Thursday, May 5, 2016

Nosh 14: 'Midnight Special,' 'Hockney' & More

By David Elliott

Flix Nosh is a personal movie menu, served fresh each Friday.

APPETIZER (reviews of ‘Midnight Special’ and ‘Hockney’)
Jeff Nichols, just 37, has a canny command of pace, rhythm, mood and atmospheric detail. The Arkansan director and writer showed this in 2011, in the brooding conceptual thriller Take Shelter, and then masterfully two years later, in the river-haunted Mud. His latest demonstration is Midnight Special, which opens as a crime drama and turns into a sort of sci-fi road mystery. As far as I am aware, Nichols has never directed a bad performance.

Michael Shannon, star of Take Shelter, wanted the lead in Mud (the more charismatic Matthew McConaughey took it, brilliantly, to an Oscar). Now Shannon stars as Roy, whose marriage is broken and son is gone. The boy, Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), was abducted by a cult group whose leader (Sam Shepard) uses the kid as an End Time prophet. Alton, whose eyes beam piercing astral lights, and who can “speak in tongues,” lifts the story to sci-fi strangeness without losing its rooting (Nichols is great with roots). Spaced faith and earthbound longing are the twin poles of the movie, one of those “little” sci-fi films – Starman, Village of the Damned, Strange Invaders, The Man Who Fell to Earth – that grip the memory long after you’ve forgotten most big, effects-driven space pictures.

Nichols bounces off E.T. and Spielberg family dynamics. Guilty, obsessed Roy and his loyal pal Lucas (very fine Joel Edgerton) retrieve the boy, then take him to the longing mother (Kirsten Dunst). The not too verbal tensions never become prosaic as a huge dragnet tightens on the family. I’m no fan of scenes where people stare at numbers and have a brainy insight we don’t share. This one, by appealing science nerd Paul (Adam Driver), reminded me of clueless Paul Newman faking it with physics equations on a blackboard in Torn Curtain. More limiting is that Shannon, though always credible, is locked into macho-dad compression, like an angry armadillo with hurt, sensitive eyes.

Clearly the boy is an alien star child, but Nichols keeps him vulnerably human, a little exile with split loyalties. His higher powers are naturally trippy, arriving like earthquakes and fires and meteor showers. Adam Stone filmed beautifully in celluloid, often at night, and some animated effects at the end are impressively not overdone. These flawed, scared, searching people are, at least, not waiting for Trump.  

Nearly always it is the colors that seduce you first, then you notice how they follow the lines in nuptial loyalty. A name seals the marriage: Hockney. Randall Wright's savvy documentary traces the long life (79 years so far) of British expat artist David Hockney with a witty, probing flair that fits his often dazzling evolution. The working class lad (first memory: a Blitz bomb) became the cherub-faced star of '60s London Bohemia, then a totem of New York's gay scene, and then one of the great lovers of L.A.'s warm melon sunlight and it plum harvest of young male flesh. The artist's Picasso versatility, tonic Matisse coloring and fluent weaving of lovers and friends into a creative tapestry find a prevailing tone in Nat King Cole's "L.O.V.E." Our only possible response is y.e.s.

SALAD (A List)
In honor of David Hockney, 12 Top Artist Performances: Isabelle Adjani as Camille Claudel; Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh, Lust for Life; Alec Guinness as Gulley Jimson, The Horse’s Mouth; Ed Harris as Pollock; Charles Laughton as Rembrandt; Nick Nolte as Dobie, New York Stories; Michel Piccoli as Frenhofer, La belle noiseuse; Tim Roth as Vincent Van Gogh, Vincent & Theo; Anatoli Solonitsyn as Andrei Rublev; Donald Sutherland as Gauguin, The Wolf at the Door; Timothy Spall as J.M.W. Turner, Mr. Turner, and Geir Westby as Edvard Munch. 

WINE (Vin Orsonaire de Chateau Welles)
This week 75 years ago, on May 1, 1941 in New York (RKO Palace Theater), May 6 in Chicago (Woods and Palace theaters), and May 8 in Los Angeles (El Capitan Theater), Citizen Kane opened after months of Hearst-hassled delay. At the lavish L.A. premiere, “bleacher stands opposite the theater were constructed, and thousands of fans crammed them to watch the entering glitterati. Welles escorted Dolores Del Rio. Among the sparkling guests were Marlene Dietrich, Janet Gaynor, Maureen O’Hara, Adolph Menjou, Gloria Swanson, Busby Berkeley, Mickey Rooney, John Barrymore, Charles Laughton, Olivia de Havilland, Sonja Henie, Geraldine Fitzgerald and Dorothy Lamour. Though they had already seen the film, Charlie Chaplin, King Vidor, Leland Hayward, Cedric Hardwicke and Herbert Marshall came again. When Welles spotted Hedda Hopper getting out of her limousine, he could only shake his head and smirk.” (From Frank Brady’s excellent Citizen Welles).

ENTRÉE (Starlight Rising)
No scene in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita disturbed viewers more than the suicide of the austere intellectual Steiner (Alain Cuny): “Years later, talking to Studs Terkel in Paris, Cuny avowed that Steiner knew that ‘his life was a total fake …by the way, my life as an actor is a fake.’ But Steiner has real poignancy. Scripted by Tullio Pinelli, partly inspired by the 1950 suicide of poet Cesare Pavese, the sequence so upset producer Angelo Rizzoli that he told Fellini, ‘You could never have come up with such a thought. You have such a nice face.’ Fellini said his film needed a mortal shock.” (From the Marcello Mastroianni/La Dolce Vita chapter of my book Starlight Rising: Acting Up in Movies, now available on Amazon, also on Nook and Kindle.)

DESSERT (An Image)
A great movie image is more than a still, it’s a distillation.

Orson Welles, Ruth Warrick, Ray Collins and Dorothy Comingore in Citizen Kane (RKO Pictures; director Orson Welles, cinematographer Gregg Toland)

For previous Flix Nosh meals, scroll below.

No comments:

Post a Comment