The Silver Bullet ~ Hidden Figures

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Synopsis: A team of African-American women provide NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions.

Release Date: December 25, 2016

Thoughts: Who’s ready for a history lesson? I certainly am after catching the trailer for Hidden Figures, a period drama which looks equal parts comedy and drama and represents a strong showcase for its trio of appealing leads.  Oscar-nominee Taraji P. Henson (Top Five) stars as a NASA employee during the space race fighting to combat the inherent racism and sexism she and her colleagues (Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, Zootopia, and Grammy winner Janelle Monáe) face. Joined by Kevin Costner (Draft Day), Glen Powell (Everybody Wants Some!!), and Kirsten Dunst (Midnight Special), this one is sneaking it right at the end of the year before the Oscar deadline.  Could 20th Century Fox be counting on this becoming the sleeper hit it has the potential to be? 

Movie Review ~ Midnight Special

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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.

Movie Review ~ Bachelorette

The Facts:

Synopsis: Three friends are asked to be bridesmaids at a wedding of a woman they used to ridicule back in high school.

Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Isla Fisher, Lizzy Caplan, James Marsden, Adam Scott, Rebel Wilson, Kyle Bornheimer

Director: Leslye Headland

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:   Oh Bridesmaids, what hath you wrought?  The 2011 mega hit made a big buzz because it was a film written by women, starring women, not just for women, and exceedingly funny.  First shrugged off as a female answer to the rowdy popularity of The Hangover, it quickly separated itself from the pack of imitators by matching that film laugh for laugh (often beating it).  Being released the same summer as the inferior The Hangover: Part II, Bridesmaids was one of the most talked about films of the year…deservedly so.

A year later comes another movie that draws obvious comparisons to Bridesmaids in tone, structure, and even casting (Wilson appears in both films but in different roles).  Bachelorette was written and directed by Headland who adapted it from her stage play and it’s not hard to see why the material would have worked well as a live performance.  Ribald humor, male strippers, and catty asides probably provided some nice laughs but having not seen the piece I can’t say how many characters/situations were added/embellished for the big screen treatment.

Providing a few nice laughs, Bachelorette unfortunately gets sunk in its multiple excesses of girls behaving badly.  None of the three leads are crafted as particularly likable characters so it’s tough to get invested in their shenanigans as they prove to be awful bridesmaids and lousy friends.  Without many/any redeemable qualities the women become exhausting cartoons and that creates a rift with the viewer.

It takes a rare performer to make an unlikable character involving and sadly Dunst is far from up to the task.  As the head honcho bridesmaid, it’s never clear why she’s friends with the bride (Wilson, operating in a far less quirky vibe than she has in Bridesmaids, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and the upcoming Pitch Perfect) or why she’s so dang angry.  Dunst just doesn’t have the timing, skill, or commitment for comedy and she’s in way over her head before the film is even half over.

Caplan and Fisher have demonstrated a knack for comedy in the past but here they are each playing such stereotypical roles that you know where they’re going to end up long before they do.  I’ve a feeling that Caplan will regret playing such a snidely clueless doormat and Fisher will wish she hadn’t played yet another total idiot but both actresses at least roll up their sleeves and dig into their parts which is more than Dunst can say. 

Like Bridesmaids, the men operate merely as pawns for the women to chew their scenery with.  It’s too bad that the talented guys aren’t called on to do more than move the show along without much functionality but Scott, Marsden, and especially Bornheimer do the best with what they have.

Headlund makes her directing debut here and perhaps a more experienced director could have taken her paper-thin script and made something of it.  As it stands, there’s not much style on display and the cinematography by Doug Emmett leaves much to be desired.  It’s nearly a point and shoot affair and one wonders if Headlund couldn’t envision her script outside of a confined stage-like setting.

It’s clear from the get-go that this movie got made simply because of the plot description in the hopes of another success with female audiences.  It’s not a total wash of a film, let’s be clear.  It’s just a glossy copycat film that is trying to capitalize on the success of a hit film without having to really acknowledge that fact.

Having been released On Demand before debuting in the theaters Bachelorette has been a surprise hit, moving to the top of the charts…becoming the first film to do so without first being released in theaters.  That may bode well for the film down the road when it’s released in early September…or it may signify that it’s destined to be a Ladies Night In experience.

The Silver Bullet ~ On the Road

Synopsis: Dean and Sal are the portrait of the Beat Generation. Their search for “It” results in a fast paced, energetic roller coaster ride with highs and lows throughout the U.S.

Release Date:  December 21, 2012

Thoughts: It may be hard to believe, but I’ve made it nearly 33 years without picking up a copy of Jack Kerouac’s timeless novel on which this is based.  I know it’s a staple of many an AP English program and the frequent item in backpacks across this great country – but I’ve yet to be taken in by it.  I’m trying to fit in a read before this long in gestation adaptation comes out but then again I don’t want to be one of the people that suffers through a disappointing big screen version of a book many are inspired by.  Life is full of decisions, indeed.  Packed with Hollywood up-and-comers and directed by Walter Salles I’d expect this one to be a popular choice in the art-house cinemas this holiday season.