At times while watching Midnight Special, the new film by Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter), I felt like it was custom-made for me. I adored the way its story of two men kidnapping a boy from a cult created tension and intrigue by withholding so much backstory and character information, especially in an era of filmmaking where often so much is over-explained or signposted sooner than necessary. It also helped that the film was heavily and overtly inspired by ’70s and ’80s science-fiction films such as Steven Spielberg‘s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, one of my all-time favourite films. While Midnight Special ultimately didn’t deliver the full payoff that I was anticipating, which was disappointing as the final reveal was so literal, I still loved its performances, mood and exploration of many of Nichols’s reoccurring themes concerning family, fatherhood, masculinity and how we perceive reality.
While I always more or less enjoy the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, I’ve never found any particularly memorable. Guardians of the Galaxy is the only one to ever appear in one of my monthly summaries, until now as I thought Captain America: Civil War was superb. Containing nearly every significant superhero character from the previous films and introducing new ones while further developing narrative threads from 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, this new film is impressive for just how well it manages so much story and character information. But its real triumph is the stunning action choreography and inventive fight scenes. Not since the first two X-Men films have I felt such exhilaration from the spectacle of seeing the inherent strangeness of all the various superpowers in play. Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo never allow the computer generated effects to overshadow the visual pleasures of the actors’ bodies in motion, and they are always aware of how to best capitalise on the space of the scenes where the action takes place, frequently tracking the action vertically rather than always staging scenes along the more conventional x-axis.
The Australian film A Month of Sundays, by writer/director Matthew Saville, reminded me of many independent American films from the 1990s, with its off-kilter nervous energy, understated humour and gently melancholic atmosphere. Anthony LaPaglia, one of Australia’s consistently excellent actors, gives a sad and funny performance as a divorced middle-aged real estate agent whose life seems to have lost all meaning. The key to the film’s success is its winning droll humour, often courtesy of the always brilliant John Clarke in a supporting role, that takes the film into more serious and ultimately heartwarming territory. A Month of Sundays is low key and anecdotally seems to have divided audiences, but if you can tap into its humour early on then the results are extremely rewarding.
National Lampoon: Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead is a terrific documentary that covers the founding for the American satirical magazine National Lampoon in 1960 that went on to become a multimedia operation that included comedy albums, radio serials, theatre shows and feature films such as Animal House and Vacation. The film adopts a similar visual style to the magazine’s art direction, which greatly assists in conveying the impact of the humour, which ranged from irreverent and absurd to extremely confronting and shocking. The interviews with many of the editorial staff and performers from over the years are fascinating and funny, and the film contains plenty of classic moments from the magazine, albums and live performances that still elicit big laughs. This film is enormously fun and demonstrates how rather than belittling the already powerless with lazy stereotypes, ‘offensive’ and dark humour can also be used to aggressively draw attention to social inequalities and hypocrisy.