One of my favorite movies of recent months is The Vast of Night, an Amazon Prime Video original that, on a relatively tiny budget of $700,000, accomplishes a ton - it is a sci-fi thriller that executes with the assurance of a much bigger movie. Think The Last Picture Show meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind meets Twilight Zone, which is a weird mix but as accurate as I can come up with.
Here's the set-up. It is New Mexico in the 1950s, and two young people - 16-year-old Fay Crocker, who runs a switchboard at night, and twenty-something radio disc jockey Everett Sloan detect a mysterious audio signal that interrupts Everett's show and calls coming through Fay's switchboard. They do some investigation, and begin to suspect that the signal could be extraterrestrial in origin - and that the aliens may be invading their small town.
This is director Andrew Patterson's first film, and he kills it - the film has both the assurance of a much more experienced director and the audacity of a prodigy who doesn't know what he's not supposed to know. His cast - Sierra McCormick as Fay and Jake Horowitz as Everett - is flawless … they beautifully capture the naïveté of youth and the dawning horror of what they might've uncovered and what it might mean.
The Vast of Night is a terrific little film - 90 minutes long, crisp, eerie, and totally worth your time.
I must admit that when I went to see Midnight Sky, it was with a little trepidation. I've always been an admirer of George Clooney, but his directorial efforts after his debut, Good Night, And Good Luck, have offered diminishing returns. (I was most disappointed by Monuments Men, which should've been great but was awful.)
The good news is that Midnight Sky, now available on Netflix, is pretty good. It is the story of a dying scientist (played by Clooney) living alone in the Arctic Circle who may be the last man on earth because of some unidentified disaster; when he realizes that a spaceship is returning from Jupiter and needs to figure out how to warn it that Earth no longer is habitable.
There are a few terrific sequences in Midnight Sky, though I must admit that it occasionally suffers from being a little ponderous. It works well enough … though a little research shows that it cost $100 million to make, and I cannot help but think that The Vast Of Night is a lot more effective for a lot less money.
I've watched two episodes of "WandaVision" - the new series from Marvel on Disney+ - and find it hard to review because I don't yet know what it is all about. i know that it puts two superheroes from the Avengers films into fifties-style sitcoms and there seems to be something bigger going on. I may stick with it for another episodes or two, but there better be a payoff, and it better be good.
I'm not confident, though, and my patience is not endless.
I have a terrific wine to recommend to you this week - the 2018 Poggio Badiola Toscana, a beautifully rich red wine from the Chianti Classico region of Italy. It is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Petit Verdot, and at about $13, it is an amazing deal.
I had it the other night when I made these fresh pork meatballs with a vodka sauce - and let me tell you, the family was pretty impressed.
So will you be, I think.
That's it for this week. Have a good weekend … I'll see you Monday.
Stay safe. Be healthy.