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Viceroy’s House (2017)

The tone of Viceroy’s House is set as Lord Mountbatten (Hugh Bonneville) takes on the role of the last Viceroy of India and announces to a council of his peers that the Indian’s cannot wait to get rid of the British.

Gurinder Chadha has Viceroy’s House take place entirely within the complex of the aforementioned house, which housed people of all faiths and differing political stances during this time of extreme change ij India. What I did not anticipate with this story is the extremely personal touch, as the director’s great grandmother was actually caught in the partition of India in 1947.

The grand spectacle of the house was beautifully shot, as Lord and Lady Mountbatten enter the house for the first time and the screen dances with golds, reds and oranges. But instead of having the story revolve around Lord Mountbatten’s adjustment to the Indian heat and the change of power, the house also welcomes a new member into its staff as Jeet Kumar (Manish Dayal) joins the ranks.

The house in itself becomes a character over the course of an hour and forty minutes, as you see the cracks begin to show between the differing faiths that serve the Viceroy’s family. This tension becomes part of the film, as the violence around India wages on whilst Mountbatten and his council try to negotiate a plan that will work for India and it’s people.

But this tension also filters and weighs heavily on the Mountbatten family, as Lady Mountbatten (Gillian Anderson) seemingly loses faith in her husband as he tries to maintain a plan that will effectively tear India apart. And her performance is excellent as the humanitarian that wants the British to not be remembered as the people that ruined the country whilst giving back independence.

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Instead of having Viceroy’s House stand alone as a political drama depicting this partition, Chadha instead incorporated a love story that bridges an impossible gap that seems to have been placed between faiths. Jeet Kumar and Aalia Noor (Huma Qureshi) have an infectious love story that takes place during the backdrop of this torn India, which causes further tension between themselves and their faiths.

I had come into this film with no prior knowledge about Viceroy’s or their houses and especially the partition of India. The way Gurinder Chadha managed to relay this historical information was fantastic, and I can’t say I was ever bored during the unveiling of it. The key to the climax of this story was the tension that was rife throughout the household, but also the tension between the Mountbattens and Mountbatten’s staff.

This come downs to the convincing performances from everyone on screen, from Manish Dayal, Michael Gambon and even Neeraj Kabi as Mahatma Gandhi professing his opinion on the situation. The telling of this political drama would have come down to the convincing performances on show and the cast were there the whole nine yards. Chadha managed to effectively add in the love story to bulk out the story, which helped it move through the hour and forty runtime.

Viceroy’s House is a really enjoyable piece of filmmaking, and quite an educational one too. It also provide the social implications of Indians living in India under the rule of the British. As Viceroy’s House takes place in 1947, it also tells how World War II impacted both nations in differing ways.

The real winner in this picture is the tension that is rife throughout. Chadha and the cast effectively made the tension feel real and not just between Mountbatten and his staff, but between the members of staff themselves. The upstairs downstairs dynamic that is reminiscent of Downton Abbey really accentuates this as the Mountbatten’s take residence at the house.

The last moments of Viceroy’s House is what stays with you. The personal story of Chadha’s great grandmother being victim to the partition drives home an event that happened a mere 70 years ago and can be drawn on for relevance to this present day. Although politics in dramas are a grey area in enjoyment, Viceroy’s House managed to have the right mix of political drama and the love story and I think that it comes down to the great all round performances from Bonneville, Anderson and the rest of the supporting cast. If you’re interested the British Empire and it’s impact on India, then this would be perfect viewing for you.


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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Much of the promotional footage in the lead up to Kong: Skull Island really focused on the sheer size of the king of the apes, as he towers above people silhouetted by a crimson setting sun. Many of the previous incarnations of King Kong have him seem much smaller. (aside from when he fought the gigantic lizard Godzilla)

What differed coming into Jordan Vogt-Roberts second directorial feature was the backdrop Kong: Skull Island was set. There is a quick introduction of the main cast, where Vogt-Roberts washes the screen in vivid reds and blue, reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. John Goodman’s snatches the opening lines with “We’ll never see a more messed up time in Washington”, but he enlists the help of a former SAS solider James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photojournalist Mason Weever, (Brie Larson) both of whom are based in the Far East.

I had a slight trepidation with Brie Larson’s character and whether she was going to become the all-too familiar damsel in distress that has been seen many times in previous King Kong films. But instead Mason Weever manages to provide a stance on the social aspects in 1973 and the ending of Vietnamese War. She disagrees with Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) about whether they lost, or abandoned the war effort, in a quite tense word exchange.

I genuinely thought there was going to be some sort of semblance of a character for Samuel L. Jackson, as he solemnly reflects on his medals, but instead he opts for the vengeful and righteous man that is all too familiar with Sam Jackson. And it has to be said that I wasn’t blown away by any of the performances in Kong: Skull Island as they all seem to just offer occasional glances into the distance at the mythical creature Kong.

As the crew land on the uncharted and undiscovered Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts really indulges the visual aspect of this film and creates some beautiful and awe-inspiring shots of this exotic landscape. But I thought what was really impressive in Kong: Skull Island was Larry Fong’s ability to give the film a strong feeling of a Vietnam War film. If you had taken out the battle with a mythical gigantic creature and placed an opposing army, Kong: Skull Island would be the ideal Vietnamese War film.

Fong’s representation of this is largely helped by the soundtrack choice as they all seem to belong to that period of the late 60s and early 70s as the music has almost become iconic for that time period. This includes the incorporation of characters beginning to question the abandoning of the war effort, whilst the older-grizzled veterans try to look for new enemies to conquer.

The film stands just shy of a two-hour runtime, but unfortunately for me, it seemed to be longer and I think this is down to there being a huge amount of walking through this exotic landscape discussing the next steps and what’s going to happen, which is just not needed. Understandably, some of this is needed, but not for each individual lost in the Skull Island forest.

What was enjoyable about the story is that it was not going to be a third retelling of the 1933 story that started this infatuation of monsters on the big screen. This reimagining of the King Kong story worked, especially as we see him swinging around Skull Island, essentially protecting his territory. But Vogt-Roberts did not forget the roots of this mythical beast, as he has Kong snagged in chains during a fierce battle, referencing the previous incarnations hosting Kong to crowds whilst locked in chains, but also the cinematic battles that featured heavily in Peter Jackson’s forgettable retelling of King Kong.

I have always been a fan of monster films, with Cloverfield and Godzilla being some of my favourites, and what Kong: Skull Island is no different as the battle sequences are just simply mesmerising. Throw in some beautiful exotic landscapes and you got some incredible footage, but was that enough to make a decent film?

No. It was not.

What did not work for me was the wooden characters. The best characters were those of the under Packard’s command and their camaraderie really lifted of the screen, really shadowing that of the main cast. What was effective was the ‘Dear Billy’ included throughout the story as they put detail their own thoughts about Skull Island. Overall Kong: Skull Island works on an action level, but when you begin to scratch beneath the surface, you’re going to come up empty. Just sit back and enjoy the mesmerising battles and beautifully shot landscapes.


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Logan (2017)

Wolverine has been the character from the X-Men to receive the most action, from his early days in X-Men to his own trio of spinoffs and of course Hugh Jackman returns to the character we are all so familiar with. However Logan takes on a different task, as it is seemingly set in a not so mutant-friendly world.

What is different to the Wolverine we all know and enjoy, is that he looks incredibly dishevelled, covered with cards and to some extent, broken. But it’s still the same old character as he gets locked into a battle with some Mexicans trying to steal the lug nuts of his car. Thinking we would be treading familiar ground with this battle, I was shocked as Wolverine’s claws slash through one of the unsuspecting Mexican arms, and before one can even process this, someone else’s head is pierced with the same claws.

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My favourite superhero franchise has always been the X-Men Universe and this still holds true with the never-ending onslaughts of films by the Marvel Cinematic Universe (ugh). The X-Men Universe housed some of the better heroes and villains during its seventeen-year franchise, but never exhibited this grotesque violence that was appearing on the screen.

But it was just so great.

You can almost feel the weariness of Hugh Jackman’s new-look Wolverine, as he cannot keep up with the speed of battle like he used to. But what becomes clear is that he also taking longer to heal as he pops out shell casings in a truck stop bathroom and wipes the pus from his knuckles. Part of this comes down to Jackman giving one of his better performances. We all know him as The Wolverine, but Logan is the first film since X2 that I’ve been impressed by the character.

As I mentioned previously, my thoughts are that the X-Men Universe has always housed the greatest villains, like Magneto and Brian Cox’s William Stryker. Logan keeps up this trend, as the antagonist is one of the most intriguing, hate-inducing and cocky characters I’ve seen recently. Boyd Holbrook is definitely in his element as Donald Peirce, the man intent on catching X23, or better known as Laura (Dafne Keen).

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The trailers seemed to ruin the big reveal of Laura and her use in the story, which was a shame, as I would have preferred the surprise that would’ve come with it. Her character is really enjoyable and the chemistry that she has with Wolverine/Hugh Jackman is just fantastic, as they become enjoyable to watch interact with each other.

James Mangold managed to take the film in a very different and intriguing direction over the two hours or so that the film was running for. Aside from the upping in the ratings of the film, it is a visceral and haunting look into our beloved hero Wolverine slowly dying before our very eyes. The method that he took the narrative in was not ground breaking, but the characters that he filled the story with were the perfect, without shoving anyone’s character into too much exposure.

Although the basis of the narrative was not very inventive, it was still laced with a couple of well-crafted twists including ones that were ruined by the trailers and ones that were not. Mangold managed to take this film and place it in this surreal future (as it was set in 2029) but leave you with enough intrigue about the past events. I wouldn’t say Logan needs required viewing of the previous instalments of his spinoffs, but it would help as it gives you more of a feel of the characters in terms of Wolverine and Patrick Stewart’s Professor X.

In amongst the rip-roaring action that unfolds in Logan (which is just superb) Mangold managed to create this surreal future with some beautiful shots of Mexico, making the world seem as though it has become a barren wasteland, echoing the word from Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not often an out-and-out action has the ability to use stunning visuals and create an intriguing storyline that in some instances you really can become wrapped up in.

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Logan is a really enjoyable film, which doesn’t lean too heavily on the comics I felt (but then I don’t actually read them) but rather embraces the violent nature of Wolverine, especially in that first scene. In parts I thought it began to drag it’s feet through the two-hour viewing time, but the enjoyment of the characters mixed in with a few plot twists made me forget those parts quickly.

Mangold has managed to create something that hasn’t previously been attempted in the X-Men Universe and for my money it worked every step of the way. It’s grotesque use of violence was perfect and fitting for this aging veteran, but the antagonists worked perfectly as well. If you’re a fan of Wolverine films and X-Men in general, then this is the perfect film as you see Wolverine is all his glory, but also not so much in all his glory. It’s almost as if he’s human. Almost.


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Hidden Figures (2017)

Everyone is aware of the 1960s Space Race that culminated in the 1969 landing on the moon. What everyone may not be aware of is that during the sixties the space race was influenced and helped by a group of African American women working NASA.

The story of the Space Race in itself is just awe inspiring. Include this backdrop of women being victims to racial and gender imbalances in the work place, whilst remaining vigilant and resilient against those that defy them, makes the story even better. Theodore Melfi has managed to tell an incredible story that is wonderfully life affirming coinciding with NASA’s attempts to put an American in orbit.

As well as the racial tensions that are rife in state of Virginia during the sixties, there is also an unbearable tension within Langley’s Research Center as they listen to the reports of the Russians effectively managing to put a satellite into orbit. There is an increasing amount of pressure that is placed on Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) and his team of engineers to touch the stars.

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Melfi manages to show the tension, regardless of what tension it is, effectively and the story becomes quite enticing as it develops. He has our three resilient heroes push the boundaries in their respective areas continually to achieve something that seems alien to myself in the present day.

Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) is very headstrong in her ambition to become the first woman engineer at Nasa, whilst Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) shoulders the authoritative figure within this film whilst locked in a battle of wits with Mrs Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst). Melfi has chosen to run the narrative primarily through Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) as helps decipher the math that is missing for their prospective launches into space, which causes tension amongst Paul Stafford and his team of engineers.

The tension does come down to that way that the segregation is shown throughout the film, whether that is the denial of a promotion or disbelieving that an African American woman can solve the mathematics that are in front of her. This comes to a boiling point as Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) exclaims the ridiculousness of having to make a forty minute trip just to use the bathroom in a scene that is breath taking displaying a strong sense of empathy for these characters.

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Everyone is aware of the racial segregation that happened between African American’s and Whites, but the fact Melfi manages to subtlety uses this almost as though we are transported to Virginia in the 1960s during this awe-inspiring age of new technology. His choice to have the characters experience these social in justifications first hand, but take them on the chin and continue to strive for greatness was incredible and managed to make the screening more enjoyable.

Although the narrative was strong and enjoyable with these three women that were played superbly, Hidden Figures feels a little bit longer than it ought to be. Don’t get me wrong, it is a triumphant piece of filmmaking, but some with smart editing could have made the film pack a lot more to punch, rather than drag.

Of the ensemble piece, Jim Parsons’ lead engineer Paul Stafford is the weakest as he professes that a ‘woman’ is unable to help with the advance math he is calculating and of course continually hinders her performance throughout the film. But this is one of the bigger positive points surrounding this film as regardless of her rejection to be accepted within the ranks of engineers, Katherine continually defies Paul and Al’s beliefs and delivers this resilient behaviour every step of the way and manages to enjoy her life regardless of the circumstances surrounding her.

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Melfi with the help of Henson, Spencer and Monae has managed to bring to life the story behind the sixties Space Race in thought provoking way. He doesn’t rely too heavily on the racial tensions, but rather uses them in a narrative means to help progress the story and effectively instil a means of empathy within.

As I mentioned, my main grief is that the film begins to drag as it reaches it’s second hour of viewing as Melfi draws on Katherine’s personal life and her relationship with Jim Johnson, (Mahershala Ali) which for me seems a bit redundant. Not only this I thought some of the song choices seemed a bit displaced and out of sync with the rest of the story.

But Hidden Figures remains an extraordinary story about extraordinary circumstances that just seems so alien to me now, and Melfi’s ability to show this in an effective and justifiable way was a pleasure to watch, alongside the narrative the characters are incredibly life affirming and Hidden Figures just manages to keep you smiling.


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Moonlight (2017)

For audiences to react with Moonlight in the way that they have is extraordinary. The film is fresh on everyone’s lips, especially after the seemingly controversial (hmm.) win over La La Land at the Academy Awards. But that is all washed away when you first encounter Barry Jenkin’s Moonlight because everything is just so genuine.

Moonlight is reminiscent of Richard Linklater’s 19-year film Boyhood thematically as we watch a young boy grow up before our very eyes, but this time three different actors take on the role of Chiron. They traverse through three different stages as Chiron grows up in the Liberty City projects of Miami, Florida.

A project such as this may cause hiccups for the characters in terms of narrative and arcs, but Jenkins displays a masterful touch when it comes to this as he directs every single member in the large ensemble piece with a direct precision that is enigmatic and visible on the screen. Across the board the performances are genuine and enchanting as Chiron is supported by jaw-dropping performances from Mahersala Ali, Jeanelle Monae and Naomie Harris.

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Moonlight very heavily bares its beating heart to the audience through to use of Chiron and the three actors that portray him at different stages from the young Alex Hibbert being chased by bullies to the hard exterior of Travente Rhodes in the third act. But whilst Moonlight invests in this character, there is a certain cinematic quality to this film, something that is not often visible in films that focuses heavily on it’s characters.

The warmth that emanates from the screen in the swirling opening shot of Juan (Mahersala Ali) is magnificent, almost placing you in the projects of Liberty City with Juan. Jenkins does not have it stop there though, as you can almost feel the brief gust of wind that the teenage Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) talk about on the beach as the waves lap in the background.

This is all intertwined with a beautifully placed score, but also the apt popular culture songs relevant to that of the time period. And it works, especially as Chiron in the third act mimics Juan, with the flashy car and in terms of profession, even so far as to mimic the nickname that represents a colour.

But this sense of identity that Chiron is trying to find throughout the three acts is crucial to the story working as one becomes invested in the characters throughout their own parts of the story. The struggle that is visible on screen as he tries to find his own voice and identity whilst growing up in a difficult area. This is all whilst trying to maintain a relationshipwith his drug-addicted mother. (played to perfection by Naomie Harris)

There are areas in Moonlight where the story was heartwrenching, as Little (Young Chiron played by Alex Hibbert) asks about being a ‘faggot’ as he wrestles with this internal battle. But the scene is weighted perfectly as Juan shows a shame in his profession, but the justified voice of not letting anyone tell you who you are or can be. Juan’s presence is significant throughout the three acts of Chiron’s story and as I mentioned, he even goes as far as mimicking the only father figure he had. But aside from having pretty much everything on the nose, the heart-breaking story was not there, like many professed it had.

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That would have to be my only grief with Moonlight, I feel as though there may have been too much hype going into the film, which majority of it was justified. Just not the heart-breaking element. Everything else was incredible, including the very personal touches that Barry Jenkins and Tarell Alvin McCraney worked into the story and the incredibly strong and versatile characters that are seen throughout Moonlight. And of course, the cinematic experience that Jenkins managed to shoot the film in was just beautiful, especially as we are experiencing a journey through this person’s life. Moonlight was an absolutely joy to watch, but my advice would be to stay away from the hype – if you can!


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Fight Cub (1999)

I imagine David Fincher’s 1999 adaptation ranks highly is everyone’s mind and at the moment of writing, Fight Club sits tenth on IMDb’s ‘Top 250’ films. Fight Club has that popular fandom, as majority of response’s about Fight Club is that you are not supposed to talk about Fight Club.

These are the first two rules of the popular underground club formed by Edward Norton’s insomniac narrator and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), a soap salesman he meets during his many jet adventures. Norton narrates through his monotonous life, as he goes to support groups for ailments he doesn’t have, like testicular cancer or blood parasites to relieve his insomnia.

Fincher has an eye for the darker films, having directed Se7en before this and following up his 1999 cult classic with Panic Room and Zodiac. He manages to give the screen a darker, ominous presence as the use of shadows and night-time throughout this film really accentuate this effect.

As Norton’s narrator flies us through the support meetings and his sleepless nights, it’s worth noting this film is a slow burner to begin with. As soon as the Narrator meets Tyler Durden, as this point the film picks up it’s pace. In the opening twenty or so minutes, it was a quick run through the Narrators life and the support groups he attends, as soon as he meets Tyler, he returns home to find his Condo blown up.

With nowhere to turn and no one to turn to, he takes a chance on calling Tyler Durden and asks for a place to stay. From here, Brad Pitt and Edward Norton form a rather strange relationship on screen as the two are seemingly polar opposites. Especially as the Narrator has a white collar job for a major car company working out whether to recall the cars or not, whereas Durden is a night worker with a string of different jobs, including a waiter.

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One of the biggest selling points about Chuck Palahniuk’s book is the twist towards the end of the film, but the way in which David Fincher plays this out is excellent. Especially after the first watch, the following watches you become entranced in just how clever Fincher was in the build up to the twist.

This is in part thanks to the acting of Norton and Pitt as the duo, but also Helen Bonham Carter’s Marla becoming entwined in their relationship. Throughout the 130+ minute runtime, the film does divulge itself in it’s violence as we see Tyler beaten to a pulp as well as the Narrator beating Angel Face (Jared Leto) to a pulp, for no apparent reason.

Fincher mixed this in with Durden’s view on the world, that being very, very against anything mildly corporate. Brad Pitt plays Durden with excellence, really flowing with the carefree attitude that surrounds Durden. Norton does back Pitt up with his uptight white collar worker.

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David Fincher washes Fight Club in a sickly green tint which really relays the darker undertone that flows throughout the film, as the Narrator and Durden stories become entwined. The story takes a change of pace as Durden runs free with franchising Fight Club, whilst the Narrator struggles to keep up with Durden and his extravagant plans.

Fight Club is a definitely an exciting ride of a film. David Fincher manages to expertly play it out with Pitt and Norton lifting the story off the screen. Fincher washing the film in a sickly and darker undertone really worked for this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s original book.

The use of violence throughout and the anti-corporate message seems to be placed at perfect intervals throughout Fight Club and doesn’t seem to ramming this message down your throat. My only gripe with Fight Club is the opening 20 or so minutes are properly slow burning. Once the Fight Club takes off, the film picks up it’s pace, but that opening is tough to swallow. That being said, the method is which Fincher delivers the plot twist is brilliant and subsequent viewings reveal the masterful touch on this story and it’s revealing of the plot. After recently re-watching Fight Club it’s clear to see why it ranks highly on peoples list and sits tenth on the IMDb top 250 list.


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Midnight Special (2016)

Midnight Special was one of my highly anticipated films of last year, but unfortunately did not manage to get to see it in the cinema, but eventually it made an appearance on a streaming site that I was able to access. Jeff Nichols’ fourth feature length film looked to be quite the science fiction thriller piece, so I was excited to finally watch it.

Majority of the promotional footage and trailers featured the image of a young boy that seemed to radiate a blinding blue light from his eyes. In Midnight Special, our first meeting with the young boy, he is wearing goggles and noise-cancelling ear mitts whilst reading a comic book. During this introduction with Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher), we see Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton watching the news, regarding the kidnapping of Alton and the case being placed on amber alert.

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Already Nichols has managed to tell the opening segments to the story with enough vigour to grip me, but also with the help of an intense car journey down the back lanes of the southern states of North America. Without relaying too much information, the film quickly changes the pace with an FBI-raid on a ranch, which houses a cult.

What becomes clear is that Roy Tomlin, (Michael Shannon) the man responsible for the kidnapping of Alton, is actually the boy’s father. But also that Alton has a special ability to intercept secret encoded satellite messages. This obviously is quite the concern for the FBI and the American government, so they want Alton located, as much as the cult to bring him back ‘home’.

Jeff Nichols’ manages to keep up the fast pace as Roy and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) continually avoid the police, but also the cult members that were sent by cult to find Alton. But the trouble is during this rip-roaring pace; the question remains as to why this is all happening?

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What begins as a rip roaring pace and filling the opening segment with mysterious characters, Midnight Special begins to lack in a strong storyline as it enters the latter half of the film. In instances, a strong storyline is sometimes superseded by the strong characters and with a strong cast containing Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton and Adam Driver, one would suspect Midnight Special is one of those instances.

It isn’t.

The plaudits of acting would rest on Jaeden Lieberher’s shoulders, as Alton seemingly becomes weaker and the film bores into it’s second hour, and Lieberher’s performance is convincing amongst the others, well, less than convincing performances.

For me, Kirsten Dunst’s maternal character was pretty much pointless in the story and did not add any width to the story. She didn’t have the intrigue that Roy and Lucas did during their introduction, but even their mysteriousness eventually slipped away. Adam Driver’s NSA analyst was an excellent inclusion as he accepts the mystery that is Alton, but Jeff Nichols’ did not manage to effectively incorporate this into the story enough, he focused on the mad chase that surrounded Alton and the mysterious coordinates that Sevier (Driver) works out.

As I previously mentioned, Nichols created what was seemingly a science-fiction thriller and there were certain aspects within the film that was enjoyable, including the pace to the opening of the film, and some wonderful shots of the sun setting and rising. Unfortunately for me, the enjoyable sections of Midnight Special were too few and far between when the film lost its way with the story, but also the less-than-convincing cast performances.

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Midnight Special could have become a cult classic, but the story seems to have taken a cop-out route and it just doesn’t seem to make much sense, for me anyway. The cast had me filled with promise, considering the ability of them but again, I felt let down by Shannon & co aside from Leiberher’s performance. Alas, the opening hour was good and thrilling, culminating in a meteor shower that looked majestic, but from there the film slowly begins to drop off and seemingly loses itself in free fall. As much as I enjoyed the opening hour, I could not shake the closing hour practically ruining the film for me. Unfortunately Midnight Special was a bit of dud.