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midnight special



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Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols’ film is a science fiction/chase thriller that evokes John Carpenter’s Starman yet, is very much it’s own movie. Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) is a boy with some very unique and unexplainable powers. These powers have earned him a religious cult built around him that believes he can protect them from the coming Judgment Day. As he can receive communications of even the most top secret kind, the government is very interested in him as well. His father Roy (Michael Shannon) and friend Lucas (Joel Edgerton) kidnap Alton from the cult and now flee across country to a place and time the boy insists he must be. With both government agents and cultists in hot pursuit, will they get there in time…or at all?

If you can imagine John Carpenter at his prime teaming with Steven Spielberg in his earlier years than this flick is what you might have gotten. Nichols writes and directs a tale of a mysterious and special boy on the run from those who seek to use his gifts for their own purposes. What makes this work especially well is the emotional depth it’s given being presented from the perspective of a loving father accepting his son for who he is and willing to give his life to see him safe. It’s this emotional core that makes this work beyond the well-executed SPFX sequences of Alton’s powers at work…which are used sparingly, but to full effect. There is certainly suspense and some tense sequences, which are all deftly handled, but it is the film’s sense of wonder and the flesh and blood characters that really draw us in. Even if the Spielbergian finale is a bit more on a Disney level than the more intense and sometimes violent rest of the film, it still works and leaves us effected even after the credits role, as Nichols doesn’t just present it, but shows us some of the effects on those around it. It gives the SPFX filled moment weight…and a sense of wonder. The director/writer takes a familiar tale and really makes it something fresh and fills it with some very three dimensional characters which give it a realism and keeps it grounded, despite the science fiction elements. It’s a really enjoyable film with a heart, as well as, SPFX, action and suspense. There is an effective score by David Wingo and some Dean Cundey-esque cinematography from Adam Stone to add to an already exceptional movie.

The cast couldn’t be better. Michael Shannon again proves he is one of the most gifted actors around as Alton’s caring and self-sacrificing father, Roy. Jaeden Lieberher is enchanting as Alton, who is more than he seems and we really endear to him despite his sometimes dangerous abilities. Joel Edgerton, fresh off The Gift, is again solid as the state trooper who is willing to break the laws he holds dear to help his friend and his son. We also have Kirsten Dunst in a touching role as Alton’s mother who loves him enough to possibly let him go, if it means his safety. Sam Shepard also appears as cult leader, Calvin Meyer and rounding out the leads is Adam Driver as a sympathetic government official who decides to help Alton find what it is he is looking for. A top notch cast that make their characters very real.

A emotionally strong and highly enjoyable thriller about a special boy and the race to keep him safe. Alton is a bit of a mystery at first, but as we journey with him, we slowly learn just how fantastically special he is. The film has a big heart with some tense action and suspense, along with a sense of wonder and some very effective SPFX moments. But unlike the CGI laden big budget FX spectacles of today, this film has a very human center at it’s core, about a parents love for their child and the lengths they will go to see them safe. Great movie that reminded me of John Carpenter in his prime and the earlier works of Steven Spielberg. Highly recommended.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 4 (out of 4) Altons.

midnight speical rating






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As a big fan of writer/director Jim Mickle (Stake Land/We Are What We Are 2013) I was eagerly awaiting his next flick especially when I heard it would be a thriller and star Dexter’s Michael C. Hall. And while I feel the film left a few questions unanswered, I did like it’s bold changes of direction and Mickle’s very John Carpenter-ish style… including a dead-on Carpenter-esque score by Jeff Grace and a character named ‘Jack Crow’ (Lanny Flaherty) as from Carpenter’s Vampires. And I can only believe it was all deliberate.

The film is based on a book by Joe R. Lansdale and takes place in 1989 Texas. Small-town picture-framer Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) wakes up in the middle of the night to find an intruder in his house. In fear for the lives of his son, wife and self, he reluctantly confronts the man with his gun and shoots him dead after being startled. The unarmed man is identified by police chief Ray Price (Nick Damici, who co-scripted) as Freddy Russell (Wyatt Russell) a wanted man and known felon. Richard is stricken by guilt but, that is the least of his troubles as Freddy’s dad Ben (Sam Shepard), also a felon, has just been paroled and begins stalking Richard’s family, with apparent harmful intent for his little boy. But, as the police pursue the revenge minded Ben, the situation takes a bizarre turn as a twist of fate leads Richard to believe the man he shot was not Freddy Russell. Now to uncover the mystery of who was actually killed in his house and why the police are lying, leads Richard to the one person least likely to want to help him… Ben Russell.

I enjoyed this movie. It was a tense thriller and Mickle creates some great atmosphere and tension while also taking things suddenly in directions one does not expect… more than once. He and Nick Damici’s script takes us on some unexpected turns and ultimately delivers a blood soaked thriller far different than we expected going in. The style of the film reminded me very much of early John Carpenter and I doubt that is a coincidence as Jeff Grace’s accompanying score sounds as if it was lifted directly out of an 80s Carpenter film and Ryan Samul’s cinematography echoes that of a Carpenter flick. Mickle again shows he is a filmmaker to watch and he has a nice versatility in the tone of his projects. There is also a nice undercurrent of humor in the script, especially when Don Johnson is on-screen as delightfully cliche’d Texas private investigator Jim Bob Luke. The character is far too stereotypical to not be deliberate and it adds to the film’s atmosphere and flavor, lightening the very dour tone a bit to keep the atmosphere from being oppressive. There are some flaws. Changing narrative direction does leave some questions unanswered and I certainly question whether the fairly meek Richard would have voluntarily seen this thing through, like he does, once it appeared things would get bloody. There are a few things I can certainly figure out on my own, but, the film does still leave us with quandaries and the change in narrative does leave characters behind who we’d like a bit of closure with. But, I still enjoyed the film as it is and the last act bloodbath was quite effective. And another factor that helps overcome some of it’s flaws, aside from Mickle’s skilled direction, is a dynamite cast…

Michael C. Hall is very effective as a demure small-town business and family man who is dropped into a violent situation that turns into a mystery and gets even more violent. He seems like a good man who truly wants answers to satisfy his conscience for not only killing an unarmed intruder but, why he was lied to about his identity. I’m not sure Richard would have pursued things to it’s bloody end when given a chance to walk away, but, Hall is still good in the part, nonetheless. Sam Shepard is absolutely gripping as Ben Russell. At first he comes across as a violent and vengeful man with harmful intent toward Dane and his family but, as the mystery unfolds, he becomes a different person altogether and one who might actually have a sense of honor underneath the convicted felon. Shepard is a gifted actor that really makes a simple criminal into a complex three dimensional character. Don Johnson also shines as good-ole-boy private detective and pig farmer Jim Bob Luke. He has a good time with a man who is both charmingly Americana yet, larger than life and Johnson also imbues a stereotype character with some layers and dimensionality as we get to know him. Johnson’s last few roles has shown us an actor who has matured gracefully and only gotten better with age. Nick Damici also proves he has become a good actor aside from Mickle’s co-writer, on all his previous projects, and his Ray Price is an interesting character with interesting motives and it’s too bad the story leaves him behind at a fairly early point. The rest of the supporting cast are just fine and the acting helps make this flick work as well as it does.

So, despite a few unanswered questions and some changes in story direction that may throw some viewers off… but, I liked them… this is a taunt and sometimes very violent thriller from a director who continues to grow and surprise. I loved tha the film evoked John Carpenter in his prime and what it might have been like had the master director done a down and dirty thriller like this. I also loved Jeff Grace’s very Carpenter-ish score and the addition of a character named ‘Jack Crow’ leads me to believe that the Carpenter style and score was not a co-incidence. An atmospheric thriller not afraid to change gears and take us in unexpected and sometimes blood-soaked directions, guided by a director who can deliver the goods and win us over despite the film’s flaws.

3 bullets.

ex2 rating





I am a huge fan of writer/director Jim Mickle (Mulberry St., Stake Land, We Are What We Are) and Dexter was one of my favorite shows in recent years so, I am very excited that Mickle has done a film with Dexter’s Michael C. Hall and here is the first trailer…

source: Youtube




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Out Of The Furnace is a very intense and well-acted drama that only makes one glaring plot mistake in an otherwise solidly written film by Crazy Heart’s Scott Cooper. The film takes place in the run-down steel town of  North Braddock, PA. and tells the story of brothers Russell (Christian Bale) and Rodney (Casey Affleck) Baze. Russell is a good natured and hard working man who, like his ailing father, works at the steel mill and earns a meager but honest living. Rodney is a traumatized Iraqi war veteran whose inner rage prevents him from finding peace with a normal job and turns to gambling and illegal fighting under the guidance of small town crook, John Petty (Willem Dafoe). A tragic accident sees a tired and mildly intoxicated Russell hit another car and kill the mother and child within. This sends Russell to prison while Rodney’s inability to take a fall when required, leaves him in growing debt. Once his time is done, Russell is released to find his girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana) has left him for the local sheriff (Forest Whitaker), his father has died and Rodney in deep with the sleazy local gangster Petty. But despite his efforts to set his brother straight and get his life in order, Rodney forces Petty to get him involved with an illegal bare-knuckles fight run by vicious backwoods gangster Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) in the Ramapo Mountains in New Jersey. Rodney hopes this big payoff will clear his debt with Petty and clear Petty’s debt with DeGroat. But Harlan DeGroat is a devious and vile person and despite taking the fall he was told too, Rodney and Petty do not return home. The law’s inability to pierce the veil of silence around these mountain-folk and exact justice sets the mild-mannered Russell on a vengeful collision course that will put him face to face with a very dangerous man.

Make no mistake, as directed and co-written (with Brad Ingelsby) by Scott Cooper, this is a strong and sometimes powerful drama about a man who wants to live a simple, peaceful life, but is forced by circumstance to put his good-naturedness aside and take vengeful action. During the 80s this kind of plot might have been a far simpler film starring the likes of Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal, but under Cooper’s guidance, a simple revenge flick becomes a powerful story filled with multi-dimensional characters. And it is the characters that are the focus of this tale and not the minimal gunfire or occasional violence…though that has it’s own intensity as well. Which does bring me to my one gripe….

…As this film does choose to focus on the characters and the effects the film’s events has on their lives, I found it very hard to believe that Russell would put innocent people in harm’s way and in one instance, get someone killed for his own personal revenge. I understand he is driven by anger and frustration, but especially after seeing how torn-up he was after his car accident cost two innocents their lives, the fact that even now he would again put lives in danger, other than his own, is hard for me to accept. It’s the only major flaw I find with this otherwise engrossing drama. I don’t believe Russell would put his quest for payback before the lives of others and here he does not once but twice. To discuss it any deeper would be to present plot points important to the story, so I won’t go any further, but it doesn’t make sense coming from the character we’ve gotten to know.

And as we are discussing the characters, it’s only fitting to mention the great cast that brings them to life. Bale is once again near brilliant as the simple, kind-hearted Russell and portrays his slow burn path from simple steelworker taken by the events around him on courses that shatter the quiet life he seeks and has him turn against his very own moral code. Casey Affleck is a rage-filled powder keg and despite his anger and inner pain, we do feel sympathy for a man who fought through a nightmare for his country and now feels lost and abandoned by it. He and Bale have some really intense scenes together and I do mean intense. Defoe is solid, as always, as the sleazy, yet somehow likable small time crook Petty. He seems like the type of small fish criminal who doesn’t understand that he shouldn’t play in the bigger pond until it’s far too late. Harrelson again delivers the goods with his portrayal of  Harlan DeGroat. He is intense, frightening and a little intriguing as the backwoods drug dealer and crime-lord with very little morality or sympathy. He’s a monster, but one with multiple dimensions and not a cliché or caricature as the role could have been in a lesser film. Saldana shows she is more then a pretty face as Lena, but her character seems to disappear for the most part once the meat of the plot gets in motion. She is good in her scenes, but the character all but disappears in the last act and seems forgotten. Rounding out the cast is Forest Whitaker doing his usual good work as the sheriff with whom Russell has personal issues involving Lena and Sam Shepard, who can sit in a chair and ooze character, is very likable in a small role as the Baze boys’ uncle.

So basically we have a simple story made into a powerful drama by a skilled writer/director and a simply great cast that is able to overcome a glaring plot flaw to retain it’s strength and impact by the time the credits role. Not quite a great movie, but a really damn good one with some top notch acting by a first rate cast.

3 and 1/2 bulletts.

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