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Tag Archive: Midnight Special


Review by C.J. Bunce

Using a meticulously designed new robot from Weta Workshop, the Australian science fiction movie I Am Mother has all the components of a good story steeped in the classic sci-fi of the 1950s.  It takes place on Earth after an apocalypse that could easily be interwoven into the Cyberdyne/Genisys destruction from the Terminator series, and has that futurism straight out of a Philip K. Dick short story.  What’s left are robots running everything, some on the surface, but one in particular inhabits what looks like a space station buried beneath the planet’s surface.  This robot is called Mother, voiced seamlessly by X-Men series co-star and Australian actor Rose Byrne.  She has preserved several of the last bits of humanity–embryos–in order to repopulate the species via rapid-growth technology.  The production, the design, the light-up props, and the pacing all create the right framework for a significant sci-fi film.  Unfortunately the story is single-threaded, building opportunities for subplots that get left ignored, much like January’s direct-to-Netflix sci-fi release Io.

The build-up is nicely rendered by first-time movie director and script writer Grant Sputore.  The common theme of this genre, as much sci-fi horror as merely sci-fi, is “things aren’t what they seem.”  Or maybe they are.  The audience sees Mother raise a single child from the bank of embryos stowed on the facility, a girl known simply as Daughter, played first by young Tahlia Sturzaker, then for the bulk of the movie by Clara Rugaard, both giving fine performances.  We believe the humans are long gone outside, until a woman arrives, played by two-time Best Actress Academy Award winner Hilary Swank.  She’s been shot, and whether she was shot by humans or robots becomes a mystery for Daughter to solve.  Both Swank and Rugaard look so much alike, their likeness simply must be a plot point:  Are they related, and if so, how?  Sisters?  Clones?  Same hair color and length, eyes, bone structure.  Was Swank’s lost human a former captive in the underground bunker?  How many times has Mother created Daughters or Sons?  How many years from Armageddon is this story really happening?  It’s the answers–or lack thereof–to these questions, and the ultimate payoff Sputore delivers that doesn’t match the rest of the film.

Part of the legitimacy of the film as something more than mainstream popular sci-fi is the amazing body movement work of Luke Hawker acting inside the robot suit he helped design and build with the Weta team.  How rare is it that the designer of the tech is also the actor, who is featured in 90% of the scenes of the film?  The added surprise is this was not a CGI motion capture process, but a practical effect that had to be created with real-world materials.  There is some actual chemistry between Daughter and Mother, and Mother is a pretty great mother to see in action.  It’s like watching young Will Robinson interact with his Robot in Lost in Space.  Add to the believable robot the cold and lonely tenor of the film and you have something like New Zealand’s low budget 1985 sci-fi marvel The Quiet Earth.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Last year’s winner for most surprising film to be discussing at the water cooler was A Quiet Place, a uniquely quiet but suspenseful horror thriller that held back the true nature of the threat in its previews similar to Midnight Special, Signs, and 10 Cloverfield Lane.  And as with those films we’re definitely looking at an otherworldly threat for the film’s protagonists.  Critics and audiences seemed to go for this mix of sci-fi and horror, possibly out of an affinity for director and co-star John Krasinski (The Office, Jack Ryan) and his on and off-camera wife, co-star Emily Blunt (Mary Poppins Returns, The Adjustment Bureau, Edge of Tomorrow).  It’s now streaming on most major platforms, including Amazon Prime, Vudu, Hulu, YouTube, Google Play, and Fandango, as well as Blu-ray, 4K, and DVD.

Few movies were hyped in 2018 as much as A Quiet Place, although come awards season it only received a nomination for best sound editing and Emily Blunt took home the Screen Actors Guild Award for supporting actress, despite her clearly starring role in the film.  If there is a reason to watch the movie it’s for Blunt, who steals the show in any film she appears in.  In A Quiet Place, for better or worse, she lets go from an acting standpoint and offers up a beginning-to-end melodramatic and possibly over-the-top emotional performance, similar to her portrayal as an amnesiac in The Girl on the Train.  Some subtlety would have been a good thing, because in contrast to her ever-stoic husband she comes off as hysterical.  We’ll chalk this up to a quirky misstep by an inexperienced director (it’s also an instance of his character doing all the smart and brave things, and Blunt’s all the dumb things, which gets old quickly).

But this one has been done before, especially as seen in the above-referenced films, and multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone.  The plot is thin.  A family of five are among the only people living (on Earth? in the region? we don’t know).  A blind insectoid alien menace (think Blunt in Edge of Tomorrow only here she’s not the badass Angel of Verdun) will slaughter anything and anyone it hears with its sonic-locator brain.  So everyone is quiet all the time.  Only they aren’t–we hear them make all sorts of body and movement noises for the first half of the film, only to learn later from the father that they don’t listen for soft noises.  The daughter of the family (played by Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, and so she doesn’t know when noises are happening around her, leading to the key dire circumstances throughout the film.  The audience can’t help but put themselves in the positions of the characters.  What would you do?  Unfortunately the film is full of many tropes like you’d find in teen slasher flicks:  so many times characters make decisions that are similar to a teen walking outside their cabin in a thunderstorm at night in their underwear after hearing a mass murderer is on the loose.  Any viewer would think the circumstances are more dire than the characters in A Quiet Place.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If the future was bleak and the apocalypse was coming at you like a freight train, would you want to know?  How would you know?  Would you get an obvious message like a government report about a meteor?  Some divine message?  A secret message, encoded only for you?  Would you prefer to remain blissfully unaware and let fate take its course?  What do you want to know?  What don’t you want to know?

Let’s translate that to movies:  Do you want to know the genre of a film before you watch it?  What if the genre itself could be construed as a spoiler?  This was the problem, or the best feature–depending on your point of view–of last year’s sleeper Midnight Special.  Through a fairly heart-pounding, blood-pumping few hours, moviegoers could only guess, but did not know for certain, the complete genre spectrum of the movie, until the very end.  That’s a heckuva feat.  The result: Midnight Special was one of the best films of last year in any category (don’t click here if you don’t want to see that genre and how we at borg.com rated it).  The flipside of not knowing what genre you’re watching can be found in the 2009 film Knowing, one of many films that opt to deliver a special message of some sort of impending future peril via secret message, and one of the few that holds back on the very nature of the genre until the end of the film.

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The remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Fifth Element, The Number 23, The Pursuit of Happyness, The Day After Tomorrow, Unbreakable, The Game–all have something in common with Knowing, directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City, I, Robot), and starring Nicolas Cage as a father whose son receives a letter from a 50-year-old time capsule that includes nothing but numbers–numbers that we learn early in the film are the precise dates of future, major Earth disasters.  And as the boy receives the letter a few dates remain on the list that haven’t yet arrived.  We saw interesting forms of messages about the future in the Final Destination series, Donnie Darko, Source Code, The Adjustment Bureau, and Butterfly Effect.  Knowing doesn’t catch up to any of these movies, but it’s an interesting study in writing stories that tease genres and toy with viewers’ imaginations about what is real or potential as to the subject of “the future.”

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What a year!  The world’s a changing place and no less so than with the welcome onslaught of new movies, television shows, books, comics, and everything else that entertained us in 2016.  All year long we tried to keep up with the best of what Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best of the Best list.  We watched all of nearly two dozen TV series, and enough of others to know we’d seen enough.  We watched dozens of new movies, reviewed more than three dozen books (and read even more), and kept up with dozens of comic book titles.  We witnessed the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Archie, and Captain America, the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and Charles Schulz’s Great Pumpkin, Rocky turned 40, and it was the 30th anniversary of Aliens and Labyrinth.  And the Cubs finally won the World Series.

Today we reveal the best genre content of 2016–with our top categories from movies and television Best Sci-Fi Fix, Best Fantasy Fix, Best Superhero Fix, Best Animated Fix, and Best Borg, followed by our Best in Movies picks.  The big winner was Rogue One, taking 13 spots, followed by Doctor Strange with three.  Come back later this week for our TV and print media picks, our special look at Kick-ass Heroines of 2016, followed by our annual borg.com Hall of Fame inductees.

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Best Sci-Fi Fix – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm).  Although the franchise is more space fantasy than science fiction, all the elements of the best sci-fi were crammed into Rogue One.  Epic space battles, aliens, and loads of sci-fi technology.  A compelling story.  We’re wagering this film will be a classic we go back to for years to come, upsetting Star Wars: The Force Awakens as the third best of the eight films in the series.  It’s everything a sci-fi fan could want.

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Best Fantasy FixThe Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal Pictures).  Like Rogue One it was a prequel that was also a sequel.  Better than the original Snow White and the Huntsman, this early 2016 release provided a high-fantasy story rooted in the classic fairy tale, rewarding viewers midway with a surprise change-up.  Three tough female leads, four brave (and funny) dwarves, two epic quests, a fairy tale romance, and elaborate costumes and sets made for a perfect fantasy film.

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Best Superhero FixThe Magnificent Seven (MGM/Columbia Pictures).  When we first reviewed The Magnificent Seven we were surprised it had adapted the Yul Brynner version and Akira Kurosawa’s earlier Seven Samurai so well.  We were even more surprised at how well the cast, and cast of characters, worked together to create a true ensemble piece.  It rivaled every attempt by the studios to make a great superhero team-up, and, but for the Western garb and setting, it rates as the year’s best of the superhero genre.  Runner-up, a close contender for the win was the second appearance of Evan Peters as Quicksilver doing his speedster business slow-motion style again in X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Best Retro FixStranger Things (Netflix).  It’s a TV series that would have made a solid movie hit in 1982.  So many series appear unexpectedly these days with a full season ready to stream immediately.  Most demonstrate why they couldn’t cut it with the networks or a major cable channel.  Not so with some of Netflix’s series, especially the surprise hit Stranger Things.  With a nicely eerie soundtrack, title font, a Twin Peaks-meets Steven Spielberg coming of age film cul-de-sac for the setting, and  John Carpenter meets Stephen King vibe, it’s no wonder Stranger Things was the #1 talked about series this year.  Our favorite part, besides the young heroine of the show, was the attention to throwback clothes, toys, posters, and 1980s pop culture references.  It’s a series we’ll revisit in the future, and look forward to in its second season.

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Best Borg/Best Movie Villain – Darth Vader (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).  Darth Vader returned in his best scene of the franchise outside of The Empire Strikes Back in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  It wasn’t James Earl Jones’s return to voice one of the best villains in the history of cinema that grabbed us, but the full-on rampage Vader takes to pursue the stolen Rebel plans in the film’s finale.  Director (and lifelong Star Wars fan) Gareth Edwards gave fans exactly what they wanted, utilizing an impressive UK creature actor Spencer Wilding to do his bidding as the imposing Lord of the Sith.  We also got a peek at what little of the man remained years after his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi.  We saw inside his cybernetic suit of armor via a scene featuring him floating in a bacta tank.  Darth Vader remains one of the greatest borgs of all time.

Want to know who we picked for best in effects, soundtrack, and best sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, and horror movies of the year?  Take a look after the cut…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial.  The Green Mile. Escape to Witch Mountain.  Watcher in the Woods.  Maggie.  Super 8.  The Omen.  D.A.R.Y.L.  A Perfect World.  Starman.  Michael.  Tomorrowland.  The Day the Earth Stood Still.  The Blues Brothers.  The Twilight Zone Movie.  What could these all possibly have in common?  Somehow they are all conjured up together into this year’s release, Midnight Special.

Let’s get the only problem with Midnight Special out of the way first.  It had an inexplicable limited release this past March.  And its theatrical and television trailer was creepy cool, but too cryptic to draw in the masses.  If you don’t tell people what your movie is about, they won’t always take the time to learn more and decide to see it.  And what a loss!  Midnight Special is not only one of the year’s best films, it’s one of the best films of the decade.

You will think about The Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” but it’s nothing like it.  You will think about Haven and Grimm, but it’s not like that either.  And you may even accuse Stranger Things of being a knockoff of this film.  But it’s very, very different.

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A father and his old friend kidnap his son from a religious cult, with the government in hot pursuit for very different reasons, drawn in by the son’s mysterious abilities.  Is some messianic end looming ahead?  Why is the government justified in tracking the father down for treason?  Replace the enchantment and wonder you’d find in Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. with a combination of mystery, curiosity, and heart-pounding dread.  Gripping, personal, riveting–Midnight Special will keep you guessing until the end.  What happened to this kid?  Why does he have these powers?  What ends will his father and his friend go to protect him from what seems like the entire world crashing down on them? 

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