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Josh Reviews The Midnight Sky

The Midnight Sky stars George Clooney (who also directed the film) as a grizzled scientist left alone at an arctic research station after an environmental catastrophe has devastated the globe.  After a while, he discovers that he is not as alone as he’d thought: a young girl has secretly stayed behind at the station along with him.  Together, the two must face a perilous journey in an attempt to warn a crew of astronauts, returning to Earth, of the danger that awaits them.

The Midnight Sky was written by Mark L. Smith (who wrote The Revenant and is one of many different people who were at one time attached to write the as-yet-unmade fourth Star Trek film for J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot studios), adapting the novel Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton.  (I have not read that novel, so I am judging The Midnight Sky based on the film, alone.)  The brief description I wrote above is one that appeals to me, and I am always excited for a new original sci-fi film.  I loved the first two films George Clooney directed (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck), and while in my opinion none of his subsequent films have been nearly as good, I know he has skills as a director and I was excited to see what he could do with a sci-fi story.  And yet, unfortunately, I must report that I found The Midnight Sky to be a huge disappointment.

The film started off well!  I really enjoyed the mysterious set-up; I love that the film doesn’t hold our hand to spell out what exactly is going on.  We’re forced to catch up with events as we see the evacuation of the research station, and see that George Clooney’s character (who we later find out is named Augustine) has stayed behind for reasons that at first are unclear.  I really dug this almost wordless early-going, as we watch the story unfold as basically a silent film.  We follow Augustine’s life alone at the station and, then, the events that unfold after he discovers the young girl (whose name we learn is Iris), who appears mute.  George Clooney is a far better actor than his movie-star celebrity might lead one to believe; he’s incredibly compelling to watch in these early scenes.  And I quite enjoyed the silent work of Caoilinn Springall, the young actress who plays Iris.  These sections are also beautifully directed by Mr. Clooney, who finds some compelling and eerie visuals in these scenes of two people alone amidst the cold technology of the base and the arctic expanse that surrounds them.

But then the film starts cutting away from Augustine … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Rogue One!

Let me get this out right at the top: Rogue One is better than The Force Awakens.

For those looking for a spoiler-free review, there you go.

For everyone else, buckle in, let’s go!

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I have for years been dreaming of seeing a brand new Star Wars film on the big screen that I could say was great without reservation, and I think that film has finally, finally arrived.

I suspect Rogue One will not be nearly as universally beloved as The Force Awakens.  It is far more adult and sophisticated, and the film goes to some dark, dark places.  This is not a kiddie-focused Star Wars movie, and I love it for that, but I suspect that will hurt the film with general audiences.  I also think that despite the film’s pleasingly simple premise — this is the story of how the rebels captured the Death Star plans that Princess Leia hid in R2D2 in the original Star Wars — I have been shocked by how many friends have asked me, in the past week, “so when is this film set?”  To me, the film’s marketing has been very clear, but I suspect many out there don’t see it as the must-watch continuation of the saga that The Force Awakens was so successfully marketed as.

But I am here to tell you, Rogue One is glorious, a rousing adventure story that packs a devastating emotional punch.  Rogue One grapples with the realities of war and sacrifice in a way that none of the previous Star Wars films have.  The original adventures of Luke, Han, and Leia were something of a fairy tale, but Rogue One shows us the reality behind the fairy tale, the lives and losses of the men and women who struggled in the dirt to set the stage for Luke to save the day in A New Hope.  The film was written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, and directed by Gareth Edwards.  These are all Star Wars newbies (with the exception of John Knoll — though he hasn’t previously been involved on a story level, Mr. Knoll has been a key creative force in ILM for decades), but together they have crafted a magnificent Star Wars film.

This story is set immediately prior to the opening scene of the original Star Wars movie.  As that move begins, Darth Vader is in hot pursuit of Princess Leia’s small ship, aboard which Vader knows are the stolen Death Star plans.  Rogue One winds the story back a bit, to tell us how the Rebels first discovered the existence of the Death Star, and then how they … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Like Crazy

If Like Crazy is playing anywhere near you, I really encourage you to seek out this wrenching little film.

The movie stars Anton Yelchin (who played Chekov in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot) and Felicity Jones (getting a tremendous amount of acclaim, and deservedly so, for this breakout role) as a young couple who meet at university in L.A. and quickly fall crazily in love.  Jacob (Yelchin) is an aspiring furniture designer, and Anna (Jones) is a writer.  The two immediately spark to one another, and Anna chooses to stay the summer in L.A. rather than returning home to London.  But overstaying her VISA gets her into trouble when she does eventually return home to London, and she finds herself barred from re-entering the United States.  The bulk of Like Crazy follows Jacob and Anna struggling to maintain a connection during the months and eventually years that follow, when, despite their efforts, they are unable to get Anna’s travel ban lifted.

I could imagine that plot summary being written about a big-budget Hollywood romantic film, with two super-stars in the lead roles, in which the separation of the two characters leads to silly hi-jinks (Maybe they experiment with phone sex!) and eventually to big heart-felt moments (A dramatic speech!  A kiss in the rain!) scored to pop songs or to rousing orchestral music.  Thankfully, none of that is found anywhere near Like Crazy.

The film is presented in a stripped-down fashion, with the focus tight on the two lead characters.  The camerawork keeps us often intimately close to these two people, and the story is unflinching in its sometimes brutal exploration of the painful emotional truths of love and relationships.

Like Crazy was made on a shoe-string budget.  In an interview, the 28 year-old director, Drake Doremus, said that the entire film cost only $250,000, and was filmed entirely on a $1,500 camera.  The shoot lasted only a few weeks, and the scenes were mostly improvised by the two actors.  Working from a detailed 50-page outline, created by Mr. Doremus, the actors developed the scenes, and the details of their relationship, through the process of filming the movie.

It’s clear to me that the film benefitted extraordinarily from the aesthetic choices necessitated by such an on-the-cheap, on-the-fly process of filmmaking.  I really connected to the movie’s unadorned technique, and the fly-on-the-wall, almost voyeuristic position into which we, as the viewers, are placed, as we watch this couple struggle through their long-distance relationship.  The film asks tough questions of the characters, and their responses to the situations in which they were placed felt very real to me, very emotionally true.  Both Jacob and Anna are presented as likable … [continued]