COLUMN WRITTEN BY AMY LONGSDORF
For Digital First Media
Jeff Nichols’ sci-fi thriller “Midnight Special” might be all smoke and mirrors but it casts quite a spell with its “Close Encounters”-esque vibe, on-target performances, and slow-burn suspense.
The action begins when a distraught father (Michael Shannon) kidnaps his supernaturally-gifted son Alton (Jaeden Lieberher) and hits the road in an attempt to stay one step ahead of a religious cult whose members worship the youngster. Why is Alton so powerful? And where do his gifts come from?
Nichols (“Mud”) only answers some of the questions he raises. Still, “Midnight Special” gets you thinking, which is more than you can say for most of today’s suspensers. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
Also New To Streaming
Every Thing Will Be Fine: After seven years making docs, Wim Wenders (“Paris, Texas”) returns to narrative filmmaking with this tepid tale of an author (James Franco) who kills a child in a freak accident. Initially, it seems as if the movie will be about Franco making peace with the dead boy’s mother (Charlotte Gainsbourg) but, instead, Franco works through his grief alone, at least until the third-act appearance of the youngster’s brother (Jack Fulton). Nothing much happens very, very slowly in this two-hour slog of a drama that gives its cast precious little to do. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
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I, Anna: A late-in-life love story and a noir-ish thriller crisscross in intriguing ways in this mersmerizer about a lonely divorcee (Charlotte Rampling) who appears to be the witness to a grisly slaying. A police detective (Gabriel Byrne) begins to fall in love with Rampling until he suspects she might know more about the murder than she’s letting on. With a brooding score and moody cinematography, “I, Anna” is occasionally too arty for its own good but the film has a real gravity to it as well as plenty of suspense and a gasp-inducing twist or two. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
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The Wave: Set outside a Norwegian tourist town, this disaster epic imagines what would happen if one of the region’s unstable mountains crashed into the surrounding lakes, creating an enormous tsunami. The action pivots on a geologist (Kristoffer Joner) who’s reluctant to move his family to the city, especially since he’s the only one who believes in the dire consequences of all that shifting substrata. Director Roar Uthaug (“Cold Prey”) demonstrates how far a small-ish special effects budget can stretch while making sure the human drama is just as jolting as the disaster footage. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
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Lenny Cooke: If you were a fan of Steve James’ “Hoop Dreams,” check out this doc about the early 2000s phenom who was, at one time, ranked above future greats LeBron James, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. A decade later, Lenny has never played a minute in the NBA. In this quintessentially American documentary, filmmaking brothers Joshua and Benny Safdie take a candid look at a man whose dreams of superstardom were once very much in reach. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
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Rushlights: Unrated Directors’ Cut: In this recently re-cut crime thriller, delinquent teenagers Billy (Josh Henderson) and Sarah (Haley Webb) take off from the suburbs of Los Angeles to a small southern town in Texas where they hope to falsely claim a dead friends inheritance. As you might imagine, nothing goes as planned. On Amazon, iTunes, Google, Vudu.
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The Look of Silence: In this remarkable companion piece to “The Act of Killing,” a mild-mannered optometrist named Adi confronts the men who killed his brother in 1965, in the wake of the military’s takeover of Indonesia. In the earlier film, the murderers showed no guilt as they discussed their cruel methods for disposing of their victims. They are just as unrepentant in “The Look of Silence.” With great finesse, director Joshua Oppenheimer alternates the chilling footage of the killers with scenes of Adi’s 100-year-old mom discussing how the death of her son is still an open wound. On Netflix.
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The Dick Cavett Show: In honor of the passing of one of boxing’s best, Shout Factory TV is streaming four episodes of the “Cavett Show” featuring Muhammad Ali. The fighter talks to Cavett about everything from his exile period to the classic Ali-Frazier fight in interviews which originally aired from 1970 to 1978. On Shout Factory TV.
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The Fundamentals of Caring: Based on the novel by Jonathan Evison, this Netflix original movie follows the story of Ben (Paul Rudd), a retired writer who becomes a caregiver after suffering a personal tragedy. After six weeks of training, Ben meets his first client, Trevor, a foul-mouthed 18-year-old (Craig Roberts) with muscular dystrophy. One paralyzed emotionally, one paralyzed physically, Ben and Trevor take an impromptu road trip to all the places Trevor has become obsessed with while watching the local news, including their holy grail: the World’s Deepest Pit. Along the way, they pick up a smart-mouthed runaway and a mother-to-be who test the pair’s survival skills. On Netflix.