It’s been a couple of weeks since my last review, when I applauded the use of Michael Shannon’s dead body in a $250 million blockbuster. But I’ve actually seen a handful of movies since then, including one with a moving-around Michael Shannon in an $18 million indie picture! So here is the best of what the first half of April 2016 had to offer. Well, what I assume is the best. I haven’t seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, after all.
EYE IN THE SKY
Explain this to me, please: This is a movie about a bunch of military and political people watching screens (so much screen watching, there are screens on screens) trying to decide the logistical and ethical costs of wanting to blow things up in other countries. Basically it boils down to the question, “Is it worth it to kill three people you really hate, if there’s a 49% chance that you might also kill a cute little girl?” One cost never discussed is the actual cost of war, because there’s no debate about how many satellite missiles the government wants to buy with our tax dollars (at least not with us). You’ve just been given a hot take!
What is there to like? It’s got great tension. Almost cringe-worthy tension. And aside from a foot chase scene and a few ‘splosions, all of the tension is generated from dialogue spoken by the pretty great cast. Helen Mirren in camo fatigues! Alan Rickman’s final live action movie! Jorah from Game of Thrones pooping in a hotel bathroom! The “I’m the Captain Now” guy! This movie has it all. Oh, and Aaron Paul! I’m just really, really, really happy he was able to continue having a film career after Need For Speed. Because he’s a good actor and he’s good in this. And all he does in this movie is sit in a chair with a headset. Gravitas, bitch!
What is there to dislike/hate? It makes you feel really bad. Ohhh boy, does it. And if you like to rip on politicians for not doing their jobs, this movie will help throw logs on the fire as you watch important person after important person try to pass decisions onto higher-ups so they don’t have to make choices themselves. “We got into politics for the bribes and the giant ribbon cutting scissors, bro. Not having to analyze the circle of destruction our space rockets can cause.” And then they hammer it home with the credits footage. Way to make me feel guilty. I don’t even support surprise explosions in real life!
Try to get a quote on the back of the DVD: “The SKY is the limit on this gripping movie you can’t take you EYES off of!”
Explain this to me, please: When you watched Doom in 2005 (ok, *if* you watched Doom in 2005), did you enjoy that sequence that was shot in first person like a video game? Well, here’s an entire movie shot in the first person (i.e. they strapped a GoPro on a stuntman’s head). If you think it will make you light headed because of the shaky camerawork, you’re probably right. Anyway, a guy named Henry wakes up to find that he is now hardcore (robot parts!), and he is getting chased for some reason.
What is there to like? It was pleasantly weird. They left a lot of things kind of random and silly. For instance, the bad guy is a long-haired, blonde European guy doing a Tommy Wiseau impression with unexplained telekinetic powers. Sharlto Copley (who recently passed iron and steel as South Africa’s main export) plays about eight throwaway characters, seemingly just so he can do a bunch of funny impressions. No complaints there. I guess if there’s any *one* thing to praise this movie for, it’s the fact that doesn’t take itself seriously in any way. It has a musical number in the third act! And it kind of goes on for a while. The few scenes that are worth watching are definitely worth watching. Good stunt work and some neat long takes.
What is there to dislike/hate? As impressive as it is to actually assemble a functional movie like this, it’s still not really very good. I feel like if I watched this in college (while possibly intoxicated), I would have liked it a lot more. Back then I was watching a lot of Troma movies and stuff like The Stuff. I had a better tolerance for things this aggressively dumb and mindlessly violent back then. This might have made kind of a decent, possibly better action movie if it was just shot without a gimmick. It’s basically Crank if you glued a camera to Jason Statham’s chin and didn’t give him any dialogue. Crank was better than this. Watch Crank.
Try to get a quote on the back of the DVD: “My GoPro footage of our trip to Mount Rushmore was only a third as hardcore as this!”
Explain this to me, please: I had no real knowledge of what this was before I went to go see it, other than it was critically acclaimed, so I was kind of pleasantly surprised to find out it was about Michael Shannon breaking his son out of a cult and taking him to a mysterious location while the FBI chases him down. Oh… …did I forget to mention… …his son shoots light beams out of his eyes and might be an alien? Yeah.
What is there to like? I think Michael Shannon works best when he’s given a bit of range, and not just forced into the quietly intense aggressor role. It makes his naturally frightening outbursts more effective that way, and Midnight Special used him correctly. He’s a caring father, while still always looking like a blood vessel is going to pop on his forehead. Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, and a non-annoying child actor round out the rest of the ample cast. If you’re looking for a movie to keep you guessing, this is a good option. You’ll have to fill in a lot of the holes.
What is there to dislike/hate? I liked the mystery of the whole thing, and you don’t really find out what is going on until the end, but it takes a really long time to get there. At a certain point, I was like “I get it, the kid is weird, these are the things he does”, and I wanted them to advance the mystery and not just extend the chase, if that makes sense. The payoff at the end isn’t terrible, but the build up to get to that point kind of makes the ending undeserving of our praise. For all of the interesting moments Midnight Special has, I thought they equally dropped the ball on creating complex characters. It was like Close Encounters, but without the mash potato scene or the failed marriage. We need those. There’s nothing much psychological about it, it’s mostly just empty (but watchable) action. Like, stuff just kind of happens and it gets talked about for a minute, and then they move on to the next thing without finishing exploring the last thing.
Try to get a quote on the back of the DVD: “A great callback to Spielberg movies of old, only with more gun violence! You can’t replace them with walkie talkies this time!”
Explain this to me, please: Jake (god I hate spelling his name) Gyllenhaal plays Harvey Demolition, an explosives expert who gets hired by the Yakuza to… No, no, no, wait… That’s just something I wrote in my dream journal. Demolition is about a guy whose wife dies in the first scene of the movie and he kind of goes dead inside. And he struggles to figure out why he doesn’t really care. If that’s a movie premise that sounds uninteresting to you, I will say, it’s slightly better than it lets on. It’s from the dude who directed Dallas Buyer’s Club and Wild, so he’s kind of good at displaying white people having internal struggles.
What is there to like? I got a little misty eyed at the end…? I always praise a movie that makes me feel like a compassionate person just for watching it. I don’t get that same emotion when I watch Chopped. But yeah, I guess it’s worth sitting through 90 minutes of Gyllenhaal being blank faced for the payoff of him figuring things out. He’s pretty good in this. Not Nightcrawler good, but good. Chris Cooper also probably gives his most memorable performance since American Beauty. Wait, I take that back. He was amazing in The Muppets. On a cathartic level, I like watching people hit things with a sledgehammer, which was plentiful here. Smashy, smashy!
What is there to dislike/hate? There are a couple of story lines that feel forced and tacked on, like how he befriends a woman’s teenage son, who might be gay? There’s nothing wrong with that subject matter, but why is it sprinkled into this movie? It has almost no bearing on the main character’s story about his wife/life, and it would have been a more focused, concise plot if they took that out. In addition to that, some parts of the movie are way too corny, like “Repairing the human heart is like repairing an automobile: You have to take everything apart, just examine everything — then you can put it all back together.” That’s not really that particularly clever of a line. It’s a bit too on-the-nose. But I guess it gives the main character the incentive to (literally) take apart all of the physical objects in his life, which gives Demolition the visual appeal it needed to not be dull. And you probably guessed it, taking apart the physical stuff in his life eventually leads to taking apart the mental things in his head. That’s a cliché, and you know it. But I guess this film is all about executing clichés better than most.
Try to get a quote on the back of the DVD: “He’ll paint the GyllenHALLS of your heart with this emotional journey.” Alternate: “It’s Demolicious!”