Richard and CP24 anchor Jamie Gutfreund have a look at the weekend’s new movies, the alien invasion flick “Arrival,” starring Amy Adams, “Loving,” with Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga and “Almost Christmas” with Danny Glover, Mo’Nique and Gabrielle Union.
Imagine falling in love with someone, getting married and having a baby or two. For many people that is the dream but for Richard and Mildred Loving it was a nightmare of racism and injustice.
Based on a true story, “Loving” begins with Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), an African-American woman, telling her white boyfriend Richard Loving that she is pregnant. The place is a small county in Virginia, the year is 1958 and because the state’s anti-miscegenation laws made interracial marriage illegal, the pair skipped to neighbouring Washington, DC to tie the knot. “There’s less red tape there,” Richard says.
Soon word spreads and the pair are arrested in the middle of the night, rousted from a deep sleep for the crime of being married. “You know better, don’t you?” asks the Sheriff (Marton Csokas). “Maybe you don’t.” In exchange for a one year suspended sentence they either must divorce or leave the state and not return, together, for 25 years. “All we got to do is keep to ourselves for a while and this will blow over,” says Richard.
Reluctantly they leave for DC but when they return home to have their baby in secret they are arrested a second time. Told, “Cohabitating as man and wife is against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth,” the pair leave Virginia permanently. Years later Mildred, inspired by the civil rights march on TV, writes a letter to Robert Kennedy, then the Attorney general, asking if he can have a look at their case. Kennedy forwards the letter to Bernie Cohen (Nick Kroll), a young American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, who formulates a risky plan to move the fight from a racist Virginia country court to the Supreme Court in a case that would alter the constitution of the United States. Richard eloquently and potently sums up the defense in one simple sentence: “Tell the judge I love my wife.”
“Loving” is an important slice of American history told in a quiet, heartfelt way. Director Jeff Nicholls doesn’t clog up the story with dialogue. Instead he follows the first rule of filmmaking, show me, don’t tell me. For instance, when Mildred and Richard leave Virginia for the less-than-bucolic DC, the looks on the actor’s faces tell the tale, no words required. He allows the performances to underscore the potency of the story. Watch the way Mildred and Richard respond to one another physically after the arrests. Their tentative public displays of affection shows the fear that comes along with being told your relationship is illegal and wrong. It’s subtle, beautiful acting.
In private they can be themselves. A recreation of a Life Magazine photo of the real couple sitting together, laughing, watching TV is charmingly realized. It’s warm and intimate, the very picture of a happy couple who have put their hardships aside for a fleeting moment.
“Loving” is a understated movie. Some have suggested it may have benefitted from a bit more anger, but that, for me, would feel like a betrayal to the characters who fight the good fight with dignity and love.
The movie is simultaneously a powerful look at a different time and, when it asks, “What is the danger to the state of Virginia from interracial marriage?” a timely and universal reminder that Loving v. Virginia was just one of many steps humanity has to take before everyone is afforded fundamental rights.
In the films Take Shelter and Mud director Jeff Nichols explored themes of social anxiety caused by fear of the unknown. When I suggest that his new movie, Midnight Special, a sci fi road film about a father and a son with special powers, continues that examination he agrees, but only to a point.
“I certainly think you could make that statement and it would be fair,” he says, “but it doesn’t exactly line up with what I was thinking.
“I was thinking about what it is to be a parent. I think being a parent is to have faith in the unknown. You don’t know what your children are going to grow up to be. You don’t know what’s going to happen to them. You don’t know if they are going to make it all the way. You have to have faith in who they can be, who they are developing into. Who they are currently. I think that is what parenthood is and I think that is why there is so much fear and anxiety that comes from being a parent.”
Nichols says he originally came up with the idea for a “sci fi government chase film,” but adds, “That could be really silly so I think it is up to me as a filmmaker to apply these kind of personal feelings I have and my relationships to the locations and to the world at large to try and ground this film and give it some kind of actual purpose.”
To complete the picture Nichols cast Michael Shannon as the father. A frequent collaborator, Shannon has starred in all Nichols’s films, including the upcoming Loving.
“I think he makes me a better writer, especially in a film like Midnight Special where I’m trying to reduce the need for backstory to be delivered through monologues. When you have a person like Mike he fills all the spaces between the lines with all that subtext. He carries it on his face, in his continence. He is the complete story and he doesn’t even have to say a word.”
Midnight Special is the extraordinary kind of sci fi movie that teases out the information bit by bit. We learn enough to stay involved and are treated to several spectacular and exciting scenes along the way, but when it comes time to put a period on the story, Nichols instead uses an ellipsis in a metaphysical ending that will mean different things to different people. It owes a nod to his old hero Stephen Spielberg but feels distinctly like a Jeff Nichols film.
“If you look at ET and the bicycle flying and all these other moments that are classic moments in Spielberg films, they are wonderful. I don’t do that. For better and for worse I don’t do that. Maybe it’s because I live in the modern age and am a bit more of a pessimist. I don’t consider myself a cynic. I like films that ultimately are hopeful but there is a different kind of conclusions in my films than his films. I think my films point toward hope but don’t fully embrace it. I think that is the difference. It could also be the difference between a blockbuster and whatever this is going to be, but that is who I am as a person.”
“Y’all have no idea what you’re dealing with, do you?” asks cult leader Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard) of his FBI interrogators in “Midnight Special.” They don’t, and for much of the running time of the film, you won’t either. Director Jeff Nichols has made a wilfully obtuse, but fascinating, sci fi drama that will keep you guessing, even after the credits have rolled.
The movie begins as an apparent missing child story. We’ve seen the scene before. A dowdy motel room, armed kidnappers, a child hidden under a sheet. What’s unexpected is how agreeable the eight-year-old Alton Meyers (Jaeden Lieberher) is. He hugs Roy (Michael Shannon) and sits quietly in the backseat as Lucas (Joel Edgerton) drives.
Seems Roy is the boy’s biological father and the men have kidnapped the boy from The Ranch, a cult compound run by Brother Calvin Meyer (Sam Shepard). The goal is to allow the boy to fulfill his destiny, but what exactly is that?
Is he a prophet? A saviour? Or a weapon, as the FBI and NSA officer Paul Sevier (Adam Driver) believe?
The boy has powers. Visible spectrums of light come from his eyes. In other words, the kid has gifts and rays shoot from his eyeballs. While on The Ranch would also speak in tongues. To the cult his is ravings have become scripture, to the FBI they appear to contain highly guarded secrets of national security. The date Friday March 6 looms heavy in the text, and with the date fast approaching the FBI want to know what might happen on the day.
“What do you think will happen on March 6?” they ask one cult member.
“If Alton is with us we will be saved,” she replies.
As the FBI amp up their chase for the boy, Sarah (Kirsten Dunst), Roy’s ex and Alton’s mother, joins in to help her son complete his journey. “The date and place is everything,” says Roy. “It’s all we have.”
“Midnight Special” is a special kind of sci fi film. The story is more about fear of the unknown and belief than flying saucers or little green men. Mulder and Scully would love it. Director Nichols has belief, belief that his audience will stay with a movie that doesn’t make it easy for them, that doesn’t stick to Robert McKee’s golden rules of script writing. Instead it teases out the information but only to a point. We learn enough to stay involved and are treated to several spectacular and exciting scenes along the way, but when it comes time to put a period on the story, Nichols instead uses a an ellipsis in a metaphysical ending that will mean different things to different people.
This is a, “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” movie. Is it satisfying? Yes, if you don’t expect answers to all the questions the film raises. It’s more “2001: A Space Odyssey” than “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” although this movie does share Klaatu’s cool eye lasers. Both are good, interesting pictures, but one is unconventional and brave enough to ask more than it answers.
Welcome to the House of Crouse. Today we celebrate our 40th episode with filmmakers Spike Lee and Jeff Nichols. Lee talks about Chi-Raq, his audacious look at gang violence on the Southside of Chicago. Nichols, the director of Mud and Take Shelter stops by to discuss his new one, Midnight Special, and how working with Michael Shannon has mad him a better filmmaker. Stop by, sit a spell and help us commemorate our 40th show!