Clooney directs, stars in bleak sci-fi flick “The Midnight Sky”

George Clooney and Caoilinn Springall in The Midnight Sky / Netflix

George Clooney’s latest film “The Midnight Sky” (Netflix) is a hauntingly sad, somber, and plodding science-fiction story about a father desperately attempting to connect with the daughter he never knew in order to save her life while the world literally dies around him.

It’s a bleak movie about a man facing death head on to make one last heroic gesture in hopes of saving a returning crew of space explorers from impending doom.

Clooney, who directs and stars in the film, plays scientist Augustine Lofthouse, who is one of the few living persons left on Earth following a cataclysmic event that wiped out most of the planet’s population with radiation.

Ill and weak, Augustine refuses to evacuate the planet with others in hopes of warning the crew of the spacecraft Æther, which is returning to Earth from an exploration mission to a habitable moon of Jupiter, that their home planet is no longer fit for mankind.

Augustine has a personal reason for risking what’s left of his life to attempt to warn the Æther about returning to Earth, but revealing what that is would give too much away.

Augustine oddly finds a young non-verbal girl, named Iris (Caoilinn Springall) in the Arctic lab where he is stationed. She accompanies him on his journey to warn the crew of the Æther, or does she?

The film is beautifully shot by Clooney and features an outstanding score by Alexandre Desplat, but its somber tone and utter stillness save for a couple of scenes make for a laborious watch.

A captivating moonwalk sequence featuring the crew of the Æther, while reminiscent of both “Ad Astra” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” provides a bit of drama and character, and a funny scene where Augustine and Iris have a food fight with peas gives a spark to what otherwise is an extremely stiff and dour movie.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 2 min.
Grade: C-



It’s hard to go wrong with a Pixar film, and “Soul” (Disney+) is no exception.

The movie features the voice talents of Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner, a school band teacher who aspires to greatness as a jazz pianist, and Tina Fey as 22, a soul trapped in the Great Before, who needs to find her spark before she can be born on Earth.

Foxx’s Joe is on the verge of his big break as a jazz musician when and accident sends his soul on a journey up a spiritual elevator headed for the “Great Beyond.” As Joe seeks to find his way back to his body, he winds up in the “Great Before,” where he meets 22, a cranky soul who is reluctant to find her purpose.

Joe hopes to somehow win his life back by helping 22 find her purpose, but when he and 22 leap from the Great Before to Earth, 22 winds up in Joe’s body, while he lands in the body of a cat.

Can Joe and 22 find their way into their proper forms? What adventures will they have as they try, and what lessons will they learn?

I’m not telling you here, but I’m pretty sure if you watch the movie, you’ll be glad you invested the time.

You might find the film reminiscent of “Inside Out,” which was also directed by Pete Docter as well as other Pixar favorites like “Monster’s Inc.” and “Up.” But that’s not a bad thing, just an observation.

(PG) 1 hr. 47 min.
Grade: A

Wonder Woman 1984

Gal Gadot in “Wonder Woman 1984” / Warner Bros.

I hate to say it but “Wonder Woman 1984” (HBO Max, theaters) is one one of the most disappointing movies I’ve seen in quite some time.

A lot of that has nothing to do with the movie director Patty Jenkins made. It has more to do with my own expectations after enjoying her 2017 “Wonder Woman” so much.

I can’t tell you exactly what I was expecting out of “Wonder Woman 1984,” but it was much more like the opening scene that depicted a young Diana learning a lesson about truth and competition on her home Island of Themyscira than the rest of this overlong, convoluted mess.

The movie is essentially a bloated and boring episode of the 1970s “Wonder Woman” TV series with a huge budget.

While I do fondly remember tuning into the show, which starred Lynda Carter as the Amazing Amazon and Lyle Wagoner as Steve Trevor, as a kid, I was looking for something more modern in the second go-around with Gal Gadot as Diana/Wonder Wonder and Chris Pine as Trevor.

Gadot and Pine are once again very solid in their well-defined roles, and the movie has zing whenever Gadot dons her gold, red, and blue armor, but those scenes are too few and far between. Gadot is in her secret identity as Diana Prince much more in the movie than as Wonder Woman, which is a letdown.

The film slows to a crawl for long portions when Diana is featured rather than the Amazon Princess. While super-hero TV series have routinely given more screen time to the secret identity dating back to “The Adventures of Superman” in the 1950s because of the cost of special effects, that shouldn’t have been a problem with this film. If Jenkins does direct a third Wonder Woman movie, hopefully we’ll get more wonder and less secret identity business.

The message of the plot is essentially “be careful for what you wish for” as conman villain Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) procures an ancient relic imbued with the power of the Greek gods that grants wishes that come with unintended consequences as a terrible cost.

Pascal can play a very charming and charismatic heal as fans of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” know, but here his megalomania is too over the top even for a super-hero film. His Maxwell Lord makes Al Pacino’s Tony Montana from “Scarface” look calm, cool, and collected in comparison.

Kristen Wiig fairs a bit better as Barbara Minerva/Cheetah. Perhaps the film would have been better had it focused on one villain or the other instead of attempting to set up and pay off both.

The movie pays heavy homage to “Heaven Can Wait” and “Superman II” with Steve and Diana’s story. Such meta content tends to take me out of a movie rather than drawing me in.

This film feels like a major misstep by Jenkins, Warner Bros., and DC Comics in their attempt match the mighty Marvel movie factory that producer Kevin Feige has humming at Disney.

A Variety article released earlier in the week stated that under the direction of DC Film president Walter Hamada, Warner plans to release four DC films a year on the big screen starting 2022 and at least two others on HBO Max.

That’s an ambitious announcement that looks more than a bit suspect when being spearheaded by such a weak, convoluted, and boring effort as “Wonder Woman 1984.”

(PG-13) 2 hr. 35 min.
Grade: D

New In Local Movie Theaters

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    Classic Corner – Alien (Malco Razorback. Skylight Theater)

    Sigourney Weaver in Alien / Twentieth Century Fox

    In space, no one can hear you scream. What a chilling tag line for one of the best science-fiction/horror movies ever made, director Ridley Scott’s “Alien.”

    I was not old enough to see the R-rated “Alien” in 1979, but my 18-year-old babysitter bought me a ticket and dragged me to see it, anyway. The movie scared me more than any movie I had ever seen up to that point, with only the PG-rated “Jaws,” which I saw four years earlier, coming close.

    While “Jaws” remains one my all-time favorite movies, it wasn’t as unrelentingly tense or scary to me as “Alien,” which absolutely riveted me to my seat from the first time I saw the face-hugger, the chest-bursting worm, and finally the gigantic, acidic-saliva dripping behemoth that Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) finally incinerates after it decimated the rest of the crew of the spacecraft Nostromo.
    Today the creatures from the film aren’t exactly cuddly, but they aren’t as eye-poppingly scary as they were back in 1979.

    The film has grown from being a hit at the box office into a full-fledged franchise, inspiring everything from toys and video games to comics and all other manner of licensed merchandise. Much of the thrill and chills are gone.

    However at its debut no one had ever seen a creature like the Alien. It was a fantastic masterpiece of a villain because throughout the course of the film it continued to morph into something bigger, uglier, and more fantastic each time we encountered it.

    Film fans had all seen werewolf transformations before, but we never had seen a monster grow increasingly more threatening and violent as a movie progressed. Just when you thought you had a grip on it, it became even more grotesque and dangerous.

    Weaver in her first lead role was a great, capable heroine whom you feared for but still believed capable of besting the beast with her will and wits.

    Just as the film made Weaver a star, it vaulted Scott into being a major director who later gave us such films as “Blade Runner,” “Thelma & Louise,” “Gladiator, and “The Martian.”

    Though the movie is set in space, Scott shot it like a haunted-house flick and left audiences gasping.

    Forty-one years later, the creatures may not be as scary as they were to audiences in the late 1970s, but I’d argue the movie remains almost as compelling and thrilling as it did so many years ago. It’s a true horror classic that has stood the test of time unlike most films of its ilk.

    That’s a testament to Scott’s nightmare vision and the star-making performance he coaxed from Weaver.

    Even though the movie is 41 years old and we’ve grown accustomed to the look of Scott’s xenomorphs over the years, I’d argue there’s not a better, more effective film in theaters today than 1979’s “Alien.”

    (R) 1 hr. 57 min.