FlixChatter Review: Midnight Special (2016)

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I’m a big fan of science fiction films, and the ones that are more *grounded* in our reality, meaning it’s not all sleek and drowned in special effects are usually the most compelling. Midnight Special is certainly one of those films, which in essence is a father/son story.

Right from its opening scene, this film instantly grabbed me and never let up. Two men are on the run with a small boy Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and the people in a cult organization are hot on their trail. Who the boy is and why he’s so important to the devout followers of this group is not known right away. The only thing we know from the marketing promos is that perhaps he’s from another world as we don’t shoot laser beams from our eyes, nor could we make a satellite fall from the sky. Soon the FBI arrives in the small town in Louisiana and from the interrogations with the cult members, we’re given glimpses of why Alton is so special. As if being on the run is not hard enough, there’s a certain date looming that the runaway group absolutely can’t miss.

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I feel that it’s best to experience this film knowing as little as possible. I love discovering more and more about the characters as one layer after another is peeled away. Alton has a very close relationship with his father Roy (Michael Shannon), who we knew in the beginning is his adopted dad. But who is Lucas (Joel Edgerton), the guy helping them get away? I’ll let you figure that out, as that’s part of the fun of discovering the story.

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed this movie and I’m so impressed by his talent as a storyteller. The story is intriguing albeit not completely original and treads some familiar grounds. It reminds me a bit of Spielberg’s E.T. but with its own twist as well as look and feel. Though the story deals with a kid’s special powers, it’s not really the main focus. Instead, it’s more about the relationship of Alton and Roy and why Roy would risk everything, even his own life, to get Alton to where he needs to go. It’s a bond that transcend understanding.

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The performances are excellent all around. I haven’t seen Lieberher in anything but despite his young age, this isn’t his first film. He’s able to convey a lot without saying anything, which is tricky even for adult actors. Shannon is truly one of the best actors working today as he’s excellent in everything I’ve seen him in so far, including this one. There’s something enigmatic about him but here he shows a tender, vulnerable side as well. He shares a convincing emotional bond with Lieberher which makes you so invested in their journey. Edgerton is another actor whose work I admire, so it’s cool to see both him and Shannon’s continued collaboration with Nichols (both are featured in his latest film, the Sundance darling Loving). Adam Driver has a supporting role as the NSA officer, sporting geeky chic glasses a la Snowden. He’s quite memorable here and at times provides some comic relief. I have to mention Kirsten Dunst and Sam Shepard as well in small but key supporting roles.

Though mostly serious, the film isn’t devoid of humor and some amusing scenes thanks to some of the roles some of the actor have portrayed. I’m not going to say what that reference is, but let’s just say it has something to do with a superhero from another world who’s also adopted by an earthly father. I appreciate that the film has plenty of quiet moments but by no means slow or tedious. The fact that there’s not much action happening, but when it does, it’s quite effective.


I wouldn’t say the film is perfect however, there are some predictable moments that somewhat lessen the impact. The fact that there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Alton by the end is a bit frustrating. Why did he end up on earth in the first place, why is the daylight harmful to him, why the cult thinks Alton is who they think they are, and so on. That said, there’s enough going for it that Midnight Special was a satisfying ride. Oh and that finale is quite a heart-pounding one. Given all the suspenseful build up, nice to see a pretty powerful pay-off.

Overall it’s an impressive film that offers a unique twist to an often-told sci-fi tale. This one is actually Nichols’ first studio film (with Warner Bros), but given that it’s budget is only $18 mil, the studio still agreed to let him have the final cut. I sure hope that he’ll continue to get as much creative control over his work even as he inevitably transition into bigger-budget films.

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So have you seen ‘Midnight Special’? Let me know what you think!

Indie Actor Spotlight: Tim Jacobs – star of the upcoming indie sci-fi ‘District C-11’

I’m always intrigued by indie sci-fi films and today I have the privilege to highlight an up-and-coming indie actor, who happens to be the boyfriend of my good friend/colleague Ashley. If you remember in 2013 I posted an interview with Tim Jacobs when he was working as an extra on RIPD.

Tim has been one of my consultants for my script, as the two main characters are stage actors and so a large part of it involves scenes in a theatrical play. So I’m more than happy to feature him on my blog in the hope that this role will get him more film and/or tv work in the future. This time around Tim is the co-lead in an indie sci-fi thriller District C-11.

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District C-11 is a action-packed, plot twisting sci-fi. The story is of two cops in the not too distant future is who are tasked to patrol the streets of Boston at night in a city being broken by corruption and a villain named Stanton Creed. As they get closer to the source of the city’s woes, they find themselves closer to death asking themselves two questions. Do they fight for whats right and risk their lives? Or do they join the bad guys and become part of the problem?

Starring: Corey Spencer, Tim Jacobs, Richard C. Bailey, Lance Williams, Alaina Gianci, Jordan Lloyd & Mark Resnik
Directed By Wes Williams II
Written By Ralph Celestin
Produced by Camp 9 Films

Check out the trailer:


The film is set in Boston and it will have its premiere at
Boston Common Lowes Movie Theater on Thursday 4/21.

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Here’s my Q&A with Tim about the film, as well as his background as an actor and the challenges & experience working in theater vs feature films.

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How did you get involved with this project?

That is quite an interesting story. I saw the audition notice on multiple social media channels and thought it sounded like a good story. I went to the open auditions and read for the part of Grey Gideon. At the end of the first round of auditions, I was told that they loved me, but I was too tall. Later that month I received a call asking me to come back for another round of auditions. Again, they gave me great feedback, but again were unsure about my height. At the third and final callback, it was down to me and another incredible actor (Nicholas DiMaio) and after some great readings with different scenes partners, we were left without a verdict. Wes Williams II (the director) called me 3 weeks later as I was on the phone with another director and offered me the part after again telling me how my height was restrictive. I accepted and could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

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On set with Corey Spencer

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Close up shot hitting the ground

Tell us about your character and how it fits into the story?

Grey is a hell of a character. He is a good cop, a good partner, and good friend… mostly. He upholds the law, but is ultimately driven by revenge for the death of his parents. He has a substance abuse problem and doesn’t like to let people get too close to him. His partner Trenton (Corey Spencer) is the one real exception to that rule. In the movie, things don’t always go Grey’s way and it tends to get a little… messy.

Being that you’ve done small supporting work in big-budget films (RIPD), how’s your experience been like in an independent film but in a more prominent role?I’ve now worked on multiple big budget films and TV shows (Spotlight, The Girl on the Train, Allegiant part 1) and it is always a toss up whether the set is going to be friendly and organized, or harsh and chaotic. Without mentioning specific productions, I have seen some of the worst set management in the bigger budget films. Thankfully, the crew of District C-11 and the most of the smaller movies i’ve worked on have been really professional. I know that i’m lucky because I have heard horror stories from many of my actor friends.

A shot of most of the crew after the last shot of the day
A shot of most of the crew after the last shot of the day

Having a more prominent role is a rush. You are always getting called for something (hair, make-up, rehearsals, etc) so you really take advantage of the down time you have. I loved being in the thick of it and being able to collaborate with the director and Director of Photography (Rajah Samaroo) regarding different takes on shots and scenes. It really is a labor of love because there are times when you are waiting for lights to be set up or lenses to be changed and all the extras have been let go for the night and it’s just you, your scene partner, and the freezing temperatures.You question why you are doing this at all, but if you really love what you are doing, and believe in the project, those thoughts don’t last too long.

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Q: What’s one of the most memorable experiences making this film for you?

So many. The first time action was called. I wasn’t even really in the scene, but it was an incredible high. Working with our fight choreographer (Sisouk Vongbandith) and getting to know all the incredible film people in Boston. I did have a favorite scene to shoot though. It was my partner Trenton, Franchesca (Alaina GIanchi) and myself in a car driving around. The cameras were on rigs so there was no crew around at all with the exception of the poor sound tech (Jack Garrett) ducking in the back seat. It was real, honest work between just the actors with nobody interrupting us. We drove back and forth on an abandoned road for about 30 minutes just doing a bunch of takes. It was so different from what we had been used to and was a great experience.

Q: You mentioned you worked as an extra in ‘The Girl on the Train’ (which trailer has just dropped). What was the experience like working on that?

I was a passenger on the train 😛 I sat a few rows behind Emily Blunt. Unfortunately it was the last days of shooting so i didn’t really get a chance to network much. It was a really fun set though. The director [Tate Taylor] was wonderful and the entire crew seemed great to work with… that could also have been because it was the last couple days… I didn’t know a whole lot about the story going in so it was fun to pick up what was going on by listening to the director talk to Emily between takes. All in all it was a very professional and courteous set.

Q: You have a pretty extensive experience in theater, which do you prefer between making feature films & theater work?

They are so different! The first answer that came to my head was theatre. There is nothing like live theatre. If you mess up, you have to find a way to fix it right then and there. There are no second takes, no redos. What you give is what the audience gets. The adrenaline is incredible. It’s also nice to do the script in chronological order. You always know where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing/dressed like/ what scars are where. Not so in film. In District C-11 we shot the second to last scene on our second day of filming. It took a little getting used to. However, I also love the ever changing always moving nature of film. It keeps you on your toes and the chance at second takes allows you to explore many different ideas and options. I guess i don’t have a clear answer for you there.

Getting a touch-up between takes
Getting a touch-up between takes

Q: What’s next for you after this film? 

I moved to NYC last year and am pursuing work here. I’ve done a few smaller projects and been on some big budget TV shows. I haven’t been on Law and Order SVU yet, so according to my actor friends, I’m haven’t been inducted into NYC television acting yet. I’m hoping this movie showcases me and can help propel me higher up. I’m working with a few people I know and getting in with the right people. It won’t be long before I get another great part!

Photos courtesy of PERSONIFYD MEDIA


For more info, check out District C-11‘s official website and on Facebook


Hope you enjoy the interview. Thoughts about Tim and/or ‘District C-11’? 
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Spotlight on indie sci-fi 400 DAYS – Q & A with writer/director Matt Osterman

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400 Days is a psychological sci-fi film centering on four astronauts who are sent on a simulated mission to a distant planet to test the psychological effects of deep space travel. Locked away for 400 days, the crew’s mental state begins to deteriorate when they lose all communication with the outside world. Forced to exit the ship, they discover that this mission may not have been a simulation after all.

Starring: Brandon Routh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Grant Bowler, with Tom Cavanagh and Dane Cook
Directed and Written by: Matt Osterman

Available on VOD (Amazon) and iTUNES: January 12, 2016
Available in Theaters: January 15, 2016
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Rated: Not Yet Rated

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MattOstermanI love indie sci-fi films and I had seen the trailer a few months ago and was intrigued by it. When I later learned that it was made by a Minnesota-native, who still lives in the Twin Cities area, I definitely wanted to feature it on my blog. Thanks to my friend and fellow Twin Cities Film Fest’ staff Matt Cici who introduced me to Matt Osterman. He was one of the speakers at a TCFF Educational Events back in October, but I wasn’t able to make it then, so I’m glad I finally got the chance to meet with Matt to talk about his film.

Matt grew up in Wisconsin but since college he had made MN his home. Filmmaker wasn’t on his career checklist but he was a big movie geek. His parents gave him a black/white TV for his room so he could watch reruns of Twilight Zone from an early age. He had always been into writing and telling stories and one day he had a lightbulb moment that he wanted to go into making movies.

Here’s my Q&A with Matt:

Q: You wrote as well as directed this film. What’s the biggest challenge in adapting your own work?

A: Well, that in and of itself is literally the biggest challenge, not having the aesthetic distance to properly judge something. You get so close to it, and though you know it better than anyone else but that’s also a curse because you can’t take a step back and look at it objectively. So that’s difficult but what I did was I tried to get as many feedback as possible throughout the entire process. Hopefully they can be honest with you and say ‘hey this part sucks, what are you trying to do, etc.’ So I tried to incorporate that into the process, you know, just lose the ego and try to take it all in. Whatever makes the project better.

You chose to live Minneapolis, far away from the filmmaking mecca of L.A. and NYC. How have you been able to make it work somehow, as you’re also raising a family here in Minneapolis?

You know, it’s been ok so far. Luckily living here we have a great quality of life and it’s a lot cheaper to live here than it is out there. I have a family so living in Minnesota has afforded us a lifestyle that you can’t really get anywhere else without a huge bank account. So I have to travel up there quite a bit but I have a manager who lives out there in L.A. so he’s sort of my ear to the ground and he can set up meetings. I’d say, ‘hey I can be out there for a week so let’s get all of our meetings in.’ I don’t know what opportunities I’m missing because I’m here. But because I’m a self-generating writer/director, you can write from anywhere. I don’t have to be over there to write, and in some ways it’s better because you’re away from the ‘bubble’ y’know and you can bring your own unique voice and not get caught up in the industry’s crap.

Q: Now, let’s talk about casting. You have three actors from CW’s superhero series (Brandon Routh and Caity Lotz were in Arrow and now in Legends of Tomorrow, and Tom Cavanaugh’s in The Flash).

A: Well, Brandon, Caity and Tom weren’t [in those series] before we cast them in this movie.

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Q: Ah so that came afterwards. So did you have a lot of input into casting, a certain wish list if you will in terms of what type of actors you want for the roles or did you just trust your casting managers?

A: No, we actually cast them ourselves. So I had a say as to which actors we hire. We met with hundreds of actors out there, it was insane. We didn’t have auditions as we went with a higher level of actors who already had a lot of taping and projects to look at. You get a sense of what skills and range they have. Especially for a low budget film, it’s more like they did you a favor than the other way around. So with a lot of them you just met with them and talk about the story and try to understand it, and see if they have the right vibe for it. So I easily have met with at least a hundred actors for all the roles. Now, for these four in particular, I was familiar with all of them and I went back to watch some of the stuff they’ve done and was sold. It’s a business as well, so you want to get people that would get the distributors excited and people around the world would want to watch. So it’s always a mixture of who’s right for the role, who has talent and who is well-known enough to make it happen.

I couldn’t be happier with people we cast, they were all amazing and did an awesome job.

Q: Talk about the filming locations a bit. Where did you shoot this film?

A: The ship we built in a sound stage in L.A. It’s all custom-built and again, we’re very low-budget so we had to be very smart with how we build things. And since it’s all a simulation it didn’t have to look like a real working spaceship. So we’re afforded an extra wiggle room there where if it’s truly a spaceship, people might say ‘hey that didn’t look like…’ but luckily we didn’t have to deal with stuff like that.

When I wrote the script I knew I wanted to do it and I knew I wouldn’t have someone give me $20 mil to make the movie. So I made sure that the spirit of the story would fit into this film.

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Ben Feldman & Brandon Routh

Q: I just read an article on Metropolis.com that the future of sci-fi films are indies instead of big blockbusters. It made me think about indie sci-fis like Another Earth, Ex Machina, and The Machine which also stars Caity Lotz. So what are your thoughts about that, do you think the future of sci-fi films are independent films vs big-budget ones like say, Interstellar?

A: Well, Interstellar is sort of its own thing. It’s done by Christopher Nolan who pretty much could do whatever he wants right now. And that film, I’d say, still kept a lot of the indie spirit because it wasn’t afraid to tackle big ideas and challenging concepts, which are the opposite of what most studio films are right now. So they [the studios] usually go with something very broad so they could sell internationally and they’re very smart about what they do, obviously it’s a business and they’re doing it extremely well. So I can’t begrudge them at all for that. But yeah, you’re exactly right, indie films are more about challenging ideas which sci-fis need, it’s giving us a different lens or perspective to view things. You need that to be able to talk about various issues and what not, so I think we’ll see a huge explosions of indie sci-fi films. Especially where sci-fis has been traditionally effects-driven films and you can do that on the cheap now, or find ways to get more bangs for your bucks. Like what we did, a lot of the effects in our film are practical effects. We had a few visual effects here and there to elevate the rest of them.

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Tom Cavanaugh

Q: It makes me think of how good District 9 was, the film by Neill Blomkamp which was made relatively cheap by Hollywood standards ($30 mil) compared to its follow-up Elysium which was nearly four times more expensive to make ($115 mil). The latter was all CGI, explosions and had no heart. It was like a superhero Matt Damon in space or whatever. So a lower-budgeted sci-fis actually appeal to me more.

A: Yeah well, most low-budget films, you don’t have money to throw at a problem, y’know. So you have to think hard about how to solve those problems. A lot of the times with big-budget movies, they run into an issue and they’d just throw money at it to camouflage it. Whereas we, we have to find ways to organically incorporate something or find an interesting solution that’ll make a movie better because of it. And a lot of limitation is actually more freeing, and that’s the fun part for me, like engineering has always been interesting to me. Problem solving is always so fascinating.

Q: This is the first project out of Syfy Films out of the gate. How’s it been working with them. Were they involved from the beginning in terms or financing or just distribution?

A: Syfy has been absolutely amazing, real supportive and a real champion for the film. A lot of smart people over there so I’ve been really lucky to have been associated with them. They came in after we started shooting. I’m not even sure if Syfy Film had existed or not as an entity at that time, perhaps they were in the process but certainly they weren’t ready to buy anything at that point. We tried to finance this ourselves but we did have other partners come on that bought the film so we have a domestic and international distribution. XLrator Media for domestic and Content Media handles the international rights. So they bought the film a week into production so we didn’t even have anything to show, we had some footage and they saw the cast and they liked it so they jumped on board. Then later when we had the rough cut, Syfy jumped on it immediately.

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Brandon Routh & Caity Lotz

Q: If you don’t mind sharing, what’s the budget and financing process for the film?

A: It’s all privately-financed, so I partnered with producers that are L.A. based. So they have producers and financiers that they work with, and they said ‘hey we have this movie, it’ll be great, trust us.’ So they’re part of various production companies, not big studios, so they’re pretty much involved in the indie world. So they’re able to get the money and we went and made it. Our movie’s made for well under a million dollars.

Q: You mentioned that your film is like a puzzle. What do you want the viewers to get out of your movie, or what do you intend it to be for the viewers?

A: Going into it, and all the way into the process even up until now, I want people to watch it and after that they’d have a conversation afterward about their own interpretation. Because there are multiple interpretations that they can get out of this film. For me, I enjoy movies that aren’t wrapped up in a neat bow at the end and hand you the ending on a silver plater. Nothing wrong with those movies, in fact most movies are that way, y’know, nice resolution. But I really like movies that challenge the audience and say ‘we’re not going to connect the dots for you, you have to pay attention and come to your own conclusion at the end and then hopefully talk to someone else who perhaps have a different interpretation of it.

I also love movies that has those *refrigerator moments.* It’s when you watch a movie and you enjoyed it but something sticks with you. Then you find yourself a couple of nights later at 2 am, you can’t sleep, then you’re staring at your refrigerator looking for a snack and go ‘oh that’s what that meant’ or ‘ oh I get that now’ I love movies that live beyond the time you watch it and I find that it’s frustrating for people. Now that the film’s out internationally, and of course some are illegally downloading it, I’m getting angry tweets from people. Some said ‘how could you forget to write an ending?’ and I said, ‘well that wasn’t quite THAT, but there’s been a history of movies that didn’t get wrapped up in a pretty neat bow.


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Where to watch 400 Days


Have you seen 400 Days? Let me know what you think!