Here’s the last round of my mini-reviews for December (coming to you almost halfway through January, I know I know). Read on for reviews of “The Midnight Sky,” “Safety,” “I’m Your Woman,” “We Can Be Heroes,” and “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart.”
“THE MIDNIGHT SKY” (Netflix)
There is little hope for the future of the planet or humanity offered at the end of “The Midnight Sky,” a dystopian sci-fi thriller directed by and starring George Clooney. Based on the book Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the story is set in 2049. We are given the bare minimum as far as information about the characters and the situation on Earth, but it’s just enough to understand what is going on and make room for more introspection among the characters. Clooney plays Augustine Lofthouse, a scientist stationed in the Arctic Circle who spent his career researching other habitable planets for humanity to move to at the expense of sacrificing any meaningful relationships in his life. After an unexplained disaster renders most of Earth uninhabitable and kills most of the population, Augustine, who has some sort of terminal illness, opts to remain at the station. It’s then that he discovers that there is still one manned spaceship out there, returning to Earth after exploring some of those potentially habitable planets, and tries to warn them about the situation on Earth before it’s too late. “The Midnight Sky” starts off as a film that appears to be primarily about Augustine; there are many quiet moments of isolation that give us an idea of what his life alone in the station is like. But it equally follows the crew of the Aether, the ship returning to Earth, which consists of Sully (Felicity Jones), Commander Adewole (David Oyelowo), Maya (Tiffany Boone), Sanchez (Demian Bichir), and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler). But Clooney doesn’t handle the pacing too well; the film feels too slow and overly long at times, and there are stretches where the action shifts from Augustine to the Aether for so long that we almost forget where we left off with Augustine. There are some thrilling action sequences, even if they feel similar to scenes from other sci-fi films, but the film shines much more in its more thoughtful moments. Clooney lends Augustine the air of a man who has been hardened by years of isolation and dedication to his work, letting down his guard to reveal his regrets in some of the more emotionally stirring scenes. Jones is a consistently comforting presence, but among the crew of the Aether, Boone is the standout as Maya, the younger and more emotionally vulnerable of the group. You’ll likely see the twist in “The Midnight Sky” coming from a mile away, but there’s still a poignancy to its final moments that make it worth the long journey to get there. Runtime: 118 minutes. Rated PG-13.
“SAFETY” (Disney Plus)
At first glance, “Safety” appears to be another inspirational football movie whose story is centered entirely around the game. And while college football does play an important role in this true story, it takes a backseat to the relationship between Clemson freshman football player Ray McElrathbey (Jay Reeves) and his little brother Fahmarr (Thaddeus J. Mixson). While trying to balance sports with his studies, Ray learns that his mother (Amanda Warren), a drug addict, has relapsed, and Fahmarr is potentially in an unsafe situation. Ray returns home to find his mother accepted into a month-long recovery program, and rather than turn Fahmarr over to child services, he brings him back to college with him despite that being against the rules, smuggling him in and out of his dorm room. “Safety,” which is directed by Reginald Hudlin and based on a true story, is familiar in that it follows a protagonist who has to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to accept help from others, but that doesn’t make watching the Clemson community come together to help Ray and Fahmarr any less satisfying. These people including Ray’s teammates and his roommate Daniel (Hunter Sansone), his love interest Kaycee (Corinne Foxx), and his coach (Matthew Glave). “Safety” addresses a variety of serious issues, from drug addiction to foster care to the racial divide between Ray and his white coaches, even if the film only touches on these subjects lightly. Some of the sequences are a little silly, and the performances range from average to good; in some of the lighter scenes, for instance, Reeves comes off as a bit stilted, but he genuinely nails the emotional moments opposite Mixson (who’s a lot of fun) and Warren. Overall, “Safety” feels like an old-fashioned live-action family-friendly Disney film that will likely surprise those expecting just another football movie. Runtime: 122 minutes. Rated PG.
“I’M YOUR WOMAN” (Amazon Prime Video)
“I’m Your Woman” is a throwback to the 70s crime drama that shifts the focus from the criminals themselves to the women and families who get swept up in their actions. Julia Hart directs and co-wrote the screenplay with Jordan Horowitz that has Rachel Brosnahan starring as Jean, a 70s housewife married to a thug named Eddie (Bill Heck). Jean can’t have children, and one afternoon Eddie brings home a baby for her; just where he got this baby from, we don’t know. Soon after, Eddie goes missing, and a lot of people are out looking for him, so his associates help Jean and her new baby go on the run. A man called Cal (Arinzé Kene) helps relocate Jean to a safe place, but Eddie’s rivals are hot on their trail. Throughout the film, we never learn what exactly Eddie was involved in, or what he did to land him and Jean in so much trouble. But that’s not the point. The film is about Jean, a character who would normally remain in the periphery of a film like this, as she adjusts to her new life of loneliness and peril. But “I’m Your Woman” is still just as tense and thrilling as any other thriller, while feeling distinctly feminine. Brosnahan turns in a remarkable performance that sees her character go through a fully-formed arc and that is distinct from her previous work. Marsha Stephanie Blake plays Teri, a character who shows up later in the film and is a foil to Jean. Teri is more worldly, and maybe a bit more dangerous, and she brings an alternate female perspective to the proceedings. Kene, meanwhile, has both a strong and gentle presence as Cal. The entire movie replicates the muted colors and gritty visuals of the 70s, featuring stellar production and costume design and solid direction by Hart. It may be a while into the film before you stop questioning what point the movie is getting at, and the ending may not be entirely satisfying for some. But “I’m Your Woman” is a film that rises in my esteem the more I think about it. Oftentimes in noirs and thrillers the supporting female characters are the most interesting elements of the film. Here, those characters take the spotlight, and they are still just as fascinating, if not more so. Runtime: 120 minutes. Rated R.
“WE CAN BE HEROES” (Netflix)
I would never in a million years have expected 2020 to bring us a “The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl” spinoff, but here we are. The latter, a 2005 family superhero film written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, is a legitimately weird but quite original movie that took advantage of the 3D technology that was much more of a novelty before 2009’s “Avatar.” Rodriguez brings that same sense of fun to “We Can Be Heroes,” albeit in a slightly less bizarre and corny manner. The film is set in a version of Earth where superheroes, based out of Heroics Headquarters, fight any evil that comes to the planet. When aliens invade, they prove too powerful for all the heroes, who are captured. Their super-powered children, meanwhile, are tucked away in a safe place back at headquarters, but they are forced to take matters into their own hands when they realize they won’t be safe there for long. “We Can Be Heroes” is primarily about these kids coming into their own and believing in themselves, particularly Missy (the charismatic YaYa Gosselin, who reminds me a bit of Alexa Vega in her “Spy Kids” days). Missy’s father is Marcus (Pedro Pascal), a retired hero who is called back into action by the Heroics’ leader, Ms. Granada (Priyanka Chopra Jonas). Missy doesn’t believe she has anything to contribute to the group because she doesn’t have powers like they do, but she learns how to take charge and be a good leader throughout their mission to save their parents. Rodriguez populates his film with colorful cartoonish effects and characters with crazy superpowers. A standout is Guppy (Vivien Blair), the daughter of Sharkboy and Lavagirl, who possesses a combination of both of their powers; there’s just something amusing about a very small child beating up henchmen with her super shark strength. The characters are all unique and fun, and even the straightforward plot has a few twists in store. Those looking for a “Sharkboy and Lavagirl” sequel may be disappointed, as the pair are barely in this film (Taylor Dooley, however, does reprise her role as Lavagirl, while Sharkboy, who doesn’t even speak in this movie, is played by JJ Dashnaw as Taylor Lautner was unavailable). But that’s okay; “We Can Be Heroes” clearly was never intended to be for adults, even those who remember “Sharkboy and Lavagirl” from their childhood. It’s a kids movie through and through, and one that further cements Rodriguez’s status as one of the filmmakers most adept at making these sort of family movies working today. Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated PG.
“THE BEE GEES: HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART” (HBO/HBO Max)
If the purpose of director Frank Marshall’s new documentary about the Bee Gees is to make the case that they are one of the most influential and important music groups in history, then “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” passes with flying colors. For those primarily familiar with the Bee Gees—consisting of brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb—as the group that popularized disco music, particular with their iconic soundtrack for the film “Saturday Night Fever,” this documentary succeeds at showing the entire scope of their career, which went far beyond that. The Bee Gees first achieved fame in the 1960s as a Beatles-esque pop group with songs like “To Love Somebody” and “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” from which film derives its title. After going their separate ways for a bit, the Bee Gees reformed in the 70s, finding their now-famous falsetto sound as they turned to more dance-oriented disco songs like “Jive Talkin’” and “Nights on Broadway.” But even past the peak of their popularity, the Gibb’s continued to write songs for other performers, like Barbara Streisand, Dionne Warwick, and Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers. As the film points out, they wrote over 1,000 songs throughout their career. The documentary tells this story primarily through new and archival interviews; Robin, Maurice, and their brother Andy Gibb—a successful solo performer in his own right before his untimely passing at the age of 30—have all passed away, so the parts where sole survivor Barry discusses them contain a genuine sense of melancholy that’s very moving. Members of the band and contemporaries like Eric Clapton provide more insights into how the Bee Gees worked and how they all got along, while current talents like Justin Timberlake and Chris Martin reflect on the Bee Gees’ influence. Amongst all that, there are plenty of soundbites of their songs, concert and music video clips, and archival photos. “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” doesn’t really get to the heart of who the Gibbs were as people, and occasionally feels like it is trying to skirt controversy, but it does lend a lot of insight to their process, the brothers’ personalities, and their lasting success and influence. It isn’t perfect, but it is probably the most thorough look at the Bee Gees we’ve ever gotten, and maybe ever will. Runtime: 111 minutes. Rated TV-MA.