'The Mi9dnight Sky'

George Clooney and Caoilinn Springall in “The Midnight Sky.”

“The Midnight Sky” is available in theaters and on Netflix, as is “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” “Herself” opens in limited release in theaters this week and on Amazon Prime beginning January 8.

THE MIDNIGHT SKY

A dark dystopian epic tale elevated by its stunning visuals by cinematographer Martin Ruhe and a powerful performance from lead actor and director George Clooney, “The Midnight Sky” takes place during 2049 on a doomed Earth, and, in outer space aboard Aether, a space craft returning to Earth from K-23, one of Jupiter’s moons.

Based on “Good Morning, Midnight” by Lily Brooks-Dalton, the sci-fi drama focuses on astronomer Augustine (Clooney), who stays behind at his post near the Arctic Circle while everyone evacuates because of an unnamed worldwide catastrophe.

In flashbacks, young Augustine is played by Ethan Peck. Caoilinn Springall portrays Iris.

The Aether’s astronauts, Sully (Felicity Jones), Adwole (David Oyelowo), Maya (Tiffany Boone), Sanchez (Demian Bechir) and Mitchell (Kyle Chandler), cannot understand why NASA has failed to contact them about reentry.

Although the overall pace remains slow, the film contains some exciting and dangerous action sequences as Augustine sets out in minus 40 degree weather in order to find a way to communicate with the Aether, and as the astronauts take a risky spacewalk to repair the craft.

“The Midnight Sky” is a feature best enjoyed on the big screen in order to appreciate it’s vivid production design and special effects. But for now, most folks will watch it on Netflix.

Rated PG-13

–  3 Stars

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

Produced by Denzel Washington, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright  August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (1982) is directed for the screen by George C. Wolfe and stars Oscar winner Viola Davis as legendary blues singer Ma Rainey and the late Chadwick Boseman as her brash trumpeter, Levee Green.

The raw, edgy drama imagines a turbulent day in the life of Ma Rainey circa 1927 when she and her band assembled in a Chicago recording studio to make several records. Accompanying Ma Rainey are Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) and Ma’s nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown).

As Levee tries to get the band and Ma Rainey to revise their old-fashioned style of blues music to the emerging dance tunes that he has written, he meets strong resistance.

Wilson’s dialog and the performances of Davis and Boseman sizzle in a riveting, tragic drama that gives a realistic portrait of the Black experience nearly 100 years ago.

Although the story is fiction, Ma Rainey was an actual singer from Georgia, who was known as the Mother of the Blues.

Rated R

–  3 Stars

HERSELF

 This small Irish feature is a triumph for director Phyllida Lloyd and for cowriter and lead actress Clare Dunne, who portrays a Dublin single mother named Sandra. After escaping her abusive husband, Gary (Ian Lloyd Anderson), Sandra and her daughters Molly (Molly McCann) and Emma (Ruby Rose O’Hare) live in a hotel. Even though Sandra has primary custody of the girls, Gary plots to take them away from their mother.

The heartwarming story is filled with a passel of good people such as retired doctor Peggy (Harriet Walker) and builder Aido (Conleth Hill), who volunteer to help Clare fulfill her dream.

Dunne, a 32-year-old actress who appears often onstage at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, deserves kudos for her tough and tender performance as a struggling mom.

Rated R

–  3 Stars

Alice Reese is a member of the Dallas Fort Worth Film Critics Association. She reviews movies, arts and  entertainment for the Herald-Banner and for KETR.

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