Macbeth (April 5th, 2016)
Director: Justin Kurzel
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Paddy Considine, and Sean Harris
We will never be short on cinematic adaptations of the Bard. That’s not really a problem, since theater is seemingly always lousy with Shakespeare adaptations, so why not the big screen? That’s what Kurzel and Fassbender thought, since they’re tackling a big one. Not only is it one of Shakespeares most iconic plays, but one with a storied cinematic history. Orson Welles made a well received version, while Roman Polanski made a semi controversial one that metatextually dealt with the death of his wife. Even Akira Kurosawa made one in the many Shakespeare adaptations he made in his career, transplanting the stories to feudal Japan. And with the many adaptations, what you get mainly is a sense of the talents involved. What separates them and what makes this new entry unique? For Kurzel, the immediate answer is an immense visual storytelling style and an immense sense of doom around the story. Watching the movie though, it makes a slight change to the story that makes it stand out pretty strongly. Macbeth is no longer simply a man suffering from PTSD who was manipulated by his wife, but a man beset by grief over the death of his child which is compounded when he sees the corpses of the young boys in his command after battles. This is a father longing for the child he lost, a giant hole in himself that he fills with responsibility and the need to take care of people. So of course he is in the perfect place to assassinate a king to take his place, maybe due to psychotic visions or a genuine prophecy given to him to do so. So it adds a genuine pathos and reasoning to his madness, without ever forgiving him for his actions. What he does is brutal and unnecessary. Kurzel makes all the horror land. It may not be as sickening as Polanski’s version, but this one has some real heaviness to it. Fassbender does tremendous work as the Scottish King, bringing the insanity to the fore front and the beating heart at the center. Cotillard does good work as Lady Macbeth, the grief driving her to make the choices she makes and the suicide at the end making much more sense. The rest of the cast does good work to fill out the world. Harris gets the meatier stuff to work with as MacDuff, the man who ends the prophecy as it were. But this is Fassbenders show, and simply as a showcase for him this movie works well. But Kurzel may be a major talent. The visuals he brings to this movie are unreal, haunting and painterly images that help to make the movie feel like a harried fever dream. This is absolutely a visual movie, using the medium to it’s fullest extent to make the play more cinematic. It still retains that Shakespearean language, but more reliant on the benefits of cinema to make this something interesting.
Midnight Special (April 9th, 2016)
Director: Jeff Nichols
Starring: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Adam Driver, and Jaeden Lieberher
If The Thing wasn’t a financial bomb in 1982, John Carpenter was going to direct an adaptation of Firestarter. So instead of 1 Stephen King adaptation (Christine), we would have had 2. But we didn’t, yet we got a consolation prize in 2016 thanks to Jeff Nichols. Cause this movie is not so simple or basic as to be a copy of it, but this does feel like Nichols doing Firestarter with a dash of Starman and ET all through the lens of Carpenter. It has that serious, icy tone to it with a precision with the camera framing. The score, while not as blatant a ripoff as Carpenter music that has been permeating genre movies the last few years, evokes that 80s time period very well while still feeling modern. But this isn’t some cheap little knockoff of Carpenter. Despite some of the surface level similarities to the work of Carpenter, this is all Nichols. It’s a very personal movie, filled with the things that interest and worry Nichols. Like his other movies, this is another evolution in his personal life. This time out, Nichols is very worried about being a father and the constant worry about the future of your child. It feels like the entire world is out to get your child and only you can protect him/her until the time is right to let go. Here we got the world represented by the Government, trying to find this kid because they think he’s a national security risk. But there’s also the idea of the past and family trying to hold the kid back, which is represented by the old religious group hunting them that Shannon came from and ran from. So this is a road movie with Shannon trying to protect his child and get him to an undisclosed location for mysterious reasons, with Shannon accompanied by his old childhood friend in Edgerton. Edgerton is maybe the best character in the movie, since he is a man with a surprising backstory and is a man who has no faith until he meets this special boy. But that isn’t to say that Shannon isn’t a great character too, because he is. He is a father through and through, so don’t let his typically stoic Shannon nature throw you. This is a man who will do anything for his son. And Shannon does typically great work, as usual in his Nichols’ collaborations. Liberher is great too, doing very subtle work for the majority of the movie as this sweet kid that maybe doesn’t exactly fit in. And by the end of the movie, he gets to shine (pun totally intended). Adam Driver is here as a member of the Government, but one who maybe isn’t as positive at the need to worry about the boy. And Kirsten Dunst shows up in this continuing period of her career where she is trying to prove her acting chops. She isn’t bad. She’s decent actually. I just never believe a single thing she does in any project she’s in. This is probably just a personal thing that I can’t explain, but I kinda wish she wasn’t in this. It doesn’t ruin the movie at all, just a weird little personal thing. Nichols does astonishing work with his cast and the camera, but also on the page. The writing is immensely strong, making a road movie that works as a metaphor and also is just entertaining to watch on surface emotional level. And from a directorial standpoint, there is some amazing pieces of visual work here, some of the best of his career. There’s a fantastic scene at a gas station that is just immensely shot and gorgeously made. And the ending of this movie goes to some big, weird places that manage to fit in completely, despite the pretty realistic tone that it has built beforehand, and it is gorgeous visual stuff. This is another winner in the 9 years and going winning streak that Nichols is in. And with another movie being released this year, things are looking still good for the man. This is a great flick, and one that I feel will grow as I get older when I have a children.