded flock amongst us, feels just about perfect.

One of the nicest surprises here is Shannon’s sensitive turn as a father willing to protect his son at all costs.  Shannon tends to give me the willies but he’s arguably the least creepy he’s ever been here.  Edgerton continues his run as a dependable presence whether in a supporting role or as the leading man. He’s given a lot of good material here and makes the most out of what could have been a low wattage auxiliary role. Driver is well-cast too, though he tends to come up lemons when he’s asked to play overly nebbish and Dunst nearly outshines them all with her understated and delicate performance that’s believably maternal.  The film revolves almost entirely around Lieberher and he proves again he’s a young actor to watch, infusing every line or wordless moment with a truth that’s hard to fake.

They say the fun is in the journey, not the destination and that’s apropos here.  While the ending to Midnight Special is sure to divide audiences, there’s little denying that the events leading up to it are mighty captivating.  Definitely check this one out.