Midnight Special


Viewed – 20 March 2018  Netflix

I certainly love me some science fiction, especially if it’s offering something different or unusual than I’ve seen before, not just alien invasions or space exploration.  Here we’re presented with what appears to me a rather X-Files-like scenario of a young boy who has been taken from a religious group and reported abducted.  Police and shady government officials, along with members of the religious group are hot on his trail and that of his kidnappers, one of which turns out to be his father.

Midnight Special

A cast headed by an actor increasingly becoming a favourite, Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Boardwalk Empire) also see’s Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver and Kirsten Dunst along for the ride..  The mystery surrounding the child and just why everyone seems out to nab him is intriguing and what transpires certainly kept me hooked.  However with somewhat subdued performances, especially from a rather sleepy Shannon who normally delivers such intense characters, I was left a little frustrated.  Nobody seems all that affected by the increasingly bizarre or life and death situation they find themselves in … bar perhaps Edgerton who isn’t evenly emotionally connected to the situation other than being an old friend of Shannon’s.  Add to this an under-explored backstory (just how did the boy become a part of the religious group, what happened to the mother…and who was she?) this is a movie that leaves a little too much unanswered to be satisfying.

Jeff Nichols’ direction however is solid, at times eerie and atmospheric, decorated with some impressive visuals. Along occasional heart-in-mouth moments (the motel), I still had a good time with this, despite it not being the complete package.

Verdict:  3 /5

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Red Sparrow


Viewed – 07 March 2018  Cinema

When Prima Ballerina Dominika (Jennifer Lawrence) injures herself during a performance, she turns to her shady uncle on realising the ballet academy are no longer going to fund her accommodation or the care of her ill mother.  So she reluctantly gets enrolled in ‘sparrow’ school where young students are trained to use their minds and bodies as weapons.

Red Sparrow

Once released from the school she gets her first mission and along the way catches the attention of undercover CIA agent (Joel Edgerton) who see’s potential in her and attempts to get her to cross over to the Americans.  Lawrence, initially an unusual casting for a Russian character seems to easily deliver a convincing accent and demeanour, whilst using her ‘impossible’ situation to her advantage.  She’s sexy and dangerous and Lawrence nails it in a provocative and daring turn.  Edgerton increasingly an actor I enjoy watching is again very good and perfect support, and add to this a decent turn from Jeremy Irons (another long time favourite) and this makes for an above average thriller.  I liked how the focus was more on psychological manipulation than action, and we may not get car chases or fist fights, but what we do get is much more affecting.  Lawrence may shed more than a bit of clothing but it’s never gratuitous, instead presenting the character’s (and actress’s) obvious good looks and sexuality as a suit of armour throughout.

Director Francis Lawrence (The Hunger Games) fashions the movie with a careful balance of gritty realism and eye-catching style,  It also doesn’t shy away from the more violent aspects of the subject with gruelling torture and interrogation scenes that pack a punch.   Although it gets rather muddled in the middle of the movie with a side story involving Lawrence’s room-mate, this remained gripping and daring viewing leading to a particularly satisfying conclusion.  An easy recommendation.

Verdict:  4 /5

The Gift


Viewed – 13 August 2015  Cinema

Jason Bateman for as long as he’s been around, has never really been the sort of actor that guarantees bums on seats.  He’s been known for TV sitcoms like Arrested Development and a wealth of comedy movies such as Horrible Bosses.  Yet I’ve always liked him and always look forward to seeing him in stuff.  This latest thriller has him as a successful business man who has recently moved into a nice up-market neighbourhood with his beautiful wife (Rebecca Hall).  The perfect little life, until that is an old school friend bumps into him one day and gradually starts muscling his way into their lives.  Gordo (Joel Edgerton) seems nice, normal if a little awkward and pushy, but mostly harmless – or is he?

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Classic psychological thriller territory for sure, think The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, Single White Female etc. and you’ll get the idea.  However this has a stand out performance from Bateman, who shows a depth and complexity to his character I wasn’t expecting.  Also Edgerton as Gordo (who also directs) is perfectly strange and mysterious and possibly psychotic – but balances the uncertainty well.  The GiftThe movie mostly focuses however on Hall’s character who is vulnerable and troubled, with a past hinting at something that went wrong (possibly a miscarriage) between the couple and how the new home is a new start.  I enjoyed this as it played with genre conventions, threw in a few excellent jump-scares and kept me guessing.

It’s fairly safe in it’s concept and certainly could have elaborated more on things with the odd flash back, as I came away still asking questions about these characters.  There was also potential for the story to go to much darker depths.  But these are small gripes and overall The Gift was a gripping and well written thriller that surprised and entertained in equal measure.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Great Gatsby


Viewed – 21 May 2013  Cinema

Going into this, I had quite clear expectations.  From a director such as Baz Luhrmann (William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge) I knew I would get something visually dazzling, highly theatrical and bursting to the seems with larger-than-life costumes and characters   It’s kinda his calling card.  Yet as a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio also, I had expectations of another memorable performance from one of the best in the business.

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This tells the tale of wall street worker Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) who moves into a house located next door to famed playboy Jay Gatsby (DiCaprio), an almost legendary figure in New York during the 1920s who rarely appears in public and hosts numerous dazzling parties for the locales.  Yet the reality behind the myth intrigues and so Carraway befriends the reclusive billionaire and attempts to help him with a little problem with a long-lost love, who just happens to be Carraway’s cousin.

From the start, this is a stunning movie to just sit back and take in … imagination, set design, gorgeous visuals and a fantastic use of modern music rejigged to a 20’s jazz soundtrack (Beyonce’s Crazy In Love?) … showcases Luhrmann playing at full throttle.  At the heart of the spectacle however is a simple story of love, obsession and a little bit of mystery.  Initially I found it hard to get to grips with, so awash with the sheer visual overload, that concentrating on the story was difficult.  Thankfully things settle down with solid, complex turns from both  DiCaprio and Maguire.  Add to this a sultry Carey Mulligan and an enjoyably boo-hiss Joel Edgerton ... and this proved an often surprising and enjoyable tale, with strong echoes of Citizen Kane.  I think considering DiCaprio’s array of quality performances over the years, this came across more old-fashioned, screen idol than serious acting, and in some ways the movie was guilty of a too much Hollywood glitz to take completely serious.  Often Maguire’s wide-eyed goofy-grin made him look like a rabbit caught in the headlights, and with such reliance on green-screen – it was sometimes like a fantasy movie without the dragons or wizards.  Not helped by the fact sometimes actors didn’t look like they were really ‘there’, which they obviously wasn’t.

As it stands though this is a treat for fans of truly interesting looking movies, the kind that deserve the big screen treatment, not because of action sequences but because each shot looks like an oil painting – something Luhrmann has always been an artist at.  Beyond this however is an absorbing but not quite so amazing story, with decent rather than ‘wow’ performances – but either way, still deserves your attention.

Verdict:  4 /5