FlixChatter Review – The Midnight Sky (2020)

The success of GRAVITY back in 2013 led Hollywood to fall in love with the sci-fi space adventure genre again. I’m talking about non-Star Wars and Star Trek related films of course. Within the 2010s, there were some great space films such as INTERSTELLAR, THE MARTIAN, AD ASTRA and FIRST MAN. But there were also some clunkers like PASSENGERS, LIFE and THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX. The latest space adventure is THE MIDNIGHT SKY directed by and starred George Clooney.

In the year 2049, a catastrophic event has caused the earth to become inhabitable. A lone scientist named Augustine (Clooney) decided to stay at his post at the Barbeau Observatory in the Arctic Circle while everyone was order evacuate the area before the “event” happened. A few months later, Augustine realized that he might be the only survivor living on earth. He soon learned that a group of explorers on a spaceship called Aether are heading back to the now dangerous earth. He needs get in contact with the ship and tell them to turn around. While on Aether, the crew lead by Captain Adewole (David Oyelowo), Sully (Felicity Jones), Sanchez (Demian Bichir), Maya (Tiffany Boone) and Michell (Kyle Chandler). The crew is worried because they haven’t had any communications from earth in a long time.

Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo

Augustine is unable to communicate with Aether from his current observatory. So he needs to travel to another station that’s more well equipped, but things got complicated when he discovered a child named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) who was left behind during the evacuation. Now the two lone survivors on earth must make a long trip through the freezing temps of the arctic in order to reach another observatory station. The crew on Aether also ran into their own trouble as the trip back to earth was thwarted by some unforeseen dangers.

Based on an excellent novel called GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT written by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the screenplay by Mark L. Smith stays pretty close to the source material. Smith did change a couple things up, like the names of the crew of Aether and added some set pieces that didn’t exist in the novel. I loved the novel and appreciated that the filmmakers decided to stay true to the source, but I think this is where I think they should have taken some liberties and change the story to make it more exiting and cinematic. I feel like there’s not much urgency in the story to make people care about the characters’ survival. I get that Clooney wanted to make a slow-paced character study piece, but I don’t think he’s talented enough to pull it off. What worked in the book doesn’t mean it’s going to work on screen. I think a more talented filmmaker like Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Afonso Cauron or David Fincher could’ve turn this into something special.

Even though he fell short on the storytelling part, Clooney and his cinematographer Martin Ruhe shot a beautiful looking film. I’ve said many times before, most of Netflix’s films tends to have that made for home video look to them but with a high budget of over $100mil, Clooney and his crew delivered a stunning looking film. Kudos also goes to composer Alexandre Desplat who composed a very beautiful and haunting score.

Caoilinn Springall

Performances by the actors really saved this film for me. Jones, Oyelowo and the rest of the supporting actors are memorable in their respective roles. Clooney whose character is in his 70s in the book, decided to lose a lot of weight for the role to make himself look older and I thought he’s great here. Also, in a memorable role is Ethan Peck as the young Augustine in flashback scenes. But the scenes stealer belongs to Caoilinn Springall and she only has one line of dialog in the entire film. Her performances consist of body language and eye contacts, for such a young actress, she’s quite excellent here. I predict she’ll have a long career in Hollywood.

Netflix is obviously hoping this will their big Oscar film this year, but it seems most critics and audiences don’t really care for it much. If you’re a fan of the novel or enjoy sci-fi space adventure, then I think this is worth your time.

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So have you seen MIDNIGHT SKY? Well, what did you think?

Guest Review: MANCHESTER BY THE SEA (2016)

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Directed/Written By: Kenneth Lonergan
Cast: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler
Runtime: 2 hrs 17 minutes

Cinema portrayals of angry people are not usually enjoyable entertainment yet we are fascinated by films that dwell entirely on simmering angst. Manchester by the Sea (2016) is such a film. Perplexing, unsettling, yet engaging, it is a story without joy that is made bearable by outstanding performances and superb cinematography.

The plotline has a simple core narrative framed by frequent and abrupt flashbacks that gradually piece together a jigsaw-like story. We meet Lee (Casey Affleck) as a handyman and depressive loner whose temper blows over at little provocation. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that he lives in self-exile because of a horrible family tragedy he caused. He has become emotionally hollowed out and unable to relate to people. Suddenly his brother has a fatal heart attack and his will names Lee as executor and guardian of 16 year-old son Patrick (Lucas Hedges). But to accept this responsibility, Lee must move back to the idyllic seaside town of Manchester by the Sea which is full of traumatic memories, including of his attempted suicide, his divorced wife, and people who are wary of him. He stays for the funeral, drinks heavily, lashes out physically, argues with his teenage nephew, and wants to cut and run. Gradually, he becomes emotionally re-connected with family and place through the experience of caring for the typically full-of-himself nephew. Lee’s traumatic past makes way for new beginnings, new relationships, and the hope of redemption.

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If you look for originality in storytelling, there is little of it here. Painful battles with inner demons is a cliché, and fighting several at once is simply a compound cliché not something new. Half of this film is spent on assembling the narrative jigsaw so we can understand what makes Lee the way he is, and the other half is spent on standard melodrama tropes about re-connecting by caring for someone else. However, it is the casting, characterisation, and cinematography that save this film from being just another story of angry people destabilised by tragedy. Casey Affleck does trauma and ambivalence very effectively. His bemused tolerance of his nephew’s demands and sexual exploits becomes the emotional scaffold that guides his calming from pot-boiling anger to resigned acceptance that life must go on. Lucas Hedges is the perfect foil for Casey Affleck, and both are helped by a strong support ensemble.

Brilliant acting by Affleck does not hide the film’s melodramatic predictability. But this slow essay on anger would be more unsettling were it not for its joyful filming. Trauma is calmed and un-likable characters forgiven when all are nestled against beautiful images of bobbing fishing vessels lapping the shores of charming Manchester by the Sea. The camerawork visually warms the film and helps bind its elements into an engaging story of loss and redemption.

cinemuseRichard Alaba, PhD
CineMuse Films
Member, Australian Film Critics Association
Sydney, Australia


Have you seen ‘Manchester By The Sea’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Zero Dark Thirty

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Apart from perhaps Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow’s films are often a one-time-viewing-only for me and this one is no exception. It’s not a dis mind you, it’s just that the subject matter she picks are usually so difficult to watch.

The beginning of the film took us back to September 11, 2001. With nothing appearing on screen, we hear the tape of the air controller and 911 operators responding to the people in the twin towers. It was an efficient way to remind us what’s really at stake in the investigations that take place two years later. A CIA officer named Maya has just been brought to the black site where an ongoing interrogation of an alleged terrorist takes place. It’s during the first 20 minutes of the torture and humiliation scenes, including waterboarding, that’s become the subject of tons of controversies. Kathryn Bigelow has since defended her film, saying that “…depiction is not endorsement, and if it was, no artist could ever portray inhumane practices.” Well said, I’d say.

This film definitely challenges us to ponder on various moral issues and as a viewer I was put into a roller coaster ride as all kinds of raw emotions run through me. At the center of it all, we have a relentless protagonist Maya, who’s become obsessed with this manhunt. What started out as an assignment straight out being recruited out of high school, her hunt for Bin Laden (nicknamed ‘UBL’ by her colleagues) quickly became a personal vendetta.

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It plays like a documentary at times in the way it depicts true events such as the various terrorist bombings, including one that Maya herself almost become a victim of at the Marriott Hotel in Pakistan. Despite its claim that it was based on true events though, of course it’s still a movie so creative liberties are obviously taken. As a thriller, it definitely works. Despite the 157-minute running time, Bigelow’s direction based on Mark Boal’s script managed to keep my attention throughout. There’s not a boring moment as even the slower moments are packed with tension. There’s also some humorous moments such as when Maya relentlessly writes on the glass window of her CIA boss how many days its been since she gave out her intel but nothing has been done about it. She also delivered the most bad-ass lines to Leon Panetta (played by Mr Soprano himself, James Gandolfini) when he asked who she was during a meeting discussing Bin Laden’s compound.

“I’m the motherf***** who found this place, sir!”

I don’t like to cuss but that is one heck of an awesome line delivered in such deadpan perfection by Jessica Chastain. She gave a credible performance in the role. Maya’s reserved, even aloof at times, but she’s definitely a fighter and she stops at nothing to get the job done. There’s a powerful scene where she tells her boss Joseph Bradley a piece of her mind, it was a ‘you go girl’ moment and Chastain nailed it.The supporting cast delivered a solid performance as well, most notably Jason Clarke (an Aussie who always play Americans), Kyle Chandler, Jennifer Ehle, Edgar Ramirez and Mark Strong. Joel Edgerton plays one of the SEALS Team Six that appeared in the last 40 minutes of the actual raid in the compound in Abbottabad.

I thought that the whole sequence was well-directed. The views from night-vision goggles and the handheld camera movements offer quick cuts in a dark environment, but thankfully it didn’t make me feel nauseous watching it. I’m also glad that Bigelow didn’t over-dramatize the actual killing of Bin Laden with excessive slo-mo, what have you. Though we know how the end plays out, it’s still an edge-of-your-seat ride from start to finish.

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The end of such an exhilarating, dangerous, and not to mention expensive operation ends with a solemn moment of Maya alone on an airplane as she leaves the military base. It’s the right kind of sentiment I’d expect someone in her position would have. She’s spent years at the agency to finally get to this moment, to bring justice a man who has killed thousands of innocent victims. But yet, there’s no self-congratulatory cheer, no high-fives with the troops… it’s not a moment of celebration. It was such a relief for me that the whole ordeal is over and I had only been watching it for 2.5 hours, I can’t begin to imagine how the real ‘Maya’ must have felt.

As I said in my Oscar nominations reaction, I think Bigelow was snubbed and now I’m even more convinced of it. It was a well-crafted film all around, the non-flashy, no non-sense directing style works for this subject matter, and acting-wise it was top notch. The whole film was enhanced by the terrific score Alexander Desplat. It’s minimalistic but definitely effective in setting the mood. A riveting film that certainly leaves much to ponder about for days to come.

4.5 out of 5 reels

What are your thoughts on this film? I’d love to hear it.