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Midnight Special

Everybody Wants Some

April 21, 2016

Midnight Special

(** ½) PG-13

Director Jeff Nichols is one of the current crop of directors—and they’re getting fewer and fewer, I might add—whose work I eagerly anticipate. Like many serious fans of cinema, I was enraptured by his second film, Take Shelter, and was also quite enthralled by his next outing, the 2013 effort Mud. And now we have the director’s current film, a take on the sci-fi genre entitled Midnight Special. It’s a film that I really wanted to like but one that ultimately left me wanting more than what it was able to provide.

Things start out with a bang during the picture’s opening section. There are television reports that a boy has been kidnapped. The narrative focuses in on a hotel room where an eight year old boy sits draped in a sheet, wearing goggles and reading a comic book, a setup that definitely piques viewer interest.  Also in the room are two men, Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton), who are obviously the boy’s captors. The action then shifts to a religious cult leader (Sam Shepherd) speaking to the authorities about the boy’s disappearance and being questioned in said kidnapping, a story thread that, strangely enough, simply vanishes after the film’s setup. We soon learn that the boy has special powers—he can read minds and pick up radio waves—and that Roy is exactly who we think he is, the boy’s father. Roy and his pal, Lucas are on their way to reunite Alton with his mother (Kirsten Dunst) but it’s best to stop there in the interest of not giving away the film’s denouement.

The problem with Midnight Special is it’s a film that sets itself up as a mystery but proves to be exactly what it looks like on the surface and never seems to reach what appears at first to be lofty goals.

Jaeden Lieberher in Midnight Special

Nichols knows how to tease his audience and lead them in a way to assume that something bigger is going on. The trouble here is that the film doesn’t surprise, especially for anyone who’s been witness to director John Carpenter’s Starman or Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, of which this film feels like an uncomfortable mishmash. The only real surprise is in the final scene and by surprise I mean that it doesn’t give closure but instead compounds the problem by offering a befuddling final shot that’s likely to leave viewers scratching their heads.

Midnight Special is the kind of film that I hate having to give a mixed review to and this is mainly due to my allegiance to the film’s director. Still, a critic must be honest and let’s just say that I’m looking more forward to Nichols’ next effort, Loving, more than I am revisiting Midnight Special anytime in the near future.

Everybody Wants Some (** 1/2) R

A colleague of mine brought up an interesting point as the two of us exited the theater following the press screening of the period comedy Everybody Wants Some. After much reflection, I have to admit he was definitely on to something. The basic argument was that if one wanted to make a film celebrating the decade of the 1980s then setting the film in late summer of 1980 was probably not the best idea due to the fact that the decade had not yet come into its own. If one were to truly pay homage to the heady eighties then they would have to set the film at least two or three years later because August 1980 is virtually indistinguishable from, say, August 1979.  It’s a valid point to make and one that will probably determine who the best audience for this film might actually be.

Everybody Wants Some is being touted as a quasi sequel to Dazed and Confused, the 1993 film that used the early days of summer 1976 as its setting and launched the careers of many of its cast members. Though both films are directed by the always interesting Richard Linklater (Boyhood, the Before trilogy), that’s about where the similarities end. Linklater’s current nostalgia trip offers very little in the way of emotional takeaways and also very little subtext or nuance. I prefer to call it Linklater lite, if you don’t mind, although I mean that in the best way possible.

Everybody Wants Some follows the exploits of a group of college students of varying ages during the two days leading up to the first day of school. Blake Jenner of Glee is something of a center to the film as the character of Jake.

Blake Jenner & Wyatt Russell in Everybody Wants Some

Jake is a freshman at Southeast Texas University and as the film opens he’s moving into an off campus house to the strains of My Sharona on the soundtrack (Linklater’s song choices are all excellent, by the way). Jake and his roommates are all baseball players for the school team and the film mainly consists of them smoking weed, drinking beer, chasing women and playing baseball and not necessarily in that order. There’s not much more to it than that but the film is so spot on in its recreation of the time and place that it’s something akin to getting into a time machine and heading back to August 1980. That alone may be enough for some to enjoy the film on a non think level.

If you’re looking for a plot and life changing emotional arc for the characters this definitely isn’t the film for you. Yet another of my film critic colleagues made the comment after the screening that he felt he had been drinking beer for two solid hours. I can see why one would have cause to feel that way but for what the film doesn’t have in plot it more than makes up for in its meticulous recreation of a time long past. That was, almost, enough for me.

These movies are playing in Charlotte.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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