Jeff Nichols, can apparently do no wrong. He is known for great-type movies like the Matthew McConaughey vehicle called Mud in which McConaughey's affinity for shirtlessness is given more import than a mere fashion ad on the back of 'W' Magazine. I can't vouch for his segment of New York Stories... I mean, a film called Shotgun Stories, but I have it on the highest authority, The New Yorker, that Nichols has worked with actor Michael Shannon for four times now. As a film buff, I usually appreciate the bond between actor and director, but the longer I live, and the more films Mark Wahlberg and Adam Sandler make, well...
I dunno. Maybe I was in a bad mood, maybe I'm just jaded, maybe as the years continue to pile up I've just already been profoundly impressed by all the movies I'm going to be profoundly impressed by in this lifetime.
Let's dive into the plot instead, shall we? We start with the abduction of a child. The child is abducted by recently notorious fugitive Lily Tomlin... I mean, Roy Tomlin, played by Michael Shannon. He first came to my attention in Grand Theft Parsons... why couldn't I be watching that instead? Fellow thespian Joel Edgerton, also a hot property these days, is The Driver. His character's name is George Lucas... sorry, confused again. It's just Lucas. Always the hallmark of a good movie where all the characters only have one name. They take a cue from Terminator 2: Judgment Day; at one point, Lucas turns off the headlights, and puts on night vision goggles. You know, wanted by fugitives and what not.
THERE BE NOTHING BUT SPOILER ALERTS AHEAD
You know, every once in a while a film will be critically acclaimed, yet do nothing at the box office. Such was the case for Midnight Special. Every once in a while... THE PEOPLE have the right idea!! Okay, back to the movie. There's also a side plot involving a Koresh-style "Ranch" that the kid was abducted from... I know, I know, but it's tough to find stuff about a single raid on a Christian-type compound these days. Maybe the one I'm thinking of involved something like the "Yearning for Zion" Ranch. They were famous for 15 seconds because all the women wore full-length pastel gowns that looked very, very... 18th Century Puritan. Oh, and because they were all married to one guy, something like that. Whelp, this Ranch, headed by famous playwright and sometime actor Sam Shepard, is probably the only facet of the movie I liked... but even that gets turned to sh... oe leather. I mean, we start with the edict from the top that these two hit-men type deals have "four days" to get the child back. Then the compound gets raided by the FBI, but in a polite (non-Koresh) way. This takes about a day, as most raids by the FBI do, and it seems to be a detail that director Nichols can get away with... you know, being born in flyover country and what not. Well, so was David Gordon Green, but you don't see him crowing about it, now, do you?
Let's get back to Roy Tomlin, Lucas and the goggles-wearing, comic-book-reading child in the back seat. As you remember, they were driving very fast in a very cool car in the dark, their headlights off, much like the opening segment of 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie. But all fun like that must come to an end, and Lucas takes off his night vision goggles and turns on the headlights. THAT VERY INSTANT, Lucas has to swerve out of the way of a car in the middle of the road. THE VERY NEXT INSTANT, a truck coming the other way plows into that very same other car. Lucas gets out of the car and runs over to check on the victim of the crash... remember, Lucas is a fugitive on the run, as are Lily Tomlin and the boy. Several Amber Alerts are seen on TV on the local news, thereby putting a strain on the film's almost deliberately small budget.
THE VERY NEXT INSTANT, a cop car is on its way to the scene of the accident. It gets there right away, too! Normally, what you'd want from the police in a situation like that. And no sooner is Lucas trying to explain the situation to the cop, than the cop turns to see the hot car on the news... oh, I almost forgot! Lucas and company have a police scanner, and they, and the rest of us, heard the alert over the police's wire about their car. As his training would suggest, the cop pulls his gun on the fugitives from justice. Lucas and Tomlin pull their guns in response. Um... to cut to the chase, Lucas puts a couple of bullets into the cop... this is a PG-13 movie, right? Call me old fashioned, but shouldn't shooting a cop like that count as an 'R'? I mean, even if it turns out that Lucas is a trooper himself and he knows where to shoot a guy non-lethally in his or her body armour? (Spoiler Alert: Lucas is a trooper)
Now, remember kids, if you're going to be fugitives on the run, you're going to want to have your safe houses ready for you in advance, especially in this era of the APB App... it doesn't officially exist, mind you, but in the Smartphone Era it might as well be. And so, Lucas and company arrive at their first safe house. We've heard whispers up until now that this child being abducted is no mere child. And we had a brief glimpse into that in the car, for much like a similar scene in 1997's Conspiracy Theory... I know, I know, I invoke that at my own peril, but there's a scene where Mel Gibson is watching Julia Roberts from afar, working out on a treadmill, singing along with music. Fortunately for him, it's on the radio, and he manages to find the same station. Similar thing with the boy, but it's in Spanish! Now if THAT'S not talent, well...
Next scene: there's a rumbling. At first, it seems to be a fracking-induced earthquake. Come to find out, it's coming from the next room. Because, much like Firestarter before him, this kid's got abilities. Abilities beyond the you and the me, mind you, stuck here in our average, good-for-nothing bodies, leaving debt after death (Yahoo! news blurb). Lucas and Tomlin rush to the next room, and... yup, there it is. The host of the house is looking deep into the boy's eyes, and... can I PLEASE finish the fricking sentence? Sorry I'm not so eloquent! Yeesh! Okay, let me put it this way. We find out that the film's title, Midnight Special, REALLY ought to be X-Men Origins: Cyclops. For those of you who don't know, Cyclops can shoot fire out of his eyes, but he has trouble controlling this power so he wears special goggles to control it. As for those of you who are well within the know, you're probably thinking to yourself that the two are different. Totally different! But one thing we can agree on: the resale value of that house is going to be nil after what the kid did to it. But it's okay because, as the owner of that safe house tells us and Lucas and Tomlin, he needed one last look... something like that. You know, like how in The Fellowship of the Ring, Bilbo Baggins wanted to wear the ring one last time. Even enough to hiss over it, and haunt my nightmares forever afterwords... afterwards.
There's also a shootout at a motel. The two bad guys from the Ranch tie everyone up with Zip Strips (TM), AKA the People's Handcuffs. One of the bad guys gets a rather bloody wound to the gut. Now, I'm no doctor, as this blog will surely attest to, but I did see 1999's Three Kings at a Holiday Inn Express one night... love those commercials. For those of you who can recall, there were two rather gruesome physiology lessons in Three Kings, one of them I believe was for a bullet wound in said gutty-whats. But the bad guys are full of Ranch Power, and they're rather crucial to the plot, so no mere stomach wound's going to slow them down and or keep them from their appointed rounds.
There's also a poignant moment in the movie that sums up parenthood. The kid is in one of those cool all-white rooms, surrounded by the top military brass... or at least, what could be assembled on such short notice on this film's small budget... 18 million, I'm told! The kid, like a Boss (TM), tells everyone to... sorry, I kinda hate that phrase. The kid, like the latest, hottest celebrity, knows nothing if not his worth in the current humanity marketplace, and he decrees that he will only talk to Lacombe... I'm sorry, I mean Paul Sevier, played by Adam Driver, also known as the new Darth Vader, no less! I thought he looked familiar. Anyway, at some point, we cut back to Michael Shannon's character. He's standing next to a busy highway with a blood-soaked shoulder, and we wonder to ourselves if he's going to actually step in front of that big semi truck that's barrelling down the road towards all of us. And when you get right down to it... isn't all of parenthood like this moment? The kid gets the star treatment, and the parent is down there by the side of the road, covered in icky bodily fluids?
There's also a very very VERY VERY ridiculous scene involving that old movie staple... the barricade. The contest this time? On the side of authority, we've got at least two armored Humvees, and about a dozen soldiers with military assault rifles. We've got wire, a few of those big X-shaped barricades made out of railroad ties, and one of those tire-eating chains across the road. On the other, an Isuzu mid-sized family SUV... AND WE'RE OFF! The Authority's looking good. You'd think they'd have this contest in the bag. HOWEVER, as the kid pointed out, there are many roads to the final destination: that crater in Arizona featured in Starman (1984)... sorry, wrong movie again. Incidentally, the kid has just a dash of John Carpenter's 1995 effort thrown in, his take on Village of the Damned. Just a dash, mind you. Also, look at the barricade. Is there just enough room for the vehicle to get through? I dare say there is! Also, the Isuzu starts to hit 100 MPH, thanks to David Tomblin's careful driving. Also, there's the kid! Can't he pull some extra magic trick at this point? After all, he wasn't supposed to go out into the sun, but he proved that wrong! And he was supposed to keep those goggles on at all times once upon a time, but he proved that wrong! Maybe he can make a quick earthquake that will gobble up the Authority's Humvees... nope, they get their tires popped, and come to a screeching halt just past the Humvees. The soldiers retreat to... wherever. Somewhere behind the Humvees. Plot device achieved.
And so, much like The Last Mimzy, we're treated to a brief glimpse into the Architecture of Tomorrow: big, tough, aggressive... more moving parts than most Swiss watches, unaffected by the ravages of accumulated depreciation. Just saw that Nova special on origami. Origami and fractals, man. Boy, did I pick the wrong line of work. Kirsten Dunst plays the boy's mother, and she gets a glimpse of the world that the boy apparently actually belongs to. Now, if you're a smart-ass stand up comedian out there, always making jokes about Jesus and Mary and questioning the Immaculate Conception, well... who's the real father anyway? Didn't you wonder about that at some point? Do we find out that Sarah and Roy are actually brother and sister, and we're forced to watch the whole movie anew, now armed with that knowledge? But it's not just Sarah who gets to see all this 31st Century architecture. Apparently, everyone within the larger bubble, including the Army and Tomlin and Lucas, gets to see all this really cool sh... stuff. We also see a few beings of semi-pure light walking around on the futuristic staircases and what not. And when you get right down to it, aren't all farewells to your kids this way? You know, the mother gets to stand there, tears in her eyes and on her braided hair, and the father and his drinking buddy view the spectacle from upside down in the wrecked family van? No? A bridge too far?
So, The Movie (Review) Hooligan, did you like the movie? Well, the cinematography was just lovely, and you could barely tell it was on crappy digital video... well, except when those birds took off flying. Just little negligible moments like that that we used to have in the days of film. We don't need those anymore. But did the writer director plan ahead for a sequel? It's all in the eyes, people. For as with Unbreakable, it's all about the acting. Now sure, in the wrong hands, this could have easily turned into some kind of Broken Lizard camp fest. But everyone's so serious, bordering on Mumblecore(TM) at times... I still don't know what that is, frankly. And unlike in Unbreakable where it's all waterworks all the time, no tears are easily shed in Midnight Special. Just at the end, I think. And in a continuing tribute to fatherhood, we get Michael Shannon in handcuffs in what is probably a federal facility. All he's got left now is the chance to strike a good pose, staring off into space at the rising sun and... wait a second! Was that the boy's twinkle in his eyes? Are there superpowers in this guy's future? Is this the end of Critters 1 where we go over to a clutch of Critter eggs? Well, I guess you gotta give the guy something for his trouble. He'll need some kind of edge to get by in prison.
-so sayeth The Movie Hooligan