Deadshirt Screening Room: Midnight Special, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Here are at Deadshirt, we watch a lot of movies. In The Deadshirt Screening Room, we talk about new stuff in theaters, flicks that just dropped on Blu-ray, or just whatever we’re nodding off to on Netflix right now.

Max Robinson is watching…

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Midnight Special

Directed by Jeff Nichols

Starring Michael Shannon, Kirsten Dunst and Joel Edgerton

2016

The marking around Midnight Special, which just hit nationwide release, leans heavily into the film’s seeming inheritor status to “hearts, not ray guns” 70s/80s sci-fi fare like Carpenter’s Starman and Spielberg’s Close Encounters. While there’s certainly a resemblance to those films on display here, Midnight Special’s strengths and weaknesses are of a wholly different film altogether.

The first act of Nichols’ film is practically flawless, trusting the audience to be thrown into what would be Act II in a much less interesting movie: Two men (Shannon and Edgerton) escorting a strange ill child named Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) across state lines, fleeing a nationwide manhunt and a vengeful Christian cult compound. Midnight Special’s best moments are found in this first 45 minutes, leaving us to wonder if these two are the boy’s liberators or his kidnappers as they roar down pitch-black Texas highways. While Michael Shannon isn’t often afforded the chance to play heroic leads, he’s very at home in the emotionally muted ex-cultist Roy. A really great little production detail in the film is how Roy and Dunst’s Sarah, despite having disavowed the creepy cult that views their son as a messiah, still wear the plain clothing they adopted in the ministry.

Honestly, the biggest problem with Midnight Special is that the questions it leaves its audience to chew on are more interesting than the answers we ultimately get. Despite a beautifully tense last-stand car-chase sequence and some charming bits with Adam Driver’s nerd analyst Dr. Sevier (essentially this movie’s version of Charles Martin Smith’s good-natured scientist in Starman, if that character talked like he swallowed a megaphone), the film’s oddly abstract ending doesn’t quite sit well with the grounded humanity offered in the lead up.

If I’m being honest, I’m hoping this is a movie that clicks with me better with a second viewing, but even though it doesn’t totally land on its feet, Midnight Special will almost certainly be among the more thoughtful sci-fi films theaters will see this year.

Jason Urbanciz is watching…

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Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Alison Doody

1989

Had the term “fan service” been coined in 1989? Because that is what this movie is, a pure unbridled love letter to the people who love Indiana Jones. I mean, that’s not a knock, coming off Temple of Doom five years before, which was both incredibly popular but also incredibly controversial (spurring the PG-13 rating into existence), Last Crusade serves as a course correction, giving the masses what they want out of an Indiana Jones movie: a holy Christian relic, horse chases in the desert and, most importantly, Nazis. It even features Special Guest Star Sean Connery in his final film role (well, final film role where it looked like he was having any fun, anyway). While in others’ hands the movie could come off as a rote retread, thanks to the skills of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, screenwriter Jeffrey Boam, and an incredibly game cast, everything is executed perfectly, giving us a movie that is supremely enjoyable, if a bit calculated. It lacks some of the madcap kineticism and unpredictability of both its predecessors, it still gives the viewer a great ride.

As a quick aside, watching the opening sequence with River Phoenix as teen Indiana Jones made me sad again at his loss four years after this film’s release. Phoenix would be in his late forties now, and while I’m sure he’d have made some powerful films, I’d loved for him to have hit that Johnny Depp “fuck it I’m gonna make a pirate movie” stage and maybe return to the role. After all, with all this talk of an eventual replacement for Harrison Ford, who better than the only other man to play Dr. Jones in the big screen?

That’s what we’re watching right now, how about you?

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