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By midlandsmovies, Dec 12 2019 08:58PM

Review - Movie catch up blog 2019 - Part 8




Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) Dir. Jon Watts

With anticipated sequels comes much disappointment as the excellent Spider-Man: Homecoming gets a lacklustre Marvel follow up as Spidey and school chums travel Europe fighting new foe Mysterio. The often ace Jake Gyllenhaal cannot bring life to a villain who has nasty vibes of Iron Man 3’s The Mandarin as a duplicitous “faker” of fear. Far From brilliant, it’s entertaining enough but the abundant and plastic CGI undermines the admittedly solid performances from its young cast. ★★★ ½




Ready or Not (2019) Dir. Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett

Samara Weaving (and spitting image of Margot Robbie) is excellent as a bride who is forced to play a violent game of hide and seek with her upper class in-laws on her wedding night if she is to join her new family. A quirky idea with some satisfyingly bloody set-pieces throughout a mansion, the b-movie thrills are given a leg-up by the cast who provide sleazy delights from the beginning of the game. A large smattering of gore and a thrilling ending makes this one of the most enjoyable guilty pleasures of the year. ★★★★




Hustlers (2019) Dir. Lorene Scafaria

Catch this film for Jennifer Lopez’s fantastic performance as mature exotic dancer Ramona Vega who assists newcomer Destiny (Constance Wu) in the ways of dance before pulling together a crew who scam wealthy businessmen. Solid to the point of blandness my initial reaction was that artistically it’s one of the most overrated drama flicks since the incredibly flavourless Spotlight. Plenty to enjoy along the ride however with a splash of added social commentary but like the drugged Wall Street guys in the movie there’s very little to remember here. ★★★ ½




Pet Sematary (2019) Dir. Kevin Kölsch & Dennis Widmyer

With Stephen King adaptations being all the rage again, we get a second take on the story of a haunted burial ground that brings animals, and later children, back to life with haunting consequences. The dry (and always unmemorable) Jason Clarke takes us through a tedious set of ironically lifeless sequences with little tension or horror to be found throughout its duration. It’s not something I’ve said before but put simply – go read the book. ★★



Long Shot (2019) Dir. Jonathan Levine

Man, I really like Charlize Theron. And Seth Rogen is more than likeable in most films too (despite his lack of range). Here, he again plays a schlubby guy who rekindles a relationship with school sweetheart Theron, who is now running as a US Presidential candidate. Straight to the point, but I simply didn’t laugh enough for what is billed as a comedy as each actor plays to their regular stereotype and I just couldn’t get my head around what Theron’s character saw in Rogen (kind of important in a film that’s about love crossing divides). Definitely not the hilarious triumph some critics have labelled it as, it’s an ultimately inconsequential and tiresome lark which tries to mix politics, class, love and ambitions to a hugely varying degree of success. ★★★




Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019) Dir. André Øvredal

An inconsistent adaptation, this film has a 15-rating but its mix of tame frights and young protagonists smooths off a much-needed edge as a group of friends tackle a cursed book which writes its own terrifying tales they end up living through. Aiming for the tone of IT or Stranger Things but delivering more of a Goosebumps or Lemony Snicket vibe, a couple of the early stories worked well and although the framing device lends itself to a Creepshow anthology structure, the quality fluctuates too much to be totally satisfying. ★★★




Dolemite is My Name (2019) Dir. Craig Brewer

The last good Eddie Murphy film? Dreamgirls (13 years ago)? Bowfinger (20 years ago)? Well, as a fan of his early 80s hits (Beverly Hills Cop, Trading Places, Coming to America) it’s gratifying to know he’s way back in form in this real life tale of Rudy Ray Moore – a hero of 70s comedy and Blaxploitation films. Murphy is joined by a talented support cast including Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Keegan-Michael Key and Wesley Snipes, and has a terrific script to work with along with space to improvise. It’s reminiscent of The Disaster Artist where a similar low budget filmmaker creates a passion project with erratic results, but to some accidental success. The film therefore reminds us of how superb Murphy can be with the right material. ★★★ ½




The Highwaymen (2019) Dir. John Lee Hancock

Netflix pulling together two fantastic actors (Woody Harrelson & Kevin Costner) with the director of the stupendous Saving Mr. Banks in a period crime drama focusing on two of America’s most infamous outlaws must be a recipe for success, right? Well, sadly it’s a definite no. Mind-numbing detail, a lack of chemistry between any of the cast and a drama vacuum only serve to remind you of far better films on the same subject. The two leads take their investigating rangers on a wild chase to nowhere in a tedious drama. ★★




The Laundromat (2019) Dir. Steven Soderbergh

What the hell even is this film? With a cast featuring Meryl Streep, Antonio Banderas, Gary Oldman and more, you’d think that alone would deliver a certain level of quality but oh how wrong you will be. With echoes of The Big Short with its focus (and explanations) of money laundering, the style, tone, comedy and drama are hilarious undisciplined as this massive misfire tries to scattergun pot-shots at the morally corrupt players involved in the Panama Papers. With three stories that simply don’t work together as a whole, it’s like Soderbergh attempted to complete a puzzle using pieces from different sets and what a holy mess he’s ended up with. And the final result is an even bigger let-down because of the talent involved. ★★




Eli (2019) Dir. Ciarán Foy

Eli has a rather interesting beginning as we are introduced to a young boy with a rare disease that causes severe allergic reactions to the outdoors. He arrives with his parents to a secluded medical facility (clearly not a good idea) and after some suspect “treatments” begins to see strange things which are chalked up as hallucinations by Lili Taylor’s creepy doctor. The major problem with the film for me was the squandering of a really fascinating idea despite the inclusion of a couple of well-executed ghostly and sacrificial set-pieces. Yet it fails through its technical flaws and poor script which just doesn’t bring alive the premise it sets up of [BIG SPOILER WARNING] a boy not knowing he is in fact a child of the Antichrist. A really wasted opportunity in my opinion. ★★




Rocketman (2019) Dir. Dexter Fletcher

Pack your bags and join a fast-paced musical biopic featuring the classic songs of Elton John in a star-filled romp through campy history and heartfelt melodrama drama. Director Dexter Fletcher (fresh from helping to “finish off” Bohemian Rhapsody) takes a different angle in this flick though, delivering a more conventional musical. For me, it’s not my favourite genre so although I love Elton John’s genius back catalogue of hits, the film was more like Moonwalker with a collection of music videos punctuated by a simple retelling of some of Elton’s important life moments. Taron Egerton (John himself) and Jamie Bell (lyricist Bernia Taupin) are both excellent but I’d rather listen to a Greatest Hits than re-watch this slightly formulaic, but well-intentioned, flamboyant diversion. ★★★ ½


Michael Sales


By midlandsmovies, Dec 11 2019 09:52PM

Midlands Movies Worst 10 Films of 2019





10) Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Dir. Robert Rodriguez

What we said: “There’s so much CGI that the human characters inserted in the film feel almost unneeded and a distraction in themselves. But it's Alita's facial construction, whose eyes and face are computer-generated beyond all recognition which actually turned me off from the screen regularly. Sadly, as the Alita android is found amongst a big pile of junk and hastily put together, the film mirrors this in its themes, tone and dull execution”.

Click here for full review



9) Godzilla: King of the Monsters

What we said: “Fans said they wanted more Godzilla in their Godzilla film, but unfortunately this was added at the expense of everything else. With an offensive colour palette making every shot look like cloudy vomit, it seems that at the end of the day if you make a film that looks terrible then people are going to assume it is one. It’s like walking into work wearing clown shoes. That CGI artist team talk in full – “whatever you do guys and gals, don’t put in more than 70% effort”. A monster mess”.




8) Killers Anonymous (2019) Dir. Martin Owen

What we said: “It could have worked as a more serious chamber piece but in the end it sticks to a bland unsatisfying middle-ground. How Oscar-winner Gary Oldman got involved in this is anyone's guess. In the end, what could have worked as a one-off ITV drama is not cinematic enough for the ideas it has. And sadly, this more than tiresome movie tries to be a big screen blockbuster but is much more of a lacklustre little screen disappointment”.

Click here for full review




7) The Curse of La Llorona (2019) Dir. Michael Chaves

What we said: “It’s another dull entry into The Conjuring universe and is based on Mexican folklore where a supernatural entity attempts to steal children from their families. Mixing silly superstitions with godawful jump scares, the film’s filled to the brim with obvious 'quiet-then-loud' sequences and is the kind of PG-13 horror that is over-done and has been seen dozens of times before. Set your expectation level to “underwhelmed” and then still prepare yourself for a bit of a knock”.

Click here for full review




6) Domino (2019) Dir. Brian De Palma

What we said: “At just 89 minutes this crime thriller feels twice as long and stars Game of Throners Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Carice van Houten who are investigating the death of a Danish police officer. I don’t want to give away any spoilers about Domino but literally nothing happens. Combined with a troubled production and a star or two dropping out, this ramshackle made-for-TV level movie is lacklustre and dull. It seems the director’s strategy of not caring at all about his utterly useless movie hasn’t paid the handsome dividends he might have hoped for”.

Click here for full review




5) Triple Threat

What we said: “Wasting the talents of the excellent Iko Uwais (The Raid), Tony Jaa (Ong Bak) and Tiger Chen (Man of Tai Chi) for starters, the film is an incomprehensible and extremely boring set of action beats seen a billion times before. Choppy editing, absent characterisation and story and really naff fight sequences, this would be an embarrassment without the action legends present. With their involvement, the film is a far far worse crime".





4) Replicas (2019) Dir. Jeffrey Nachmanoff

What we said: “What is up with Keanu Reeves career making decisions? For every critical and commercial success he then opts to star in something so awful it beggars belief. A $30 million dollar failure, this film sees Reeves as William Foster, a scientist who breaks the law to clone his family members after they perish in a vehicle accident. Sadly the film contains every plot cliché you can imagine and, whether it’s the script (likely) or the direction, Alice Eve as his wife gives a simply atrocious performance. And despite its attempts to tackle deeper issues of loss, humanity and family, the film is mostly reminiscent of the bold boringness of Transcendence. Avoid”.

Click here for full review




3) Under the Silver Lake (2019) Dir. David Robert Mitchell

What we said: “The plot, if you can decipher it, involves Andrew Garfield investigating the sudden disappearance of his neighbour Riley Keough, but during his escapades uncovers a large and complicated conspiracy. Although it’s never really boring, it’s always awful. The only reason I watched right to the end of the credits was because I was hoping to get a fucking apology. I didn't”.

Click here for full review




2) Angel Has Fallen (2019) Dir. Ric Roman Waugh

What we said: “A frankly out-of-shape Gerard Butler returns in this third instalment in the Fallen film series following Olympus Has Fallen (the number 10 entry of our worst films of 2013) and London Has Fallen (the number ONE entry in our worst films of 2016) again playing secret service agent Mike Banning. What we have then is an unexciting, monotonous and dreary “action” film whose 2-hour runtime feels like 2 weeks. Fans may find something in this that I didn’t get out of it, but for general audiences, the franchise should fall into retirement as soon as possible”.

Click here for full review




1) Backtrace (2018) Dir. Brian A. Miller

What we said: “How does Stallone even get involved in films this bad? Sure, Nic Cage has made a ton of straight-to-VOD pish but at least they look like films. So, a January film already laying claim to the worst of 2019? Well, one positive is that maybe Stallone can better himself by improving on his third place position for Escape Plan 2 on our least favourite films of 2018 list and claim the top spot this year instead. Good luck. But, with 12 months to go, this film is so bad that Stallone is in with a VERY good chance of being the best of the worst”. Editor - And he was!

Click here for full review



Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 5 2019 05:20PM



Rachel


Directed by David L Knight


2019


“This won’t bring her back”.


Rachel is a new film from Midlands filmmaker David L Knight and throws us straight in to a world of drugs, violence and former wrongdoings.


Opening with a dishevelled man in a hoodie playing with a lighter, the voice of a female tells him that his pain must be “unbearable”, before we are shown her standing nearby in an angelic white dress.


However, the junkie quickly turns his aching addiction into an abduction as he drags a well-dressed woman off the street and into the alley. But here, we are shocked as a hard cut to black then takes us to a warehouse with the man now tied to chair in a brutal opening twist.


With tape over his mouth gagging his cries for help, the ghostly woman reappears laughing before two strangers arrive. “Rachel” builds up its world quickly and efficiently and with just a few lines of dialogue the short sets up a number of intriguing mysteries that help push the narrative along.


Owing to the setting and situation, the filmmaker also delivers a locally-infused Reservoir Dogs aesthetic with the tied victim attempting to speak, but also suspecting the worst. He’s definitely stuck in the middle with them!


“There’ll be plenty of time for noise later”, says one of the captors as they toy with their victim and the short builds up some good tension as we are thrown into this dark standoff.


As per the three-act structure, at about two-thirds of the way in the film finally reveals that one of the tormentors has lost his daughter and is seeking some rough justice. But although our victim claims to have no knowledge of the man’s 17 year-old, a photo thrust under his nose proves otherwise.


The presence of a person as a metaphor for a haunted past is a little over-used in films but Knight uses the apparition sparingly enough, especially as she is often glimpsed over the captor’s shoulder – haunting both the dad and his bloodied victim.


As we draw to the film’s conclusion, the verbal torture ends and physical torture begins in a brief flash of violence straight out of Taken. Rachel slowly builds a sense of concern AND revulsion for both of the main characters as we are shown the two sides of a moral quandary.


However, as the mysteries unravel so do the captors and the short ends on a cliffhanger of horror. A cautionary and mostly successful tale of drug abuse and revenge, and despite a cliché here or there, Rachel ends up a satisfyingly tense 9 minutes of drama where past mistakes haunt the present.


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Dec 3 2019 05:59PM



Review - Midsommar


Midsommar is the second feature film from up and coming horror maven Ari Aster. Midsommar revolves around Dani (Florence Pugh) a young women traumatised by a family tragedy that turns her difficult student life upside down.


Dani invites herself on a trip to Sweden to take part in the Midsommar celebrations alongside her boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) and his budding student friends. The pleasant trip turns from a pleasant, healing experience and into a dark, dread-soaked visceral ordeal.


This film had lots to live up to considering the honorary success of Hereditary in 2017. And Ari has not disappointed.


Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor both are fantastic in their roles backed by an equally noble ensemble. The characters all had their parts to play in this movie, all of them bringing heaps of value to the plot, and all of the people involved created a light but dark spectacle. The costumes of the Midsommar goers are beautiful, and everything from the synchronicity of movements, to these characters micro expressions provided a thoroughly immersive experience that hits hard.


The plot really does have some dark themes to it, exploring tragedy and grief to the heart-breaking descent of a relationship. Midsommar has it all. The camera work is beyond belief, each frame could be a photograph if rendered correctly, and A24 really did give Aster the budget and support he needed to create one of my favourite movies of 2019.


Don’t get me wrong this isn’t for the faint hearted, the effects in Midsommar are gnarly, realistic and justifiable, but also horrific. The common debate among critics of this movie is, is it a cult movie? Or a breakup movie? Well, you decide.


But this film truly did give me a strong sense of wellness, I somehow fell under the spell of the psychedelic potency of this piece and loved all the themes it is predicated upon.


But if I had to summarise this to you. Watch it. See it, and join the festivities.


★★★★ ½


Ben Warrington

Twitter @ben_warro



By midlandsmovies, Dec 3 2019 05:45PM



Unstable


Directed by Luke Allen


2019


Bottle O Productions


Unstable takes place as a growing substance abuse problem descends on a young man, Adam (Alexander Westwood) who has had the paralysing news that his father has a terminal illness and won’t see another year.


In a wooded park, alone, before he gets the news, he carefully sprinkles cannabis in a roll up. Before he can seal it up and enjoy his form “stress relief” he is disturbed by a girl he hasn’t met before called Sophie (Helen Austin).


As she sits down beside him and questions him regarding his drug use, her curiosity could be initially mistaken for intrusiveness. However after a few moments of genuine conversation it is clear her intentions are pure. An attraction between the two is ignited and in a show of defiance Adam throws away his cannabis joint.


Written and directed by Luke Allen, he makes sure to shape certain images and montages to show what his future might look like depending on which path he takes. Allen seems to have a clear agenda whilst making Unstable, to showcase how one’s problems are better dealt when they are shared with friends or family, which in the current climate is more important now than ever.


As Sophie extends an offer to always be there if Adam wants to talk, he receives a call from his distraught mother who has told him to come home as his father only has a few months left to live. Visibly distracted by the call he makes his excuses and leaves but not before being offered cocaine by a drug dealer operating in an underpass. His initial refusal is quickly ignored, and his earlier strength is tested as the dealer reiterates a line Sophie said earlier albeit with a different meaning “life’s shit mate, no point in letting it get worse”.


There is a sense of an impending burst of emotion in one of the film's final scenes as Adam sits down with his parents for dinner. They ponder when they will finally meet Sophie which prompts him to come clean regarding his drug habit. Allen cleverly leaves Adam out of shot the entire scene, concentrating on his mother and father instead. An odd choice as this is the film’s most significant moment however I think this paid off as the viewer can focus completely on the dialogue.


Whilst the sound and the mix needed more attention, as I thought it was slightly off, such technological aspects can be improved on during the director's next effort. Unstable can boast however of its performances. The acting is relaxed and good straight through the line with its key players Alexander Westwood and Helen Austin exuding chemistry making their romance believable.


In the end, Unstable is a well-made film from a young filmmaker and the story remained the priority and the plot engaging, which for a zero-budget film is wholly impressive.


Guy Russell

Twitter @BudGuyer


By midlandsmovies, Nov 26 2019 09:20PM



Midlands Review - Do You See It Too?



Directed by Liam Banks


2019


Superfreak Media


"Do You See iI Too?" is the latest short story from Liam Banks and Superfreak Media which tells of a rainy night in what appears to be suburban England. A couple (Chloe Crump and Jay Podmore) are agonisingly traumatised by something lurking in the shadows of their home and we follow them as they attempt to alleviate their terror through the night.


Firstly, there are countless positives to this piece that with such a low budget must be highly commended. The colour palette is beautiful, and the usage of light is a real way to build the tension in this piece.


Ambiguous lighting like this really does press on your anxiety as the viewer and that’s what the film attempts to project onto its audience.


The sound design also was a very nice feature, not perfect mind as there are small questions of synchronicity with what we hear but its used in a very effective way to pace the film, as well as set the mysterious mood. The two lead characters were flawless when expressing fear and anxiety, and following their journey throughout this piece really connected us with them.


There was some really great shots as well which really made me feel uncomfortable at times and the pacing of this film being so peculiar was another clever technique.


The plot itself isn’t clear what it wants to portray at times but you can clearly see there are some references to other, more popular theatrical releases. However, this doesn’t cause an issue as the implementation of many horror techniques was present and I really could feel the energy behind the camera.


Overall, the short is a perfectly well implemented horror flick. Personally, I didn’t enjoy the jump scares in particular but I wouldn’t hold that against the makers as I know they had a minor budget.


So with some beautiful shots, sound design and visuals, backed up by two very good performances, Do You See It Too is a short but tense, nerve shredding ride.


Ben Warrington

@ben_warro

By midlandsmovies, Nov 26 2019 11:54AM


Steve Green with Alan Birch and Al Smith
Steve Green with Alan Birch and Al Smith

Midlands Spotlight - New online show focuses on Midlands filmmakers


Midlands filmmakers will find themselves in front of the camera when local telly legends Des Tong and Gary James launch their new online show Birmingham Now on Monday 25th November.


Birmingham Now is a new monthly YouTube series will feature interviews with personalities from the world of movies, music, theatre and art, as well as profiles of business and sports figures.


Des Tong is a Birmingham-based musician, presenter and video director, best known for his work with Sad Cafe and singer Cissy Stone. Gary James is a Birmingham-based sports journalist, presenter and branding consultant with wide experience in corporate entertainment.



Birmingham Now hosts Gary James and Des Tong
Birmingham Now hosts Gary James and Des Tong

And Steve Green and Chrissie Harper run Solihull-based Vamporama Films, producing news packages for regional television and documentary material for a variety of online and media platforms.


In the first edition, co-producer Steve Green will be talking to actor Alan Birch and writer Al Smith about their collaborations on film and stage, as well as the first Black Country Horror Shorts Film Festival.


Running in Kinver in January 2020, the Black Country Horror Shorts Film Festival includes judges include Adam Nevill, whose novel The Ritual was adapted for the screen in 2017.



There's also the first of Des Tong's "featured artist" profiles in which he chats with Wolverhampton-born singer-songwriter Rebecca Downes.


The show is a co-production between Des & Gary and Solihull-based Vamporama Films.


Previews and free subscriptions are available now via the show’s website http://brum-now.uk


YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIjVpJqCyNK_BymjT-fnTdQ

Festival link: https://www.weepingbankproductions.co.uk



By midlandsmovies, Nov 25 2019 09:03AM



Midlands Review - Invasion Planet Earth


Directed by Simon Cox


2019


Invasion Planet Earth


Alpha Star Creative Productions


A number of children in the 1980s recreating their favourite TV show ‘Kaleidoscope Man’ (this film’s previous title in fact) opens new sci-fi feature Invasion Planet Earth from Midlands director Simon Cox.


This clever parody is a fun way to start a feature that contains more than its fair share of disaster and peril. We then move to the present as a couple Thomas (Simon Haycock) and Mandy (Roxi Drive) are shown to be ready for a new start after the death of their daughter whilst Mandy shares the news that she is pregnant again.


Like all good disaster films the feature moves deftly between different characters at its beginning and lets the story build up without giving away too much of the impending attack to come.


Heading to his job as a doctor Thomas has strange premonitions of an alien Armageddon – but so do some of his patients Harriet (Julie Hoult), Samantha (Sophie Anderson) and Floyd (Danny Steel). The four characters are then abducted by a visiting alien spaceship and are trapped in pods in a strange state of stasis.


Invasion Planet Earth does contain many end-of-the-world and disaster movie clichés. The cross-cutting between character stories helps set the scene and the constant presence of background media reports provide information on the global repercussions of the events.


The check list also includes vulnerable children and the “mad” guy (hello Randy Quaid in Independence Day). But you know what? It doesn’t really matter as it cleverly uses a host of film techniques that raise it above its obvious low-budget roots.


The CGI effects are rather spectacular – digital of course but used wisely given the film’s scope. Other techniques such as shot choices, editing, camera angles and coloured filters shows that the film can handle story beats and excitement without the money of a Roland Emmerich production.


A few religious motifs such as stained-glass windows, a church graveyard and the Ark Bible story attempt to give the film a little more depth which mostly work and great cameos from Toyah Wilcox and Ian Reddington added a bit of stardom to the acting roster. Unfortunately, the super clichéd dialogue is a slight weakness and tends to be so on the nose it may as well be a Groucho Marx costume kit.


That said, I was more impressed by the use of locations and scale of the whole production. Good choice of settings from a school, a church, a gallery and even the sea and coast keep the visuals varied and is a fantastic example to Midlands filmmakers that moving from a terraced house can reap huge rewards!


The slightly confusing narrative continues when it becomes apparent that many scenes are in fact the characters living out each others’ past, dreams and nightmares whilst still in their pods.


Yet some very impressive crowd scenes filmed in Birmingham give the film some cinematic sheen and although the feature trips up a little when the fully-rendered CGI environments are used, that’s my same gripe with Hollywood movies.


The film barrels towards an inevitable CGI action finale with the aliens finally attacking New York (!) and beyond. The striking scale continues when the military show up with tanks. And Thomas’ past heroic actions with his father come back into play as he hopes to save his wife and unborn child from the horde of alien ships.


Overall, the film therefore ends up being an impressive achievement. A few genre clichés aside, it’s amazing to see such a fantastic feature hail from the Midlands. But it goes beyond that. Ignoring geographical limitations the film doesn’t hold back by tackling global issues and inserting well-handled action sequences and a dash of drama into its narrative. Check out Invasion Planet Earth if sci-fi is your thing and for others, bask in its remarkable ambitions which aim for the sky but actually hit the stars.


Michael Sales


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